UL Thru Hike Gear List and Review
So far I’ve spent the week and a half since finishing watching reruns of Family Guy on TV, playing with the optimal AC setting in my hotel room (yes, I went from living in a tent, to living the next 8 months after the trail in hotel rooms and a cruise ship), buying All The Things (I sold just about everything I had before setting out on my 1.5 year backpacking journey- that ended with my AT thru hike), and eating fresh vegetables.
So I suppose I’m rested up a bit and ready to start on all these writing projects I’ve had in mind for some time. First off is talking about my gear for the AT. I had a base weight of just under 9 lbs. I think I only met 5 other people hiking sub-10 which is what people consider “ultralight”. I really liked having a low pack weight. I have a history of back problems so it really makes a big difference to me. Even if I carry more water during a day, the next morning I can get spasms or even have difficulty getting up. Having a low weight makes for a much more enjoyable experience for me.
Now, I will say that 90% of the time people who saw my small pack would say, “I could never afford that!” I guarantee that most people could, as when I talked to them it soon transpired that their gear was the same if not more expensive than mine generally speaking. So if you have a reasonable amount of money you can decide to do the UL thing if you are smart about it. I won’t go into details here about that (will be writing a piece soon elsewhere) but there are various ways to save money here.
So without further ado, here we go!
The Big 3 (or 4, etc)
Pack: Zpacks Zero 36L, 9 oz $140
I had been using a MLD exodus the year before. At 50L I just found it massive and too big, both in volume, and torso size. The great thing about the Zpacks zero is how customize-able it is. I was able to order a much smaller torso for myself (I’m 5’8″, but have a short torso). The cuben fiber makes the pack water resistant which means you don’t have to stop hiking to put on a pack cover. I think it’s worthwhile to get the heavier cuben hybrid material, as even that was starting to shred a bit by the end (though the pack basically looked new until the last 200 miles). I LOATHE the amount of pockets on most backpacks, so was thrilled I could pick whatever I wanted (I just went with the mesh pocket on back). Finally I had really good customer service with Zpacks so I would feel more than comfortable recommending this pack…IF your base weight is low. Don’t put a heavy load in this, I think sub-9 or even better 6-8 lb base weight is the way to go with this one. I found it super comfortable in general.
Tent: Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1, 27.5 oz $195
The Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 was probably the number one tent I saw while hiking the AT. There’s a lot to like: easy to source (REI, most online stores), easy setup, light weight, reliable in wind and rain. I opted for the UL1 because I’m a gram weenie or whatever. A lot of people liked the UL2 because of its bigger size, but since I was hiking solo I really felt just fine in my tent, I didn’t feel claustrophobic at all like some people mentioned. My Fly Creek was actually more than an ounce lower than the listed weight for whatever reason. I shaved further ounces by ditching all the stuff sacks, replacing the 9 stakes with 6 titanium ones (gotten free with Amazon credits), and removing some guy lines I wasn’t using. Amazingly, this got the weight down to 27.5 oz! That’s a pretty darn good bang for your buck, especially for a hiker with not TOO much experience. Definitely wait for sales on this one. That being said, I am looking to move to a tarp/bug net setup for the future, I think it would be possible to slash the BA weight in half, and the tarp setup would be good for some trails I’m looking at that have a lot less rainfall.
A lot of quilts are out there these days, but it was quite hard to find the best bang for my buck. My search led me to some hammock camping forums, and there I found out about a less talked about company, Wilderness Logics. I’m a cold sleeper so 15F seemed like a good temperature rating for me with the trips I had planned (I used this first on my world backpacking trip last year, which included colder places, some at altitude, like Hokkaido Japan, Mongolia, the ‘stans, Nepal, and northern India. For the most part it was great, but I did get cold at some of the higher places (Ala Archa in Kyrgyzstan, some parts of Annapurna Circuit in Nepal). It was suggested to get a pad with higher R value than the reflectrix-covered 1cm thick foam shortie I was using. I opted for the NeoAir XLite women’s version, which has a higher value than the regular one. It made such a huge difference for me! I also liked the length, at 5’6″ it was really comfortable for me to stick my feet off just under the end (I’m 5’8″). Again I used Amazon credits I’d gotten for free to score this pad. Note: when I weighed these two items, the pad was a little under listed weight, but my quilt was a whopping 3 oz over listed weight! I think some of it had to do with me using it for a while first. Once I get a chance to wash it I will reweigh it but for now I put the actual weight I measured which is 23 oz vs 20 listed.
Good news for people buying the quilt now- it uses 900 down instead of the 850 I got two years ago, and includes a cinch cord at the top. It is $10 more expensive though. Still I believe it is the cheapest 15F quilt on the market.
I’m just reviewing the clothing I packed, but pretty early on I switched to hiking in a merino wool dress full time. I had three dresses throughout the trail- the first two disintegrated at some point due to my pack rubbing and I had sketchy holes in my butt. I wore Altra Lone Peaks, which I had a love-hate relationship with. Mostly love though. I used Darn Tough socks for the most part, I had to switch type because the 2.5 Altras were massively wider than the 1.0s I started with, and I got blisters from my feet moving all around (I have very narrow feet).
Puffy- UNIQLO ULD coat w/hood, 11.5 oz, $28 (I recommend the parka or jacket)
I was super excited to travel to Japan in 2014 where I scored one of these coats for half the price they run for in the US. Only the coat was on clearance, so that’s what I got. As someone who runs cold, I actually appreciated the longer length keeping my lower torso and legs warm. I also have used it as a shortie quilt in warmer weather. However, I would probably go with the hip length jacket or parka in the future if available. This picture is of the parka. I used this puffy as my pillow, it worked well with remainder of clothes stuffed inside.
Leggings- Patagonia Cap 4/GalaxyPants!, 5 and 4 oz respectively, $3 each
I scored the Patagonia’s at a Goodwill in LA before my trip. While the inseam was too short for me, and I’m pretty sure a marsupial was the last wearer (there was a massive amount of extra fabric in the lower torso) they were super warm for cold nights in GA, TN, and NC. However, they soon proved to be overkill, so I replaced them with GalaxyPants, that I found in the Pearisburg Goodwill, also $3. They proved to be perfect for an extra layer on the coldest nights, and also got lots of crazy comments, especially in towns. Win.
Cloudveil Run Don’t Walk Hoodie, 10.6 oz, $24
I had a hard time deciding what to use for my mid layers. Eventually I settled on this fleece hoodie that is no longer made. It’s made from PowerDry fleece which is a great option for a moister trail like the AT. I actually ended up getting rid of a merino blend long sleeve shirt and just keeping this as my only mid, and hiked in this on numerous colder or windy occasions. I really liked the thumb holes for the coldest days, and the shape of the hood, which covered my lower face up to my nose if needed. I got this for $24 practically new on Ebay, including shipping.
Frogg Toggs, 9oz, Free/$15
Say what you will about Frogg Toggs, these are definitely the cheapest ultralight rain gear on the planet. A small weighs 9oz on my scale. I used them both as rain gear and wind gear until NH, when I somehow managed to tear massive holes in the jacket on a bathroom stall at Lake of the Clouds hut (they had these signs with pointy plastic covering them, come on, it was like 5 am). After this my friend’s wife generously let me borrow her Marmot jacket (I think Precip?). This was a sweet jacket as well, and likely in the future I may go with something a bit more durable. I also have a job with real money in my future, however. If you don’t have a lot of money, the Frogg Toggs are hard to beat in my opinion. I used Amazon credits again here, so free.
Odds/ends: DIY camp/fording sandals 5oz, $2; Darn Tough 1/4 merino socks, 1.6oz $14; Smartwool NTS Micro Bikini, .85 oz, $14
I made camp sandals out of some Zpacks elastic cord I’d ordered, and some cheapo sandals I found in a hiker box. I can’t wear thong-style sandals because I get blisters immediately, and I wanted to be able to use them in river crossings if needed. With a dry summer in Maine I only used them a couple times but they worked great. I tied the cord in the style of the much more expensive Xero sandals, in a no-toe style.
The Darn Tough socks always ended up getting worn down in the mid-foot section for me, but the company is good about replacing socks…eventually. Don’t rely on being able to replace them in-person on the trail, I was not successful in finding an outfitter who would actually do this.
I had tried out a couple of types of underwear before my hike. I’d heard great things about ExOfficio but they just were so swampy, I felt like they never really dried out when I was actually wearing them. The merino bikini by Smartwool works really great. I actually ended up ditching them altogether to prevent chafing, except for period week. This worked well for me.
Cooking and Water
Starlyte Stove and DIY foil windscreen, .7 oz, free/$18
I decided to switch to an alcohol stove for the AT from my Pocket Rocket clone setup I’d used on my world backpacking trip last year (it’s hard to find appropriate alcohol fuel in some of the places I was travelling, and I often was at higher elevation where gas works much better). I loved using this stove! It was simple to use and I admit the first time I ever used an alcohol stove was my first day on trail. The pot stand is integrated which is one less thing to worry about, and it’s a quite safe setup due to the material inside the stove which prevents spills. You can literally turn this thing over while lit and no fuel spills out. I was only boiling water for the dehydrated meals I made, or for beverages. If you are eating a lot more simmer-style meals like the pasta and rice sides this might not be the best choice for you. I made a windscreen out of a foil pie tin about an hour or two before leaving for my thru (OBVIOUSLY not a procrastinator here). That foil screen lasted me the whole trip and I’m about to use it to cook lunch in a few minutes. I got this for free using Amazon credits, but it’s not terribly expensive at only $18.
EpiGas 800mL titanium pot, 3oz, $15
Japan is a great place to pick up titanium as there are a lot of companies based there or in nearby Korea or China. I got a 2 pot set (800mL + 1300mL) in Sapporo for $40. The pots came with pan lids, so I made a flat lid out of a foil pie pan, again an hour before leaving. It worked great though it does have quite a few holes in it. I’ll probably make a new one before embarking on another long hike. But hey! That was free, and weighs almost nothing.
Odds and ends: Zpacks bear line 30′, .7 oz, $11; Fuel bottle, .4oz, free; Plastic spoon, .1 oz, free; MiniBic, .4 oz, $1; Granite Gear 13L dry bag, 1.3 oz, free/$15
I ended up jettisoning about half my bear line after some lousy knot jobs. I found I didn’t need a full 50′ length. For a fuel bottle I just used a cheap plastic water bottle. My original Osprey 12L dry bag ($13, free with my Amazon credits) failed after just 3 weeks, it ripped at the top. Someone gave me a Granite Gear dry bag (someone had hooked him up with a bunch) and I used this for the rest of the trip. It worked well though wasn’t truly waterproof. I might get a more square shaped bag in the future though, just to make it a little easier to fit in my bag (I put it horizontally). I had a titanium folding spork for the first half of the trip, but lost it in NY. It was annoying as it wouldn’t hold half the time. I replaced it with a plastic spoon which honestly worked just as well if not better. A no-brainer except in cold weather where you might need a stronger spoon to scoop nut butter etc.
Sawyer Squeeze, 3oz, $15/$40
Just get the squeeze, you will be driven crazy by the mini and its slow flow rate very quickly. I used a gift card from a car test drive I did to get this for $15 in Damascus.
Water storage: Platypus 2L, 1.3 oz, $8; Smartwater 1L bottle, .9 oz, $2
The Platypus works pretty well but in New England I found things disintegrating and had to get new bags. I actually went through a Sawyer Squeeze bag, the Platypus bag, and an Evernew bag in one week in Vermont. I found another 16oz Sawyer bag in southern ME (which also failed after a few days) and then gave up and used only Smartwater bottles. I found them much harder to squeeze though, reducing the flow rate almost to Sawyer mini speed. For another long hike I would stock up on a couple Platypus or Evernew bags on sale and have them ready to go in a resupply box.
For the rest of my small things you can take a look at my LighterPack list.
I do want to point out my electronics setup, which is somewhere you can save a lot of weight. When looking at battery packs for the trail, I was shocked how heavy they were. I thought there had to be a better way. One of the lightest weight phones I could find was the Samsung mini- the S4 version (latest model that worked with my phone plan) was only 3.83 oz! I hate the huge phones that are out today and it worked great for me. The bonus thing was that the battery was easily replaceable. I then realized that the spare batteries were just 1.1 oz each. So for $78 total I got a practically new phone and 6900mAh of juice. It was more than enough for me to be able to check AWOL pdf a few times per day, take some pictures, and read a little at night. I also used it successfully many times for CellPhoneNightHikeTM which is awesome if you need a little more AT (Adventure Time) in your life. PS- I should probably mention that I lost my Petzel e-lite in southern VA, and I never missed it at all. The flashlight app on my phone was more than sufficient. I considered my spare batteries as the backup for this. Maybe not for everyone, but worked for me.
Please feel free to write with any questions you may have! I loved my gear setup, and it really made the hike more comfortable for me, especially at the pace I had to go to finish in my allotted 4.5 months, which was a real challenge personally.
My total outlay was $890, including what I was wearing (you can read details on the list). For a sub-9 pack that’s totally reasonable! I was able to get Amazon credits for some of the gear which I did not include, there are ways to do this, but it was only another $200 or so in costs.
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