Sometimes, I think about what would happen if the world was ending and I ran out of contacts. I would squint for days on end. I thought about experiencing the same inconvenience on my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, and decided to switch from contacts to glasses. Here are three reasons why I have no regrets.
I find it difficult to keep my hands clean on backpacking trips. In the past, on weekend backpacking trips that only lasted two days, I would wear contacts. I would wake up in the early morning and poke my eye repeatedly in the dark, trying to place my contacts.
If I washed my hands with hand sanitizer, then my eyes would sting from the hand sanitizer residue. If I washed my hands in a stream, then I would worry about some pathogen in the water getting into my eye. If I didn’t wash my hands, then I’d worry about pink eye or some other nasty infection. One of the worst things to wake up to in the morning on a backpacking trip is your eye crusted shut and your depth perception shot. Try going down a rocky descent without knowing how far away the rocks are — not pleasant.
Less to Carry
I wouldn’t feel comfortable carrying only contacts on a thru-hike. If I had decided to wear contacts, then I would have brought my glasses as well anyways. I would worry about my contacts splitting or an eye infection, and would want backup — and if I’m going to be carrying my glasses, I might as well just use them.
Additionally, I did not want to carry the trash created by using contact lenses. You’d have to pack out the container they come in, the contact lenses themselves, and an additional container to store them in — not to mention saline solution! With glasses, I didn’t have to worry about any of these additional things.
Ease of Use
On my AT thru-hike, I rolled off my Nemo Sleeping Pad every morning, popped my glasses on my face, did some stretches, drank a protein shake — and I was ready to go.
Glasses are also helpful for when you need to get up out of bed in the middle of the night. I can just throw them on when I need to pee and not have to worry about twisting my ankle in a ditch because I’m blind.
Additionally, I’m usually a forgetful person on a thru-hike, and I would most likely forget that I’m wearing contacts and sleep with them in — which is not the healthiest for your eyes and could lead to an infection.
Lastly, I never had to worry about receiving new shipments of contacts, and the associated coordination that goes along with that on a thru-hike.
A Few Notes about Thru-Hiking with Glasses
About six months before my thru-hike, I invested in a pair of Roka glasses, which are designed for running and outdoor activities. This got me used to wearing glasses in day-to-day life. The Roka glasses are lightweight and have grips on them to keep them from sliding down your face. However, I wouldn’t entirely recommend them, since they gave me headaches until I put silicone covers over the arms. That said, they’re a hardy pair of glasses, which is what I was looking for.
The downsides to glasses on a thru-hike are the same as in regular life. When it rains, to prevent my glasses from getting wet (and obscuring my vision), I wear a baseball-style cap. I also typically put the hood up on my rain jacket.
However, this method still has its flaws. A chain of events would occur: I run into a rain-soaked branch, curse a lot, get a bunch of wet leaves on my face, and then I can’t see anything because my glasses are wet. I try to clean them off with my bandana, but my bandana is soaked. I look for other options — my shirt (sweat soaked), my rain jacket (just does not work), my shorts (also soaked.) Nothing works.
On sunny, hot days where I’m sweating a lot, I wear a buff to keep my glasses from sliding down my face. I also find that routinely wiping the sweat off my nose with a bandana keeps them from sliding so much.
During my thru-hike, I was careful with where I put my glasses when I slept, so they wouldn’t get broken.
Finally, make sure to book an eye doctor’s appointment before your hike so you can enjoy the trail in all its unblurry beauty!
I wore my glasses for my entire AT thru-hike and enjoyed experiencing the beauty of the trail in perfect clarity without having to poke my eyes.
Abby Evans, or S.W. Fireball Queen of the Salamanders, enjoys thru-hiking, jumping in mud puddles and catching salamanders. When they're not doing these three things, they love to write about their on-foot adventures. They recently finished the Appalachian Trail and they're looking forward to the Pacific Crest Trail next summer!