Gear That Made It, and My Reasons Why

Everyone starts the same way: unknowing, feeling their way through the dark. And everyone’s start and end photos are remarkably similar to other hikers’. In the beginning there are sleeping bags, tents, and sleeping pads strapped to the outsides of packs. Hikers are eager, with slightly fuller cheeks. At the end everything looks more efficient, and the people more confident. Sometimes hikers are unrecognizable. Everything, from the baby fat on their cheeks to the pack itself, has changed.

Unless they have already thru-hiked.

Thru-hiking, like everything, takes practice. And because of the nature and length of the thing, a lot will change from start to finish. At first, everything is new, fresh and so great. Then, something goes wrong. You readjust, learn, and move on.

The AT was my first thru-hike. I had backpacked previously, but never for such an extended period of time. In the first few hundred miles I learned how much weight I could carry, what kind of shoes worked for me, what I needed and, most importantly, what I didn’t.

The Gear That Made It

Trail trekking poles – Black Diamond*

I will always lean toward buying something with a killer warranty from now on. At first, I bent a pole. Midway through my hike, three miles out of Harpers Ferry, a screw fell into the mud. BD sent new poles within a few days, no question asked.

Lutsen 55 Backpack – Granite Gear*

It’s a great backpack for a first thru-hike. And Granite Gear is local to Two Harbors, MN, (20 miles from my hometown). It’s the perfect amount of room and is easily adjustable. I got this pack online after the strap of my Gregory Sage 55 snapped off at the beginning of a 25-mile day. Gregory would not replace the pack. They would repair it within a month and at a cost.

Sleeping bag – Marmot

In colder months, the Women’s Trestles 15 degree bag.

Stove – Olicamp

It’s inexpensive and it’s still going strong after six years of use and 2,190.9 miles.

Pot, GSI scraper, spork

The scraper changed my life. It made cleaning after meals so much easier. I considered a post-scrape-pot to be “clean,” which may be gross but so are thru-hikers. I lost the spork four times at least.

ProTrail one person tent – Tarptent*

Again with the warranty. I started with an REI Co-op Passage 1 tent and even put money into a footprint, which was dumb. The tent poles snapped and REI gets those made in California, so it’d take about a month and around $80 to fix. This happened to two other hikers I know of with REI tents. My favorite tent came from a friend post-pole disaster. He loaned me the Tarptent Notch Li before I got the ProTrail. It was a bit lighter, a bit easier to sit up in, and I got easily attached.

Headlamp – Black Diamond*

I lost my headlamp so many times I don’t even want to count them all. Once, it got wet. This one is waterproof, has a good warranty, is affordable, and has so many lumens you can see the whole mountain. I got it at Neel Gap while I was going south. I finished the trail next day. I still don’t regret buying it.


I went 56 days with an REI garage sale Flash sleeping pad. It deflated every single night around 3 a.m. When my boyfriend came for a section I stole his sleeping pad for the remainder of the hike. It’s a much better choice.


Three dry bags for food, clothes, and electronics (charging cord, phone, external charger, headphones)

Bear line

First aid kit (Band-Aids, tick tweezers, Neosporin, Leukotape)

Camp shoes

Water filter

I did half with the Sawyer and half with the Katadyn. I like the latter more—it’s faster and easier to squeeze. It does get bogged down, but so did the Sawyer.

The Clothes That Made It

In the warm:

Shorts, lounge shorts, shirt (not cotton), light base layer, Houdini, rain coat, hat, socks, bra, underwear.

The Houdini might be one of my favorite pieces of gear. I would trust it to be one of the only strong layers I bring on a thru-hike in warmer months.

You can walk into any outdoor store on trail and exchange your hole-ridden Darn Tough socks for new ones, immediately. Do it.

In the cold:

Tights, warm pants, long sleeve polyester shirt, light base layer, Houdini, rain coat, rain pants, the Buffalo, hat, buff, gloves, socks, underwear.

Rain pants and layers became essential in the cold. An extra pair of gloves is key for when the first get wet and it’s 40 degrees.

Getting into my warm, fleecy pants was my favorite part of the day. It was a life-saver to feel dry and warm after 20+ miles of wet, cold hiking. Wintergreen Northern Wear is local to Ely, MN, and is known for making top-quality gear for northern-weather-style adventures. They are someone to trust for cold weather.

Similarly, my Buffalo kept me warmer than friends with puffies. Because of the wind-resistant shell and pile-lined inside, I kept warm while everything else froze. The company started in Sheffield, Ireland, and recently expanded to the United States. Their gear, like Wintergreen, is made for weather that doesn’t hold back.


These are what I struggled with most. I suffered from eight to 11 blisters in my first hundred miles and went from my Merrell Capra Mid Boots to Brooks trail runners. From there, I tried the Altra Lone Peak 3.5s. Overall, those were my favorites. But, they fall apart quickly. The toe protector on the front starts flopping around after 150-200 miles. I switched to Salomon trail runners and stuck with them until it got cold, when I switched back to my Merrells.

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Comments 1

  • Maxine Dalton : Mar 8th

    Clara is such an engaging writer. I wish she would write more.


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