Shaking Down and Trading Out

Over the past year, I hiked many a mile through adverse conditions to put my gear to the test. Here are the four biggest changes that I’ve made:


1. Hoka Speedgoat/Altra Lone Peaks 

11 miles into a 16 mile day hike in the Adirondacks, I stopped to take off my left shoe and verify that the wetness in my socks was from mud and not my pinky toe falling off. I had seen over 100 miles of rocky, Pennsylvania trail in my new-ish Hoka Speedgoats without much of an issue, but the combination of narrow toe boxes and steep downhills had my feet feeling like hamburger. I limped the last few miles back to my car, dreaming of sandals. 

The last ride of the Hokas!

I went to REI two days later and tried just about every option before I finally put on a pair of Altra Lone Peaks. I had been skeptical of the cult following of the zero drop trail runners, but when I put them on I could see what the fuss was about. The foot shaped Altra has been a game changer. I’ve been using the Lone Peaks for ~8 months and my toes have been blister free, even on grueling hikes in the White Mountains! I know I’m sacrificing some durability with the Lone Peaks, but the fit and comfort make them a better choice for me. 

2. Sleeping Pad: Thermarest Z-Lite Sol/Nemo Tensor

I tried my hardest to like the Thermarest Z-lite Sol- I had been using the infamous blue egg carton sleeping pad for quite some time when I decided to make the switch. The Z-lite Sol is a closed-cell foam pad, that’s wonderfully cheap and light. I sincerely wish I was a back sleeper, when sleeping on my back the Thermarest works great! Sleeping on it on my side, however, leaves me waking up with sore hips and numb feet. I didn’t relish the idea of forcing myself to be a back sleeper for ~6 months, so I started looking into the best sleeping pad for side sleepers. The inflatable Nemo Tensor has been a great solution. It’s three inches thick, which provides enough padding for me to sleep in any position without my knees complaining about it. 

3. Tent: Nemo Hornet 2p/Gossamer Gear The Two

While it hasn’t necessarily been a trade out, I have been struggling to decide between the Nemo Hornet 2p and the Gossamer Gear The Two. I own both tents, and have been alternating use on backpacking trips for the past few months. The Two is lighter and feels more spacious, it is also quicker to set up and take down. The Hornet has the advantages of being semi-freestanding, and as a double-wall tent, resulting in reduced condensation and better performance in long bouts of rain. While I have noticed condensation in The Two, it is easy enough to combat with good ventilation. I have used the Nemo and The Two in multiple seasons under a variety of conditions, and have been very happy with both tents. 

Same campsite, different digs.

At the end of the day, I just LIKE The Two better. If I were choosing the tent I would hang out in for a day, I’d pick The Two every time. Since my tent will be my home for 5-7 months, I’m starting my hike with The Two. If I decide I want to make a change, I’ll have my Hornet packed up at home and ready for a trade off!

4. Sleeping Bag/Quilt: Nemo Disco/JacksRBetter Big Meadows

It took me two tries to load my 50L pack with all of the essentials and 4 days of food. The bulky culprit lurking in the bottom of my bag was my luxurious Nemo Disco 15 sleeping bag. I decided to evaluate different sleep systems to see if I could find a more compact solution that would still allow me my nightly tossing and turning. Gear list after gear list showed the popularity of quilt on trail, but I admit that I was skeptical. I was unsure if I would stay warm without an enclosed bag. However, I figured all of the great reviews meant there had to be something to the whole quilt thing. 

After some extensive searching, I decided on the JacksRBetter Big Meadows quilt, and haven’t looked back. I have brought this quilt on 8+ backpacking trips to put the temperature rating and durability to the test. It has performed well at every turn. The Big Meadows quilt in conjunction with a warm sleeping bag liner, has kept me warm even at below freezing temperatures. I sleep so well with this quilt that I’m looking forward to using it every night.

The Keepers

Shaken down, tried and true. Here’s 95% of what I will be bringing with me on trail.

Check out the rest of my gear list here! Only time will tell what gear will stick with me for the long haul!

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Comments 2

  • Robert Deal : Mar 21st

    Love the story I want go backpacking so bad for 8 years had cancer I beat it now I’m ready to go need to buy my gear I’m so ready love to read these stories once I pay my medical bills I start buy hiking gear for sure

  • KB : Mar 22nd

    Weird, could not see the fill material nor the pack down size on the quilt. I have the Disco 15
    as well and have been real happy with it; it packs really small, though I use a larger dry bag
    than provided to pack easier. I’m all about quick take down in the wee hours….


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