Comprehensive Post-AT Gear Review
When I was researching, I only trusted the gear reviews from hikers who had finished the trail. I completed my SOBO thru-hike of the AT on November 26, so here’s my comprehensive review of all the gear I brought along. For the most part, I had followed The Trek’s very own gear list, and it turned out pretty well. The only thing I did not really prepare for was how COLD it gets in the south, but I was so close to the end I just gritted my teeth and did not do anything too dramatic, gear-wise. My base weight was around ~17 lbs, which, if you spend too much time looking at gear lists on the internet, will seem heavy. I got very used to the weight over the course of the hike and did not want to toss any of my luxury items.
Since I was a SOBO, I would almost immediately traverse the White Mountains in New Hampshire so I geared up for cold weather even though it was summer. This turned out to be a good move. It got down to the low 40’s in the exposed alpine zones. Right after New Hampshire, the summer heat hit in full force, so I sent a lot of cold weather stuff home. Around mid-way through Virginia, the Fall nip started to settle in. By the time we hit the Roan Mountains in Tennessee, we started getting some freezing nights, so I had all my cold weather stuff back. I’m not certain what NOBOs do, but the lesson is that a lot of your kit can get shipped back and forth.
I also got very into making my own gear (MYOG), and you’ll notice some custom items in the photos made of DCF. This was a really fun challenge and allowed me to fully design my packing setup. If you are interested but have no experience in sewing, try getting a kit from Ripstopbytheroll.
Big Three – Sleep/Shelter/Pack
Sleeping Bag – Feathered Friends Flicker YF Wide 20 – 29.1 oz
Was warm enough until the nights started dropping to freezing in the mountains. I really liked the flexibility of this quilt/bag hybrid – it could completely zip and cinch up when it got to the 30s and 40s. When it was warm, I turned it into a blanket so I did not sweat right into it. It does not have a hood, so make sure you have a warm puffy hood for your head (my hat always fell off). The down got wet many times, but I was always able to dry it out soon after. The worry of wet down is a tradeoff since I noticed how much smaller I could pack my down bag compared to synthetic bags. Also, a mouse chewed a hole in the bottom and a lot of down got out…definitely not the fault of the product. 9/10
Sleeping Bag Liner #1 – Sea to Summit Premium Silk Travel Liner – 6 oz
When the nights were very warm I just slept in this without my sleeping bag. Definitely kept my bag from getting horribly stinky too, since I could toss this in the laundry. Also feels much better against your skin than sleeping bag synthetic material. To be honest a bit of a luxury item, but I would bring it again. 8/10
Sleeping Bag Liner #2 – Sea to Summit THERMOLITE® Reactor™ Compact
Bought this after I suffered some freezing nights. It ended being too small – I would get the regular size instead. It definitely adds some warmth, but not the 10-15 degrees it advertises. I should have upgraded my puffer instead. I also already had a silk liner and trying to stay in two liners overnight is just not possible or comfortable. 5/10 (mostly user error)
Sleeping Pad – Therm a Rest NeoAir XLite – Regular – 12 oz
Great sleeping pad, really not as loud as people complain (thru-hikers know snoring is the real issue) and just warm enough. I got very used to blowing this up after 100+ times. I kept mine under-inflated otherwise it felt too “hard.” You should experiment with how much air you put in it. Mine never got a leak, but I was somewhat careful with mine. If I were picky, I would get the wide version since my knee tends to hang off when I sleep on my side/front. 10/10
Pillow – Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight – 2.1 oz
Good balance of comfort and weight. I’ve done the whole stuff sack as pillow thing, but the issue is at some point you’re wearing everything that would be in your stuff sack. It’s definitely more comfortable than a lumpy bag too. 8/10
Tent – Gossamer Gear The One (sil-nylon version) – ~24 oz with six stakes
Terrific tent – high quality, lightweight, and just waterproof enough. I’ve never had a non-freestanding tent before, so I did not get good at setting it up until maybe the 30th time I used it. There are a lot of nuances to balancing the tension – but I’m glad to have this skill now. Additionally, it is a single wall tent, so understanding how to deal with condensation was also something to learn.
The biggest avoidable product problem was the quality of the seam taping. After 2-3 months, the seam taping at the roof lines was becoming brittle and falling off. I had to do some field seam sealing to prevent too much water from leaking in. On that note, in heavy rain on a cold day, almost every lightweight backpacking shelter system will not keep you fully dry either from leakage, wind-blown rain, overwhelming condensation, or backsplash. This is why the AT has shelters! Overall 8/10 – just prepare to replace the seam taping and learn some skills along the way.
Groundsheet – Polycryo – 2 oz
Cheap, very light, held up just enough.
Backpack – Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400 in White – 32 oz
Perhaps one of my favorite pieces of gear – it’s nearly indestructible and looks cool enough for non-hiking uses. I would definitely recommend the 3400 over 2400. You will have trouble fitting in more than three days of food without the additional roll-top space. It is MOSTLY waterproof in the beginning. The seam tape failed in a few spots after a month on the trail, so definitely use a waterproof liner or do the trash bag thing like everyone else. Definitely do not need a pack cover. It is just comfortable enough when I didn’t have too much food but would start digging in my hips and shoulders if the pack got above 30 lbs. Make sure you DO NOT store your DEET in the hip belt pockets as I did – it melts the fabric’s PU coating. 10/10!
Sit pad – EVA 1/8″ Foam Pad – Cut to Torso Length – 2 oz
This IS my favorite piece of gear. Thanks, Darwin. Here are its many uses:
- Folded up as a small sit pad on rocks and logs
- Two person sharable sit pad on wet benches
- Yoga mat
- Beach mat – yes, there are sand beaches on the AT
- Shoe changing mat
- Under sleeping pad mat – for additional insulation, puncture prevention, and keeps it in place on slick shelter floors
- Extra hip belt or shoulder padding – I wore it around my waist when the chaffing got really bad
- Passive extra water protection since I stored it on the top of my pack.
Hiking Shirt – Long sleeve synthetic shirt – Lululemon
Lululemon makes terrific hiking clothes. They don’t smell as bad as Patagonia “stink resistant” shirts and seem indestructible. I like the long sleeves since I can fully roll them up to short sleeves when it’s hot or roll them down if it’s chilly or the bugs are out.
Hiking Shorts – Patagonia Baggies – Liner cut out
I did not wear underwear with these, so I could just jump in and out of lakes in the summer. No liner and no underwear means these shorts are bone dry after 1-2 hours of hiking.
Boxers – Patagonia Boxers
I sent these home after I found I don’t like hiking with them. I had then sent back in the fall for more warmth (isn’t that what underwear is really for…?).
The 150 was a little itchy since it was 100% wool. The 250 was a blend that made it much less itchy.
Tights – Lululemon Surge Tights
I wore these as camp pants after a day of sweaty summer hiking. I started hiking in just these or with shorts over them when it got cold. Good multi-purpose item.
Buff x 2 – Added a blaze orange one so I didn’t get shot.
Beanie – Arc’teryx Wool Blend Beanie – Cold Weather Gear
Liner Gloves – Black Diamond – Cold Weather Gear
In my opinion, gloves of some kind are a must-have. I liked these liners since I could still use my phone.
I picked these up in a hiker box. I think next time, I’ll use these instead of the liners. In the Smokies, it got so cold I wore these over my liners.
Rain Mittens – REI Minimalist GTX Mittens
Rain mittens are really nice to have when it’s very cold and rainy. These are lightweight and durable. 9/10
Rainshell – Montbell Storm Cruiser – 10.3 oz
I thought of getting the UL version from Montbell but decided I wanted something more durable that did not rely on just a surface DWR. This thing never “wetted out,” and I was always dry in it, even during the hurricanes. The massive pit zips and up-high pockets were great features. When the weather was ~40 during the day and windy, I wore this jacket almost all day long. 10/10!
Puffy – Patagonia Nano Puff
I had this with me the whole trail since it was pretty light and packed down small. A lot of hikers did not have their puffy in summer and early fall, and most told me they wish they did for the mountains. If I did this again, I would have switched this out for a warmer down puffy when it got really cold.
Rainpants – Arc’teryx Zeta – 8.4 oz – Cold Weather Gear
These were really good pants for heavy rain but mostly just for cold weather. Good streamlined fit, lightweight, and the leg zips were long enough to get these on and off without taking your shoes off. The only issue was the ridiculous “innovative” belt hardware placed right where the hip belt sits, leaving deep marks after a day of hiking. 8/10
Footwear + Poles
Shoes – Altra Lone Peak 5 – 3 Pairs – Wide
There seems to be some controversy over these shoes on the internet. I really like them mostly because they actually fit my foot in the wide sizing. After Maine and New Hampshire, my feet got very used to the amount of cushioning. They are very durable too. I went through three pairs as opposed to some hikers who went through four or five. 8/10
Insoles – Sof Sole Athlete Insole
I found some in a hiker box and tried them out. There’s no fancy stuff to these. Tt’s just a resilient slab of polyurethane which is great since I have no arch and rigid support is the death of me. I ended up buying new ones when I ordered new shoes. In retrospect, I should’ve tried out stiffer insoles beforehand and used them just in the rockier sections like PA. 8/10
Gaiters – Altra Trail Gaiters
Picked these up while on trail. I really really hate rocks in my shoes, so these worked great for me. 9/10
Sandals – Xero Z-Trail
These were… not great. They are very light, but that’s really the only good thing. The velcro does not stick when wet. They are too thin to do any serious hiking in unless you are capable of hiking barefoot already. And they are annoying to put on. Next time I would get Bedrocks since I discovered I like hiking in sandals. 5/10
I experimented with the toe socks and found them unnecessary after I had developed all my calluses. For 75% of my hike, I kept thinking I only needed one pair of hiking socks. But when it rains for a few days in a row, having a dry pair in reserve is well worth the weight.
Trekking Poles – Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Aluminum
Really nice lightweight poles. I’ve heard of carbon poles shattering under stress, whereas aluminum poles would just bend. I replaced the tips about 2/3 the way through. The cork grips are really nice on the skin, but they eventually started coming off. Nothing a bit of leukotape could not fix.
Cookware and Water
Pot – Snow Peak ~1L Aluminum Pot
I’m really glad I had a 1L pot. I ended needing to use the entire pot for two ramens or 1.5 portions of Annie’s mac and cheese. Having to cook twice is a chore and wastes time.
Coozie – MYOG with Reflectix and Foil Tape
This thing ended up shrinking a lot over time. Next time I would oversize it.
Stove – MSR PocketRocket
Spoon – Plastic Long Handle
My original titanium spork would scratch my pot so I switched to plastic. Also trying to clean a metal pot with a metal utensil sounds awful.
Chopsticks – A pair I had at home
Because breaking up ramen to eat with a spoon just feels wrong as a Taiwanese person.
Clean Water Bottle – 750mL Smart Water Bottle with Sport Cap
I had this thing the whole ride. Just try to clean it from time to time with a stick since all those electrolyte and drink powders leave some nasty-looking residue over time.
Dirty Water Bottle – 1.5L Essentia Water Bottle
The extra big size was nice to have when I was filling up for camp. Pro tip: the Essentia bottle labels come off clean!
Extra Water Storage – 1L Sawyer Squeeze Bag
For those dry days or when the water source is very far from the shelter. I picked this up in the hiker box, maybe used it 5-10 times. 50/50 on whether I would pack it again.
Filter – Sawyer Squeeze
Almost everyone on the trail had this filter, for good reason. Just make sure you knock and tap this thing when you backflush it, otherwise, nothing really gets flushed out. Also, do not over-tighten it and force the o-ring into the water bottle. When it starts getting to 35-40 degrees get into the habit of keeping it in your pocket and storing it in your sleeping bag. I tossed mine in the trash when I got home because the filter was likely compromised when I lazily forgot to put it in my sleeping bag one night.
Clean Water Only Water Bottle with Straw Attachment
I thought this was a good solution in the beginning so I didn’t need to reach back to grab my water bottle. My arm became more flexible and got used to the motion of reaching behind so this thing became obsolete.
Wall Plug – Anker PowerPort PD 2
This thing had a USB 3 and a Lightning Port. My iPhone charges much faster with the Lightning Port vs a standard USB. Would definitely recommend it so you don’t have to dilly-dally too much at outlets.
Battery – Anker 10,000
Just enough power to last me through the 100-mile wilderness with battery discipline. Next time I’d be tempted to get the 20,000 just so I don’t have to worry about power. Also, when it gets very cold do not bother trying to charge unless you can keep this thing warm. I discovered the cold will suck the charge out of anything.
Kindle – Sent home
Ended up just reading books on my phone.
Headlamp – Princeton Tec Sync 200 – Replaced
Headlamp – Petzl Actik Core with Rechargeable and Replaceable Battery
I ended up doing a lot of night hiking. Sometimes we would hike for 3-4 hours in the darkness, especially during the fall. Either you keep buying batteries every week or you get a decent rechargeable lamp. This one is really nice since it can take regular AAA batteries if you can’t find an outlet to charge. It’s also simple to use and very bright. 10/10
Satellite Messenger – Garmin inReach Mini
This was used almost every day in Maine since there was barely any cell service. Did not need it again until the mountainous areas in the South. I’m glad I had this either way for peace of mind.
Headphones – Apple Airpods
Wireless headphones are AMAZING on the trail because you can give one bud to your hiking partner and listen to the same thing. For podcasts, I would only listen to one bud at a time to stretch the batteries. 10/10!
Med Kit: Leukotape, Ibuprofen, Benadryl (multiple hornet bites can cause bad allergic reactions), Imodium, Pepto Bismol (stomach aches happen a lot), Neosporin, nonstick pad, and Mucinex (got a cold on trail).
Hipbelt Stuff: Dr. Bronner’s unscented soap in an eyedropper, unscented lip balm, saline eye drops, petrojelly balm, rubbing alcohol spray,
sunscreen (tossed, maybe only useful in the Whites), 100% DEET (got rid of when it got colder and the bugs vanished). Sunglassses – Sent home
Bug Net – Sent home after in the fall
Microfiber Glasses Cleaning Cloth
Knife – Leatherman Style PS2 w/ Scissors
This multitool is small, lightweight, and functional. I used the scissors to open pesky food packaging, cut repair tape, and clip fingernails. The flat head screwdriver was used to tighten my trekking poles. And the tweezers were used to remove ticks and hornet stingers. 10/10
Contacts – 7 pairs of dailies
At first, I was wearing contacts all the time, but I actually prefer to wear glasses in non-trail life so I switched to them permanently. The contacts were just a backup.
Trowel – Deuce of Spades
This thing is very light but hard to use with roots in the way. I ended up stepping on it as you would with a real shovel to get it deep enough.
Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Floss
Water bottle Bidet Attachment – Sent Home
Did not get comfortable using it, definitely something you should…”practice.”
Wet wipes – Tossed
I thought they were unnecessary. Just give yourself a birdbath in the stream to clean off.
Wallet – MYOG DCF Wallet
Not really waterproof…but lightweight and very durable.
Compression Stuff Sack – Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil eVent Compression Sack
All my sleep stuff went in this one: sleeping bag, sleeping pad, pillow, liner. It got really nice and small.
Misc. Pod – MYOG DCF Backpack Shaped Pod – Medium Tall
I made this out of a 1.5 oz/yd DCF. It worked out great except the fabric got some holes from abrasing the metal pot inside. Next time I would use the 3.0 oz/yd DCF instead. It was great to have all my miscellaneous stuff in here since my HMG pack is just a big sack.
Clothes Pod – MYOG DCF Backpack Shaped Pod – Short
This was also made of 1.5 oz/yd DCF. I was really compressing my clothes in here, which caused some stress on the zipper connection and small rips started. Either I would make it a bit bigger or go with a heavier material.
Food Pod – MYOG DCF Backpack Shaped Pod – 8 inches Tall + MYOG Rock Throw Bag w/ 50′ Z-Line
This was probably my most successful MYOG piece of gear. It stood up to rain and tons of falls since I was bearing hanging it. The 3.0 oz/yd composite DCF material is very similar to the material used on the HMG pack, so it was basically also indestructible. Having a big full zipper allowed me to access all the food inside, which is better than digging through a barrel-shaped roll-top bag. I had the rock bag and line always attached to the food bag so it was easier to get my bear hang on.
There are as many ways to pack for the AT as there are types of people on the trail. So use the internet as a guide but don’t stress about it too much, you will always be able to switch your stuff around once you’re on the trail. Gear is important, but once you’re on trail you’ll probably spend less time thinking about it and more about how incredible of an experience you are having.
Mr. Clean, all miles of the AT hiked SOBO.
My apartment, Brooklyn, NY
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