I seem to have fallen in with a group of slackers (slack packers). Slacking, in this context, essentially means hiking a section of the Appalachian trail with a daypack instead of a fully loaded backpack (full of overnight gear and multiple days of food).
I was first introduced to the concept while I was hunkered down at a hostel for the night avoiding the rain. A fellow hiker suggested that we could slackpack the next day in the rain, still put in our miles, but be assured of a nice warm dry place to sleep at the end of the night. It sounded too good to be true… Trading in the 30-35 lb backpack for a 5 lb daypack, and end up in a warm dry place at the end of the night! What did I have to lose?
The most obvious answer to that is $$. To make slackpacking work you need to gets rides to the trailhead and then either rides back to your heavy stuff at the end of the day, or rides back to where you finished for the day the next morning so that you can continue on. Typically thru-hikers get these rides from shuttle services run by the hostels and they change at least $1.50/mile. If multiple people are interested in slackpacking the same section of trail, you can split the cost of the shuttle services and suddenly the financial downside seems to melt away with the rain.
For the last few days Rojo, Conundrum, Solo, Mosey, and I have all succumbed to the temptation and have been surviving the rain by slackpacking between hostels.
There are definitely some things that I love about slacking… I definitely cover distance much more quickly and painlessly with 5 lbs on my back than with 35 lbs on my back. I also definitely love having a warm, dry bed waiting for me on cold rainy nights. I’m also vaguely entertained by the fact that I’ve never ridden in the back of so many pickup trucks before in my life.
I find, however, that I miss my big, heavy full pack. In the past month I’ve gotten really used to being on my own. To having the freedom to hike when I want to hike and to stop for the night when and wherever I want. Having my full pack affords me a lot of independence and flexibility that I’ve grown really accustomed to. Slackpacking locks me in a fixed start time, which has to be negotiated with the other hikers and with the shuttle service provider, and is typically 3-4 hours later than I usually hit the trail. It also locks me into a fixed mileage for the day, I no longer have the option to just stop and pitch my tent for the day or to press on a few extra miles when I’m feeling really great.
Staying in the hostels can be really great, but there are some downsides to that too. The bunkhouses don’t afford you the same kind of privacy that tenting does, and man oh man, there are some impressive snorers amongst us. Some of the hostels are also kind of sketchy and downright dirty.
I think that for me slackpacking is like taking a mini-vacation… It’s can be really great, but I’m not sure that I’d want to do it all of the time.
I mentioned earlier that all the rain is part of what’s motivated our recent bout of slackpacking. That rain has made the trails incredibly muddy, but has had some really positive side effects as well. The waterfalls around here are truly impressive right now.