What Worked & What Did Not: A Gear Review
Before my hike, I wrote a series of blog posts entitled, ‘The Inevitable Gear Lists.’ Now that my thru hike has triumphantly ended and I find myself back in the world of muggles, I want to take a look at those lists, talk about what worked, what didn’t, and what changes I would make on a future hike. Because we all know the best way to recover from a grueling, seven-month-long trek is to plan another one!
The Big 3
Pack: Osprey Ariel 65L (aka Meg)
I am not an ultralight hiker. I love my Meg. I would love for her to be a little lighter, but I really cannot imagine hiking with a different pack. I would love for her to not gain 10 pounds of water weight when it rains, but Osprey’s pack cover helps a lot to combat that. Definitely keeping.
Shelter: Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2
I bought my tent in 2016, and it had seen some nights on trail, including a very wet LASH in 2019. Before setting out, I retreated my rain fly per manufacturer directions. In Vermont, the seam tape completely lifted, and the fly failed—during a rain storm, unfortunately. Unable to take the time off trail to fix the issue, I replaced it with a new version of the same exact tent. I still really like the tent, and love a double wall because sleeping ‘top down’ without the fly gave me some of the best nights on trail. Keeping both, wanna come hiking with me?
Sleep System: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm Max, Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt, Sea to Summit Aeros pillow
This was a wonderful combination. My pad ended up with some leaks, and again I just replaced it with the same model. It was super comfy and wasn’t hot in the warmer months like I feared it might be. I still wish it were shorter, though. My cold-weather quilt worked perfectly, even down below its 10-degree rating. My summer quilt, a 30-degree synthetic version, also worked well. If I could change anything, I would have purchased an extra-wide synthetic quilt for a better fit. Unfortunately, EE doesn’t offer that option.
Two items in my sleep system I didn’t include in my original list were a second pillow, the Nemo Fillo, and a Therm-a-Rest sheet. The second pillow became one of the most versatile items of gear for me. Sometimes it was used as intended, but the majority of the time, it helped level out my pad, or I slept with it between my knees, when the weather started turning cold again, I used it behind my back to make up for not having an extra wide quilt. As for the sheet, I loved being able to keep my pad clean and not so stinky. The only time it backfired was when it poured and water started to seep through my tent floor. The sheet wraps around the pad, so the bottom absorbed the water, and it started to wet the top side of my pad as well. I’m not planning for another thru-hike of this magnitude, so it will probably not be included in future kits, but I would definitely take it car camping.
Clothing, Shoes, & Rain Gear
Hiking Clothes: Smartwool 150 short sleeve base layer, Appalachian Gear Company All-paca hoodie, The North Face Aphrodite 2.0 (pants, capris, Bermuda shorts)
I loved this system. I started in mid-February, and I hiked in this setup with my rain jacket with no issues. I wore out the shirt and replaced it in PA. I attempted to switch to a tank top in the summer, but I chafed too much and ended up just sticking with the short sleeve. I wore holes in the hoodie’s armpit area, but it still functioned fine and went all the way to Katahdin with me. I still live in my Aphrodite bottoms. They are lightweight and dry quickly. I started in pants, switched to capris in Tennessee, and then swapped those for shorts somewhere in Virginia. If I had to do it again, I would have switched back to the capris in New Hampshire, just to protect my knees in all the rock scrambles.
Sleep Clothes: Smartwool 250 long sleeve base layer top and 250 bottoms
There was no sensation quite so exquisite as getting into my base layers at the end of a cold hiking day. They kept me quite toasty. Too toasty in hotels and hostels, however. I ended up picking up a lightweight tank top just for sleeping indoors. In warmer months, I swapped the base layers for the tank top and a pair of cotton shorts, which could also double as town clothes if I couldn’t find my size in the loaner clothes bin.
Undergarments: Darn Tough midweight hiker socks, Injinji sock liners, Exofficio briefs, & a BRA!!
The Darn Tough socks are tried and true. I kept two pairs and switched to lightweight in the warmer months. I decided to test out sock liners on my last training hike, and I was an instant convert! Over the course of seven months, I got only one blister, and that was in a usual spot, it quickly cleared and callused over, and *poof* no more problems. I kept two pairs the entire way. I also liked the fact that I could pull them up almost over my calves, adding a little bit of warmth when temps started to drop again later in my hike.
I started out with Cacique extra soft panties, and I still like them for hiking, but I gave the Exofficio another try after finding a size and cut that actually fit and found that they were definitely more odor-resistant. I ended up with two pairs of those but had a pair of Cacique just for town/laundry days.
And did I actually find a bra? Sorta. Back to what was familiar, I ended up hiking the entire trail in Cacique brand lounge bras. I always had two, one to wear, one to dry, as they did NOT dry fast. I had several at home that I used for yoga and such, so I ended up swapping them out when I felt like they were a little worn or had lost any sort of support. I went through three sets, though the last set still has some life in them. Were they ideal? No. Am I still on the hunt? Absolutely.
Shoes: Saucony Peregrine 11, Chaco Volv sandals
When something works, you stick with it. That was my shoes. I went through four pairs, going up a half-size halfway through. I had bought several pairs ahead of time, so while Saucony has already come out with the Peregrine 12s, I did not have to worry about whether the shoes had changed at all, which they did. If I could change anything, I wish they had just a little more cushion to make road walks more bearable.
After much debate, I brought along my Chaco sandals as camp shoes. Yes, they were a big weight hit. They were worth their weight in gold, however, especially in all the stream crossings in Maine. The Volv soles were designed specifically for wet terrain, but sadly the company doesn’t carry them anymore. I also found a therapeutic benefit to swapping into them at the end of the day, as they gave my arches some support and massage. You can have your Crocs.
Lemme just say, after trying a poncho on my LASH and a UL rain jacket for my thru, I don’t care for UL jackets. For rain. My Visp was a vital part of my cold weather layering system and an excellent wind jacket in any temperature. I just don’t like the feeling of a wetted-out jacket against my skin, and they all wet out eventually. So this is one area I will be exploring other options for future hikes. My rain mitts, however, were great. I used them as a wind shell in colder temps when my Outdoor Research gloves got sweaty. No complaints there.
Head Gear: Buff Headwear & Under Armor Visor
Nothing really to report here. I kept my 3 Buff system, swapping the polar tec with a wool one, which turned into a fabulous sweat cloth that hung from my water bottle in the summer.
The Kits (Electronics, First Aid, & Hygiene)
The kits were the area I made virtually no changes. I replaced my entire toiletry kit because I lost it somewhere along the trail, sorry Mama Nature! My hearing aid went home after I got an infection that is just now starting to heal. I swapped my Badger Balm for a sore muscle rub made close to home when I ran out. That’s it.
Hydration & Cook Systems
Hydration: Sawyer Squeeze, Cnoc 2L bag, 2 Smart Water bottles (24oz and 1L)
This system worked great for me. I did replace my Sawyer after getting snowed in for a couple nights of brutal temps in the Smokies. All of us in my group did. I didn’t want to take the chance that my filter had frozen and, therefore, wouldn’t work properly. I swapped out for new Smart Water bottles every few towns or so. I kept my 24oz bottle attached to my shoulder strap with a Bottle Bandit carabiner by Bison instead of a sleeve or shoulder pouch. This made it easy to hang my sweat Buff and keep it handy.
Cook System: Jetboil MiniMo, Sea to Summit long-handled titanium spork, GSI Infinity mug, homemade pot cozy
I liked having this system, though I did send home my stove for a month or so when the weather was hot & humid. In its place was a Talenti gelato jar, and I cold soaked. I started cooking again in New Hampshire when a cup of something warm at night was a treat after a long hiking day. The bowl that comes with the stove is so flimsy I cracked it within the first month or so on trail, but I still used it as a stable place to set my freezer bag. The Jetboil is such a great stove, but they can be heavy, so I am considering trading the Minimo for the Stash, their ‘UL’ stove kit. I will always hang a mug off my pack (except in Mahoosuc Notch). Having quick access to it enabled more than one opportunity for some trail magic beverages of the adult kind! #willhikeforbeer
I did have to replace my food bag after a critter eviscerated it in PA. It was hung properly on a bear pole, so I don’t blame the bag or myself for not storing food properly. Sometimes, stuff happens. I replaced it with the same model. I went through two rock bags. They just didn’t hold up. Granted, I don’t get the bag over the limb the first time every time, but they both fell apart pretty quickly. I’ll be changing that in future hikes for sure.
My favorite piece of gear?
My favorite piece of gear was one that I have not mentioned yet. My Leki Cork Lite trekking poles. I beat the crap out of those things. I replaced the tips twice, the straps once, and Leki sent me a replacement midsection for each pole. I just can’t imagine hiking without them. They saved me from falling so many times. They helped me balance in the scrambles, they helped me up hills and down hills and on every flat in between. Definitely a keeper.
Overall, I was pretty happy with the vast majority of my gear. Most importantly, I touched pretty much all of my gear every day. That meant it was all getting used and, therefore, not just added weight. I would love for it all to be a little lighter, and along the hike, that meant replacing gear that was working fine, which I wasn’t willing to do then. In the future, however, I will definitely make a few changes to lighten things up a bit. The learning never ends!
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