Favorite (and Least Favorite) Gear From My AT Thru-Hike

Nothing beats your favorite items, the gear you couldn’t imagine ever backpacking without. After hiking 2,190.9 miles this year on my AT thru-hike, I definitely had a few standouts. Here are a few of my favorite pieces of gear, and a couple of items that I would never use again. This is just my opinion, and I don’t have any affiliation with any of these companies.

Zpacks Duplex Tent

This was my home away from home, and I had plenty of room for me and all my gear inside. It never leaked, even in hours of heavy rain, which happened a lot. There was some condensation, which is to be expected, but it was never excessive. I kept it in the original storage bag inside my pack and used the regular shepherds hook stakes with no problems. I did accidentally bend two of them, but they still worked fine. I actually mastered setting it up on tent platforms too, so don’t fret about setting up a trekking pole tent on platforms.

ULA Circuit

I have definitely found my favorite brand of packs! It carries well, the hip belt pockets are enormous, and after 1,700 miles it only had a tiny hole in the outside mesh pocket, and a little wear on the water bottle pockets. But to be fair, I did butt slide the entirety of New Hampshire and Maine. Unfortunately, I had to upgrade to a larger pack with 500 miles left. I needed warmer winter gear, which was bulkier and just wouldn’t fit in the Circuit with my huge food bag. I stuck with my favorite brand and chose the larger ULA Catalyst, and that pack performed just as well as the Circuit.

Western Mountaineering Versalite

I did not start with this bag, but it quickly became one of my absolute favorite pieces of gear. I had an Enlightened Equipment 10 degree convert bag. And in Virginia heading SOBO it failed me. It turned cold, windy, and miserable. I had to wear all my clothing in the bag at night, and still struggled to keep warm. It probably just needed to be washed, and I figured if I just added a heavier liner to the bag, that would be enough to get me to Springer. Instead, my husband got me the 10 degree Versalite, and after using it the first night I instantly fell in love. It kept me snug in temperatures in the teens, and is now my favorite bag ever. I affectionately named him Worm.

Rab Xenon X Hoody

Nope, no Ghost Whisperer for me. I’ve had this jacket for years, and I knew I wasn’t going to attempt a thru-hike without taking it. I only used it in camp or in town, and it also served as the stuffing for my pillow. I did get a small hole in it from a rogue campfire ember, but it held up great other than that. It’s lightweight but not too much that you have to baby it. And it’s synthetic, so rain won’t render it useless.

Brooks Cascadia 12

Oh, these shoes. They have amazing cushion, a rock plate to help minimize impact from rough terrain, and last up to 500 miles or more before needing to be replaced. I went through five pair but my first pair had at least 200 miles on them before I started. They still held up better than my hiking friends’ shoes. I’m looking at you Shake with your Altras!

Leki Cressida Trekking Poles

I have had these poles for about three or four years before hiking the AT, so they have at least a few hundred miles on them. They made it almost all the way with no problems. I somehow managed to shove the entire right tip up into my pole shaft (That’s what she said) somewhere in Virginia. I put my husband’s old tips on and finished the AT. Aside from the fleece strap lining coming undone a bit, these poles are still in great condition.

Goosefeet Gear Down Booties

These are a luxury item I will always bring on cold-weather outings. They are pretty ridiculous looking, but kept my feet toasty warm.

 

Honorable Mentions

Ursack Allmitey

This bag held up to the notorious Fingerboard Shelter bear in New York. They bit it, clawed it, and scratched it, but it remained securely tied to the tree and they were never able to get inside. My hiking buddies weren’t as lucky, as the bear got their food despite the bags being properly hung. Unfortunately, my hiker hunger outgrew the capacity for the bag. I just couldn’t fit my food in it anymore and had to get a larger food bag. But hanging a bear bag is a giant PIA so when I head out in the future this will be my go-to food bag. It does soak up water when it rains, so make sure your food is inside a waterproof bag liner, like an Opsak.

Garmin InReach GPS

Even though I didn’t need this to be successful on my thru-hike, it gave my husband peace of mind. All I did was turn on tracking in the morning, send my starting message, stop tracking when I got to camp, and send my end of day message. It enabled my husband to see where I was and he knew I was OK. I was also able to text on it when cell service was lacking. No, it isn’t necessary, but is a small compromise for loved ones back home. I will always bring this on any future hikes.

Crystal Light Plastic Container

I’m a glasses wearer, and there was no way I was going to use contacts on the trail. I wanted to carry a backup pair of glasses and be able to store my current glasses at night. I was able to fit both pairs in it at night, and it kept my backup glasses safe the entire trip. I also wound my watch and headlamp around it at night for easy access. Glasses wearers, this is the lightweight case option for you.

Items I’ll Never Bring Again

Sea to Summit Silk Liner

This started as a good idea. I thought it would aid in keeping my sleeping bag clean and add a little extra warmth. I also figured I could just use the liner by itself when it was warmer. I didn’t anticipate getting tangled up in it every night because I’m a rotisserie chicken sleeper. It also started to rip, and consequently I would wake up with my arms and legs through the rip holes. I definitely will never use a liner again. Pain in the butt.

Bug Net

This poor bug net lived in my outside backpack pouch and never saw the light of day. I didn’t take it with me when I headed south from Harpers since I never used it. I guess I just got used to the bugs.

Duct Tape

I would rather try Tenacious Tape for repairs. I still have duct tape attached to my trekking poles, but honestly it was so ruined with the weather that it wasn’t usable anyway. I had repair kits for my tent and sleeping pad, and never used the duct tape ever. Not sure why so many people bring it, but I never found a use for it.

I really loved all of my equipment, but these were the standouts for me. They made the journey much more comfortable and enjoyable. What are some of your favorite gear items?

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Comments 5

  • Bob Churcher : Jan 29th

    Really useful and interesting post, thanks

    Reply
    • Sarah Southard : Jan 29th

      Bob,

      I’m glad you found it useful. I was hoping it would be helpful to all backpackers and upcoming thru hikers. Happy hiking!

      Reply
  • Noelle : Feb 5th

    Thanks for this post, very helpful all around! Can you tell me about how small the Versalite bag packs down? I need a warmer bag but I also need one that doesn’t take up all the space in my pack.

    Reply
    • Sarah Southard : Feb 6th

      Noelle,

      I’m so glad this post was helpful! I kept my Versalite in a 14 liter Zpacks food bag. I already owned the extra food bag, so I just used that instead of buying a larger compression bag. Not sure how small it actually packs down, it’s pretty fluffy. I think 8-10 liters or even smaller if you really compress it. It’s a great bag though. Best of luck and Happy hiking!

      Reply
      • Noelle : Feb 16th

        Thank you!

        Reply

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