Thru-Hiker expert

Thru-Hiking and Backpacking guru

Nancy a.k.a MysticTurtle a.k.a Shepherd of the Trail shares her experience, her advice and her insights into the sport of thru-hiking, backpacking and cycling. She uses her knowledge to review equipment for us and give us advice on planning our hiking adventures.

“I had a normal childhood, but somewhere along the way I took off on my own path. I backpacked the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail in 2001 and the 700-mile International Appalachian Trail in 2003, and I’m always dreaming of the next long hike. I spent the winters of 2004-05 and 2005-06 living in my Astro van at a hot springs resort in Arizona and on the beach in Texas. I recently completed a 9,000-mile bicycle trip around the United States. I have degrees in Equine Management from Ohio State University and in Business Management from Akron University, but so far I have been able to avoid working in either field. My interests include reading, writing, sewing, quilting, hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, gardening, natural foods, and voluntary simplicity.” – MysticTurtle

This incredible lady has hiked some of the toughest trails on earth and done it all with a smile. The experience and knowledge she has gained on her incredible adventures is invaluable to anyone planning a Thru-Hike or thinking about getting into the sport for the first time.

Thru-Hiking and Backpacking

Using the trail name Shepherd of the Hills, MysticTurtle hiked the imposing Appalachian Trail in 2001 and then documented her experiences, lessons learned and resources found in the incredible series of articles listed below. A resource worth her weight in gold for anyone interested in following in her footsteps.

Quick Guide To The Appalachian Trail. A thru-hiker is one who hikes the entire length of a long-distance trail in one season. The reasons for doing so are as numerous and as varied as the hikers themselves. Many times thru-hiking gets in the blood and becomes an obsession — the hiker is always looking for the next long trail to hike. A thru-hiker needs specialized information to decide which trail to hike next and to plan a multi-week or multi-month backpacking trip. How long is the trail? When is the weather right for hiking? How does one get to and from the ends? What are the resupply options? The bare-bones information here will help the hiker decide if a thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail could be the next great adventure.

MysticTurtle’s guide to the International Appalachian Trail. The International Appalachian Trail runs from Katahdin in Maine (which is also the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail) to Crow Head, Newfoundland. It travels through Maine, New Brunswick, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland/Labrador.

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An Appalachian Trail Book. At the age of 41, after years of harboring the dream of an Appalachian Trail thru-hike, MysticTuurtle a.k.a Nancy Shepherd, set off to hike the 2,168 miles of trail from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Katahdin in Maine. Having never backpacked more than 30 miles in her life, Shepherd embarked on her journey with hope, determination, and a pack full of fears.

How to become An Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker. You’ve heard of the Appalachian Trail. You’ve seen the dreamy look in past thru-hikers’ eyes when they speak of their AT experiences. You love camping in the woods. Now you think you might want to hike the entire Appalachian Trail, too. The prospect is exciting, but there are a lot of things to consider that you may not have thought of yet. I’ve been where you want to go. I thru-hiked the AT in 2001, and I offer this collection of insights from my experience so that you may jump-start your own thru-hike preparations. You, too, can become an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker.

Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike Gear List. Choosing your Appalachian Trail thru-hike gear is as important as planning your hike itinerary. Gear that works fine for an overnight or weekend trip may not be the best choice for a thru-hiker. Multi-month backpacking adventures require more careful consideration when it comes to hiking gear. However, thru-hikers are a relatively small segment of the backpacking and camping market, and it can be difficult to find a good selection of appropriate gear in stock where you can actually see and touch it.

The Next Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike. Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail was the greatest experience of my life. I had never done any backpacking longer than 30 miles before starting out on my thru-hike, so I spent a couple of years researching gear, the trail, and the day-to-day life of a long-distance hiker. I spent countless hours reading trail forums online. But still, as with anything, all the theory in the world cannot substitute for on-trail experience. When I started, I was prepared as well as I could be, and the hike unfolded exactly as it needed to for me to learn what I needed to learn at that point in my life. I wouldn’t have changed a thing about it. I’d love to go back out there and do it again, but I know it wouldn’t be the same. I’m different, my fellow hikers would be different, and my lessons would be different. But now, having actual feet-on thru-hike experience, I know some things that would make the hike even better. Here are some things I’d do differently on the next Appalachian Trail thru-hike.

Appalachian National Scenic Trail. More commonly referred to as simply the Appalachian Trail, or even just the “AT,” this trail was the first to be designated a National Scenic Trail, in 1968. Stretching more than 2,175 miles along the Appalachian Mountains, it is within a day’s drive of two-thirds of the U.S. population, and is visited by four million people each year. It traverses 14 states on its way from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Katahdin in Maine, and passes through more than 75 different federal and state forests and park lands. Its 250,000 acres are managed by the National Park Service, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and thousands of volunteers.

Quick Guide to the Continental Divide Trail. The Continental Divide Trail is not for the beginning backpacker. It is remote and lightly traveled. There is not always a trail or markings to follow, so hikers must be able to find their own routes using map and compass. Weather and wildlife are issues to be taken seriously. Resupply is often far off the trail. It is an incredible trail with incredible beauty, but one to be attempted after learning the ropes on a trail such as the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail.

Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. With a dream begun in the early 1960s, forces were set in motion to create a trail along the Continental Divide. It would provide access to our country’s grandest scenic beauty for those who desire challenging recreation. It was designated a National Scenic Trail in 1978, with a 50-mile corridor on each side of the Continental Divide within which the final route would be located. The trail is not a continuously marked trail; rather, it is a worn footpath in some places and a cross-country trek in others, with many alternate routes available.

Quick Guide To The Pacific Crest Trail. A thru-hiker is one who hikes the entire length of a long-distance trail in one season. The reasons for doing so are as numerous and as varied as the hikers themselves. Many times thru-hiking gets in the blood and becomes an obsession — the hiker is always looking for the next long trail to hike. A thru-hiker needs specialized information to decide which trail to hike next and to plan a multi-week or multi-month backpacking trip. How long is the trail? When is the weather right for hiking? How does one get to and from the ends? What are the resupply options? The bare-bones information here will help the hiker decide if a thru-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail could be the next great adventure.

Top Ten Tips For Backpackers. Backpacking is more than just tossing some gear in a pack and heading down the trail. You’ll have a much more enjoyable hike if you learn a few things before you go. Here is a list of the top ten tips for backpackers that I’ve picked up in my 3,000-plus backpacking miles. Many of them are useful on any kind of hike, but since I’m a long-distance hiker, some relate to the attempt to thru-hike.

How To Prepare For A Thru-Hike. Thru-hiking a long-distance trail is an adventure undertaken for as many reasons as there are hikers. Whether it becomes a life-enhancing experience or merely a miserable folly depends largely on preparation and expectation. Though life in the woods may seem to be simple and carefree, a long-distance hike requires attention to many issues, from information gathering and logistics to physical and mental conditioning.

Florida National Scenic Trail. The Florida Trail is a footpath leading 1,100 miles from Big Cypress National Preserve between Miami and Naples to Gulf Island National Seashore near Pensacola. Along the way, it passes a wide variety of plant life, from tropical plants to those more common on mountainsides; some habitats are found nowhere else in the country.

Quick Guide to the Florida Trail. Even though Florida is fairly flat, don’t be fooled into thinking a thru-hike of the Florida Trail will be easy. In dry years, drinking water may be scarce; in wet years, you will be wading through water. Submerged branches and plant material will slow you down. A pace of 15-20 miles per day will be possible along smooth and level dikes, but swamp hiking will cut that pace in half.

Quick Guide To The Long Trail. A thru-hiker on the Long Trail is one who hikes the entire length of the trail in one season. The reasons for doing so are as numerous and as varied as the hikers themselves. Many times thru-hiking gets in the blood and becomes an obsession — the hiker is always looking for the next long trail to hike. A thru-hiker needs specialized information to decide which trail to hike next and to plan a multi-week or multi-month backpacking trip. How long is the trail? When is the weather right for hiking? How does one get to and from the ends? What are the resupply options? The bare-bones information here will help the hiker decide if a thru-hike on the Long Trail could be the next great adventure.

Quick Guide to The Ice Age Trail. Wisconsin may not be a state you think of for a long-distance hike, but there is, indeed, a long trail. The Ice Age Trail travels along the edge of the last North American glacier and highlights unique glacial features.

While Wisconsin may not have towering mountains, a thru-hiker still needs specialized information for planning. How long is the trail? When is the weather right for hiking? How does one get to and from the ends? What are the resupply options? The bare-bones information here will help the hiker decide if a thru-hike on the Ice Age Trail could be the next great adventure.

How To Choose Your Next Long Trail. It starts innocently enough. A day hike here, a day hike there. Maybe backpacking for a weekend or a week. Eventually you undertake an epic, multi-month backpacking trip — thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, perhaps. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” you exclaim. But life is never the same. You talk about your hike constantly. You yearn to totally immerse yourself in the nomadic outdoor lifestyle you enjoyed on the trail. You long to challenge yourself on another thru-hike, to test your limits and reaffirm your resourcefulness. Short hikes are no longer enough. Youneed another long trail thru-hike. The problem is you lead a busy life. You have a job and responsibilities. How can you fit in another long hike? You don’t even have the time to research the many long trails in order to choose whichtrail might fit your parameters. Thru-hikers need trail information that short-term hikers do not: “How long is the trail? How do I get to and from the ends? When do I need to start in order to finish within the hiking season? What are the resupply options? How do I decide where to backpack next?”

Ice Age National Scenic Trail. Some of the best examples of the effects of North America’s last glaciation is highlighted along the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. The only trail in Wisconsin to be designated a State Scenic Trail, it snakes 1200 miles across the state, following the terminal edge of the extinct glacier. Along the way, it passes through forests, prairies, wetlands, and farms as it connects Wisconsin’s communities.  The west end of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail is on the St. Croix River in Interstate State Park; the east end is on Green Bay in Potawatomi State Park. Its undulating route brings it within 20 miles of 60% of the state’s residents. Largely volunteer built, the Ice Age Trail is maintained and promoted by the Ice Age Trail Alliance. The Alliance works with myriad public and private landowners to ensure the continued protection of the trail and the geological history through which it passes.

America’s National Scenic Trails. The National Trails System Act of 1968 created the National Trails System to provide places for outdoor recreation as well as preservation of outdoor areas and historic resources. They are administered by the National Park Service, USDA Forest Service, or the Bureau of Land Management, depending on their location. There are three classes of trails, each with its own set of criteria.

Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail. The Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail follows the general route of the 444-mile Old Natchez Trace that ran from Natchez, Mississippi, through the corner of Alabama to Nashville, Tennessee. Only 65 miles of that distance is hiking trail today. Designated a National Scenic Trail in 1983, the trail is actually four separate trails running roughly parallel to and within the boundaries of the Natchez Trace Parkway. While it does not offer a backcountry experience, the trail leads to outstanding natural features such as wetlands, swamps, hardwood forest, outcroppings, overlooks, and Spanish moss. Hikers and equestrians on the trail also connect with a part of our nation’s history as they travel, in some places, along the Old Trace itself.

Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail.

Letterboxing. Letterboxing is an activity that involves following clues to locate a hidden treasure. Sometimes the treasure is inside a building, but most of the time it is outside. It’s a great family activity that can lead you to discover new places and learn interesting bits of history.

My Favorite Backpacking Links.

Outdoor Equipment

The Coleman ProCat. “Sometimes the camping season just isn’t long enough. If this is the case for you, and you would like to camp through the chilly seasons, you will appreciate some form of portable heat. A Coleman catalytic propane heater is a safe and effective tent heater to help you extend your enjoyment of the great outdoors. A catalytic heater is flameless, so you don’t have to worry about setting your tent on fire. The catalytic process combines propane and oxygen with a platinum catalyst. You do need to ignite the propane initially to start the process, but then the ongoing heat is generated by a chemical reaction between the propane, oxygen, and platinum. Byproducts are mainly carbon dioxide and water vapor.” -MysticTurtle

Backpacks: A review of the top selling backpacks for hiking. read it HERE.

Military MOLLE Backpacks – A review of the backpack used by United States Army soldiers. Read MysticTurtle’s assessment HERE.

Gregory Z65 Lightweight Backpack. Perhaps the best part about the Z65 is the suspension system, which holds the pack away from your back for maximum air circulation. The suspension isn’t adjustable, but the pack comes in three different sizes to fit torso lengths from 17.5 to 19.5 inches. With the combination of capacity and comfort, this pack can hold up to about 40 pounds, easily enough for a week’s supplies on the trail.

JanSport Best Day Packs. Reviewers agree, the JanSport Odyssey Approach day pack is the ultimate. Roomy and sturdy enough for the trail, yet stylish enough for school, this is the best day pack for quality and versatility.

Best lightweight tents. The backpacking trend over the past dozen years or so has been toward lighter and lighter pack weight. Less weight on your back means more enjoyment over more miles with less fatigue. Find out about lightweight tents HERE.

A review of ultralight backpacks by MystickTurtle. A heavy load on your back takes some of the fun out of a backpacking trip. It’s hard to appreciate a lovely mountaintop view when you’re exhausted from lugging that heavy pack up the mountain. Backpackers, especially long-distance hikers, try to shave every ounce possible from their load. Some even trim the borders off their maps and drill holes in their toothbrush handles.

Kelty Best Women’s Backpacking Backpacks. Ladies, you know how it is when you try to use something that is supposed to fit all. It’s like wearing a man’s shirt — the small size might fit, but the sleeves will still be too long. So when it comes to your backpack, don’t just get a small backpack — get one that is specifically proportioned for women.

Best Compass For Outdoor Recreation. Read MysticTurtle’s recommendations HERE.

Casio Solar Pathfinder Watch. These watches go way beyond the basics of timekeeper, altimeter, barometer, thermometer, and compass with all the functions you can imagine. Besides that, it’s water resistant to 200 meters.

Coleman Family Tents. This is Coleman’s best family tent. It has ample space for six in its two rooms plus screen room. With a center height of 6’4,” almost anyone can stand up straight in it.

Eureka Family Tents. Users report that rain just can’t get into the Copper Canyon. Eureka’s bathtub floor keeps water out from the bottom, and the rain fly keeps it out from the top. But even in a rainstorm, this tent offers excellent ventilation. The entire roof is mesh, and the fly protects the windows enough to keep rain out when you have them opened from the top.

2 Person Backpacking Tents. MSR has packed a lot backpacking functionality into a small package with this tent. The Hubba Hubba HP tent has an updated design for backcountry backpacking that hikers will appreciate. Its arrangement of poles holds the side walls more vertical, creating more usable space for two people, while less mesh and more fabric in those walls means the tent is comfortable earlier in the spring and later in the fall when cooler temperatures might otherwise end the camping season. And MSR manages all that extra utility with light, but tough, fabrics for a tent weight of just 3 pounds, 11 ounces.

Portable Tents For Camping. You may think all tents are portable, but in reality, some will keep you just as locked into a developed campground spot as an RV will. Most people go camping to get away from it all. But how far away are you getting if you’re forced into a slot among hundreds of other campers? Truly getting away to enjoy the wonders of nature requires a portable tent.

Eureka Apex 2XT Tent. The two things I like the most, though, are the easy set-up and the rain fly. The Eureka Apex uses just two fiberglass poles, so it’s quick to set up. And the rain fly has two big vestibules — one on each side — so when my gear is wet, I can stash it under the fly instead of pulling it into the tent.

Coleman Two-Burner Propane Stoves. When it comes to camp stoves, the important points to consider are portability, stability, fuel availability, and heat delivery. Coleman propane stoves deliver on all points. Whether you’re camping for the weekend or a week, cooking up a picnic on the tailgate, or doing emergency cooking during a power outage, a Coleman propane stove handles the task with ease.

Down Sleeping Bag Choices. When you’re out backpacking, you want to be prepared in case the weather turns unexpectedly cold, but you also want to carry the lightest pack possible. A down sleeping bag offers the best warmth-to-weight ratio, as well as being ultra-compressible. A mummy-shaped bag cuts down on overall weight of the bag, and its closer fit means you’ll sleep warmer without a lot of extra air space inside.

Outdoors Binoculars. Birdwatching binoculars, hunting binoculars, astronomy binoculars, marine binoculars…all have combinations of factors that make them best suited for their particular activity. One size does not necessarily fit all. But what goes into the design of binoculars? The variables in question include the lens/prism configuration, magnification, lens diameter, and field of view.

Solar Flash Lights.

Portable Power Supply.

Cycling Tour

My 9,000 Mile Bicycle Tour. In July, 2008, I embarked on a year-long bicycle tour to celebrate my fiftieth birthday. As a self-supported solo cyclist touring the country, I wanted to accomplish as many goals as possible in that one year. The backbone of the adventure was to be a 12,000-mile self-supported bicycle tour around the perimeter of the United States. Along the way I planned to stand at the southernmost point of the contiguous states, climb to three state high points, and touch all four coasts (the north coast is along the Great Lakes). I would meet everyday people in American small towns and play the tourist at numerous quirky roadside attractions. I planned the trip to end in July, 2009, when I would bicycle into my Ohio hometown on my fiftieth birthday.

Top Ten Things Bicyclists Hate. Anyone who spends time riding a bicycle on the road is bound to have a personal list of aggravations. After bicycling more than 9,000 miles over the course of a year and talking to many other cyclists, I was able to compile this list of the top ten things bicyclists hate. Cyclists should find several items here they can relate to, and I hope that non-cyclists will gain a new perspective on cycling issues…the better to increase safety for all.

How To Fix A Flat Bicycle Tire. The more time you spend on your bicycle, the more likely it is you will end up with a flat tire. You may run over glass, nails, or thorns. Even a tiny piece of wire from a steel-belted tire on the road can puncture your bicycle tire and cut your ride short. Don’t let a flat tire leave you stranded! Learn how to fix a flat bicycle tire and always carry the necessary tools. With just a little practice, you can make the repair and be rolling again in no time flat.

Backpack 101

how to choose the right backpack

Learn how to choose the right backpack for you and your activities from Videkpridek’s informative article on the subject. Good, practical information and tips from an experienced expert. Read it HERE.

Also read MysticTurtle’s article on top selling backpacks for hiking. She has backpacked the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail in 2001 and the 700-mile International Appalachian Trail in 2003 so, if you’re looking for advice on choosing a backpack, she’s the lady to listen to. Read her reviews HERE.

MysticTurtle reviews the military MOLLE backpack HERE.

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