The Evolution of My AT Gear List

My official AT countdown has begun. In 70 days, I’ll be at Springer Mountain in Georgia ready to kick-off my 2021 thru-hike.

I started planning for this adventure nine months ago and throughout that time, I’ve made many changes to the gear I plan to start my hike with. In this post, I’ll give an overview of some of the more interesting swaps I’ve made. Remember that this is my personal experience – please be kind!

Going Stoveless

From what I gather, going stoveless is not unusual in the backpacking community. However, for my family and friends, this is often the biggest source of eyebrow raising – second only to my decision to ditch my tent and opt for a hammock. I have many reasons for going stoveless, but what it boils down to is personal preference.

For me, the convenience of not cooking far outweighs the benefits of hot food. As with anything, this may change once I’m on the trail, but I suspect that as it gets warmer outside, any desire I develop for a hot meal will dwindle or be quelled by the occasional meal in town.


Last spring, I purchased the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2. It’s super lightweight and an easy pitch. That said, the experienced backpackers with whom I’d spoken about my upcoming AT adventure touted hammock camping at every opportunity. Once I finally laid in a hammock, I understood. I barely blinked before I switched out my tent for the Hammock Gear Wanderlust kit. It’s heavier than the tent (there is a UL version of the hammock kit available, but I’m on a budget), but I like being off the ground at night, stepping directly out of “bed” and onto the ground, and the tarp’s versatility.

Trail Runners

I assumed that I would be starting the trail in some variation of the Altra Lone Peaks. Prior to making the switch to the Hoka Speedgoat 4, I wore Altras on a regular basis for about two years, mostly for indoor exercise and casual walks outdoors.

After my first backpacking trip, it was apparent that the Altras I had didn’t fit properly – I had two bruised toenails. I consulted with a sales associate at REI and went down a full size in the Altra Lone Peak 4.0. When that didn’t work, I tried the Altra Timp 1.5s, which led to more black and blue toenails. At this point, it felt like I was trying force the Altras to work for me, so I decided to explore other options.

This exploration led me to the Hoka One One Speedgoat 4. Initially, I was not a huge fan. I experienced some blistering on my heels while I broke these shoes in. Or, rather, while my feet were being broken in to the shoes. After about a week of consistent walking in them on all sorts of terrain, the blisters went away. I’ve gone on a few backpacking trips with these shoes and I feel comfortable starting the trail in them.

Sleeping Quilt

Instagram was my saving grace when it came to many of my questions about gear. I understand that every individual has unique needs, but oftentimes, I would come across people doing Q&A’s or explaining their gear choices, and their reasoning for choosing certain gear was in close alignment with my own personal preferences.

The best example of this was my decision to opt for a quilt rather than a traditional sleeping bag. I didn’t know that a quilt was an option – I happened upon a PCT thru-hiker’s Instagram story explaining her decision to buy a quilt during her thru-hike. Honestly, I didn’t even have to give it a second thought. I’ve never cared for being completely zipped up in a bag, so a quilt seemed like the holy grail.

I jumped in headfirst, purchasing an Enlightened Equipment Revelation quilt, and I’ve never looked back. It’s super cozy and I don’t feel claustrophobic when I’m snuggled in for the night.

My full gear list is available here if you’re interested in checking it out!

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Comments 3

  • Mary : Jan 25th

    Looks like you’ve got it all together!

  • Timothy L. Terry : Jan 25th

    Hey Sam,

    So close, yet probably seems like forever away from the start. How are you getting to Springer? Are you going to go up the Approach Trail? That base weight is awesome, nice work.

    Gosh, I also have a dream of doing a through hike, but I’m not sure that my old body (mostly my beat up knees) would make it. Any longer hikes require knee braces for both, so I’m not totally suffering the next day, and I’ve picked up the Covid-20 lbs (ok, maybe 25) during this downtime when I haven’t had my gym routine.

    Maybe I could arrange to do some section hiking, so I’m not damaging parts that I will need.

    I look forward to your reports and am jealous that you have this amazing experience not far in your future.

    Enjoy every day of it.


    • Sam Cermak : Jan 26th

      Thanks, Tim! A friend will be dropping me off at Springer, so I don’t anticipate doing the Approach Trail. I hope you have the opportunity to do some hiking, despite the beat up knees. Hang in there!

      Happy trails!


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