Ozark Highlands Trail – Preparations and Gear on a Budget
I was staying at a friend’s house for a few days before I left for the Ozark Highlands Trail for final preparations. I had been slowly gathering supplies when I could and had double and triple checked to be sure. Most of my equipment was ancient and second hand, but still functional, and that’s all I cared about. If you are thinking about thru-hiking for the first time, get advice from multiple sources, and then make the trip your own. I intended to loaf it and take my time, so I planned accordingly. If you want to go ultra lightweight then this is definitely not the list for you, but you can still find some useful tips for your hike.
Least favorite equipment: Tiny folding metal shovel (I ditched it on day one. Use a stick.)
Favorite equipment: Half yoga mat (floor mat, place to sit, and for holding gear) Rolled up and wrapped with bendy ties on pack. Great floor-mat for the hammock. Spalding the friendly face-hugger stuffed animal. I had so much fun with the pictures.
Best morale boost: Fire. Tea and honey with a piece of dark chocolate for a nightcap. Welch’s fruit gummies for a bedtime snack. Coffee with carnation instant breakfast powder for creamer in the morning (half a serving packet was plenty for protein and vitamins and I could make them last.)
What I wished I had more of: Instant Cream of Wheat. And if I had more I probably would have craved something else. Variety is a key element.
What became the routine?
Morning – Boil water in jet boil, make breakfast (Instant oatmeal, grits, or cream of wheat) and use rest of water for coffee with instant breakfast powder. Spoonful of peanut butter with a dot of honey. Study map. Get water. Pack it up and get going.
Night – Place mat down, unload gear, set up hammock with rain-fly half folded over and ready to stake down (enjoy the view, but be ready for inclement weather in the night). Get water. If there is still enough sun, set up solar charger. Take off boots and use as water bottle holders. Hang up socks and clothes on hammock straps with Alligator Clips. Change into dry pajamas (kept in dry bag with blanket). Protein powder and ibuprofen. Gather firewood and separate by size from kindling up. Arrange separate area in fire pit to hold pot to boil water for food and tea with small sticks ready. Make fire (if there isn’t a burn ban). In the event of a burn ban or a storm I had a tapered candle in every food drop and a few tea-light candles which helped my morale after tough rainy hikes. Pour tea, let steep, make meal. While sitting in half lotus on mat, massage lower back, shoulders, and neck vigorously with tiger balm. Clean feet and massage with emu oil and beeswax for cracked heels. Relax with tea and tend the fire. Put all food in heavy dry bag, strap or tie to a tree and booby trap with carabiners and ceramic mug as an alarm in case any creatures try getting into my food.
Best quick tips:
Knowing you can get dry at any time is a nice feeling to have when backpacking so keep your night clothes dry and be prepared to set up in the rain.
Deal with it now or pay for it later. You’re cozy and warm. The wind picks up and one of your rain-fly cords is loose. You may think, oh, the wind won’t get that bad. It will be fine. I’m warm. You may wake up in the middle of the night to sideways rain and an impending doom of storm clouds ready to ruin your night. Take care of it, batten down the hatches, and have peace of mind.
If you’re thru-hiking alone things are a little different. When trudging up mountains with a heavy pack it can be easy to internalize. A friend of mine named Wolfman, who has solo thru-hiked in Scotland and the Colorado trail, put it best, “You’re going to ask yourself a lot of questions, and you’d better have answers for those questions.” Remind yourself to take a moment to enjoy the view. Develop a rhythm of checking your footing, then sweeping your head left and right to enjoy the view and find what works for you. Take a moment to look around. It’s not as easy as it sounds on some of those uphill stretches when all you see is the dirt at your feet. When you get to the top it will be worth it.
Spalding the friendly face-hugger and a 16G ipod nano were my company. Getting enough direct sunlight to charge the ipod could be challenging, so I valued my days of getting to jam out by myself with Spalding and a fire.
Use sitting rocks and logs while hiking that allow you to sit with support of your pack without bending your knees past ninety degrees. Even if it’s just a moment to catch a breath and take a quick drink. Never pass up a good sitting rock or log, aka a launch-pad to get you on your feet and going again.
If you’re going up a mountain and see a puddle, and even think about whether or not you should stop for a water break and refill, don’t pass it up. I thought I was fine on one stretch and skipped a little run off puddle that looked clean. I ended up on top of Hare Mountain with a beautiful view in full sunlight, and wished I could have stayed, but I had to head down to water.
Make the thru-hike your own! A thru-hike should be a trip for you, not an ego test to impress friends and colleagues. Get advice, do some research. Swim with the current. Then find a rhythm of your own and embrace it.
Bring a Trail Mascot and a camera. Something lightweight and fun. My trail mascot was a Face-hugger stuffed animal I named Spalding. I put a wire hangar in its tail so it could also be a functional tool. Spalding was always on top of my pack and catching the shadow of spidery legs on the ground gave me a giggle. I would hang him from a tree as a camp flag when I set up for the night. If they could add some pockets to those face-hugger love handles, make the abdomen inflatable as a pillow, and turn the legs into bendy ties it would be the ideal backpacking accessory.
I laid out all of my fabrics on top of my rainfly: clothing, hammock and straps, blankets, sleeping bag, backpack. I sprayed every fabric with waterproofing silicone guard, let it dry, and then sprayed it with perithrin for bug protection.
When I weighed my pack with every water container filled and my starter food: two nalgenes, one two liter camel bak, and a plastic single liter foldable container, there was a problem. I weighed 165 on the scale, and with my pack I weighed 240. That’s right, I was going into the wilderness with a 75 pound pack, not ideal, and some would think it was dangerous and irresponsible. So did I.
I laid everything out and gave it a good look. It was time to edit my pack and get rid of the unnecessary. As I looked at everything, I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to get rid of without at least trying it and seeing if I needed it. I just upped my training. In hindsight there are so many unnecessary items I could do without. I didn’t even bother to list some of those pointless items in this blog, a rat trap among them. I am a hippy and didn’t want to harm anything, but in a pinch, who knows? It wasn’t necessary. The next trip will have a much lighter pack. I’ll get to that in other articles.
At the time, I wanted to try everything. I was also at a disadvantage as lightweight materials and equipment for backpacking were out of my price range. I would only need full water for going into certain long stretches in the higher elevation which isn’t much in Arkansas, but don’t underestimate the hike. Otherwise two 32 oz. bottles were enough. I decided just to train more and prepare.
My life was starting to sound like a bad country song. Car died. Can’t get to work. Robots were taking over the job anyways since a 3-D printer can take some of the work load. Luckily robots can’t counter-act for human error so I can still get some work. Next car died six months later. Had the same tow truck driver for both. He recognized me and empathized. All I had was some old but dependable backpacking equipment, a few hundred dollars, and good friends. If you are looking for advice on a lightweight thru-hike, look elsewhere. If you are on your last legs and want to have a good adventure in life before it’s too late but don’t have much to work with, then read on.
The rest of this particular blog entry is all about the gear and lists and may not be entertaining to anyone not planning to hike the trail. Check back for the next installments that include photo blogs from the start of the adventure at Lake Fort Smith to Buffalo Point 200 miles later.
The Guardian water filter from MSR was well worth the weight. No cleaning filters and it’s fast. Saves the time and energy of boiling water. Most of the creeks and streams are clean, but you may have to find water in unsavory places from time to time. The problem: it’s pricey and can run up to $350. If you can hunt down a deal it is a great piece of equipment to have. I was lucky enough to be able to borrow one. Thank you, Walt! I have a good friend who always passes down his gear when he gets something new and it has been a blessing. I ran into hikers using tablets, and running out quicker than they expected, then having to re-route quite a distance to get some more. A ceramic filter will get you through with far more work and energy, and they’re way cheaper.
Whey protein powder. Empty protein powder and just fill a few ziplock bags for half a serving a day to be taken after day’s hike. Use empty protein powder container to store tea, coffee, powders, spices, and snacks or whatever you wish to help keep the rodents out. You can line it with ziplock bags and have something in the middle. That container held my tea, honey, coffee, spice grinder, protein, electrolyte, and instant breakfast powder, as well as a few snacks. It was also a safe place to store my headlamp to ensure it didn’t accidentally get switched on.
Poppy flower seeds from memorial
Two pot mess kit, large ceramic mug, and plain metal spoon
Gregor Backpack and rain cover
Hammock and straps, Eno hammock rainfly, five tent stakes
20 degree sleeping bag in dry compression sack
Thin foam pool noodle: cut into two pieces to protect collarbone and shoulders from straps and keep circulation going (may not be necessary for most thru-hikers, but I was carrying quite a load with an old pack) It also made an excellent rain-fly squeegee after a rain storm.
Small dry bag for extra socks, shirt, and boxers
Seal Line baja bag 40L: It’s a bit bulky, but rugged. It held my fleece blankets and clean clothes so I always knew they were dry while packed. It smashes down flat to tighten to pack. Used it as a food protector from critters at night. I didn’t need it for water crossings, but knew it would do the job.
Inflatable camping pillow
Two small fleece blankets: Now I only have one fleece blanket long enough to cover and wrap around me. But these two tiny blankets were all I had at the time. I had to cocoon myself with them in the cold to keep from shivering and there was always a gap that would instantly go through my hammock and sleeping bag when I moved. If you have a good sleeping bag and aren’t hammocking you won’t need one and can cut down the bulk and weight. I love wrapping myself in a warm blanket inside the sleeping bag at night by the fire and it was worth it, especially when it got cold and my drinking water was frozen.
Raingear: frog tog pants and rain jacket with hood.
Thin foam yoga pad
Two nalgene bottles, one camelbak reservoir, plastic foldable water container
Shaving kit bag and shaving kit tri-fold pack
One pair of black hawk pants with built in stretch strap
Nunn Bush Hiking boots: Make sure you break in your boots while you train. I prefer boots with a soft heel that don’t have plastic inserts sewn under. The rigid insert of most boots just gives me blisters. When you try on boots imagine your Achilles heel grating against the back like a cheese grater to simulate the thru-hiking experience.
Avia cross training insoles: Caution! Using Avia cross-training insoles will poke holes in your boot if they have the sharp plastic that ends before your toes. I had two holes in both boots at the same spot that I could poke my fingers through. Granted, they carried quite a load, but be careful and make sure your insoles don’t have any plastic.
One pair light weight shoes for camp. Taking off your socks and boots and setting up camp feels great, but you need camp shoes. Bring some lightweight slippers or flip flops, depending on the climate since your feet will be tender.
Knife and Compass
Ipod Nano and Lepow Madre rechargeable bluetooth speaker to cure the loneliness.
Renogy 10W foldable solar charger
Plastic USB charger for camera batteries
Book: “Secret Tactics” by Kazumi Tabata Which was the absolute perfect book to read on a thru-hike. The hardback is small and lightweight Each chapter has a bio of the author, then one to three pages of advice from the masters of feudal Japan to ponder on while you explore.
Notebook, journal, and two pens
West and East topography maps of the Ozark Highlands Trail
Plenty of carabiners and some bendy ties
Most of the clothing I bought at TJ Maxx for a good price: three pairs smart wool socks, three pairs spyder nylon boxers with odor control, one pair polyester pajama pants, one long sleeve fleece shirt, two polyester wicking shirts. Stay away from cotton and look for nylon or polyester, synthetic fabrics that can dry out fast. I had the best luck with nylon and it dried faster than polyester, but nylon can be tougher to find on a budget.
Many people spend a lot of money to thru-hike, buying all kinds of new equipment and buying dehydrated meals. As much as I wanted to have delicious dehydrated camping meals, at anywhere from $6-12 a meal, they were just too expensive. It wasn’t an option.
I had two food drops that needed to be sent to the Ozone and Pelsor (Sand Gap) post offices, both of which are only two miles from the trail. *Send them as general delivery with a message that they will be picked up by a thru-hiker. Keep in mind that third party shipping companies will not ship perishable items, so just go straight to FedEx, UPS, or the Post Office for shipment.
I needed to split my food up into three sections, my starter pack and two food drops. I wanted breakfast, coffee, mid day snack, dinner, and a few treats. So I scoured the grocery store for a few hours, down every aisle, reading all the directions and comparing prices. I weighed the package in my hand and in my mind, measuring worth versus price. It really just came down to generic instant meals. Variety will keep you from getting tired of the same meal.
Here’s what I ended up with:
Instant oatmeal variety packs (fruit/cream, apple/cinnamon, maple/ brown sugar)
Instant Cream of Wheat (Maple/Brown Sugar)
Instant Grits (1 box)
Instant Mashed Potatoes (9)(individual small packs of every variety)
(2) boxes Carnation Instant breakfast packets (10 packets each)
(3) small jars peanut butter
(2) small generic Hazelnut spread
(2) 8 oz. squeezable honey
1 box Welch’s Vitamin C fruit snacks (22 packets)
3 boxes of generic breakfast bars (Strawberry, Blueberry, Apple Cinnamon)
Ramen Chicken 12 pack
One box Emergen-C packets
3 boxes propel electrolyte packets
One container Whey Protein powder
3 Pack of Bic Lighters
Sleepytime tea 40 pack
Variety tea pack
2 containers CousCous
1 box beef bullion cubes
Ziplock bags (Gallon, quart)
Unpack and get rid of all cardboard. Pack up everything in ziplock bags to organize and separate into three sections: starter kit and two food drops.
Ozmore’s Medley Trail Mix:
1 box Generic bran flakes (loaded with vitamins and minerals)
Pumpkin seeds (Protein)
Black Walnuts (or your choice of nuts)
1 box fruity pebbles
Peanut Butter M&Ms
Welch’s Yogurt covered Strawberries
The grocery bill came out to around $175 for all of my food and some extras. My trail mix makes a lot and will split into three gallon size bags after mixing it all together in three large mixing bowls. One for each section of the trail. The Bran Flakes, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds get your vitamins and protein, whatever else you decide to add is up to you. I do wish I’d added an extra bag of peanut M&Ms.
Shaving kit filled with helpful tools:
finger nail clippers
Gold Bond powder
Emu Oil and Beeswax tin for cracked heels
Toothpaste and ToothBrush
Small travel size vile of conditioner and camp soap
Insect sting with lidocaine treatment
Pencil Sharpener and two pencils
Six small metal alligator clips (find in the automotive section)
Badger sunscreen with bug repellent
First aid kit:
Ibuprofen (or equivalent)
3M waterproof tape
Small container Hydrogen Peroxide in squeeze bottle
Band aid variety
sewing kit and needle
Squeeze jet water syringe
Biodegradable wipes (I suggest Bob’s Butt wipes, or Dude Wipes which can be found at most outdoor retailers)
Perithrin bug spray for fabrics
Silicone water-guard spray for waterproofing fabrics
2 large Jet boil fuel canisters – one canister to start and one at the last food drop was enough for me. Three small fuel canisters that will fit in your jet-boil to pack down a bit more would work. I had a rule that I had to use a fire to cook at night unless it was raining. The fuel worked out just right where I used the last of the first container at Fairview the night before my second and last food drop when I got a full one.
Next Installment: Ozark Highlands Trail – Lake Fort Smith to Herrod’s Creek
Check out johnozmore.com for artwork, sculptures, writing, and photography from the author or to purchase the debut novel, “The Blood of Winter” Demons of Lost Souls from Amazon.
E-book versions of the Dark Fantasy, “The Blood of Winter” are also available for Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Scrib’d, Angus & Robertson.
If you want to find out more information about the OHT you can check out the Ozark Highlands Trail Association website at ozarkhighlandstrail.com. They have some basic information and tips as well as any changes in the trail such as reroutes from landslides and other information that may change the trail experience. You can also check out ultralightbackpacker.com for some really great tips, advice, and recipes for any thru-hike whether you decide to go ultra-light or want to loaf it and take your time. Check back for more stories from the trail.