My Top Five Pieces Of 2017 Thru-Hike Gear

It’s so fun seeing this flurry of thru-hike planning happening now on The Trek.  I love to plan and to do research, so I’m having some pleasant, and not-so-pleasant, flashbacks to last year at this time as I was making my own plans.

Not-so-pleasant because I definitely wasted some money on bad purchases (anyone need a hammock?).  And I wasted some precious, precious calories on carrying useless things.

It’s a learning process.  You won’t really know what works and what doesn’t until you’re actually out there chewing up the trail like a beaver in a stand of new-growth saplings.

But here are the things I couldn’t do without on the trail last year.  I will carry them religiously on all future long distance hikes.  Spoiler alert… the hammock didn’t make the cut even though it seemed like a good idea on paper.

1.  Umbrella. Best. Thing. Ever.

Anyone who met me on the trail last year probably knows how smitten I am with my umbrella.  In spite of the fact that I didn’t use it that often.

But when it rained, Brolly was my savior and worth every ounce.  (8 ounces, if you’re wondering.  Here’s the one I love.)

Umbrellas keep your top half dry and allow for ventilation… no sweating on the inside of a “breathable” rain jacket.  Rain jackets don’t breath.  Ever.  Pair it with a rain skirt, and you’re good to go for head to ankle dryness.  Not head to toe because the feet always get wet and you just gotta deal.

Dealing with wet feet the sensible way… wading in.

And if you’re dehydrated and nauseous and frying in the sun, the umbrella will give you some shady relief.  Personally, I like naps under rhododendrons.  

Still skeptical?  I met an ultralighter named Bobcat somewhere in New York during a pelting downpour.  His pack was the size of my food bag and he was practically naked, because who carries clothes when you’re hiking 30 miles a day?  But he was rocking a folding umbrella and a big shit-eating grin as he strode on by, dry and happy under his brolly.

More umbrella pros and cons here, if you’re still not sold.

2.  My Z-Packs Altaplex Tent

You won’t see many of these on the trail, but I grew to love this tent.  I won’t lie, there’s a learning curve to getting a good pitch (hint… let out all the guy lines like they say in the instruction video). 

But once you’ve got it, this tent is sweet.  Lightweight (18 ounces).  Fast pitching.  Big enough to hold me and all my stuff (I’m small, so results may vary).  Tall enough to do Supta Padangusthasana

It isn’t free-standing, but that didn’t actually matter.

I was so worried about the tent platforms in New Hampshire.  I fretted for a thousand miles about how I would pitch my non-freestanding tent on a platform.  Totally needless worry because it turned out to be easy. 

Here’s how I did it:  Pitch the Altaplex so the front of the tent is parallel to the boards on the platform.  Secure the guylines by sliding the knots between the boards.  Bob’s your uncle. 

Now I adore platform camping.  Guaranteed flat every time.

Hook the front and back guy lines to the eye hooks under the lip of the platform.

Slide the knot between the boards for the side guylines.


Or use a stick to catch the eyehook. Creativity saves the pitch!

3.  Therm-a-Rest Z Seat Saved My Butt

Kept my butt warm.  Kept my butt dry.  Kept my butt clean.  Kept my butt comfy.

All good things, but the most important thing it did was cushion my hips so I could sleep at night.  I’m a side sleeper and my hips would get sore after an hour or so.  So I would thrash around from side to side all night long trying to relieve that soreness.

No bueno!

A fellow hiker suggested I put the Z Seat under my hips (under my sleeping pad) and sleeping on the ground has never been the same since.

4.  Guthooks App

I hemmed and hawed on buying this app, but it’s worth every penny for the real-time updates, the town maps and figuring out where you are when you’re in the woods in the middle of nowhere.

Two things about Guthooks, though. 

Thing one… read the fine print.  The magic is in the fine print.  And by fine print, I mean scroll through the comments. That’s where the good stuff is.

Thing two… use Guthooks sparingly. A Guthooks check every five minutes makes for miserable hiking.  I found ignorance about elevation to be climbed and miles left to hike to be bliss.

One last thing… don’t check Guthooks while you’re hiking.  You’re just asking for skinned knees.

5.  Foot Balm (With Toe Socks And Trail Runners)

This is a three for one, but, seriously, do everything you can to take impeccable care of your feet.  For obvious reasons. 

I had two minor blisters in the first week of my hike as I got used to the mileage, then never saw another one again.  I credit the trifecta of Altra Lone Peaks with their wide toe box, Injinji toe socks (the wool ones) and my essential oil-laced foot balm. 

I changed my shoes every 500 miles and massaged foot balm into my warrior peds every night and my feet were happy for miles and miles.

People gave me grief about my use of essential oils on the trail.  You know… bears and stinky stuff.  But the bears never materialized to gnaw my feet off, so I kept at it with the balm.

You can get my recipe here.

Dang.  I could go on and on.

If I could add one more, it would be sending my clothes off to Insect Shield to douse them in tick-killing goodness.  I saw the beasts, but none latched on over the whole summer.  Insect Shield is the bomb.

I got so bonded with all my stuff while I was out there.  Well, not all of it.  Some things I happily sent home.   I’ll share that list next week.  Learn from my bad decisions!

Meanwhile, what gear decisions are you struggling with?  Leave a comment and let me know what you’re agonizing over.

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Comments 12

  • Kelly : Jan 11th

    Hi, thanks so much for this list, very useful to read!
    As far as the umbrella, I’ve been going back and forth. A lot of people seem to recommend bringing a rain jacket and pants for insulation if it’s cold. Would you say an umbrella and a wind breaker/suit would do the same? Did you find you had to bring a rain jacket still?

    • Roo : Jan 11th

      Hi, Kelly. Thanks for reading and reaching out. During the shoulder season (up until mid May and from mid September on) I carried a Patagonia Houdini jacket and pants, mostly to cut the wind while sitting around on tops of mountains. They are super light weight, quick drying and mildly water resistant. Though, to be honest, I rarely pulled the pants out of my bag until I tried to go pants-less for a while in Maine. I get chilled easily, so carrying only shorts and the Houdini pants didn’t work for me. Too cold for this Alabama girl. You’d be surprised how warm the umbrella keeps you because you stay drier under that little protective bubble. Hope this helps and I hope you have the best time of your life out there!

      • Tenacious --aka Pam Taylor : Jan 11th

        Have you tried silk?

  • Tenacious --aka Pam Taylor : Jan 11th

    My biggest concern is my diabetes and insulin. I can see no easy solution to acquiring syringes or bottles of lantus every 27 days. Any diabetic trekkers out there?

    • Roo : Jan 11th

      Hi, Tenacious. Before I left for my hike, I got a prescription for doxycycline just in case I came down with Lyme symptoms. My doctor loves to prescribe pills, so he was thrilled. He offered to call in prescriptions for me any time I needed them along the way. Luckily I didn’t need to take the doxy. Or anything else. But my point is, your doctor may be willing to call in your Lantus prescription to the pharmacies of your choice along the way. This will take some extra planning and preparation on your part (and a lot of guessing about mileage in the beginning.) But since you’ll get off the trail every 3-5 days anyway for resupply, it’s doable. But definitely talk to your doctor. He or she may have other ideas about how to manage your diabetes on the trail, like insulin pens that don’t need refrigeration that may be carried for backup. Good luck! Don’t let that stop you!!!!

    • Roo : Jan 11th

      Oh, one more thing. You might want to post your question in an AT facebook group (there’s one specifically for women and everyone is so helpful there). I think you’ll get a bigger response in a forum like that. xo

    • Ruth Nasrullah : Jan 14th

      Tenacious, the ATC has correspondence lists for a huge variety of hiking groups, including diabetic. Go to and scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page to “Advice.”

  • Bryant Reams : Jan 11th

    Dibs on the hammock, haha.

    Curious why it didn’t work out for you? Single layer hammock, whoopie slings, down top quilt and underquilt, and a cuben fiber tarp are a recipe for a great night’s sleep for me. Sleep better in mine than in my bed.

    • Roo : Jan 12th

      Hi, Bryant! Thanks for your comment. “Single layer hammock, whoopie slings, down top quilt and underquilt and a…tarp” pretty much sums up why the hammock didn’t work for me on a long hike. Too much stuff! I just couldn’t get the weight and volume down enough to justify joining the ranks of the hammock hangers, even though I really loved the idea of it. I still love the idea, so I might look into the Khione SHELL (, an all-in-one contraption that’s supposed to replace the tarp, underquilt and top quilt.

  • Moose : Feb 4th

    I know all about the “One last thing… don’t check Guthooks while you’re hiking. You’re just asking for skinned knees.” but in my case it meant a series of tumbles and twists off the trail and down a mountain with a dislocated hip at the end. Back in 2018 to continue.

  • Chris Guynn : Feb 6th

    I love my umbrella but had to send it home. Some sections it was great for but the further north on the AT i got the more the trail closed up and it was useless in side the green tunnel. However it was excellent at keeping the sun off of my on road walks to town.


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