How did you come up with the gear you’re bringing? CQI.

“When we allow ourselves to adapt to different situations, life is easier.” – Catherine Pulsifer

There are some who are able to go by the seat of their pants…winging it…courageous souls who sling on a backpack and hike.  These trekkers have wild confidence and know the gear they need to do the job.  And, there are others who plan, test and improve before and during their big adventure.  Mr. Rook and I fall into this category.   

In the last post, we described how we use the 10 11 Hiking Essentials as a foundation for choosing what gear we have in our backpack.  We have also incorporated a Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) framework for adding and eliminating our gear.  Those who are in the business industry or in the healthcare field may be familiar with using CQI for improving outcomes such as implementing policy or improving patient care after a surgery.  CQI is a four-step cycle: plan, do, study/review/evaluate, act/make changes.  This cycle isn’t finite; it is done on an ongoing and real time basis.  We have been reading 2023 thru-hikers’ blogs after the first climb to Springer Mountain.  Our observation is that many hikers are implementing CQI by getting new shoes or eliminating gear.  Mr. Rook and I have found using CQI as a way to eliminate the blame game by: looking at problems objectively and finding a solution.  This is an important aspect to couples hiking together.    

When Mr. Rook and I decided to embark on our AT adventure, we began planning for several “shakedown hikes” or in the CQI world “doing” several multi-day backpacking trips to evaluate our gear.  

Malchus Stafa, B. Continuous Quality Improvement Cycle: Our framework for backpacking decisions. Author’s slide. Mar. 2023.

Our planning stage began with:

  1. Pulling out a dusty copy of the  Appalachian Trail Thru-hike Planner off our shelf, (Lauterborn, 2005).  Talk about excitement, the hikers on the front cover of the planner looked like us (maybe us in ‘90s).  They were wearing gaiters, hiking boots and external frame backpacks.   
  2. “Googling” and “youtubing” the subjects: Appalachian hikers who are sixty, older backpacking couples, gear.
  3. Watching way too many AT hiking videos.
  4. Reading way too many hiking guides and blogs.

Next, we did a complete inventory of our backpacking gear against the AT’s planner.  Our approach also included: if it isn’t broken don’t replace it attitude.  Four items were immediately replaced: 

  1. Pump water filter due to a crack the previous season for a Sawyer Squeeze. 
  2. Sleeping pads or air mattresses: the R-Value (or insulation) was too low for 30-40 F spring/fall hiking, plus I spent way too many hours in the bathtub trying to find the leaks.  Both were replaced for Nemo Tensor mattresses. 
  3. Battery flashlights for Petzl rechargeable headlamps: batteries have always been a problem and from an environmental standpoint, a right thing to do.
  4. Whisper light burner for MSR Pocket Rocket with push-start piezo ignition. The change was due to finding available fuel.  The self ignition sold Mr. Rook. I liked that I didn’t have to buy a whole new cook set for the “Pocket Rocket.”  

Malchus Stafa, B. 4 gear changes before the first shakedown. Note we recycled the old mattress and water pump. Mar. 2023.

Circle Game by Joni Mitchell

And the seasons they go round and round

And the painted ponies go up and down

We’re captive on the carousel of time

We can’t return we can only look

Behind from where we came

And go round and round and round

In the circle game

Mitchell, Joni. “Circle Game” (Remaster 2004). Dreamland. Reprise Records, 2004.  Hear the recording:


Malchus Stafa, B. Dessert Queen’s Sleeping Bag before the shakedown hike. Mar. 2023.


As our first shakedown hike approached (Oct. 2021), Arizona Eagle called with concerns about our “ancient” backpacking gear.   

“Vintage,”  I replied back to him.  “Our equipment is vintage…ancient would be your Great Grandpap’s WWII army cots in our basement.”     

“Mom, what sleeping bag are you using?”  he asked.  

“The one my parents purchased for me back in the eighties.” I remember begging for this big ticketed Christmas gift: a three season, overstuffed, down bag that went down to twenty degrees…and very cozy.  

“That bag takes up half of your backpack. You do know that there are smaller and lighter sleeping bags?”  

“Yes, and there are no holes in my sleeping bag.  Why would I spend the money on gear that isn’t broken?”  I said firmly, and described our research and watching Mike and Kathy, AT backpackers, on Trek.

“That’s nice Mom, but–”

I interrupted him and said, “Your dad and I HAVE made changes to the gear that is broken.   We are trying to be environmentally conscious.”

“I suppose Dad is using his backpack too?” Mr. Rook’s backpack was one of the first backpacks with internal frames.

“Again, why spend money on gear that isn’t broken or obsolete?”  I asked.  

“But, the AT is a longer hike than a ten day backpacking vacation,” Arizona Eagle said.  “Just saying… If I was carrying my essentials for 2200 miles, I’d exchange some of my gear for lighter items.”  

“It isn’t like we’re first timers.  The Laurel Highlands shakedown hike is to find out what works and what doesn’t… evaluate and make changes accordingly.  Isn’t that what we always do?”

There was a long pause then I changed the subject to “how was this semester going?”  I knew Arizona Eagle was still thinking about the weight of our gear.  Truthfully, I liked our gear.  It was familiar.  I knew how it worked.  

In order for CQI cycle to work, you have to be open to change and adaptation. Mr. Rook and I have seen many changes during our lifetime: typewriters to computers, cellular phones, becoming parents. Most recently, we had to adapt to where and how we worked: cubicles to home.  The same would apply to backpacking. We were curious about new ways of backpacking.  Being curious, you have to have an open mind and willingness to try out new things. In our case, this type of curiosity helps to discover what is right for us even if it means changing some gear. And the only way to do this was to actually do several shakedown hikes.       


  • Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike Planner. Edited by David Lauterborn. Appalachian Trail Conservancy, 2005.
  • The Trek. “Mike and Kathy’s 2021 Appalachian Hike.” 2021 



We would like to acknowledge all the folks, we used in our CQI Planning Stage.  Thank you so much for your help and wisdom.  Below is a listing of some of our favorites.  We borrowed the books from our local public library and if we needed to purchase a book, we went to our local independent booksellers.  

Appalachian Trail Books:

Non Appalachian Trail Books About Walking:


  • Appalachian Trail Conservatory  Note:  We attended the April 2022 Flip Flop Workshop in Harpers Ferry because we got tired of watching all the recommended educational videos.  We highly recommend attending.   
  • The Trek:  Many many bloggers with a wealth of real time advice on the trail.  The podcasts are funny and they often have informative guests.
  • Fresh off the Grid
  • Outdoor Eats

Youtube Vloggers:

AT Youtube Vloggers:

Watching these thru-hikers on the trail became a substituted for the “drive home from work”




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