Reflections on an LSHT Thru-Hike

(Originally published on the Lone Star Hiking Trail Facebook page.)

WHAT I DID.

I hiked the LSHT westbound in six days, from Tuesday 11th May to Monday 17th May. I hiked solo. I did not get resupplied mid-route, and I did not pre-stash any water. Forums like this have helped me do this and have fun, so I want to give back. However! What I write below is just my opinion. There are many ways to cook this egg (though I recommend against the dehydrated eggs for breakfast 😊). Many people have a lot more experience than I. I am a firm believer in “hike your own hike,” so I will try not to tell you how to do this; just make suggestions! This excel with my plan and equipment/food list might be of interest.

BACKGROUND.

I am 53 years old, originally from England, 5’11”, and was just under 200 lbs. when I did this hike. I had just lost 20-odd pounds that I had put on with COVID and could honestly do with losing another 20. This was my most significant hike so far. I had done some very long single-day walks in my youth and some overnight wild camping. I started getting back into backpacking about six years ago with our son, who loves it. We made various trips with increasing distance and challenge from Guadalupe Peak to Big Bend Chisos Mountains to Big Bend Outer Mountain Loop and the Capital Peak Circuit in Colorado. Two years ago, we started doing LSHT together, but it was hot, and I pushed him too hard too early and blew him out. I also learned the difference between succeeding and having fun! Indeed, he will now happily hike anywhere except the LSHT!Over those six years, my equipment has evolved and continues to. For example, my backpack evolved from a 5lb 60l Osprey, to a 40l “day pack” at 3 lbs., to a Hyperlite 55l at under 2 lbs. I have more of an ultralight mindset now (aka weight weenie!). However, I don’t see this as something you can shortcut as you need to find your own way. The lighter equipment is more expensive and can be less robust and less comfortable. If you want backcountry comfort, you will have to have more “stuff,” which means a bigger, more comfortable pack, which itself is heavier. I remember one session with our scout troop from a Philmont veteran who was recommending gear, and the lightweight camp chair was one of their most essential pieces of equipment, which was the first thing I dropped!This trek is somewhat of a training hike to ensure I can keep up with my son this summer when we hike the Collegiate Peaks loop on the Colorado Trail and Continental Divide Trail (160 miles). So I was experimenting with a few things.

WHEN?

My attempt 2 years ago and this one were both in May. I have done overnights at cooler times of the year. May is hotter than I’d like. Any hotter and I see the heat as a barrier to completion. During cooler times, you have hunting season restrictions, and then you have controlled burns. While bugs are an issue, I have found they don’t bother me too much with my system. If I do it again, I think I’d aim for March.Regarding days of the week, avoid the Lake Conroe campground on a Friday or Saturday night. It gets crowded, and it is beautiful when alone!

WHICH DIRECTION?

I came to realize something on this hike. I thought I was doing it “backwards,” assuming the right way is with the numbers counting upwards. However, I realized that the numbers are actually telling you how much longer you have left 😊.Either way works fine, and it will depend on your own plan for distance, campsites, resupply, and water. You have nice running water at Stubblefield and Double Lake. If you wade through the silty East San Jacinto, the running water of Double Lake might be nice for a thorough rinse. Evergreen Baptist is also a strategic water point. Campsites need to be planned based on your water plan.

HOW MANY DAYS?

I did six, which for me was comfortable. My fitness is medium, and I started with a 30lb pack (no water). I have been fighting some injuries, but they did not impact this hike. This question needs to be asked in conjunction with the water plan (stash or not) and food (resupply or not). Each day of food is about 1.5lbs per person. If you stash water, you need time to place the stashes, and there is a risk of them not being there. A resupply run into Huntsville would take time; stashing food is not advised, or you might be able to get someone to drop it off. Six days is 16 miles a day on average.For the first time on this trek, I did not “sprint to the finish.” I could have finished at the end of the sixth day, but I chose to camp two miles from the finish and have a leisurely stroll out in the morning. This gave me some reflection time, and the final walk was like a victory lap. Definitely recommend doing this!

PREPARATION

I probably plan more than most. Other than general hiking gear, the two main areas of planning are food and navigation. On the food side, I don’t think I have much to offer. I aim for food > 100 calories per ounce (in its packaging). I like Mountain House, but I repackage it in a regular Ziplock bag to save weight and then eat a Raman Noodle out of the same Ziplock. One morning on this trip, I experimented using just cold water with my instant oatmeal (eaten directly from the packet), coffee, and hot chocolate, and was pleasantly surprised! On the topic of food, the one question that comes up is whether to hang or not. On this trip, I used Ursack and Opspak and slept with them. I tied it to a tree once when I walked away from my camp. Previously I just used Ziplocks in my pack and slept with it and had no issues. However, when camping at Huntsville with our daughter and going for a stroll at dusk, we returned to find a possum had taken a liking to our almonds…Planning about the trail itself is invaluable. The starting points are the website and the book, which answer 99% of the answerable questions. On the website is the “hiker’s guide,” which is brilliant. I downloaded it, formatted it to fit on five pages, and took a printout. I also took a printout of each of the “USGS Topo” maps. I also made an excel of like plans with mileages, including campsites and water locations, and printed that out on a single sheet. (This excel exercise is more about “walking the trail in my head.” I am not wanting to define a 100% rigid plan as the fun is being able to change on the fly.) All of this goes into a Ziplock (you need to trim the paper a bit) which was always in my pants pocket, with the current map on one side and my single sheet on the other. I did not bring the book. This was all I needed. I did go in the wrong direction once, but I noticed it quickly. In addition to these, I had the Maprika maps ready on my phone, but I did not need them. Once before, the Maprika maps did not work for me (they might have expired??), so I downloaded the Google offline map. I also downloaded AllTrails, which has some additional trail info, but I did not need those. While there is a signal for most of the trail, if you get lost, it will, of course, be in a dead signal zone! Navigating using a phone will likely use too much battery (as will posting on Facebook, which I found out the hard way). While there are some pockets of poor phone signal, it is not for long stretches. I own a Garmin Inreach satellite communicator from a previous trip but did not even bring it on this one.

THINGS OUT OF YOUR CONTROL.

The hike is a much mental as physical. If you leave yourself an easy “out” (like meeting someone for a resupply), the temptation to quit might be high. Full commitment helps. Yes, I think it was the 3rd morning that I really questioned why I was doing this. While you want total commitment, there are things out of your control. The most significant barrier would be a controlled burn by the forest service. The timing is not well advertised (it is difficult for them to predict). It’s Texas, so the weather is unpredictable and the forecasts can be wildly inaccurate. While my cynical side sees the Weather Channel making every weather event a news story so they can sell more, it can get dangerous. My first night looked like a horrific lightning storm and it was bad, but not that bad. However, others on the LSHT Facebook have shared their experiences in chest-deep water or the path underwater. You just have to get your own feel for it and use your own risk tolerance.

SUPPORT OR STASH?

One goal of this trek was doing it unsupported. I love the idea of starting at mile 0 and being “on your own” until the end. However, to do this, you have to filter water. This was a barrier for me until about 4 years ago when planning to do Big Bend’s Outer Mountain Loop. I bought the Sawyer Squeeze and have not looked back; it liberated me! I had previously carried 2-3 days of water, and it was such a hindrance. I have not had ANY issue with water I have drunk from my Squeeze. The result might be an odd color and taste earthy or faintly of an aromatic tea, but it is safe. I used Nuun tablets this trip to help with electrolytes, and that really helped the flavor! Drinking a lot of water is critical, and I filtered 1.5 gallons a day for drinking and cooking. However, if you want to stash, there is nothing against that. Some itineraries make it essential with shorter distances per day or when there is a drought. I had no shortage of trail water this time!

GEAR IN GENERAL

I touched earlier on my progression with gear. The LSHT does not require any special equipment. Start by using whatever you have! If you don’t have, try to borrow something. Otherwise, go to REI or equivalent and ask. They will advise you well for general “starting” equipment. It might be more suited to a weekend casual backpacking trip than a 100-mile thru-hike, but you have to grow. Once you start using equipment, you’ll decide what you like and don’t like, and you might even buy a weighing scale 😊. If you want to upgrade, the REI staff probably won’t be any help. The internet has plenty of great independent review sites, and these are time well spent. You just have to work out what advice fits you and your hiking plans (i.e., just LSHT or beyond). Examples include Clever Hiker or Greenbelly from some recent research I did, but there are a bunch. There is also a Reddit ultralight forum. I still buy from REI or Amazon. Watch out for the adverts that come through on Facebook, as it’s generally not good gear. If you can wait, REI has excellent sales.While often lighter = more expensive and more fragile, that is not always the case. As materials develop, there can be some exciting breakthroughs that don’t necessarily fit the business models of big stores, so you end up buying from smaller startups. For example, the lightest groundsheet I’ve found is Polycro from Gossamer Gear in Austin at 3oz for $11. However, my new one-man trekking pole tent is difficult to put up and is fragile and not for a beginner, but at 1lb. I love it!

SHOES

There are often questions about footwear for this hike, and it really comes down to personal preference. I have hiked in hiking boots, hiking shoes, trail runners, and my everyday sneakers. There seem to be two variables that people talk about. The first is waterproof or not. If waterproof, they take a lot longer to dry out. No shoe will say dry when submerged below the top. Feet sweat, so make it wet from the inside. However, these can be managed. Trail runners will get wet but will dry much quicker. The LSHT is flat and muddy, so grip is less important than elsewhere. Except after exceptional rains, the only river you might have to wade is the East San Jacinto. There is a log, but I’ve not been able to walk it – I took the detour (which was surprisingly easy and I recommend). If you wade, you might want to change into camp shoes. Go with what you have and what you know! I would suggest the following are more important considerations:

  • I wear two pairs of socks – an REI sock liner and a darn tough sock. Any rubbing is then between the two socks, and I don’t get blisters. I also carry an extra of each, so I have a fresh pair.
  • Hiking poles. Give you the balance and stability you need.
  • Camp shoes, as light as possible so that your feet can breathe in camp. You need them to dry out each evening. I prefer to wear my sock liners in my camp shoes (helps the socks dry out and keeps bugs away), but I always sleep barefoot to help my feet breathe.

MOSQUITOES AND TICKS.

When I started the hike, I had a continuous swarm of over 100 of them around me, but I did not get a single bite. My “system”:

  • As much skin as possible covered. I wore long pants, a long sleeve shirt, a buff around my neck, and a hat.
  • A couple of weeks before this trek, I read on this forum about a mosquito head net. It was the most valuable investment I could make, as it meant my face and ears were covered!
  • Treat all clothing with Permethrin. I also treat the mosquito netting on my tent.
  • I had some Picaridin but found I didn’t need much. Sometimes spray some on the backs of my hands, though I might take think gloves next time! (I don’t like DEET because if you get it on plastic, it melts it.)

Keep all skin completely covered except when in your tent. I had a few fails at throwing nuts into my mouth while wearing the head net… When I stopped walking, the mosquitoes were bad at first, but then they lost interest.This seems to also keep out the ticks and chiggers. On the last day I had a long time in camp and I wore shorts, and might have got a chigger bite that day. Applying hand sanitizer seemed to soothe it quite well!In summary, the mosquitoes were NOT an issue for me.

TENT/HAMMOCK

This is another question frequently asked, and again it comes down to personal preference. Both work and both have pros and cons. I was in a tent. I have tried a hammock and have had a range of success and might try again.

RAIN GEAR.

I think this question needs to be considered with your overall system, your plan, and the expected temperatures. If hiking hard, you are likely to sweat as much inside anyway, but what do you do at camp? If very cold, it is as much a windproof layer as waterproof. But it’s weight. I added waterproofs last minute as the forecast threatened continuous rain all week, and I was a bit worried I’d get cold. I did not wear them at all. However, I would recommend bringing a trash bag or similar to sit on! There is often a tree trunk as a seat at camp or lunch spots, but it will either be wet or full of bugs. Sometimes I grabbed my groundsheet, but that is difficult when the tent is pitched. The bag also serves as a good picnic “table” to keep things clean.

SHUTTLE

“Is it safe to leave a car at a trailhead?” Probably or maybe seem the best answers. Like many things, the probability of an issue is low but not nothing. I parked off-trail and used a fantastic shuttle. However, there is something special about the feeling of arriving at the end and your car being there! Don’t forget when planning to include a duffle in your vehicle for the finish, with clean clothes and wet wipes and water and maybe some food.

YOU’VE READ THIS FAR. NOW WHAT?

I have been cautious of becoming the armchair equipment buyer. The next step must be – go and hike with whatever you own. If you are sure, buy one thing and go hike with it. Or you end up with lots of unused equipment. This might not be for you. You might not enjoy six nights on the ground or the earthy water or the mosquitoes. Don’t assume you won’t, but do get out there. The following quote from inspired me during a particularly challenging winter camp in Minnesota:

“It has to do with immersion, I believe. Our lives are couched in comfort, cloistered with convenience. Rarely do we have the opportunity to immerse ourselves in an experience that lets us look inside our souls, to explore our boundaries, to flirt with the unknown. Even more rarely do we seize those opportunities when they are presented… Go. Get out there. Feel the wind. Taste the rain. Find the magic.”

From Up North by Sam Cook

I hope this might be of use to some. See you on the trails.

This page is linked to from my Lone Star Hiking Trail home page.

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Published by Peter Ireland

I am originally from England, and my wife is from Louisiana. When we started Geocaching in 2002, we needed a name, and the Cajunlimeys were created, and that is the name I use for my blog. Even though Janet has no Cajun blood, her cooking is excellent! We live in Houston, Texas, with Bailey and Samuel. We love adventures and wanted to be able to share the experiences with others. When planning trips, I have found other people’s sites very useful, so I want to give back and add a different perspective.

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