Pinhoti Prep Hike: Trusting Your Gear

In preparing for my SOBO AT thru-hike, shakedown/prep hikes are necessary.  I took a prep hike on the Pinhoti Trail in Alabama in April to test my body and my gear.  I call it a prep hike vs. a shakedown because I am generally happy with my gear load out and have already cut my pack weight considerably by upgrading my gear and leaving unnecessary items at home.  There is so much information on the internet now that making decisions on gear can lead to decision paralysis.  But I have quality, lightweight gear that should keep me safe and relatively comfortable in the mountains of Maine as it proved successful in the southern Appalachians.

I hiked basically sections 2-8 of the Pinhoti Trail plus the Helfin Spur, totaling about 94 miles through eastern Alabama.  I had never been on these sections, and some of it was surprisingly difficult.  Places like the “North Ridge Switchbacks”, “Rock Garden”, and “Stairway to Heaven” lived up to their names.  Mix in a some wet stream crossings plus a couple of thunder storms and this becomes a great prep hike to test my mental and physical fortitude as well as my gear.

The top of the Stairway to Heaven. Still a few rocks to negotiate.

My Gear

How did my gear hold up to the elements? Did it meet my expectations?  Below is a breakdown by major types of gear.  Overall, I would say I have a solid kit to get me through at least the summer on the AT.  Below are some observations from my Pinoti trip.  I’ll do a more complete gear list in the coming weeks.


I am using a Big Agnes Tigerwall UL2.  I weighs 2 lbs, 8 oz, plus a 6 oz footprint.  It claims to be a 2 person tent, but I am packing it for my own solitary use.  I find the one-person tents cramped, and you have to be careful about brushing condensation off the sides and getting your gear wet.  The UL2 gives me a little extra space to maneuver more comfortably with my stiff joints.  Still under 3 lbs. with the footprint, I think this is a good lightweight option.  Certainly not for the ultra-light hiker, but I’m not claiming to be one.

This tent performed great with 2 nights of rain.  Thankfully the skies opened on the afternoon of day one and I had the opportunity to win the much coveted set-your-tent-up-in-the-rain badge.  Amazingly, very little water got through the mesh.  What water did sneak in before I got the fly up was easily wiped away with my lightweight towel.  I stayed dry during both nights of rain, and the condensation stayed on the fly of this double-wall set up.  Very pleased.

I carry this tent in a Sea to Summit lightweight dry sack.  This is more to keep the wet fly and footprint from getting my other gear wet that it is to keep the tent dry.

After a night of rain, the inside is still dry.


A lot of thru-hikers carrying frameless packs that weigh 2 lbs. or less.  I decided to go with the REI Flash 55 (55 liters), which is a framed pack weighing 2 lbs. 12 oz.  To me, the ultralight, frameless packs carried the weight funny, and I am not willing to cut much more from my 20 lbs. base weight.  The REI Flash 55 has just enough room to carry my gear, leaving little extra to tempt me into carrying anything else.  It has a couple of side pockets to keep my water filter, snacks, and water bottles, but extras are kept to a minimum.  Although I could have cut 12 oz out going with a lighter pack, upgrading to the Flash 55 still cut 2 lbs. off my massive antiquated internal frame that weighed nearly 5 lbs.  Overall pleased with this option.

Sleeping Bag

I have a Therm-a-rest Questar 20 degree down bag.  I have always carried a synthetic bag, but upgrading to down is a real treat.  It is so much lighter and more compressible making it much easier to carry.  Down loses its insulating power if it gets wet, creating a potentially dangerous situation.  To combat this risk, the Questar uses a hydrophobic coating on the down combined with a durable water repellant coating on the shell.  I also carry it in a Sea to Summit e-vent compression sack which keeps it dry and squishes it down nice an small.  Combine those precaution with a dry tent, and I should be OK.

As an “active” sleeper, I like this bag because it has straps that wrap around the sleeping pad, keeping it in place.  It is also a bit larger than most mummy bags so I can roll over easier.

Temperatures at night on my trip ranged from the mid-50s to the high 30s.  On the warmer nights I slept on top of the bag about half the night.  On the cold night, I crawled in and stayed toasty.  Weighing in at 2 lbs. 3 oz, I am happy with this choice.


I have an MSR PocketRocket 2.  Weighing in at 2.6 oz, it screws into an isobutane-propane canister to boil water fast and simmer if it needs to.  Just a super cooking set up.


I have a pair of Merrell Moab 2 boots that I have used for years.  I did not go with the waterproof version because on the AT, rain will run down your legs and get the inside of your boots wet in a matter of minutes.  The waterproof membrane can actually slow the drying process.  This particular pair of boots have seen their last days on the trail as the midsoles are shot.  A fresh pair of Moab 3s awaits me for my next prep hike in May.

These old dogs will have a new home in the yardwork pile.


Based on some other hikers’ reviews, I went cheap with Frogg Togg ultralight jacket and pants.  The theory here is that you rarely wear any raingear while actually hiking because the sweat will drench you anyway, despite any claims of breathability.  I have found this to be generally true, so all I really need is a waterproof/windproof layer to keep me and my camp clothes dry at camp.  I still seemed to get wet through the top, which is potentially dangerous once I start mixing in a down puffy jacket.  The pants ripped in the back after one use.  I need an upgrade in this category that might require a few more dollars.

My Body

All in all, my body held up relatively well.  There were days when I did not make the miles I wanted based on the terrain and how I felt.  But that’s OK.  The miles will come as my body adjusts.  I feel prepared to tackle Katahdin and the 100 Mile Wilderness, even though I know it is much tougher terrain than on the Pinhoti Trail.  My plan, initially, is to hike fewer miles and take in more time to enjoy the scenery of Maine. If I can deal with the stiffness and soreness while avoiding injury in the first 100 miles, I should be able to navigate the rest of my steps with appropriate caution and speed to successfully complete my SOBO thru-hike.

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Comments 2

  • Pinball : May 17th

    Enjoy your posts Brad. Thank you for your service. Huge fan of the REI Flash 55. It fits gigantic bear containers, is super comfy, and has great accessory pockets (phone on shoulder strap, and hip belt pockets for instance). The large mesh pocket on the back can hold a folded foam cell sleeping pad like the Nemo switchback. Plus, you can remove the brain and clip some straps to save a few grams. I found the shoulders to dig a bit so I spent the money/weight on zpacks shoulder pads and the overall pack experience is a dream.

    Thanks for writing about the Benton. I’m about to do 5 days on AT then jump to 2-3 days on the BMT.

    • Brad Brannon : May 17th

      Thanks, Pinball. I have the largest bear canister and I still have a good bit of extra space in the REI Flash 55. Of course, the down sleeping bag helps, and I keep my tent in a waterproof bag that I can squeeze down pretty flat. I keep my Sawyer Squeeze and an empty bottle to collect water in the quick access mesh pouch on the back. Snacks, phone, and propel in the hip pockets. I have been very pleased, and luckily no issues with the shoulder straps.

      Good luck on the AT and BMT! The rhododendron will hopefully be blooming during your trip.


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