While you definitely don’t need any special gear to hike, having comfortable, high-performing clothing can make your hikes at least a little bit better.
And with that above disclaimer, I will say that I am fully immersed in ‘gear culture’. I (hopefully) am not a brat about it and keep my obsessions relatively subdued while my eyes constantly dart from person to person on the trail seeing what type of gear they have. And it truly doesn’t come from a place of judgment, I just really love to see what people use and wear.
Over the years, I’ve become either a shorts or leggings only hiker depending on the terrain or temperature. I’ve just found that if a hiking pant that isn’t sung to my belly/hips/thighs, I’m constantly adjusting or getting twisted up. So, it may come as no surprise to you that I have multiple pairs of hiking bottoms. In my hiking pants arsenal, you’ll find the KUHL Transcendr Legging, a clever combo of durable soft shell fabric on the front and back and knit stretch panels along the sides.
Here’s what I love about them:
DWR (durable water repellent) on the soft shell fabric resists light rain and spills
Envelope-style pocket that easily holds my iPhone 14
Breathable yet durable thanks to the combo of soft shell and stretch fabrics
UPF 50 sun protection
Looks pretty cute for hiking pants! (Totally unnecessary but appreciated!)
What I would improve:
Only comes in one inseam, which is pretty typical for leggings, but as a member of the long legs club, I wish these leggings were just a bit longer
I wish they were just a smidge higher waisted, but I love stuff to be sky high on my waist!
These only go up to XL, so sizing isn’t fully inclusive, especially as they tend to fit a bit small. I would love to see Kuhl carry a fully inclusive size range as none of their sizing goes above XL.
I took them for an inaugural overnight camping/backpacking trip a few weeks ago and they were very comfortable. I didn’t find myself having to constantly pull them up while hiking or moving around camp, which is always a plus for any kind of pants. I also was climbing up and over some rocks on the hike and they moved well and stood up to some light abrasion.
I feel like they are pretty true to their sizing chart on the site. I wear a medium (5’ 7”, 145 lbs, with a butt) which coincided with my waist and hip measurements of 29” and 40” respectively. If anything, I’d size up a bit from your ‘normal’ size because They don’t fit perfectly but, honestly, what pair of pants does, right ladies?! Like I mentioned above, it would be really great to see Kuhl extend their size ranges. Only going up to a size XL (16/18) is a huge bummer from such a large company. It’s really hard to fully support a product (even when they make great things!) when those great things can’t be worn and enjoyed by hikers and active people of all sizes.
Overall, these pants are a great choice for day hiking, backpacking and camping. I love the combo of durable and stretch and always appreciate a good phone pocket. If you’re searching for a solid hiking pant, put the Transcendr Legging on your list if you are in the XS-XL size range.
AKA An Anxious Person’s Guide to Ease into Sleeping in the Backcountry 🙃
Putting everything you need to survive for a few days in the woods can feel pretty daunting, especially if you’ve never done it. It can feel like an all or nothing endeavor.
The inspiration for putting all these words down on this page is for all my anxiety-suffering pals out there. Jumping into something like backpacking can be absolutely debilitating to think about (so many things to plan, think about and could potentially ‘go wrong’), even if hiking and camping are things you enjoy. For me, taking out as many unknowns as possible helps my anxious brain regulate. So, taking things step by step and introducing new things in smaller chunks is so helpful.
So, how do you prepare? How do you start your backpacking journey? While some just go for it, there’s a few things you can do to ease yourself into it and hopefully help in easing the transition from ‘regular’ camping or hiking.
Gather Your Gear
First (and this probably goes without saying), you need to collect your gear. While hiking has a low cost barrier to entry, you obviously need some gear to venture into the backcountry and stay the night. Here’s a general list of what I take backpacking. There’s tons of different types of gear, but the most important thing to keep in mind is getting a backpack that will comfortable carry the weight of your gear. When I first started, I would just collect whatever gear I could that was inexpensive or on sale. I didn’t have a huge budget and I slowly collected all the gear I needed. My gear was much heavier than it is now, but I had a backpack that could comfortable carry the higher weight. Don’t feel like you have to strive for the super ultralight right from the beginning. Even now, my gear is lighter, but I’m not an super ultra-lighter. Also, make sure you know how to pack a backpack so that weight is distributed evenly. (Basically, you want the heaviest stuff near the middle of your back.)
Backpack cover or liner (in case it rains)
Sleeping bag liner (colder months)
Stove + pot
Lightweight Mug (for coffee)
Long handled spork (or any spoon/spork for eating)
Waterproof roll top food bag
With food obviously!
Water bottles or water bladder (I usually carry 2 1L bottles)
Water filter + dirty water bottle/bag (I use Katadyn BeFree + 2L Hydrapack bag)
First Aid Kit
Hand sanitizer or soap
Paracord + carabiner for bear hangs (or bear canister)
Pocket knife or multi tool
Battery bank + charging cord
One change of clothes for sleeping (not necessary for short trips, but it is nice to have “clean” clothes to sleep in!)
Hat (usually both a brimmed one and a beanie in the cold)
Gloves (cold weather only)
Lightweight fleece (almost always unless it’s dead of summer. Mornings can be chilly)
Puffy coat (I’ll bring if temps will dip to 40-ish degrees or below)
Bandana or small camp towel (like PackTowel)
Camp shoes like crocs or lightweight sandals (not necessary but nice to give your feet a break)
Map (either paper or saved on phone somewhere)
2. Practice at Home
Now that you have your gear, make sure you know how to use it. In your living room or yard, make sure you know how to set up your tent. Put your entire sleep system (sleeping pad, sleeping bag, pillow, etc.) inside. Pack your backpack up, then unpack and ‘set up camp’, then re-pack everything again.
Make sure you know how to use your stove and water filter. Practice filtering water (even if it’s just from your tap!). Go outside and set up your stove. (Not a great idea to ever use a stove inside.) Light it and boil some water.
If you aren’t relatively comfortable with your gear at home, you don’t set yourself up well to use it in the backcountry.
3. Take a ‘Faux’ Backpacking Trip
Once you’re familiar with your gear at home, it’s time to take it outside. Find a walk-in camp site (or drive-up site, but I like the walk in because it feels a little more like backpacking). Savage Gulf State Park has a few great walk-in sites (or sites within a couple tenths of a mile from the parking lot) that are perfect for this type of trip. Being close to your car lets you easily bail if you feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed. Bonus points if you’ve camped at the spot before. Removing as many ‘new’ things as possible always helps me feel a bit less anxious or stressed.
Then, the next day, pack up your stuff and do some day hiking, but with your pack. Because, wouldn’t you know, hiking with 25+lbs on your back feels different than a 5lb daypack. (This is where trekking poles come in extra handy. I never backpack without them!) With more weight, comes more stress on your joints and bones and also my body just moves a little differently when I have a pack on. (Aka I fall a lot more because the weight pulls me down…)
4. Backpack a trail you’ve already hiked
Now’s the time to put it all together and camp in the backcountry. I always suggest doing a trail that you’ve already hiked so you know what to expect: in terrain, difficulty, water sources, etc. Again, removing as much ‘new’ as possible makes it feel a little less daunting.
Also, one thing that helps me feel more at ease is knowing where the water sources are, which you’ll have a better idea of if you’ve already hiked the hike. You can also always call park rangers or park headquarters to ask about trail conditions and water sources. Sometimes, water sources are seasonal, too!
To start off, I’d suggest a 10-12 mile overnight hike, whether that’s an out and back or a loop. Here are some of hikes in Tennessee that would also make great overnight trips. But, really any hike that you’re familiar with is a great choice.
5. Backpack a new trail and/or take a multi-day trip
You did your first trip! How did you feel? Ready to tackle something new?Maybe you’ve decided backpacking isn’t for you (totally ok!!), but if you’ve been bitten by the backing bug, now’s your chance to take another step into the unknown. Backpack a bit more challenging trail, or a new trail or try a longer trip (2 or 3 nights). The possibilities are endless.
I’m not saying this is the only way to get into backpacking or you definitely should do all of these steps. Some may find moving this slowly is ridiculous, while others may have to take it even slower. My best advice is to listen to your body, but also, to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Do something that scares you a little. Even when I feel my anxiety is becoming crippling, once I actually get out on the trail, some of it usually subsides.
Going with a trusted friend or on a group trip — TN State Parks usually host some backpacking trips throughout the year. There’s also many hiking groups that do overnight trips — can also be a great starting point. (And if you don’t have any gear, some programs will rent you gear.)
I can’t really explain fully why I love strapping on backpack with all I need to survive for a few days and trudging through the woods and I think that’s why I love it so much. It both frees my mind and scared me a little bit. And I think all the best things do.
I distinctly remember putting this trail on my ‘to-hike’ list years ago. But, it was a little too far away and I was a little too scared to hike it by myself (literally me at every new hike I do…), so it kept getting pushed to the end of the list. But, the great thing about having friends who both love to hike and were living close to Pisgah is that you can semi-spontaneously decide to hike Art Loeb in the middle of the week. All I needed was a little push.
The Art Loeb Trail is a 30.1 mile trail (plus a little more if you do some short side trails) in the beautiful Pisgah National Forest of North Carolina with its termini at Davidson River Campground and the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp (yes, through a literal summer camp to get to the trailhead). By my numbers, the elevation gain was roughly 7,100 feet.
But, wow, what a beautiful, challenging and rewarding trail. We initially planned on a SOBO hike of 3 days and 2 nights but pushed to get done in 2 days trying to avoid potentially bad weather. Hiking 16+ miles each day with lots of elevation change and a pack (with bear canister, which are required in Shining Rock Wilderness btw; I believe you can rent one from the Asheville REI.) was a doozy but one I’d do again in a heartbeat.
There are many places to camp along the way. You can disperse camp in National Forests, meaning you can virtually camp anywhere you’d like, preferably 200 feet from the trail or water. Many people suggest NOT camping in Shining Rock Wilderness because of bear activity (and also why you need a bear canister), so that may be something to take into account as you are planning your sites. But, there are plenty of already ‘developed’ sites along the way, so you can really decide to stop whenever you get to a place you like. There’s also 2 very sketchy, but cool looking shelters on the trail, but I would not advise actually sleeping in them for fear of collapse.
Also, water can be scarce at certain times of the year on this trail, so fill up when you can. In the summer, you may need to carry most of your water for the whole trip. I hiked this trail in March and we didn’t have a problem, but we also filled up every time we saw any water. You may not be so fortunate in the warmer months. I used this post to help plan out my trip.
Here was our itinerary for a 2-day, 1-night hike of Art Loeb:
Day 0: Met Bethany late at Davidson River Campground and we slept in the back of my Subaru. (I have an air mattress that fits the back of my car and it’s a game changer for arriving at trailhead late at night so you don’t have to hike i and set up in the dark.)
Day 1 (16.6 miles): Woke up and drove one car to the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp trailhead and started hiking around 8:00am. Camped at a nice little spot just south of Farlow Gap. Features: Shining Rock, Tennent Mountain, Black Balsam Knob
Day 2 (16.96 miles): Started hiking around 8:00am and finished the trail around 5:00pm at Davidson River Campground. Features: Pilot Mountain, Sassafras Knob, Chestnut Mountain
We chose to go SOBO so that we would end near Brevard, NC, so we could eat a bunch of town food after we finished the hike. (The Boy Scout Camp trailhead is much more secluded.) They say it’s a bit more challenging going NOBO, but no matter what, you are going to climb, descend, climb, descend, etc. Also some say to do NOBO because you ‘save the views for the end’, but there are views throughout and the ‘best’ ones are just about halfway through. You do you though and HYOH (hike your own hike)
I was stunned by the diversity of the trail: the sweeping views, very narrow rhododendron tunnels, forest-like cover and shining rocks. A+ would recommend to any backpacker that loves beauty and a challenge. (And maybe falling. I fell a lot 🙈)
Distance from Nashville: 5 hours
Trailhead: Davidson River Campground near Brevard, NC and Cold Mountain/Camp Daniel Boone near Canton, NC
Trail: Art Loeb Trail
Length of trail: 30.1 miles (we clocked just over 33 miles)
Link to trail map: Art Loeb Trail (I also thought my Gaia GPS map was great)
Camping: Dispersed, many options that are already ‘developed’ as sites (cleared out and flat), also 2 shelters that no one should actually sleep in (Deep Gap and Butter Gap). Most say to avoid camping in Shining Rock Wilderness because of bear activity. Bear canisters required in Shining Rock Wilderness.
Overview: Super beautiful and challenging hike with sweeping open Appalachian views, shining rocks, thick forest cover, narrow rhododendron and laurel ‘tunnels’. I would recommend this to anyone who likes backpacking, but maybe just not make it your very first every trip. You may hate yourself.
I always forget about Old Stone Fort when thinking of semi-nearby hikes to Nashville. I’m not quite sure why because it’s such a unique hike in that it has like a hundred (ok maybe not 100) little ‘cascading waterfalls’ along the Duck River (Trivia time: at 284 miles, the Duck River is the longest river located entirely within the state of Tennessee AND it’s the most biologically diverse river in North America. So, yeah, I think you should check it out…)
The route I usually do is a mostly easy hike with only a few steep parts (off the main loop on the Backbone and Moat trails) and you get rewarded with all these river falls and some indigenous peoples history. The fort was built somewhere between 1500 and 2000 years ago and was formed by mounds and the bluff walls. There’s also a museum on site so you can learn all about the land you are recreating on.
It’s only an hour from Nashville and worth checking out if you only have a half day or so free to hike. Or make a weekend of it: snag a campsite here, also visit nearby Short Springs State Natural Area and maybe even stop by the George Dickel Distillery, only a short drive away.
But, please, oh please, practice the Leave No Trace principles when you’re out. There’s lots of folks out there newer to hiking and we ALL need to pitch in to keep our public lands beautiful. Let’s set a good example and politely encourage people to treat public lands the right way.
📍 On the ancestral lands of Tsalaguwetiyi, Shawandasse Tula, S’atsoyaha, and Chikashsha
Distance from Nashville: Just over 1 hour
Trailhead: Visitor’s Center at Old Stone Fort
Trail: Enclosure, Forks of the River, Backbone & Moat Trails
Going fully UL (ultralight) with all of your gear is often very expensive and exclusionary for many people. I wanted to share an inexpensive and easy way to shave some ounces and space in your backpacking setup: a tiny UL Toiletry Kit! (And unintentionally all one boring white color 🙃)
Put it all in the tiniest bag sack you can find! I like to keep all this stuff together not only for convenience, but also so I can easily throw in my bear bag with my food. Remember to always hang or stow in a bear-safe container any products that have any type of scent!
Total weight: 34 g (1.2 oz) Total cuteness: ♾
The UL toothbrush is super tiny and great, but it’s typical lifespan is about 7 days. So don’t expect to have this forever. But at 99 cents (or $2.99 for a 5-pack), I think it’s worth it.
These toothpaste tabs are great! They are virtually weightless compared to a mini toothpaste tube. Just stick one in your mouth and chew a couple times to make a paste, then brush away. It does take a bit to get used to because it doesn’t taste as strong as ‘regular’ toothpaste. But, I’ll never go back! (I actually use them exclusively at home too and I refill them at a local shop, so it’s zero waste for me.)
I love Sunbum sunscreen. It’s a relatively ‘natural;’ sunscreen that’s reef-safe and it works so well. Also, this combos as my face moisturizer too.I’m not going to bring separate skin care while I’m backpacking, but it is nice to have something that gives my skin a little love.
This verrrry mini bottle has deodorizing body in it and it’s my newest addition to this kit. I typically don’t bring a stick of deodorant on trail because you are going to smell and it’s just not worth the weight (and possible meatiness factor). This powder is great because it’s very light and I can pat it on areas that get sweaty or smelly. It helps absorb some moisture and also combats the funk a little bit.
Colditz Cove State Natural Area (SNA) is in the northern portion of the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee. This ‘bell of the ball’, as they say, of this hike is Northrop Falls but there’s also some classic rock houses and features characteristic of this area. The Colditz Cove Trail is a relatively short (2-ish miles) hike that goes around the top of the falls and behind them in a boomerang-shaped loop.
This SNA is right down the road from Pickett State Park and Big South Fork. (And I’m using the rural definition of ‘right down the road’ which means it’s within 20 miles 😂) Because this whole area of TN is off the beaten path, it stays relatively under the radar. Even on a nice Saturday afternoon, there were only a few other cars in the lot. If you’re making the trek up here, I’d suggest making a weekend of it and visiting all 3 areas because they’re all pretty special. You can also throw in Pogue Creek Canyon for good measure.
P.S. There’s typically no trash cans at the trailheads in state natural areas, so please prepare to pack your trash ALL THE WAY OUT (like all the way home or a gas station or whatever). There’s, unfortunately, just not enough resources for all these areas to have trash cans.
Distance from Nashville: 2 hr 15 min
Trailhead: Northrop Falls Rd off of Rugby Pike (TN-52) near Allardt, TN
Right before you hit Pickett State Park on TN-154, there’s a small pull-off trailhead nestled between fields of fall goldenrod and asters is one of the access points to Pogue Creek Canyon SNA. You’ll also find an astronomy field where you can view to night skies of this International Dark Sky Association certified area.
You’ll start this hike descending into the canyon, briefly ascending, then making the final plunge into the canyon before climbing out again as you near the final overlook. You can also access the Mesa Top Overlook from a shorter, flatter hike from the Moccasin Trailhead (which also marks Moccasin Rock trail that connects to Pickett), although, you will miss out on some pretty stellar things about this state natural area.
This hike will give you rock formations characteristic of the TN North Cumberland Plateau. You’ll pass by several rock houses and a few arches on your way to the Mesa Top Overlook, which is a great place to enjoy lunch and a view of the ‘canyon’. Make sure to take the short side trail to Circle Bar Arch and don’t miss the ‘biggest tiny arch’, Killdeer Arch. There’s also an unmarked side trail to a dripping waterfall (heavier flow when there’s rain), but be prepared to take off your backpack and squeeze through some rocks (not claustrophobic rocks, just rocks jutting out that you kinda off have to snake around). Even though the water was barely flowing, it was a cool area to explore. My favorite part about the hike was how evenly spaced all of the interest points were. There was enough to see to keep the hike engaging the whole time.
One more note: There is an actual ladder about a mile in. I had to carry Luna down and up the ladder (over one shoulder holding with one arm, so I could still grip the rungs; it was quite the sight I’m sure! 🙃) She is very great with steps, even really steep ones, but she could not do this ladder. So, if you can’t safely carry your dog down and up an 8 rung ladder, you may want to leave the pup at home for this one.
If you find yourself in the North Cumberland Plateau area or want to do multiple hikes in this area, I’d suggest doing Pogue Creek Canyon first. It truly is a cool hike with unique features, but I don’t think that it quite impresses as much as Pickett or Big South Fork. So, build up to the rock beauties and do Pogue Creek first, so you are extra impressed by the other hikes in the area.
Distance from Nashville: 2 hr 25 min
Trailhead: Near the Astronomy Field on Pickett Park Hwy (TN-154)
Trail: All of ‘em (Overlook, Upper Canyon Mesa Top)
Located solidly off of any interstate, Laurel-Snow is a beautiful little pocket of the gorges of Walden Ridge in the eastern Cumberland Plateau. It gets it name from 2 waterfalls in the area and is also the first National Recreation Trail designated in Tennessee. Laurel-Snow also contains a section of the Cumberland Trail, although it doesn’t yet directly connect to any other part of the the CT.
The entire area has about 11 miles of trails situation in a ‘Y’ shape. About 1.5 miles in, the trail forks. The right fork takes you to Laurel Falls and Bryan Overlook and the left fork takes to you Snow Falls and Buzzard Point. You’ll find Henderson Creek campsite near the fork and a campsite near each of the waterfalls (water sources near all sites). Doing the entire trial system in an overnight is a bit of a push, but very doable.
The trails are marked relatively well, but it’s very easy to get turned around or wander off on a fake trail, especially as you wander deeper into the area. I would highly recommend having the free Gaia GPS app, which helped us stay on track.
During the first part of the trail, you’ll find remnants of Richland Mine as you meander along Richland Creek. Even with water levels low, this waterway is stunning with its enormous boulders and trickling cascades. We veered left towards Snow Falls and soon came upon the longest metal footbridge I’ve ever crossed at 150 ft. Three connected bridges zig-zagged over the boulder-filled Richland Creek gorge. The trail gets slightly overgrown in this area, basically meaning that the poison ivy is all up on your feet and legs. Take the dirt/jeep road to get to Buzzard Point; it’s definitely worth it the 180 degree views of the gorge and Chickamauga Lake in the distance.
We camped at Morgan Creek, a peaceful site near Snow Falls. You can access the base and the top of the small fall. Because the water level of Morgan Creek was low, we got to hang out in the creek bed and take it all in.
The next morning, we retraced our steps back to the trail fork and headed then headed towards Laurel Falls. You’ll climb out of a gorge, traverse some pretty amazing rock structures and climb through a little rock tunnel, which was especially fun with a loaded pack on your back! Laurel Falls was just a trickle, but the shelf-like rock that formed it was stunning regardless of the water level. We relaxed on the car-sized boulders before heading back to the trailhead.
The only bummer about these trails is that you have to do a lot of backtracking to see everything. You end up basically doing every trial twice. Oh, and poison ivy and ticks. Lots and lots of poison ivy and seed ticks. (I may have found a tick TWO days later attached near my armpit 🤢)
There were lots of people coming to swim in the creek, so that means there was trash, especially along the first 1.5 miles. Please remember to #recreateresponsibly and #leavenotrace. PICK UP TRASH Y’ALL.
Laurel-Snow is a complete winner, just make sure you have a plan, a map and plenty of water (all things you should have for any hike anyways!)
Distance from Nashville: 2 hr 45 min
Trailhead: Pocket Wilderness Road off of Back Valley Rd near Dayton, TN
Trail: Laurel-Snow Trail
Length of trail: 3.3 miles (one way) to end of Laurel Falls Spur Trail, 4.8 miles (one way) to end of Snow Falls Spur Trail. My route was 15.5 miles, split over 2 days
Just down the road from the entrance to Foster Falls, you’ll find the Denny Cove trailhead — one of the newer additions to South Cumberland State Park. While this area is known for it’s excellent rock climbing, hikers will also enjoy the short trails to an overlook and beautiful cascading waterfall.
This roughly 3.5 mile out and back hike has a lot of what this are of Tennessee has to offer including the classic boulder-filled trail at times. (Love it or hate it, boulders abound all over this area! Time to get those ankles strong!) I’d classify this hike as solidly moderate in difficulty, accessible to most hiking levels.
At about a half mile in, the trail splits: one part take you to a nice overlook and the other takes you to the waterfall. There’s also a spur that has all of the climber access points (and doesn’t lead to the waterfall).
I truly love this waterfall and the trail immediately leading up to it. You round one corner of the trail and boom, there’s the beautiful, towering, cascading fall. The pool it spills into is pretty small so you can stand close to it and feel the gentle mist; there’s even a large rock conveniently placed so you can sit and take it all in.
If you’re checking out Foster Falls for the day, maybe head on over the Denny Cove and add a few more miles onto your hiking day.
I haven’t done much hiking in North Georgia but I will still say that this trail is one of the best in the area. The whole out-and-back hike was just about 5 miles and there’s about 1500 feet of elevation gain in 2.5 miles. It’s a nice little thigh burner which is manageable and the payoff is well worth it. Oh, and also got to hike this beaut with Luke and I just love sharing time together in the outdoors.
Our hike up Blood Mountain started via the Byron Reece Trail. After just under a mile, you’ll turn right onto the AT until you reach the summit and/or the shelter.
The first part of the trail follows a small creek, then you begin your climb. It was only slightly icy when we went but it can get slippery on the rocks. (Luna also got tangled up in my legs when another dog was passing and she pulled me right over and I busted up my palm on a jagged rock. This is why you always carry a first aid kit!) You’ll zig zag through the lands of the Blood Mountain Wilderness within the Chattahoochee National Forest as you climb with a slightly rocky trail.
There’s a more than few good overlooks of the Southern Appalachians along the way. And I’ll share a little secret: the actual ‘summit’ of the mountain doesn’t have the best view. Go a little farther until you reach the shelter and climb the huge boulder in front of it for a prime lunch spot with a breathtaking view.
You can also make this a 6-7 mile loop by connecting the Freeman Trail if you are looking for a little bit of a longer hike and prefer loops to out-and-backs.
Blood Mountain is a wonderful hike in North Georgia. This trail can get crowded in the popular months, so plan to get to the trailhead early. (We did this hike in early February with some snow and ice, so we didn’t see many others.) Also, I picked up LOTSSSSS of trash on this hike. Please keep nature wild and practice all Leave No Trace principles.