Halfway Point Gear Check-In
There is something unusually cruel about not being able to sleep in on a zero day, but since I’m awake and have exhausted all other distractions, I figured I’d put thumbs to screen and get some writing done.
Since we are officially past the halfway point on the AT, safely waiting out a full day of nonstop, torrential rain in Duncannon, PA, I thought I’d do a halfway point gear check, for those interested. When we were planning for our AT hike, we scoured blogs for reports on who was using what and how things held up over the miles, so hopefully this will be of some use to fellow hikers doing gear research.
Tent: MSR Hubba Hubba 2 person
Condition: Our tent has been great. It has kept us dry and warm throughout the trail, and we love how easy it is to assemble and take down. Having a free-standing tent that doesn’t need to be staked every night saves time and energy during assembly, and we haven’t had any issues with not staking it. This is definitely one of the more expensive pieces of equipment we have, but we couldn’t be happier with the investment. The wear of 1150 miles hardly shows.
Status: original purchase
Sleeping pads: Big Agnes Double Z
Condition: It is quite a luxury to have an air mattress to look forward to every night, even if we do have to blow them up…but we’ve had to replace both. Both pads started deflating throughout the night, and after doing a water test on one, we discovered many tiny holes around the seams, a problem that is unrepairable with a patch kit. Luckily, one pad was easily replaced by a gear rep at Trail Days in Damascus, VA, and the other at REI through our account, so it was an easy replacement. I’d still recommend these mattresses and definitely love having them on the trail. They’re light and really give that extra comfort that is so needed after long trail days.
Sleeping bags: (Rico) Eddie Bauer Karakorm 20 degree. (Lookout) Sierra Design Dri Down 18 degree.
Condition: We both kept our winter sleeping bags way longer than we thought we would, all the way until Front Royal in northern Virginia, mostly because there wasn’t an option to replace them beforehand. We looked around a bit for summer quilts and bags, but didn’t find anything that seemed like a great deal. Then we went to Target and made the best $15 purchases ever, walking out with fleece blankets that have not disappointed us. While our winter bags were great, and we’ll still use them further north, it’s been so hot and humid that there have been many nights we couldn’t sleep in them; sleeping/sticking on top of our bags made for a less than quality night’s sleep. The fleece blankets, on the other hand, have been awesome. They are about half the weight of our bags, which is impressive considering our bags were under 2.5 lbs. to begin with, and they stuff down very small. The added bonus is that on the few nights that it gets a little on the chilly side, we can combine blankets and utilize extra warmth.
Status: new blankets for summer, original bags for colder parts
Packs: Granite Gear Blaze AC 60
Condition: Our packs are holding up great, and I couldn’t be a bigger fan of Granite Gear. We’ve seen a bunch of these packs on the trail, and I can only imagine they’ll continue to grow in popularity. Everyone we’ve talked to has good things to say about them. As would be expected, our packs are showing their wear, both of our side pockets sporting a hole or two. Nonetheless, the nice thing about the material is that the holes have not spread, despite the fabric being stretched and yanked and pulled many times a day. Rico’s pack belt is cinched to as small as it can go, so he needs to redouble efforts not to lose any more weight. Otherwise, we’ll need to get him a new hip belt, the silver lining being that you can replace just that part and don’t have to get a whole new pack. Both packs could also desperately use a good washing, but I think we’ll put that on the post-trail to-do list.
Hiking poles: (Lookout) Black Diamond Long Distance Z Pole FL; (Rico) Black Diamond Z Pole
Condition: My poles are in very good working order. I find I really only use them on steep uphills and downhills, so I’ve been carrying them, telescoped, in my hand most of the day. Nevertheless, I can’t imagine not having them for some of the ascents and descents we’ve made. Seeing people hiking without poles gives me a whole new level of respect for them, but I’ll stay firmly in the hiking pole camp and recommend them to any long distance hiker. Rico’s one pole is still broken–yes, from day 12–but it’s duct taped and functional enough, so he’s been trotting along with it, as is. He actually tried to replace it at REI, but they didn’t have a record of our purchase, even though we are both positive that we walked out of that store with those poles and requisite receipt. He can call Black Diamond and get a replacement, but as long as the poles are still working, we figure we’ll trudge on and save ourselves the hassle for now.
Shoes: Brooks Cascadias (10s for Lookout, 9s for Rico)
Condition: Oh dear, there is just so much to say about Brooks Cascadias…I’ll try to keep it short. Bottom line: great, comfortable, lightweight shoes, but they took shortcuts with the Cascadia 10 designs and every single hiker out here on the AT can spot a Cascadia 10 a mile away because of the signature rip in the toe box. I’m on my second pair, but they have only lasted 200 miles before ripping, same as the first pair. Brooks claims that their shoes are not meant for such rugged terrain as the AT–which is laughable, considering the AT is by and large one of the best maintained trails in the country. Yet, vendors continue to push Brooks on customers as the answer to lightweight, trail-running options. While I’m incredibly annoyed at how poorly my shoes have held up, thanks to Rico’s handy sewing skills with dental floss, I’m still in my second pair and have logged over 750 miles in them. I’m hoping to make it to NY before getting another pair. For transparency’s sake, my irritation notwithstanding, Brooks did replace my first pair for free, so I have actually only purchased one pair. That the shoes have worn through so quickly remains a major drawback, IMHO. Please note, this assessment only applies to the 10 design. The 9s, which Rico has, have held up beautifully. He logged 800 miles in his first pair and his second pair are looking great. Here’s to hoping Brooks addresses the toe box problem for the Cascadia 11 because they really are good shoes. We’ve had few blisters and very little discomfort, relatively speaking of course, because let’s face it, we’re always uncomfortable.
Status: 2nd pair and ripped for Lookout. 2nd pair and doing great for Rico
Socks: Darn Tough
Condition: True to their name, these socks are tough. Still on our original pairs, they are showing no signs of wear–though they are pretty darn tough when it comes to odor removal. But I suppose that is to be expected when you wear the same two pairs of socks every day for three months. I will say that they seem to take a while to dry, but in the meantime, they don’t cause blisters or discomfort while doing so. I fully expect to summit Katahdin in the same pair I donned at our Springer outset.
Other things that have held up well are our stove (MSR pocket rocket), pot and bowls (though our bowls could probably use a replacement), and spoons, once we splurged for the titanium Sea to Summit ones. The plastic ones broke within the first week…the difference between a $3 and $9 utensil.
We’ve recently replaced our REI stuff sacks, which lost their waterproof layer and started ripping, with an Osprey and a Sea to Summit sack, in Front Royal–so far, so good. The biggest changes we’ve made have been to clothing, which is probably obvious given the weather change. I carry more clothes than needed: two pairs of shorts and two tank tops, plus a long sleeve hiking shirt, and then camp clothes. Fortunately, my base weight is so low that I don’t mind. Rico just carries his shorts, a tank top, and a long sleeve shirt, plus camp clothes. Camp clothes have been one of the best decisions we’ve made out here. We discovered that there is really and truly no substitute for cotton at the end of the day, so we each have a cotton button up top and cotton pants. In the hot weather, even after washing off, one’s legs are still sticky and gross; trying to get a good night’s sleep while being a human suction cup to anything touching your skin is quite a challenge. Luckily, Target had an excellent selection of pajama pants, and we couldn’t be happier with our choices. The price of comfort is well worth it out here!!
Overall, Rico did an amazing job researching and picking gear that made sense for us. Our choice of gear continues to hold up against the daily beating it takes. I know many hikers who have replaced everything from packs to tents and beyond, so having had to do minimal replacements has been a huge win for us.
Now that the halfway point gear check is complete, next topic in the blogging queue is an evaluation of how yours truly are holding up, given the ups and downs of daily hiking on the trail. Physically strong, mentally sharp, and wet-to-the-bone sums it up nicely! Details forthcoming…soon!
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