The Nitty-Gritty of Gear Evolution on a Thru-Hike
About this time last year, I had just committed to my AT thru-hike, which meant that I was in the early research stages. Having never backpacked with less than 30-40 pounds on my back before, the idea of going ultralight was extremely enticing, but it would mean updating almost all of my old heavy gear. I was digging through this very website reading up on gear lists in attempts to know every possible piece of equipment out there for my consideration. Nightly YouTube gear sessions became routine. I wanted to totally dial in my setup with the perfect arsenal of ultralight equipment that would take me from Springer to Katahdin.
The inevitable truth is, gear changes over the course of a thru-hike. My list even changed pretty dramatically from March to April in the final month before I set out, cutting a few last pounds from my base weight after I was sure I had it all dialed in. Changing gear during a thru-hike is virtually guaranteed, but proper planning ahead of time can keep your changes and expenditures on the trail to a minimum.
Initial Gear List
It took about three months for me to go from deciding I would hike the AT to having every piece of gear I wanted meticulously laid out in a spreadsheet. Here’s what I came up with.
For those of you who enjoy intricate details and ounce counting, this post is absolutely for you.
Tent: Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 — 3 pounds, 3.5 ounces
Pad: Nemo Cosmo Air Lite R20 W/Foot Pump — 1 pound, 1.9 ounces
Quilt: Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20° — 1 pound, 5 ounces
Pack: ZPacks Arc Haul (with most add ons) — 1 pound, 10.7 ounces
Cook pot: Snow Peak Trek 900 ti — 6.2 ounces
Spoon: Two Toaks Long Handle Polished — 1.1 ounces
Water bag: Sawyer Squeeze Reservoir — 1 ounce
Water bottles: Two Smartwater 1L — 3.4 ounces
Stove: Snow Peak Original Giga Power — 3.1 ounces
Lighter: Two Bic Minis — .8 ounces
Filter: Sawyer Squeeze — 2.5 ounces
Bear bag: ZPacks Bear Bag Kit — 3.3 ounces
Hiking Clothes (All Worn)
Shoes: Altra Lone Peak 3.5
Underwear: ExOfficio Boxer Briefs
Shorts: Nike Women’s Running Shorts
Hiking shirt: Patagonia Short Sleeve Skiddore
Underwear: ExOfficio Boxer Briefs — 2.5 ounces
Camp shirt: Patagonia Capilene T— 2.7 ounces
Extra socks: TwoPair Darn Tough ¼ Crew — 5 ounces
Long sleeve: Patagonia Capilene Thermal Weight — 6.2 ounces
Pants: Under Armor Tights — 7.9 ounces
Beanie: Outdoor Research LW Beanie — 1.4 ounces
Warm jacket: Patagonia UL Down Jacket — 9.9 ounces
Rain jacket: Outdoor Research Helium HD — 9.2 ounces
Stuff sack: ZPacks Medium Plus Pillow — 1.6 ounces
First aid kit (Home-assembled odds and ends) — 2 ounces
Glasses with case — 5 ounces
Contact solution —2.4 ounces
Extra contacts and contact case — .8 ounces
Toothbrush (from Z Packs) and retainer — 1.3 ounces
Toothpaste — .6 ounces
Trowel: Deuce of Spades — .6 ounces
Toilet paper — 2 ounces
Hand sanitizer — 1 ounce
Gold Bond Powder — 1 ounce
Ear plugs — .1 ounce
Multitool: Gerber Dime — 2.3 ounces
Headlamp: Black Diamond Spot — 3.1 ounces
Journal: Small journal w/ pen — 5.3 ounces
External battery: Goal Zero Flip 20 — 4.8 ounces
Earbuds: Apple earbuds — .5 ounces
Charger nub: Apple charge port — 1 ounce
Charge cables: Apple and Micro USB — 1.4 ounces
Camp shoes: Crocs — 1 pound
Sleeping bag liner: Sea-to-Summit Silk Liner — 4.7 ounces
Camp chair: Therma Rest Z-Seat — 2.2 ounces
Base weight: 15 pounds, 3 ounces
After proudly posting about my gear on social media, an old friend who had recently hiked the PCT asked if I was open to suggestions about cutting even more weight. I was happy to chat with someone with experience, so I shared my sheet with him and made some changes. His main suggestions were to reduce redundancies because towns are close if you ever lose/break something, get a lighter tent, and check out this wicked $16 stove on Amazon. So, I made some changes.
Ditched: Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 — 3 pounds, 3.5 ounces
Acquired: Gossamer Gear The One — 1 pound, 9.3 ounces
Weight lost: 1 pound, 8.2 ounces
Ditched: Everything I had two of
1 Toaks Long Handle Polished — .6 ounces
1 Smartwater 1L — 1.7 ounces
1 Bic Mini — .4 ounces
Weight lost: 2.7 ounces
Ditched: Snow Peak Original Giga Power — 3.1 ounces
Acquired: BRS 3000t — .9 ounces
Weight lost: 2.2 ounces
Ditched: Ex Officio Boxer Briefs — 2.5 ounces
Acquired: Generic Synthetic Briefs — 1.5 ounces
Weight loss: 1 ounce
Ditched: Crocs — 1 pound
Weight Loss: 1 pound
Total weight loss: 2 pounds, 14 ounces
I made my changes, spent another $300 on a new tent, and was ready for the trail with a base weight close to 12 pounds. I took my new gear out for a trial run and everything went smoothly. When April 22 rolled around, my adventure (and the evolution of my gear) began.
Day One: Amicalola Falls, mile -8.8
Base weight: 12 pounds, 5 ounces
Day 4: Neel Gap, mile 31.1
Acquired: 7×3 piece of Tyvek — $7 — 4 ounces
I’d never even heard of this option until my first night on trail. This stuff is great for claiming your zone in a shelter and works as a solid tent groundsheet as well. Mine lasted all the way to Katahdin.
Updated base weight: 12 pounds, 9 ounces
Day 7: Hiawassee, GA, mile 69
Acquired: Supermarket knee brace — $11 — worn
Knee pain was something I hadn’t experienced before, so I figured I probably better address it. I ended up not noticing much of a difference and got rid of it after two weeks when my knees got used to their new daily toll.
Day 23: Hot Springs, NC, mile 274.5
Acquired: Floppy hat — $38.43 — worn
Before the trees filled in, May was sunny enough that I started experiencing regular sunburns. I never thought I’d be jealous of someone wearing a floppy hat (you know, one of those doofy tan safari hats with the veil that covers half your face and the back of your neck), but as my envy of my hiking partner’s pale neck grew, I finally caved and became a floppy hat guy.
Day 25: Flint Mountain Shelter, mile 308.1
Ditched: BRS 3000t — .9 ounces
Turns out, there’s a reason this miraculously light stove only costs $16. One of my friends carried hers all the way to Katahdin with no issues, but mine had a stripped screw and stopped attaching to fuel pods with less than a month of use. Fortunately, I was hiking with friends, so I was able to borrow their stoves until I was able to get back my old one.
Updated base weight: 12 pounds, 8.1 ounces
Day 35: Watauga Lake, mile 428.1
Ditched: Under Armor Tights — 7.9 ounces
Ditched: Outdoor Research LW Beanie — 1.4 ounces
Ditched: Patagonia UL Down Jacket — 9.9 ounces
Ditched: Darn Tough ¼ Crew Socks — 2.5 ounces
As my journey continued, I realized I had only worn my cold weather gear once or twice since April and the weather was getting warmer each day. So when I saw my sister near Lake Watauga, I dropped off what I wasn’t using to cut almost two pounds from my base weight.
Updated base weight: 11 pounds, 2.4 ounces
Day 43: Massie Gap, mile 501.5
Ditched: Nemo Cosmo Air Lite R20 W/Foot Pump — 1 pound, 1.9 ounces
Acquired: Neo Air X-Lite Small — $90 — 8 ounces
Acquired: Snow Peak Original Giga Power — already owned — 3.1 ounces
A month and a half in, I was interested in shaving a little more weight and trying out a new piece of gear. A friend let me use her discount and I got to try out a new pad. I also met up with my parents who brought me my old stove back.
Updated base weight: 10 pounds, 11.6 ounces
Day 46: Marion, VA, mile 533.7
Ditched: Injinji Run Midweight Mini Crew — worn
Acquired: Darn Tough Crew Socks — $20 — worn
I tried out Injinji socks, and while I actually really liked the feel and fit of them, they were already riddled with holes, so I went all in on Darn Tough.
Day 54: Daleville, VA, mile 729.2
Acquired: Superfeet Insoles — $31.54 — worn
Acquired: Sea-to-Summit Aeros Pillow large — $45.23 — 2.5 ounces
To address foot pain, I picked up some insoles I ended up not liking, and to improve my sleep quality, I tried out a pillow that ended up becoming one of my favorite pieces of gear. Seriously. Give pillows a chance.
Updated base weight: 10 pounds, 14.1 ounces
Day 65: Front Royal, VA, mile 970.8
Ditched: Disintegrated Altra Lone Peak 3.5
Acquired: New Altra Lone Peak 3.5 — purchased ahead of time — worn
I went ahead and bought my two extra pairs of shoes before I needed them, then had my parents send them out when I was ready for them.
Day 70: Harpers Ferry, WV, mile 1,024.6
Ditched: Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20° — 1 pound, 5 ounces
Acquired: Lafuma Warm N Light 40° — already owned — 1 pound, 7 ounces
Ditched: Neo Air X-Lite Small — $90 — 8 ounces
Acquired: Nemo Cosmo Air Lite R20 W/Foot Pump — 1 pound, 1.9 ounces
Ditched: Sawyer Squeeze 32 Ounce (1L) Bag — 1 ounce
Acquired: Sawyer Squeeze 64 Ounce (2L) Bag — $9.81 — 1.5 ounces
Ditched: Snow Peak Original Giga Power — 3.1 ounces
Acquired: MSR Pocket Rocket — $40 — 2.7 ounces
At the halfway point, I took some time off with my grandparents and once again reassessed my gear. The nights had been so hot for so long that having a 20 degree bag seemed crazy, so I had my old bag sent to me. I also just couldn’t get comfortable on the short pad, so I switched bag to my original full length. The 32-ounce Sawyer bag I started with was getting pretty beat up, so I upgraded to try out double capacity. Lastly, I’d noticed that my eight-year-old stove seemed to consume fuel less efficiently than others’ stoves, so I picked up a Pocket Rocket and was pleased with the difference.
Updated base weight: 11 pounds, 10.1 ounces
Day 78: Duncannon, PA, mile 1,147.9
Ditched: Full Small Walmart Journal — 5.1 ounces
Acquired: Empty Small Walmart Journal — $5 — 5.1 ounces
I actually managed to keep up with daily journal entries, so I had filled the first one up and was ready for the next.
Day 84: Delaware Water Gap, NJ, mile 1,294.7
Ditched: Sea-to-Summit Silk Liner — 4.7 ounces
Acquired: Cocoon Silk Mummy Liner — $65 — 4.7 ounces
Ditched: Lafuma Warm N Light 40° — 1 pound, 7 ounces
I decided to try out no sleeping bag at all for a while and sent mine home knowing I’d probably want my 20 degree quilt back by the time I finished anyway. I also didn’t expect my old 40 degree bag to weigh more than my 20 degree quilt, so carrying it felt kind of silly. My trusted sleeping bag liner of nearly seven years had finally disintegrated, so going without a sleeping bag at all, I definitely needed a replacement.
Updated base weight: 10 pounds, 3.1 ounces
Day 88: Elk Park, NY, mile 1,385.4
Acquired: Walmart Sleeping Pants — $8 — 8 ounces
OK, so sending home my sleeping bag wasn’t smart. I bought some warm pants and had my parents ship my quilt to me.
Updated base weight: 10 pounds, 11.1 ounces
Day 95: Blue Hill Road, MA, mile 1,531.4
Acquired: Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20° — 1 pound, 5 ounces
Ahhhh, warm again.
Updated base weight: 12 pounds, .1 ounce
Day 101: Manchester Center, VT, mile 1,651.8
Ditched: Cnoc Aluminum Z Trekking Poles — worn
Acquired: Black Diamond Trail Back Trekking Poles — $85 — worn
Shortly into Vermont, I slipped in some mud (go figure) and managed to snap the ends off both of my trekking poles at the same time. Fortunately, technology today is amazing. I got on Amazon to order new poles and picked them up in the next town
Day 103: Killington, VT, mile 1,705.2
Ditched: Disintegrated Altra Lone Peak 3.5 — worn
Acquired: New Altra Lone Peak 3.5 — purchased ahead of time — worn, weight unknown
Rocky Pennsylvania took its toll, and heading into the Whites, I wanted the reliable traction of fresh shoes.
Day 115: Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, NH, mile 1,871.5
Ditched: Darn Tough Crew — worn
Acquired: Darn Tough Crew — free — worn
In New Hampshire, I finally wore down my original pair of Darn Tough socks. I walked into the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, showed the woman behind the counter my rancid socks with a hole in them, and walked out with fresh clean socks having not spent a penny.
Day 121: Rangeley, ME, mile 1,970.5
Acquired: Darn Tough Hiker Crew — $27 — 3.5 ounces
My final gear change happened in Rangeley. With only 200 miles of trail left, I decided to treat myself to a plush new pair of Darn Tough socks embroidered with the iconic local hero, the moose. These purple and red socks took me all the way to the summit of Katahdin.
Final base weight: 12 pounds, 3.6 ounces
In total, I spent about $450 on new gear along the way, roughly 14% of my total costs while on trail (not counting the two extra pairs of shoes I bought before I started the trail). Seasons change, gear breaks, and sometimes you just want to try something different. When budgeting for the trail, keep these things in mind. Many companies have awesome customer service and will help fix your gear or send you new stuff, especially as a thru-hiker.
Just remember, when it comes to gear and plans on the trail, the only thing guaranteed is change.
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