My Six Most Treasured Pieces of Gear
A few weeks back my brother posed a very good question to me:
“What do you think about all day?”
Having just reached the 1,000-mile marker, I’ve had ample time to ponder. These thoughts have drifted from deep self-actualization to even deeper fantasies regarding the contents of each course of my post-hike celebration dinner. (Some serious deliberation here.) Over the past couple hundred miles a lot of consideration has been given to the following hypothetical:
Suppose that after 1,000 miles, all hikers were required to partake in a gear swap. Every item you carried would be exchanged at random with the brand and version carried by someone else. The exception: Six pieces of gear that you could hold onto. What would you choose?
I’ve thought long and hard about each contestant. It hasn’t been an easy one; my gear is solid. Odd ends and unnecessary articles didn’t make it this far. The following six pieces of gear have not only stood the 1,000-mile test, they’re so dear to me I have awarded them the coveted label of indispensable. Here are they are, in no particular order:
The Big Six
Yes, lord. As a SOBO with a June 14 start date I was forewarned of the carnivorous disposition of early-summer bugs in Maine. I picked these babies up at the check-out line of my local REI, completely unaware that I was making a definitive purchase. I had already decided against long pants, though I’d read enough gospel from pants-enthusiasts to warrant a little doubt. My legs make up a significant portion of my body surface. They deserve a little protection. Bug pants offer the perfect compromise. They let the breeze in and keep the bugs out. If you’re talking about value per ounce, they’re about as economical as it gets, yet after a 1000 miles I haven’t seen a single other hiker wearing them. Not a day goes by while wearing my bug pants that I don’t receive a few zealous compliments. (Note: I do wear shorts under my bug pants)
Underwear wasn’t a concern of mine before setting off on my hike. I wore running shorts with an inner-lining. Weather in Maine and New Hampshire during June and early July presented blue skies and cool days that didn’t accord with accounts from previous thru-hikers. It wasn’t until late July that chafe season rolled in. Alternating tropical storms and heat waves assured that I was constantly soaked in either rain or my own sweat. The chafing that ensued between my thighs became so raw and horrid that I was forced to set up camp early on several occasions. This could not go on. One day while waddling down the trail I passed a NOBO with an unusual spring in his step. Beams of sunlight radiated from his crotch (True story) I inquired what underwear he was sporting, and immediately sprung for a pair myself. The material dries quick and the patented Joey-Pouch keeps my manhood separate and secure. My chafing on blistering hot days has since been reduced by at least 80%. Usually it’s zero. Though my exploration into non-chafe underwear is just beginning, I have no desire to give these up on this particular hike.
OK, so it’s true that most thru-hikers are currently carrying a Sawyer Squeeze in their pack. Given the hypothetical, I’d more than likely get one back. The thing is, my Sawyer is so fundamental to my hiking life that I can’t even risk swapping it out. It wasn’t long before I quit the routine of filtering a bag of dirty water into an empty bottle, and ditched the additional paraphernalia. Now whenever I reach a spring or stream crossing I simply camel up and carry on. The sawyer attaches to my bottle and allows me to filter stream water as I drink. What was once a time-consuming process (and a heavy piece of gear) is now literally as easy as drinking.
There are a lot of good packs out there, and several continue to draw my eye when I see them on a hiker’s back or propped up against a shelter wall. That being said, I remain faithful to my Circuit. Every time I scrape under a downed tree or fall backwards, poles flailing, I am reminded of the strength and quality of ULA’s chosen materials. The volume is perfect for my less-than-ultralight approach to hiking, yet the roll top allows the bag to collapse well enough for me to use it as a slack-pack. The hip belt is wide and cozy, and the pockets are generous. Though I do get some bruising/chafing around my hips, I attribute that to the material of my shirt and shorts, as well as the heat. On the best of days, I forget I’m wearing it.
“Take care of your feet,” I was told, “They’re taking you a long way.” A good pair of shoes is one of the best investments a hiker can make. For a thru-hiker, make that several pairs. I had worn Altras for a year previous to my thru-hike, so my Achilles were already accustomed to the Zero-Drop heel. My first pair carried me through the hundred-mile-wilderness, over the Whites, and beyond Vermud, over 800 miles. 1000 miles in, on my second pair (3.0s this time) I still have all my toe-nails, and blisters are an anomaly. The only adjustment I would recommend is to add a rock plate beneath the in-sole for sections in Rocksylvania. Shoes are a constantly evolving species. By writing about them, I’m dating myself. I’ve linked the 3.5’s since these are the shoes I’ve grown to know and love. The 4’s are currently on the market, knocking down the price of the 3.5’s considerably.
Hiking is hard. Sleeping shouldn’t have to be. I rock a hammock, and though I’d be willing to exchange it for another, or even a ground tent, my Hudson River Top Quilt will most definitely be coming with me. This is one high quality piece of gear. The insulating ability of down is unmatched, and well worth the extra precaution of keeping it dry. The quilt is light, with a smartly designed foot box that can open up for use as a normal blanket. With a conventional mummy bag, the material you lay on is compressed, causing the heat retention beneath you to be almost zilch. My Hudson River tucks under my shoulders and puffs up nicely, and my underquilt hangs underneath my hammock to create a cocoon of warmth. I’d be willing to trade in my underquilt, but my top quilt is too cozy and well crafted to part with.
A few items made the shortlist, such as my Black Diamond Ergo Cork Trekking Poles and my Darn Tough socks, but in the end they didn’t make the cut. Now I want to know, what are your most prized possessions? Think I need to change my gear loyalties? Convince me.
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