Fears, Bears and Gear

It finally hit me.

For the past year or so, Brandee has asked me every few days if I am starting to get nervous.  My answer has always been no.  Until just a few days ago.

This new quickening heart rate is now showing up every time I think of our thru-hike.  And now that we are less than 40 days out, I am always thinking of our thru-hike.

Combine that with a slight queasiness in my gut and a newfound sweatiness on my brow, I can now tell Brandee that I am developing pre-trail anxiety.  Maybe it is something I ate?

Who am I kidding?  I am nervous.

You would think it would be because I was worried about hiking 2,198.4 miles up and down mountains during the middle of winter.

Or the fact that I have only spent a total of about three weeks sleeping outdoors and doing something completely out of my comfort zone.

Or that a movie named “Cocaine Bear,” loosely based on a true story, releases right around the time we should be entering the Smokies.  (Not sure if catching this movie is worth getting off the trail, but the trailers look promising).

Nope, I am not worried about any of that.  Ok, perhaps I am a little worried about black bears hopped up on nose candy.

What I am TRULY worried about is mishandling my personal affairs or forgetting something really important.  I am the guy who gets 50 miles up the road and worries that I left the oven on.   I will obsess over that nagging thought until I return home or get a call from a neighbor telling me that I have burned down my home.  To be clear, I have never gotten that phone call, and I don’t plan on it anytime soon.

Brandee and I are finishing up all the steps necessary to put our “lives” on hold for the next six to eight months.  Storage unit?  Check.  Accounts closed or paused? Check.  Notices put into work?  Check.  (I am also very fortunate to have a great employer who is allowing me this time away and wants me to return to my job after I am done) Plans for our vehicles?  Check.  I don’t want any of those things hanging over our heads as we hike this incredible trail.   Amazing views aren’t the same when you are worried about your health insurance.

I am also doing my best to make sure we have all the gear we need.  I have spent hundreds of hours reading Trek articles and watching YouTube videos.  I get updates from Reddit about backpacking gear.  Checklists have been made and completed.  All of the necessities have been purchased, and essential gear has been tested.  We are still making decisions on some items, as we still would like to shed weight.  One more winter shakedown hike before we leave for the trail will help with that.  That’s if the weather cooperates.  Currently, it is 60 degrees in Northern Virginia.  It is highly unlikely it will be 60 degrees in February on the AT.  This only complicates decisions to be made.

Some of the “luxury” gear decisions have been easy to make.  Decisions like carrying a sit pad.  Having an item like this is nice to have, especially in cold and wet conditions, but do I need the extra 5.6 ounces if I already have a sleeping pad?  Probably not, so the sit pad stays home.

Other gear decisions haven’t been as easy. Do I need to bring my camp axe?  A SOG camp axe was one of the first things I purchased when we decided to hike the AT.  I wanted (and still do want) some extra “protection” while out in the wilderness.  Am I going to be chopping wood to build fires every day?  Is a camp axe going to stop a large forest animal on drugs?  I am still getting comfortable with the idea of being outside every night, but is it worth the extra 24 ounces?  A good friend who loves hiking reminded me that “Ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain.”

With Brandee and I preparing, dehydrating, and packing nearly all of our meals, we don’t need the extra “luxury items” weight.  We also have a dog to consider, and Beo is only going to be carrying his food.  He has booties, a muzzle, a water bottle, a jacket, a blanket, and other small items that he will need on the trail.

Knowing all of this, I don’t want to be too extreme about weight.  I am hiking with Brandee and Beo, so I am not hiking my own hike.  I am hiking their hikes, as well.  I can’t just be concerned about myself, I have to do my part in ensuring the three of us are safe and comfortable.  Most of all, I want us to enjoy ourselves.  There is only so much I can dwell on now.  The plan is to get out there, hike our own hike, and figure out what works for us and what doesn’t.  We can always send gear home as we go along.

So, without further ado, I am sharing our gear lists.

This is my semi-dive into my Big Three (tent, sleep system, backpack), and a few more of my favorite items.  Because we are leaving so early, our lists contain gear and clothing that we won’t need during our entire thru-hike.  Even though I am including weight, I am paying more attention to needs.  Weight is only part of our decision when bringing gear.   Brandee and I purchased nearly all of our gear through REI but shopped around if there was a better price out there.  You can see my gear list here.  Please keep in mind that this is not a 100% complete list and probably won’t be until we are better dialed into what we need on the trail.  I will be carrying all food and Beo’s gear aside from his food.  He will be carrying his pack and food.  Brandee will be carrying the tent and footprint.

Our Tent

REI Co-op Half Dome Superlight (SL) 2+ Tent with Footprint

Weight:  3 pounds 15 ounces 

We love this tent.  When Brandee took me out for my first multi-day backpacking trip to the Dolly Sods Wilderness, we brought along an ultralight NEMO Hornet 2-person tent.  That tent was extremely lightweight (1lb, 15oz) but too small for our needs.  Beo is going to be sleeping with us, so we wanted more floor area and larger vestibules.  Especially on those days when he is wet and smelly, which will be nearly all of them.  The half dome provides that extra space.  Yes, we are sacrificing weight, but this is our home for the next six to seven months.  We know we can go lighter and more spacious with other brands, but at what cost?  The Half Dome is budget-friendly, as well.

My Sleep System

NEMO Switchback Sleeping Pad (Regular)

Weight: 14.5 ounces

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad (Large)

Weight:  16 ounces

REI Co-op Magma 15 Sleeping Bag – Men’s (Regular)

Weight:  1 pound 12.2 ounces

Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Sleeping Bag Liner

Weight:  8.1 ounces

Because temps could dip down into the single digits at night, staying warm is going to be key to my success.  When I start, I will be carrying all four of these items and using all of them too.  As temperatures rise, I can see myself sending home the NeoAir.  Brandee isn’t too fond of the “crinkling” sound my pad makes (she is bringing a NEMO Tensor Insulated), so I am sure she wouldn’t mind if did send it home.  Until then, the two sleeping pads will keep the cold ground off my back, and the 15-degree sleeping bag and extra 15 degrees from the liner should keep me plenty warm.  I love my sleeping bag.


Osprey Atmos AG 65 Pack – Men’s Large

Weight:  4 pounds 4 ounces

If there is any item that I will probably improve upon while on the trail, it is my backpack.  This is the first item we bought when it was decided I was going to brave the outdoors.  I have loved everything about this bag so far, except for the weight.  The bag has plenty of space for all of my gear, an adjustable hip belt, and plenty of other bells and whistles.  The removable “brain” helps to reduce a few ounces, as well.  The suspension system keeps the pack directly off my back which helps ventilation.  I love the internal frame for the extra support, but as I said before, it is heavy.

I am sure the sturdiness of this bag will be appreciated while I am carrying extra gear during the first couple of months, but what about when the weather warms up?  I can see myself in something lighter and hopefully, within the budget.  I am eyeing the bag Brandee recently purchased, a Gossamer Gear Mariposa.  Beautiful bag, and only weighs 31.5 ounces.  Once again, only time will tell.


Garmin inReach Mini 2

Weight: 3.5 ounces

This is my favorite piece of gear.  Why?  Because the unexpected can and will happen.  If Brandee, Beo, or I get stuck in an emergency and can’t get out, this tiny communicator can send an SOS message to send help.  It is pricey and does have a monthly subscription, but it makes me and our families feel better.  Enough said.

Hiking Poles

Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking Poles

Weight:  13.6 ounces

When I first saw people using hiking poles, I thought it was ridiculous.  I went hiking without them and ate dirt a few times in the mountains of West Virginia.  Brandee bought me these poles, and I quickly realized I was the one being ridiculous.  I like these poles because they break down, they are lightweight, and I can put them away if I don’t want to use them.  There are over four million steps between Georgia and Maine, and poles do take the weight off your legs.  They aren’t for everyone, but I am loving them so far.


HOKA Speedgoat Mid 2 GTX Hiking Boots

Thru-hikers will go through several pairs of shoes while we are out there for months at a time.  Because of this, It seems everyone wants to know what is the best footwear to hike in.  Boots, trail runners, Vibram 5-fingers (Brandee swears by them), or sandals.  For me, there is no correct answer.  You have to get out there and see what you like.  I am going to start with boots and possibly switch to trail runners when the weather warms.  Even though I only have a few miles on these Hokas, I am loving them so far.  Time will tell, but the cushion on these feels like I am walking on springy clouds.  The Vibram soles so far, are proving to be especially sticky.  I will update you as I put a couple of hundred miles on them.   Brandee is wearing Speedgoats, as well.

And that is what this is all about!

I am going to embrace EVERYTHING about this adventure.  I am learning to face my fears, narrow down my gear and hopefully see a sober bear or two. (At a safe distance, of course).  Figuring out what works for the three of us is part of the journey.  Plenty of people have gone hiking with extra gear and lived to tell the stories. We are officially less than 40 days away from our start date, and I can honestly say that I am embracing being comfortable with being uncomfortable.  It is how I will continue to grow and improve.

Katahdin, here we come.

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Comments 9

  • Black eyed Susan : Jan 5th

    Will follow you and your trail mates trek. All the best. Living with uncomfortable/jitters/anxiety sounds familiar. I get them too about my upcoming thru-hike. I’m in pre planning. Six years out for 2028/2029. ?

    • CJ Roberts : Jan 8th

      Thank you for follow! Can’t wait to follow you in 2028!

  • Jo Anne Reinhard : Jan 6th

    Best of luck to you, Brandee, and Beo! My daughter and I have done sections in a few states and one day hope to finish the entire trail. Hike safe!

    • CJ Roberts : Jan 8th

      Thank you! Can’t wait to get to started.

  • Sir Renity : Jan 8th

    Happy trails! Left in Feb. for my 2022 At thru hike and only saw snow 3 times. Lowest temps we had were single digits in the Smokies. Good to have some good base layers and your puffy to compliment your 15 degree bag and liner. I thru hiked before in 95 and left in March. Weather was actually alot worse then strangely enough. I wish you the best!

    • CJ Roberts : Feb 7th

      Thank you! Hopefully we miss out the snow. Just started today and the weather was perfect… knock on wood.

  • Jared Bryce : Feb 6th

    Best of luck to you folks, I hope you have a blast! I currently rock those same Hokas, and they are great, but when I was hiking last year, I used La Sportiva Bushido II’s; very light, very grippy, so maybe give those a look when it’s warmer and time for a shoe swap! Oh, you will want a better insole in them for sure! I went with the Superfeet Trailblazer (the hiking specific one). Again, happy hiking!

    • CJ Roberts : Feb 7th

      Thank you for the advice on the shoes! So far I am a boot guy, but want to give Trail runners a go.

  • David McConnaughey : Feb 12th

    Looking forward to reading your thoughts and experiences!


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