Thursday, April 18, 2024
Home Backpacking Are Break-In Hikes Worth It?

Are Break-In Hikes Worth It?

by Staff

While preparing for the trail, I told myself I would go on countless practice runs in the GA and NC sections of the AT. While I was able to go on two, weather and budget constrained many more beyond that. Even though I was only only able to do two, they prepared me for thru hiking much more than sitting at a computer doing research ever could.



In selecting when and where I wanted to do my break-in hikes, I looked for two things above all others: weather and difficulty. As mentioned before, If the weather was too awful, I would avoid the trail altogether. Those were the storms I would get off-trail for if I was up there anyway. The websites I would use were postholer ( and AT Weather ( These two websites are great for looking at general trail conditions and the scarier/more important stuff like snow totals. Farout was a great tool for determining where I would do the practice hikes. I wanted challenging climbs so I could test my gear and body in places much harder than what I would be facing at the beginning of the trail.


Standing Indian

The first break-in hike I did was from Kimsey Creek campground to the top of Standing Indian. On this hike my goal was to test my three-season gear. This was the first real hike I had been on in about five years. I chose a weekend where the weather would be nice so I could focus on that baseline level of “is this stuff going to work”. The climb was challenging, but not impossible. In terms of lessons learned from this hike, I found out how uncomfortable it is to sleep on non-level ground, I realized that the additional weight of your cook-pot’s lid is worth it, how much food is too much, and how many people get their bear bag lines tangled up in the trees of the southern Appalachians. In and near the campsite the trees looked like they had ‘REI spaghetti’ dropped all over them from above.

The lessons from this break-in where definitely ones that I would have said “oh yeah , duh” to while sitting at home, but when it comes to it I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been. Had it not been for my grandad rehydrating a mountain-house meal, I would have been eating protein bars for dinner. And while too much food isn’t the biggest issue, it definitely made my pack much heavier than it should have been. I took these lessons into my next break-in.

Overall though, this hike was a great one. The weather was beautiful and I got to meet some great folks and see that wonderful vista from the top of Standing Indian.



This hike was in January. I had to test out my winter gear before hitting the trail, and even better it was supposed to rain cats and dogs. The initial plan was to hike from Wayah bald to the NOC and back over the course of three days, but after driving for 45 minutes up the treacherous and winding (at least it seemed that way to a lowlander) road to Wayah Bald, I found that the forest service road was closed. Luckily, I had a backup in mind, an overnighter out of the NOC and back. I made the long, slow drive to the NOC from the top of the mountain. On getting there I started the hike. Met a thru hiker who was awesome and fun to hike with, it made all the difference on that climb. I’d soon find out how important this was.

The first day was beautiful, sunny skies and just warm enough to be a perfect hiking day. I settled in at Sassafras Shelter and did the ‘camp chores’. No one else showed up to the shelter that night. While some people enjoy this, all I could think of was every monster and serial killer from every movie I’d seen sticking its head around from the outside of the shelter. The winter mountains just have some sort of eerie danger to them. The second day it rained all day. The plan was to do ~10 miles, go to Simp Gap and back to the shelter. When I got back to the shelter at 1:30 I decided I would rather bust out the extra seven miles back to the truck. I didn’t see a single other person until I made it back to the NOC.

Some Real Lessons

This hike was a wake-up call. Winter hiking is tough. It is not for the faint of heart or those of us that enjoy the company of others. While I took the lessons from my previous hike into this one, another plethora of issues presented themselves.

When I made it back to the truck, I found that my nylofume pack liner sprung a leak, getting my camp clothes wet and soaking through the footbox of my quilt. Also, it turns out that you shouldn’t put your toothbrush in the same bag as your sunscreen (duh). I ripped my frogg togg rain pants right down the crotch when I crouched to get into my bag. On the second day, I ended up sweating some because of the difficulty of the climb, so anytime I stopped I would get instantly chilled. I realized how much better this was when you were with other people. And the most important lesson of this hike, I found out how big a deal it is if you run out of toilet paper.

Because of this hike, I shifted my start date back from mid-February to late February. More people and less of a chance of extreme winter weather.



If I went through every lesson I learned from these hikes in complete detail, this post would be a book (and not a very good one). What I can say is that if you are thinking about thru hiking, getting out there is going to be the best teacher. If you can realistically do it then its worth the time, effort, and gas money.



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