The intent of a shakedown hike is to try out new gear or new processes prior to a trip so you can iron out any bugs, familiarise yourself with new systems, balance your pack so that it’s comfortable, and assess your fitness in terrain similar (or worse) than what you have planned. But how many of us ever do them and should we really bother?
Typically a shakedown hike is just a shorter version of whatever adventure you have planned and you should ideally be carrying what you plan on carrying for your actual trip. So if your plan is to do a seven day hike and carry all your food as well as 1-2 days of water then this is what you should be carrying for your shakedown hike otherwise you are not going to get a realistic feel for the trip itself.
A shakedown hike may only be a one day tester but this will depend on whether you are trying out new sleep systems. I recommend that if you are planning a multi-day trip you do a shakedown hike of at least two days duration so you can see how your body backs up over multiple days. One day of hiking, no matter how taxing, is never going to test you out fully.
In regard to gear use in hiking, I’m going to generalise here and group hikers into three main categories:
Now I need to confess that I fall into the gear freak category. As a result it is rare that I ever use the same exact gear configuration for very long, at most it would be 12 months without a change. In addition I’m also in the process of trying to become a lightweight/ultralight hiker in preparation for some ‘long’ hikes I have planned over the next few years so at the moment this is the driving force behind my gear purchases.
So what does this mean for me? A couple of years ago in preparation for a 14 day hike on the Larapinta Trail I had purchased a new pack, tent, sleeping bag, stove and camera amongst other more minor kit. Armed with all our new purchases we headed off, pack loaded with our proposed kit as well as four days of food and two days of water, which would be the maximum we would be carrying on our upcoming trip. Here’s what we learnt from this shakedown trip.
My packing system for the past five years
On this shakedown hike just before we hiked the Larapinta Trail we had a brand new tent. Just after we set up camp we had a 1.5 hour downpour in big winds. The tent performed spectacularly. On this hike I also decided to downsize my pack for one that was 30% smaller
So for me doing shakedown trips is essential. Not because I don’t hike on a regular basis but because I change gear so often.
If unlike me your gear collection is very stable and you are hiking regularly, a shakedown hike is not absolutely necessary unless you are intending to hike in a totally unfamiliar climate or your fitness level has changed. However, I would still recommend doing a shakedown hike at least once a year particularly if you’ve had a break from hiking.