Gear, Glorious Gear!
Disclaimer: It’s a right of passage for upcoming thru-hikers to post their gear list to the internet, hopelessly confident that the gear that they’ve meticulously researched from a cubicle will perform as expected on a mountaintop in 20 degree weather. All of this gear can and will change in the months ahead, but I wanted to document my rationale for choosing this gear for the start of my trip!
I’ll happily admit it: I’ve always been a dreamer.
I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, dreaming of the new Zpacks cuben fiber tent. I close my eyes at work and see that new Western Mountaineering sleeping bag that weighs less than a pound. I’ll run my mind in circles thinking of going for a trail run in new $130 Brooks trail runners.
My dreams were always cut short by my wallet, though. More specifically, my extremely empty college-kid wallet.
Starting a few years ago, as I got my first real adult job out of college, my gear dreams suddenly became a reality. If I continued to live like a college kid, I could afford the gear of my dreams! So, my diet consisted mostly of lentils and crock-pot beans as I emptied my paychecks directly into REI’s cash registers.
As I’ve been finalizing my dream of hiking the AT over the past few years, that gear was meticulously researched, bought, tested, returned, bought again, and finally given a place of honor in my starting pack. I’ve used an Excel tracker to track that gear.
Below is a link to my full gear list PDF and Excel file. Hopefully you find them helpful as you’re planning your own backpacking adventures!
Full Excel File: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B6UAU1DcQfUOX3pKbmloWDRkSTg
Current plan is to start North on either 4/3 or 4/10. One month away!!
Total Cold Weather (Starting) Base Weight: 15.4 lbs
The ULA Circuit is a spacious pack and a favorite of thru-hikers around the country. Big enough for a bear canister, light enough for a gram weenie, and rugged enough for a thru-hiker. It took some adjustments to get the hip belt feeling right, but after a half dozen shakedown trips, I’ve got it dialed in.
Many hikers use thick contractor trash bags as their liner bags. I picked up a Zpacks liner bag before I learned of this trick. Either way, using a pack liner adds one more defense against getting a wet pack.
I’ve been very impressed with my Zpacks Solplex tent. The thing is a breeze to set up (once you get the hang of it, my first few attempts made it look like a half-inflated trash bag with trekking poles sticking out), and it comes completely seam sealed. No rain fly needed – The Cuben Fiber is waterproof, so you set it up in one fell swoop. Plus it weighs less than a pound (!!??), which seems unbelievable, but it’s true.
I decided to upgrade my stakes from the ultralight titanium stakes (which I’ve read are susceptible to not gripping very well in looser soils) to something a little more dependable, the full-size MSR GroundHog stakes. I figure if my tent stays intact during just one rain-and-wind storm and my gear stays dry, then the additional one or two ounces are well worth it.
As for the Tyvek ground sheet – I was on the fence about including this, but it came down to the ability to put it down on the wood shelter floors and not have to worry about my NeoAir Xlite catching a splinter and deflating. Plus, super light!
I’m a VERY cold sleeper, so I decided to upgrade to a 10 degree Zpacks bag, despite leaving in early April. I plan to have my 30 degree bag shipped to me once I get past the Grayson highlands in VA, and use it unzipped / as a quilt during the summer months. Always better to be too hot than too cold!
The silk liner is super useful for 1) keeping the inside of my sleeping bag from getting dirty hiker filth all over it, and 2) adding a bit more warmth to the bag when needed.
The Zpacks dry bag and pillow pulls double duty. It’s a dry bag for my camp clothes as I’m backpacking (it is waterproof on the outside when folded down and buckled), then folds inside out and has fleece on one side to serve as a pillow. I stuff my down jacket in there and have a nice soft pillow at night!
Earplugs: Because I’ll be a part of the hiker bubble party crowd heading North, and the party crowd can (and will) be loud. Sticking in earplugs is much less confrontational than yelling “SHUT UUUPPPPP” from my tent, and keeps me in the good graces of my fellow hikers.
Here’s where I deviate from many on the trail – I’m going stoveless for my thru. I tried canister stoves and white gas stoves, but found them to be too cumbersome to deal with after a full day of hiking. At the end of a long day, I love having a no-fuss dinner of tossing a bunch of random stuff into a tortilla and chowing down. No mess, minimal cleanup, immediate calories with no cooking time. Thus far in my shakedowns, I have always been thankful for a quick meal at the end of the day, followed by relaxation as evening set in.
The long spoon is mostly for chowing down on jars of almond butter and getting that last bit of tuna out of the packet. (Save yourself the trouble, go with a titanium spoon vs a plastic spoon. Plastic is lighter, but will break really quickly when your peanut / almond butter is even a little bit hard during colder weather.)
The water system that works best for me is using one Smartwater bottle as my dirty bottle, two Aquafina bottles as my clean bottles, and one gatorade bottle for various other uses (including peeing in the middle of the night). The Smartwater bottle looks different enough where I would never mistake it for my clean bottles, and it’s slim enough to collect water in shallow creeks and streams. All bottles are common enough to be replaced easily in town as needed. I use these in conjunction with a full-size Sawyer Squeeze, with a smartwater bottle cap that can double as a backflush when screwed on top of my clean bottle, removing the need to bring the Sawyer Squeeze syringe.
The homemade plastic water scoop was a trick I learned from Youtube. If you reach a water source and there’s barely a trickle, it’ll help you get some water into your dirty bottle, which may be too big to stick in the stream. I can’t find the original Youtube video (I believe someone posted it on Whiteblaze?), but all you need to do is take a cheap plastic water bottle, cut it down to ~1/4 of its size keeping only the bottom, hold a lighter up to the edges to even out the cut parts and the sharp edges, then it folds down and sits ready in your pack with almost no weight! Cheap insurance.
Nothing too surprising here.
I tried to use a REI snow stake for my trowel on my first few trips, but quickly grew frustrated when I had to crap, but the stake couldn’t break through the ground quickly enough. The QiWiz Big Dig is super light and plows through tough ground, for your quick and immediate relief. Spend the $30 to get a quality trowel that can dig deep enough to properly cover your waste. The last thing we need is for an animal to dig up your waste and drag dirty TP all over the trail.
Pro tip: Don’t skimp on the toilet paper. It’s not heavy, and you’ll be thankful when you’re staring at an empty roll three days out of town.
My first aid kit consists of:
Immodium: I was never a believer, until I was bent over a ledge in the Pacific Northwest painting the sides of a mountain. (It was the most beautiful view from a poop that I’ve ever had, but still.)
Butterfly stitches: I was never a believer, until the day I earned my trail name last summer. (Be careful with knives, y’all. Thanks again for saving my life, Matt.)
I’m super deathly allergic to peanuts, so I need to carry the epipen. Hopefully it’ll just be dead weight the entire trip!
The supplements I’ll be taking each day include a multivitamin and magnesium supplement from Pure Vitamin Club. They are lightweight capsules.
I’m bringing my Nexus 6P to blog on / as my primary camera, as well as some headphones. I decompress from the day through listening to podcasts and audiobooks as I go to sleep, so I chose to bring earbuds instead of a kindle. I softly listen to a science fiction audiobook as the story voices blend in with the crickets and sounds of the woods, which is a super relaxing way for me to end the day. It’s not for everyone, and some hikers may be fervently against bringing earbuds, but HYOH!
Side note: I hopped on Project Fi as my phone carrier for my thru hike. $20 unlimited talk and text, with $10 per GB of data used. WiFi calling enabled out of the box. Perfect for a thru hiker who only needs his phone while in town, but doesn’t want a $60 AT&T phone bill each month!
The “Green Stretch Strap” is because I have a bum left knee that needs to be stretched a few times per day. It’s a cut-down version of the OPTP – Stretch Out Strap on Amazon.
I picked up a dual outlet plug and will be bringing a charging cable for both my portable charger and my Nexus 6P (which uses USB-C for charging). Dual outlet plugs are handy for when you get to town but someone is already charging their phone in the one outlet. Make a friend and charge your phones together!
I have prescription glasses + a lightweight hard shell to protect it. I also picked up some clip-on sunglasses for $4 from Zenni, which slide right onto my glasses.
Camp shoes: I tried many different variations of camp shoes, from those soft-shell shoes that surfers wear (they provided zero protection against stubbing your toes) to no camp shoes (I wanted nothing more than get my trail runners off my feet at the end of the day), and finally I gave in and picked up some Crocs. Stream crossings are a breeze and my feet air out each night in camp. Bite the bullet, there’s a reason why a ton of thru-hikers carry Crocs!
The Packa is a dual pack cover / rain jacket, with no seams for water to leak down onto your back like with a regular rain coat / pack cover! Very cool. It makes you look like a turtle, which is the only downside.
Rain mitts: Because no one likes cold, wet hands while hiking. I run cold in general, and I’ve got bad circulation in my hands, so keeping my hands dry and warm will keep me in a good mood.
Instead of bringing any hiking pants or zip-offs, I instead opted for some slim Marmot rain pants, which so far have worked extremely well in cold-ish weather (down to around freezing).
At the end of a long day of backpacking, compression pants feel real good. REALLY good. Feel the compression. Feel the healing. Feel the power. (TM).
I estimated ~2 pounds of food per day, and no more than ~1 liter of water carried on average. Water is plentiful on the AT, and I’m banking on Guthook to let me know where the next reliable water source is. I plan to chug water at each water source, and only carry as much as necessary to whet the palate.
I wish they were still making Brooks Cascadia 9’s. I’ve never felt a trail runner hug my feet so tenderly. No blisters, no discomfort, and a relatively durable shoe. I picked up a pair on Ebay a few months back (shipped from Canada, no less) after I realized they were discontinued for the (awful, awful) Cascadia 10’s. The reviews from last year’s thru hikers turned me off from trusting the new Brooks Cascadia models.
I plan to hike in my shorts as much as possible, but to have the rain pants as backup in case I have a cold morning.
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