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How To Pack Lightly For Your Hiking Adventures In The Tennessee River Valley


Did you know that the Tennessee River Valley boasts over a thousand miles of scenic hiking trails? These include long sections of the famous Appalachian Trail (AT) and shorter trails through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Virgin Falls State Natural Area, Cove Lake State Park, and Barfield Crescent Park near Murfreesboro.

Whether you’re planning to hike the whole length of the AT in Tennessee or take your kids on a short trek along Blue Ridge Small Wild Area Trail, you will benefit from planning in advance. A heavy backpack can turn your happy hiking adventure into a weary slog, but a light backpack can leave you without essential items when you’re out in the wilderness.

But how do you decide what to take and what to leave behind? And how do you pack the equipment you do take?

Make 5 lists
Before I begin to stuff hiking equipment into my backpack, I pause to think. I brainstorm what I might need for the specific hiking adventure I’m headed on. Obviously, I’ll need to carry more for a 94-mile hike along the AP than a 2-hour family trek in Barfield Crescent Park. While writing, I divide what I’ll need into 5 lists.

  • Clothes
  • Equipment
  • Toiletries
  • Essentials
  • Food & drinks

Though the base elevation of Tennessee is only 900 feet, when you head into the Great Smoky Mountains, you could reach elevations over 6,000 feet above sea level. So, when choosing what clothes to pack, bear in mind the weather differences between the trailhead and your destination.

The Smokeys see heavy rainfall that turns into heavy snowfall in winter. The temperature drop between the valleys at 1,600 feet and the mountains at 5,000 feet can be as much as 6 degrees Fahrenheit for the lows and 13 degrees Fahrenheit for the highs.

Before making your clothing list, check the weather forecast for your planned route. If you’re headed into the Smokeys, you’ll probably need waterproof layers that you can slip on as you climb higher.

Obviously, you’ll be packing different pieces of equipment for different hiking adventures depending upon what activities you want to do. For example, if you want to enjoy the Jump Off Trail near Gatlinburg, you’ll want a good-quality camera for the wildflowers and birds often seen along this scenic trail. And if you’re taking your family on a week-long hiking adventure along the AT, you’ll need to carry a family-sized tent.

The black bear population in Tennessee has recently exploded, with their range expanding out from East Tennessee into Middle Tennessee. Although bear attacks are rare, there have been incidents in the Smoky Mountain foothills. You might want to take precautions. Consider carrying bear pepper spray.

Whether it’s snowing or sunny, sunscreen can be important to protect your skin on exposed mountainsides. When hiking with kids, baby wipes are useful. And you’ll need diapers for your baby. On longer hikes through remote areas, you can’t stop off at a local Walmart for toiletries, so make sure you’re carrying everything your family will need.

What’s essential is different for every hiker. What I’m talking about here is things like medication for a specific medical condition or an EpiPen for someone with serious allergies. When you’re miles away from the nearest doctor or pharmacy, you need to be prepared.

Other essentials will relate to your planned activities. If you’ll need to hire a vehicle to get from one trailhead to another, then your driver’s license and a credit card will be required. Also, what’s essential to one hiker may not be to the next. I mean…I wouldn’t go on a long-distance hike without a novel to read.

Food & drinks
On hikes, hydration is essential. Take along plenty of bottled water. And on family hikes, your kids will demand snacks. Longer hikes along the AT will require a lot of planning with respect to what food you can carry and what you can buy along the way. Unless you’re Bear Grylls, you’ll have to carry most of what you’re going to eat.

Organize your items
After you’ve compiled your 5 lists, check them through and remove anything duplicated or that seems frivolous in hindsight. Then collect together all the items from the lists and lay them out together on a flat surface. This will help you when you’re selecting what to pack first and need to visualize.

At this point, you’ll also know which of your backpacks is best for this hike. A short family hike should only need a small backpack, but a week-long hiking adventure may require a large metal-frame hiking backpack. Before beginning to pack, ensure that your chosen backpack is clear of items from previous hikes.

As you pack each item, cross it off your lists. This prevents you from double-packing or missing anything. Also, there’s an optimum order to packing…

Heavy items
Heavy items go first, in the base of your backpack. They need to be distributed evenly so you can keep balance while walking.

Emergency items
Anything you could need in a hurry, such as a first aid kit or your bear spray, should go somewhere you can quickly access. Most backpacks have handy side pockets, and things like EpiPens should go in a specific pocket you can find when it matters most.

Frequently used items
Things you might need often, such as your baby wipes for kids or binoculars, should go on top or in any free side pocket. If your camera and binoculars have straps, you might be better off hanging them around your neck.

Bulky items
Awkward items, such as your tent and bedroll, can be attached to larger backpacks using the available D-rings. When strapping such items to your bag, remember to keep things as balanced as possible and the heaviest items lowest.

Time to hit the trails!
Now you’ve finished packing, you’re ready to hit the trails! You’ll find some of the world’s best hiking trails in Tennessee, so you’re sure to enjoy your hiking adventure.

For more tips on how to enjoy the great outdoors with confidence visit