Magic’s 2023 AZT Gear List – Part 1
As our start date draws closer, I have been narrowing down my packing list. I remember anxiously packing and repacking my pack numerous times in the days leading up to my AT thru hike in 2021, and I thought that my second thru hike will be less stressful. I thought that because of my experience, I would have fewer fears and second guess myself less when it came to gear, but I was wrong.
My biggest hesitation when questioning what to bring is what equipment I will need to deal with the ever-changing weather in Arizona. This has been a record snow year on the west coast, and high snow levels and low temperatures affect the gear I will bring. Ultimately I have decided to carry all that makes me feel comfortable and ready to face extreme heat as well as brutal cold. Rather than being ultralight, I refer to my packing style as being “comfort light”, meaning that my gear is as light as possible, but I bring multiple items for comfort that others may choose to leave at home.
Before I dive into my gear list, one note I’d like to make is that I don’t pay a ton of attention to my pack weight. That’s why I haven’t included the weight for each item on my LighterPack. Being a backpacking guide, I preach the guideline of 20% body weight to my clients (generally, a pack should weigh no more than 20% of a person’s body weight, ie: since I weigh 150lbs, my pack should weigh around 30lbs).
My pack weighed 40 lbs at Amicalola Falls in 2021, and thankfully I was able to drop my weight to between 30-35 lbs once I shed unnecessary items and winter gear. I am not the type of person that cares what my base weight is, but if I had to guess it would probably be around 20 lbs. I have upgraded a lot of my gear for the AZT, and because of that, I am confident my pack will be lighter than it was on the AT.
The Big Three: Pack, Shelter, Sleep System
I love this pack! This is what I used on the AT and for my first season working as a backpacking guide in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Gossamer Gear describes this pack as a “gear-hauling workhorse” on their website for good reason, it can do it all. One of my favorite features of this pack is the variety of pockets it has to offer. At first, it took me a little while to figure out exactly where I wanted to store things since there were so many options, but now I have my system down and know exactly where each item will fit best.
This pack is one of the lightest without sacrificing comfort. There are similar packs that may be several ounces lighter, but they generally cut weight by decreasing the amount of padding on the hip belt and shoulder straps. This is something that Gossamer Gear doesn’t skimp on, and I feel like these packs are some of the most comfortable on the ultralight market.
My partner, Cade, and I met on the AT and will be tackling the AZT together. I carried my Tarptent Rainbow on the AT, but Cade and I have decided to share his tent on the AZT. Ultimately this tent is just more lightweight and roomy for two people. Since the nighttime temperatures in Arizona will be anywhere from 20°-40° while we’re hiking, we decided we would stay warmer if we snuggled up together.
The Duplex is one of the nicest tents in the outdoor industry, and a key factor in its popularity is because of its weight which requires very little additional gear. The dyneema material is functional and weighs next to nothing. This tent uses trekking poles to stand upright, so the only additional equipment we has to carry is our tent stakes.
The Duplex is a two-person tent, but we would eventually like to upgrade to the three-person version just so that we have a little bit more room. Since this is the same tent Cade used on the AT and during his work as a backpacking guide, I believe the AZT will be the last adventure this tent goes on before it needs to be retired. Thankfully he hasn’t had to do many repairs on this tent, and it seems to have held up well during the 3,000+ miles he’s carried it.
Before fall 2022, I used a variety of synthetic sleeping bags. I became familiar with sleeping quilts on the AT, it seemed like every other hiker was using an Enlightened Equipment quilt. I finally succumbed to peer pressure and bought a quilt to finish out my guiding season, and I am so thankful I did! Quilts are expensive, but I do believe they are worth every penny just because of how light they are, especially compared to the bulky sleeping bags I had been using.
I sleep very cold, so I splurged and bought a 10° quilt. During my last guiding trip of the 2022 season, temperatures got down into the single digits. This was the maiden journey of my quilt, and it kept me cozy and safe. I don’t anticipate temperatures getting as cold on the AZT, but I am glad to know I can sleep comfortably at that temperature thanks to my quilt (and other sleeping comforts I will discuss later).
My quilt came with straps to secure the quilt to my sleeping pad, and I have found those to be invaluable because I wiggle around in my sleep. I liked how my mummy sleeping bags made me feel like I was in a cocoon, and a quilt is much less tight and secure. People that can feel claustrophobic in bags could enjoy this freedom, but that is where I found the straps helpful.
I do worry that because of the low-temperature rating of my quilt, I will get hot on warmer nights, but the benefit of a quilt is that you can sleep with it lying on top of you rather than having to be zipped into it. I can stick a foot out or free my arms to help regulate my temperature.
As I have mentioned, I sleep very cold. I hate being cold and have made peace with the fact that to combat the cold I will have to carry more gear. A piece of gear I will happily throw in my pack despite the added weight is my sleeping bag liner. Sea to Summit boasts that this liner “adds up to 32°F”. I don’t know if I believe that it adds that much additional warmth, but I know it has helped keep me warm during single-digit nights. Even if I don’t need my liner every night on the AZT, I’d rather carry it and have the option to use it rather than want it and not have it.
Sea to Summit makes several different liners with varying levels of warmth. I have friends that use their silk liner instead of a sleeping bag in the summer months. Some folks even use a liner just to help keep their sleeping bags clean. They are a great tool that can be worth the weight.
I am a side sleeper and tried several sleeping pads before I found something that allowed me to sleep comfortably through the night. Nemo’s Tensor sleeping pad has been fantastic for me! I use the “Insulated Regular Wide” and it gives me plenty of room to toss and turn during the night. One of my favorite features of this pad is the fact that it comes with a pump sack so that I don’t have to huff and puff to inflate it each night.
When it comes to sleeping pads, the more insulated the warmer they will be. Sleeping pads are designed to keep you off the ground to stay warm; the ground is cold and sucks away your body heat. Sleeping pads are rated on a scale of 1-7 using R-value. The higher the number, the warmer you will be. The Nemo Tensor has a 4.2 R-value, which pretty much puts it in the middle of the road. The Tensor is considered a 3-season sleeping pad, meaning it can be used in the spring, summer, and fall but probably wouldn’t keep you insulated in the winter months.
I am planning to add a little extra bit of insulation by stacking my Nemo Tensor sleeping pad on top of a Nemo Switchback pad which has an R-value of 2. Some hikers sleep on just a Switchback pad (sometimes called an accordion pad) to save on weight. I am not that hardcore and use my accordion pad as a sit pad and as a makeshift yoga mat in the backcountry.
Additional Sleep Things
A pillow is considered a luxury item, but ever since I started carrying one I can’t imagine my life without it! I crumpled up my puffy jacket to use as a pillow at the start of the AT, but about a third of the way to Maine I decided to splurge and invest in a pillow. What an amazing investment! I sleep so much better with my inflatable pillow, and it weighs barely enough for me to notice the additional weight in my pack. A good night’s sleep is invaluable on trail, and I contribute sleeping well to my pillow.
Since I get so cold at night, this winter I invested in a down hood to help keep me warm. This is something that I feel ridiculous wearing, but my oh my does it make me toasty! I usually only wear it in my tent, and I put it on as I lay down for the night. If I wake up feeling warm it is easy to take off my hood rather than having to readjust the rest of my sleep setup. This may be overkill for the AZT, but again I’d rather have it and not need it rather than need it and not have it.
One last piece of gear to ensure that I don’t get cold at night. My feet are often the coldest part of my body, so my brother-in-law gifted me with these down socks to sleep in. They weigh next to nothing and at worst just stay at the bottom of my pack if I don’t feel like I need them.
Stay tuned for another article (or several) detailing the rest of my gear for the AZT!
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