Committing to my Kit: AT Gear List, Take 2

The gear I used on my thru-hike attempt last year worked WONDERFULLY (you can see pretty much what I took with me here, give or take a few things). My pack was amazing and my hammock was literally the most comfortable thing I’ve ever slept in, but alas I have made a few modifications and will be starting my hike this year with a slightly different setup. I wanted to take a few moments and discuss some of the bigger, more important pieces of gear I’ll be taking, and share my lighterpack which has more details. Since I’ve spent a solid 150 nights or more in the woods in the last 12 months, including 6 months working in wilderness therapy where I learned more than I ever imagined one could know, I feel like I have my system mostly nailed down, though there is still some room for improvement. So, here it goes.

The Big Three (or 5, in my case)

Sleep System

I slept in a Warbonnet Blackbird double layer 1.1. This hasn’t changed since last year, and this thing is basically the equivalent of sleeping in a cloud. I sleep better in my hammock than I do in most beds. I can’t compare to similar/equivalent products by different brands, but I can say with confidence that I would buy another WBBB in a heartbeat if it came to it. I have not ever once regretted the decision to switch to hammock camping, and have not yet found a single flaw in the design of this beautiful piece of equipment.

WBBB Hammock, photo from Warbonnet Outdoors website

If you buy a tent, it’s usually an all-in-one system (the tent and rain fly), so it’s considered one piece of gear. Well, my hammock has an integrated bugnet, but I still needed a tarp. I’m not going to lie, when I received my Warbonnet Edge tarp in the mail, I was absolutely positively sure this tiny thing would NEVER keep me dry in a downpour. To this day sometimes I set it up and have my doubts. However, I’ve slept through a few too many serious thunderstorms to have any real concerns anymore. I have not ever once gotten wet overnight using this tarp. It’s some sort of crazy magic trick or maybe just remarkably precise worksmanship, but it’s amazing. The one flaw this tarp has is it’s lack of privacy: you better not be shy if you’re at a crowded shelter or campsite and need to change clothes or something of the like. It doesn’t offer much in the form of visibility protection, but the weight and space saved by the design is pretty much worth it.

WB Edge Tarp, photo from Warbonnet Outdoors

This setup has kept me comfy and dry on countless occasions, and I have faith that it will keep me happy on my thru-hike attempt this year.

Sleeping Bag…er… quilts (2 quilts, not 1 sleeping bag)

Last year during my thru-hike attempt, I started with an Arrowhead Equipment synthetic 3/4 length underquilt and an REI Joule sleeping bag. I’m going to comment on both pieces of equipment here without dissing either, as they are both solid investments if they are right for you.

The sleeping bag performed phenomenally. I distinctly remember below freezing nights in the Smokies last year where I slept with my bag unzipped and was still too hot. However, I also slept with the bag unzipped because it was super super narrow and I felt like I was in a straight-jacket when I zipped it up. I ended up returning the bag to REI when I got home and purchasing a Big Agnes bag instead, which also didn’t work out. This was also a great bag, though I didn’t feel like it lived up to its temperature rating. It was one of those backless bags that has a slot for your sleeping pad, and since I was in a hammock and didn’t use a pad, I found I had a hard time keeping the insulation on top and the open part on bottom. It also didn’t work for me.

The Arrowhead underquilt, well I’m sure it’s the right piece of gear for someone but it did not work for me. I think it was the 3/4 length thing that made the difference, but I froze to death with this UQ. I swapped it out before I hit the 300 mile mark.

On to what I’m actually taking with me this year:

I purchased a Hammock Gear Incubator 20 last year at Trail Days and haven’t looked back since. This thing, while rated to 20 degrees, has kept me toasty in about 17 degrees with 35mph+ winds and snow flurries. I cannot say enough good things about this company and the quilts they make. I trust that I won’t be cold from the bottom using this quilt and it hasn’t let me down yet.

My hammock setup, WBBB hammock, Edge tarp, HG underquilt.

My hammock setup, WBBB hammock, Edge tarp, HG underquilt.

Since I have been so thrilled with my HG underquilt, I really really really wanted a HG topquilt (the Burrow 20). I had planned to buy one at Trail Days this year, but alas, HG didn’t show up. Since I’d already sold my sleeping bag back to REI due to being unhappy with it’s performance, and HG apparently had something like a 6 week backup on orders, I had to just go ahead and buy something. I ended up purchasing a Jacks R Better topquilt at a nice discount at Trail Days, but it’s several ounces heavier than the HG quilt I wanted. I hope I’m happy with this quilt, but if not, maybe I’ll try to swap it out for a HG in the future (HEYYYY Hammock Gear: if you wanna send me a burrow, feel free! Ha!) So I’m starting with a 25 degree Jacks R Better Hudson River. I hope I love it.

Jacks R Better Hudson River, photo from Jacks R Better


Here’s where I’m torn a bit. I have my old Osprey Aura 50L that I loved during my attempt last year. It worked flawlessly and I was never uncomfortable. However, it has a significant amount of wear on it and I’m worried about it being able to make it all the way. Then I have a 65L Aura AG that fits like a DREAM (seriously, the suspension on these AG packs is unreal). But it’s really bigger (and heavier) than what I want to carry. I’m having a hard time making the decision, but it will be one or the other and I’ll have to decide pretty quickly.

Standing on a rock in the Roan Highlands, Osprey Aura 50 on my back.

Sporting my Aura AG 65L on a recent section hike.

So those are my big 3 (5). You can see my full gear list by following the link to my lighterpack list (above). Just a few more notations on why I chose the things I did:

  • Lightheart Gear Rain Gear: because I wanted functional gear that I could use while supporting cottage industries AND an awesome lady hiker with my hard earned dollars.
  • Groundbird Gear Dog Pack: because this is seriously the best dog pack on the market hands down. And also supports a cottage business AND awesome badass lady hiker.
  • Brooks Cascadia Trail Runners: because I was fitted for these babies two years ago at Outdoor 76 in Franklin and they haven’t failed me since.
  • Black Diamond Trekking Poles: I bought my BD poles two years ago used and while they are dinged up, bent, and have undergone many many miles of abuse, they still perform flawlessly and there’s no need fix what isn’t broken.
  • JetBoil Zip Stove: While I am constantly amazed at this thing’s ability to boil water faster than should be possible, it’s limited in it’s actual cooking ability. Last year, I only used it to boil water. I NEVER cook in it because it’s difficult to clean. I don’t want to spend money on a new stove, but if I was going to replace any piece of equipment at this point, this would be it.

So there it is. What I’m taking, what worked and what didn’t. What I hope will work this time around. I’ll update if anything changes, and feel free to ask any questions you may have. I’m no expert, but do have a fair amount of experience with what I’ve used and am happy to give my thoughts.’

Disclosure: I was NOT paid for any of these reviews and I did NOT receive any of this gear for free or donated (but I won’t turn down any donations, hint hint!). These are just my honest opinions and experiences with gear I purchased and used.

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Comments 15

  • TBR : May 19th

    Valuable gear report. Thanks for relating your experience with hammocks.

    May go the hammock route, but right now drowning in the flood of complicated info.

    This is helpful.

    • Tinkerbell : May 19th

      Glad you found it helpful! Hammocks definitely involve a learning curve. They are not self-contained systems like most tents are. There are a lot of different parts that in many cases you purchase separately. I’d be happy to try and answer any questions you may have, but my biggest advice is to make sure you consider the weight and functionality of your ENTIRE system vs the price. Hennessey Hammocks does some very reasonably priced all-in-one kits that will get you started. ENO has an all in one kit, but ENO tends to be heavier/bulkier than some of the cottage industry products. You can create your own “all in one” kit from Warbonnet’s website as well (by all in one, I mean hammock, bugnet, tarp, straps). Best of luck!

  • Karyn : May 19th

    Thank you Tinkerbell for the very informative equipment list. I plan on hiking the AT ’17 and am currently reading as many blogs as I can find to get intel. I appreciate the equipment breakdown and your personal experiences. Regarding the hammock: what do you do when you don’t have two trees to use? I know there are areas in all backpacking where you might have this “problem” (Pennsylvania).

    • Tinkerbell : May 20th

      Hey Karyn! Congratulations on making the decision to hike next year. You won’t regret it! This is a great place to start reading. I have only done the bottom third of the trail so I can’t comment specifically on Pennsylvania, but I have never run into a situation where I couldn’t find a way to set up my shelter on the AT. The PCT and other long distance trails are a different story, but the AT has tons of trees. I do carry a lightweight sleeping pad for shelters, hostels, or other situations that might cause me to take to the ground so worst case scenario, if I couldn’t find two trees I can set my tarp up on the ground using trekking poles and just sleep on the ground (using my hammock as a bivy during buggy months since it has a bugnet integrated). I did this last Wednesday while camping on a bald mountain in Tennessee. Again, hammocks are a learning curve so if you choose to go that route, I’d get your setup early and spend a lot of time practicing setting up and taking down, and using it in different ways.

  • Wanderer : May 20th

    great report, thanks so much! If you did replace your jetBoil, what would you go with and why? I plan to do NOBO next year,and advice from experienced folks is a real help!

    • Tinkerbell : May 23rd

      Hey Wanderer! I haven’t really done a ton of research into it yet, since I decided NOT to upgrade right this moment. However, if I were looking to replace it, the top features I’d be looking for would be:
      – Weight savings over my jetboil, which weighs about 12oz. I’d like to find a stove/pot set that was in the 6-8oz range
      – Easy cleaning, since I never cook IN my Jetboil because it’s such a pain in the butt to clean. I’m limited to freezer bag cooking because of my unwillingness to scrape food out of my Jetboil each night.

  • Ashley Mcneill : May 24th

    Thank you!! Found this very helpful ?

    • Tinkerbell : May 25th

      I’m glad you found it helpful!

  • Christopher : May 24th

    Nice review! With respect to packs did you ever consider going with an ultralight model like a ZPacks Arc Blast or Gossamer Gear Mariposa (or UL Circuit which seemingly half the people passing through Mountain Crossings trade for lol)?

    • Tinkerbell : May 25th

      I have considered them, but haven’t gone into depth with researching it because of a few reasons. One, I’ve been SO happy with my Osprey packs, including the durability and the customer service. Two, I don’t have the money to make my entire kit “ultralight” at this point in time, and I don’t trust the ability of some of these UL packs to carry the weight that a more sturdy pack like an Osprey can, or to distribute that same weight in a way that is comfortable for me. I think the UL packs are super cool and would like to eventually have a UL setup, but it isn’t within my budget at this time.

  • Therese : May 24th

    Your blog is great, tinkerbell!! I am hiking the AT IN 2017 and am really enjoying taking in as much information as possible. I have a question about shelters: in the areas where you are required to stay in a shelter, is it possible to set up a hammock since you aren’t on the ground?
    Good luck on your return to the trail!!!

    • Tinkerbell : May 25th

      Hi Therese! There is only one area that I know of that you have to sleep in shelters, and that’s in the Smokies (only 60 something miles of the trail). In GSMNP, you have to sleep in the shelter if there’s a spot for you (there are only two thru-hiker spots reserved in each shelter if memory serves, so if there are a ton of section hikers AND thru hikers, you won’t get a shelter spot). It’s shelter etiquette not to set your hammock up inside the shelter, although this can be different if you are alone in the shelter or there aren’t many people in it. I would not ever set up a hammock in the GSMNP shelters, but elsewhere on the trail it may be possible during times when shelters aren’t seeing beak use. So, for the most part, don’t plan on putting your hammock in the shelter.

      Even in GSMNP, if the shelters are full, you can camp and in that case you can tent or hammock. Does this answer your question?

  • Therese : May 24th

    One more question: I notice that many people (at least the bloggers) are wearing trail runners and not boots. Do you know why? What are people doing for ankle support?

    • Tinkerbell : May 25th

      Everything that I’ve heard from shoe experts has told me that the ankle support thing with boots is a myth. Ankle support comes from the bottom of the shoe, not from the sides. If you have a solid shoe that fits your foot well, you shouldn’t NEED high sided boots (though some people still prefer to use them). I hike in trail runners because that’s what I was fitted for by the expert shoe-fitters at Outdoor 76 in Franklin (I live in Franklin and am fortunate to have these guys at my disposal all the time). I don’t like the weight of boots and I have always had a problem with my feet getting overheated so I really appreciate the breathability of trail runners. They also dry super fast if they get wet. I do have one really weak ankle and I wear a neoprene compression sleeve on that ankle when hiking. With regard to shoes, I highly highly highly recommend getting fitted by a professional. If nothing else, get something to get you by for 100 miles and get fitted at O76 when you walk into Franklin. They have it down to a science.

  • Kim : May 29th

    Awesome gear list! I do have one question for you…
    I plan to thru hike the AT with my dog nobo in 2017. I know that pets are not allowed in the Smokies or in Baxter State Park. How do you avoid these areas while still thru hiking the whole trail? Are there alternate routes?
    Thanks for your help and good luck to you!


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