National Scenic Trails - Sheltowee Trace

Hiking Tips
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The following sections are included to help people who are not familiar with backpacking. They are my opinion, and one way of backpacking, not the right way to backpack.

Hikers should be aware of what they need and pack accordingly. In particular, hikers should always keep in mind where the next water source is located, as this is not always apparent when hiking the Sheltowee Trace. In general, the ridgetops are dry.

Food Suggestions
Don't feel like you have to buy special dehydrated dinners for your backpacking trip. You can find a wide variety of lightweight food in your local supermarket. Stock up on packages like mac and cheese and Lipton dinners. Create dinners by combining minute rice or ramen noodles with a small can of tuna, chicken, or ham. Add spices (like the ramen noodle flavor packs) and dried vegetables (perhaps sundried tomatoes). For flavor and extra calories, add olive oil. Or make a one-pot spaghetti dinner with quick-cooking angel hair pasta, tomato paste, olive oil, pepperoni, and spices.

Breakfasts need not be hot oatmeal every morning. You can carry pop tarts, granola bars, even bagels. Try spreading peanut butter on your food for an extra energy boost.

Be sure to pack plenty of snack foods, such as peanuts, raisins, chocolate, beef jerky, candy bars, granola bars, and dried fruit. Cheese, beef sticks, and peanut butter make a hearty lunch when mixed with carbohydrates. Be sure that everything is eaten before it goes bad from the lack of refrigeration!

As a general rule of thumb, you should try to carry about 125 percent of the calories you normally eat in a day. If the weather is cold, you are carrying a very heavy pack, or traveling a lot of miles, you should carry extra calories.

What to Take Backpacking
The following is a list of what I take backpacking. It should provide you with a general idea of what you should bring, but does not tell you exactly what to take! It does not contain a first aid kit. This is because my first aid kit is scattered throughout the pack. Each item that is followed by and asterisk is part of my first aid kit. Please include whatever you need when you go, and most important of all, be sure you know how to use it!

Outside Pack or Inside Use
foam pad*
hiking poles or cross country ski poles*
aluminum hooks for hanging wet stuff on pack
camp shoes/wading shoes for crossing streams
wedding ring

Backpack* (4,500 cu in capacity is plenty)
sleeping bag*
bivy or lightweight backpacking tent

Cheap Nylon Stuff Sack for Clothes, Containing (when not worn):
expedition weight polypro, zipper turtle neck*
short sleeve silk weight polypro t-shirt (warm weather)
long sleeve silk weight polypro shirt (two in cold weather)
gore-tex jacket with attached hood*
gore-tex pants (in cold weather only)
nylon pants (in summer)
short gaiters or full gaiters or no gaiters
expedition weight polypro bottoms
medium weight polypro bottoms
nylon shorts
polypro underwear (four)
hiking socks (four)
expedition weight polypro balaclava*
expedition weight polypro gloves (liners)
mittens (cold weather only)
water-resistant hat with wide brim (sometimes, mostly summer)*
100% cotton bandanna (sometimes, mandatory in winter)*
2 liter pot with lid
webbing or bag to hold cookset together
drinking/measuring cup
metal spoon or plastic spoon in winter
backpacking stove*
fuel bottle 28 or 22 ounce (with pump in it)
reflector and windscreen for stove
packtowel for food

Good Nylon Stuff Sack for Foodbag Containing FOOD!
5 mm nylon rope, about 50 feet*
cut off piece of packtowel for dishwashing
Bio-friendly soap in four-ounce bottle
shampoo, conditioner (sometimes, sample bottles)
mosquito repellent
hand lotion in two-ounce bottle*
small orange plastic shovel or heavier version or none
sunglasses in case or plastic bag (winter, sometimes in summer)
quart size bottle (two in winter)
empty 22 ounce soda bottles (warm weather only, total water capacity of 3/4+ gallon in summer)
water filter*
scrubbie or brush to clean filter
plastic garbage bag, (for emergencies)*
plastic grocery bags (up to four, for vapor barrier for feet)*
toilet paper in plastic bag
small headlamp*
blank pages for journal/letters*
pen and/or pencil*
cash and/or traveler's checks*
driver's license (and insurance card)*
credit card and calling card*
list of important phone numbers and addresses*
lubricant for water filter
spare o-rings for water filter
stove repair kit, plus pump cup oil
the Extractor snake bite kit*
plastic razor and cover*
two inches of spare velcro (3/4 inch)
safety pins*
tent repair tape
spare metal buckle (for pack straps)
metal whistle*
iodine tablets*
small candle wrapped in aluminum foil*
spare lighter
spare AA batteries
pocket knife with blade, can opener and scissors*
nail clippers*
second skin*
skin tape*

Small Nylon Stuffsack (this one gets hung) Containing:
anti-bacterial goop*
cortisone cream*
sunblock (especially in winter)*
ibuprofen or anti-inflammatory medication*
anti-diarrhea tablets*
toothbrush (travel type which folds into case/handle)
toothpaste (travel size)
small hairbrush
ponytail holder
sanitary supplies and spare gladlock bag
camera (disposable ones recommended)
info on trail from Forest Service
snacks from food bag
bicycle water bottle

Trip Length
In general, most healthy people can hike about ten miles a day in the beginning. As you hike farther, you can slowly increase the mileage up to about 100 miles a week. This figure includes rest days, and doesn't count any extra miles you may walk to resupply, see the sights, or backtrack when lost. The weather, your packweight (aim to carry only a quarter of your weight and settle for no more than a third) and tendency to get blisters greatly influence the number of miles you can travel. Keep in mind that trying to push too hard may lead not only to a miserable vacation, but also to serious injury, such as stress fractures and tendonitis.

When we hiked the trail we started on a Friday afternoon, and finished on a Friday morning three weeks later. If we had had more time, we gladly would have taken it. I would recommend most end-to-enders allow for at least three full weeks, plus an extra weekend to complete the trail. A far more enjoyable trip would take four weeks.


High Water - In the spring and after heavy rains high water can pose a serious threat to hikers. To aid in fording a stream, try carrying a hiking stick or two. If the water level is too high, search for a way around! Walk upstream, or look for a road that might have a bridge across the stream. The Rock Creek ford near Yamacraw can be extremely deep; one way to avoid it is to hike though Koger Arch and cross on the road.

Hypothermia - After a wet dunk at a cold stream crossing or after a rain a hiker may be at risk for hypothermia. To decrease your risk try to stay hydrated, well-fed and rested, wear polypro clothes (or at the very least do not wear cotton), and try to have a dry change of clothes for after a stream crossing. Please refer to a first aid book for additional information.

Dehydration - Not drinking enough water (the treated kind of course!) can increase your risk of hyperthermia, heat stroke, and hypothermia. It can also make your trip a lot less fun! Be sure to treat all the water you obtain with iodine or a filter, otherwise you could get a bug that is sure to dehydrate you in a most unpleasant way.

Forest Fires - Forest fire danger is extremely high at times in Kentucky. Please be careful with your stove! We actually cooked dinner directly on gravel roads to decrease our risk of starting a forest fire. Should you be unfortunate enough to smell smoke or see a fire, use your head!

Dangerous Plants and Animals - If you need information on poison ivy, bees, bears, snakes, etc., please research it thoroughly before you start hiking. You should be aware that some bears were recently introduced to Pickett State Park. Always hang you food at night! Not only does a properly hung bad decrease the chances of having a bear chowing down on your chocolate bars, it also helps prevents mice and raccoons from doing the same. There are poisonous snakes in Kentucky. Many houses keep dogs, many of which were not tied up and thought hikers made for great fun. A hiking stick helps with the back-of-the-ankle type dogs. Be warned that endangered species of plants often grow in or near rock shelters. While they won't hurt you, don't hurt them! Be careful if you are in a rock overhang that does not show signs of human impact. There is also a extremely dangerous plant commonly known as pot that might be grown near the trail. Be aware of this particularly during planting and harvesting times, and when lost. Try not to wander off the trail.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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