Post-Trail Gear Rundown
Well, it’s been just over 2 months since I summited Katahdin and a bit longer since I sat my butt down to write a real blog post. I have drafted my ‘life after the trail’ follow up so many times, but can’t yet seem to get a handle on how I really feel now that I’m no longer thru-hiker, let alone articulate that to the blogosphere. So while I wrap my head around my experience and who I have become now that I’m on the other side, I figured I would take my colleague Jaime’s advice and at least write about the gear that I used / loved / hated for the next generation of up and coming hiker trash.
- I wasn’t ultralightweight on my thru-hike, but I did a reasonable job of keeping my weight down. My pack weight averaged 25lbs with 4 days worth of food (not including water).
- I didn’t switch out any of my gear, other than my sleeping pad and clothing. I did get rid of a number of things along the way.
- I carried the (full) NOBO AT Guide with me the whole way, but honestly hardly used it after Damascus. I used and loved the Guthooks app, and would highly recommend it.
- I used foldable Leki trekking poles, which I was very happy with, but personally I don’t think the brand matters as much as adjustment locking mechanism: anecdotally, I saw that poles with an external locking lever system seemed to break less (or not break at all) compared to those with twist locks.
The Big Three:
- Backpack: Osprey Exos 48L pack, size S (the green one above). This pack is minimalist, comfortable, and convenient. I used it with the brain on the whole time, and between that and all the pockets on the side, back, and straps, I could access everything I needed for the day without ever having to open up the main compartment. I never used a rain cover so it got wet a lot (and smelled really really bad by the end), but dried quickly and with a trash bag inside it, none of my stuff ever got wet. All of the mesh pockets on my pack did eventually rip – the water bottle pockets and the big mesh pocket on the back, but I was well into New England before this happened and mostly that was due to the terrain and sliding down everything on my butt. The bottom of my pack does now have a number of small holes in in from that as well. However, Osprey has a lifetime guarantee to fix wear-and-tear on its gear, so that is convenient.
Pro tip: Osprey packs have a cutout at the bottom of the side pockets/water bottle pockets by your hips. This is so you can access your water bottle and insert it back into the pocket without having to take your backpack off. I can’t tell you how many people did not understand how to use this feature – even after hiking over 1,000 miles, they had no idea what the cutout was for and were awkwardly trying to hyperextend their elbows to get at their water bottles. To be fair here, I made it to Tennessee before someone pointed out to me that there is a whistle built into Osprey’s chest strap, and the extra one I had been carrying was redundant. We all live and learn!
Verdict: LOVED IT.
- Shelter: Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1 mtnGLO tent. Yes, I got the tent with lights built in, and I have absolutely no regrets. It adds 2 oz. to your weight but the benefits are priceless. I could read or write inside my tent without using my headlamp, it was much easier to find things in the dark with my tent broadly lit, and – most importantly – it just looked cool. I’m not the biggest fan of the dark in general, so being able to essentially ‘turn on the lights’ just made me more comfortable. I only changed out the batteries (3 AAAs) once during my whole thru-hike, and they hadn’t actually even run out at that point.
Verdict: LOVED IT.
- Sleep System: Enlightened Equipment Revelation quilt, rated at 20 degrees and (began with) the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite and (ended with) the Big Agnes Q-Core SLX. I got a new sleeping pad in North Carolina because my NeoAir seemed to be losing air and I was too lazy to deal with it. Both of the sleeping pads were light and good: the NeoAir was warmer and the Q-Core was more comfortable. Both are really noisy and crinkly when you turn over or generally move in any way on them. However, were I to do it over again I would absolutely have carried the Therm-a-Rest ProLite. The ProLite’s R-value is less than that of the NeoAir and it is a few ounces heavier, but it is not noisy at all, it’s incredibly comfortable for its thickness, and it’s significantly cheaper than the other two. Were I to do it over again, I would also have carried a different sleeping bag. The Revelation is a good bag, it’s incredibly light, and lots of people loved theirs, but I learned that I am simply too cold a sleeper to be using a quilt. I was very very cold with all of my clothing on during the coldest nights, and even in the middle of the summer I was using the quilt zipped up like a mummy bag instead of like a blanket to be comfortable enough. (I also had a bag liner, which I would recommend for warmth and cleanliness. I had the Sea to Summit Reactor Thermolite liner, which is one of the few that aren’t silky – because I don’t like that silky feeling.) By the end I simply hated my bag because I was just always cold (and have since given it away LOL). The footbox zipper on my bag also broke somewhere in the northern half of the hike, and I did not have the greatest experience with Enlightened Equipment trying to fix or replace it. I’m currently looking at the REI Magma 17 and the Marmot Phase 20 as replacements.
Verdict: NOT MY FAVORITE.
Food Stuffs and Water:
- Water Filter: *gasp* I did not carry the Sawyer Squeeze or Sawyer Mini! I carried the Katadyn BeFree 0.6L water filter and water bottle. I loved this filter from day 1 to the end of my hike, and I have absolutely no freaking idea why this filter isn’t more prevalent on the trail. When researching water filters the internet and the AT community at large make it seem like the Sawyer is the only option, but everyone complains about it constantly – online and in real life! The Katadyn doesn’t need to be backflushed, you can shake it out or rinse it to clean it, and the bottle part of it is actually a squeeze bag that works exactly like the Sawyer bags, but it’s made of a different material that never rips or tears. I used the original bag for my entire hike – nobody using the Sawyer bags can claim that. The filter piece on mine did break in New Jersey, but REI sent me a replacement within 24 hours. I can’t speak highly enough of this filter, and you can even get it in the larger 1L size now. (Seriously, this paragraph is not at all sponsored by Katadyn though if anyone from the company is reading this feel free to send me a reward for the endorsement! 😉 )
Verdict: SERIOUSLY LOVED IT.
- Water Bottles: I carried 2 700mL water bottles at a time (I cycled between SmartWater, Gatorade, and LifeWtr water bottles – though the Gatorade bottles were my favorite because they are more durable). I had one bottle reserved for flavored/electrolyte water and one I always kept as plain water. I never needed ‘dirty’ water bottles and ‘clean’ water bottles because see above.
Pro tip: The more you drink at every water source you come to, the less water you have to actually carry. I rarely carried 2 full water bottles, and preferred to gulp down 1-2L of water when I came to a source in order to not have the extra weight. I would only really fill to max capacity (my 2 bottles and the bottle on my filter) as I was heading into camp each night so that I had plenty to cook with and to hydrate with in the morning. This was my personal preference and it worked well for me.
- Stove and Pot: I used the MSR MicroRocket and the MSR Titanium Tea Kettle and was very happy with both. I made a homemade pot cozy for insulation c/o 2015 AT thru-hiker Jessica’s/Dixie’s instructional video and that worked out very well to keep food warm and save on fuel. In fact, I only used 4 of the 4oz. fuel canisters over the course of the whole trail, usually cooking once a day at dinner. (In general, if you’re planning to hike the AT or PCT I would highly recommend watching Jessica’s/Dixie’s videos at Homemade Wanderlust on YouTube as she’s now completed both trails and is a great resource on all things thru-hiking).
Verdict: LOVED IT.
- Bear Bag: I had the Ursack S29.3 AllWhite. I knew before my hike that I just wasn’t going to want to hang a bear bag every night; but I wanted to be responsible and comply with Leave No Trace – so the Ursack was a great compromise. It’s no secret that a lot of people don’t hang their food on the AT, which isn’t ideal. If you don’t think you’re realistically going to want to hang a bag every night, look into this product. Pros: it’s convenient and easy, all you have to do is tie it to a tree; you can throw it in the washing machine. Cons: it’s expensive; it’s not waterproof, it’s hard to cinch all the way closed; it’s stiff and takes up a lot of space in your bag. It could also be too small for a full resupply, depending on the volume of food you need, but that was never an issue for me.
Verdict: UNNECESSARY BUT MADE MY LIFE EASIER.
With the exception of the first two things listed below, I honestly think that clothing is not a big deal, and whatever you choose to bring with you – whether it be from Walmart or REI or somewhere in between – will be fine. It’s my personal belief that don’t need name brand, specialty hiking anything and that your regular running clothes or workout clothes will suit you just fine. I wore Under Armour and New Balance running shorts, and New Balance and Nike tops.
- Puffy Coat: I started the trail with both the down Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer and the synthetic Patagonia Nano Puff jackets. This was totally not necessary, and I ditched the Ghost Whisperer in Franklin, NC, but they say you carry your fears with you in the beginning and mine was being cold. I kept the synthetic Patagonia because it was loftier, easy to wash every time I did laundry, just as warm as the Ghost Whisperer (if not warmer), and I could hike it in without worrying about getting it wet from sweat or weather. At the end of the trail my jacket was still clean and in perfect condition.
Verdict: SERIOUSLY LOVED IT.
- Socks and Shoes: On this, I stand with the majority of the AT community in being wholeheartedly and unequivocally in support of Darn Tough. I hiked in Brooks trail running shoes – I started with the Cascadia and switched to the Caldera about halfway through. The Cascadia has a wider toe box which was more comfortable for me, but I found this model to lack enough padding. The Caldera’s toe box is narrower, but the shoe feels cushier and if you go up a half size it makes up for the narrow toe box. The combo of trail runners with Darn Tough socks worked perfectly for me, and I never had a problem with blisters. In total I went through 4 pairs of shoes.
Verdict: SERIOUSLY LOVED ‘EM.
I hope this helps anyone out there currently planning their 2018 (or beyond) hike!
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