Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Let's talk about.... Gear!

edit on 5/24/2013 -- I am selling my beloved Tarptent Notch to swap it out for a two person TT. It is priced at $200. Please email me if interested!
When I was preparing to thru hike, I loved looking at packing lists on blogs and researching gear. Now it's my turn! Friends and family, get prepared to just skip over this post, but for future thru hikers or AT backpackers, read on.

If you talk to 100 hikers, you will get 100 different ways to plan your thru hike. This is what worked for me/us and my observations on other hikers.  Also, each hiker has a different budget or places a different importance on a cost vs. weight. I put myself in the middle- maybe leaning on the side of spending extra to reduce weight.  Depending on food and water, my pack weighed between 26 and 32 lbs. I spent about $1,000 on gear, and bought almost everything on a sale price.

This list is just for basic gear, and coming soon are some blog posts dedicated to clothing selection, food selection, and more. Looking for more gear lists and good ideas? Check out Nitrous Oxide,and while you're there, get a snack, a comfy chair, and go ahead and read his entire blog.

Since I started off solo, I had a one person Notch TarptentHenry Shires' Tarptent is a lightweight single wall tent design, and many use trekking poles as the support structure for the tent.  My Notch was awesome and only weighed 2 lbs 2 oz.  I loved the large vestibule space on either side of the tent. On the Appalachian Trail I met several hikers with Tarptents and they all had very positive reviews.  Aside from the Notch, I like the design of the Rainbow tent best.  The Rainbow has a larger footprint, so it may be a better choice for a larger solo hiker or a someone with a dog.  Both of these have super easy and fast setup times.  The only negative comment I've heard about Tarptents (or any single walled tent, for that matter) is that the condensation was really bad. I only had my Notch for four weeks, because then my husband came on, but in those four weeks I didn't have a problem with it. The only TT I wouldn't recommend is the Contrail.  I saw so many of these where the tent was totally saggy at the feet.  Maybe it's better if you're an expert at setting it up... but instead, just go for a different design that it is better and more spacious!

Stratospire II and Notch set up
For a two person tent, the Rainbow II would by my first choice.  I like that it is free standing, making it easier to clean out and set up in any situation. The Stratospire II (two person tent) also seems like a good design to me, but from what I have seen it has a bit of a learning curve to set up.  The living space is not symmetrical to the outer wall and is challenging to understand at first.  The footprint is very large, making for a spacious living area, but requiring a big clear area for setup.

My husband joined me a month into the trail and we used a Sierra Design Clip Flashlight 2 person tent. It was lent to us from a friend.  It worked out fine, but I strongly prefer the lightweight tents.  We didn't like that this tent only has one door- a huge pain for a two person tent! But, overall, it served its purpose and it was fine.


I began my hike with a pack I already owned, a Mountainsmith Maverick. Within a week or two, the waist belt was too big.  I switched it out in Gatlinburg, TN for a smaller women's version, the Mountainsmith Laurel. Immediately upon use, my left shoulder began to hurt.  I thought I could "tough it out" or adjust the pack differently, but it didn't really work.  In Daleville, VA I got a Gregory Sage 55 pack. I hiked the rest of the AT with this pack and really liked it.  The biggest benefit to me (besides that it fit me better!) was the pockets the Gregory had on my hip belts. I kept my camera and snacks in these, making it easy to grab while we were hiking.

Beau hiked with the Mountainsmith Maverick and liked it fine. Mountainsmiths are pretty cheaply made, but it gets the job done! The only pack I wouldn't recommend is anything from Mountain Hardwear. I knew of three hikers whose packs broke or tore enough to warrant a replacement, and they were ALL made by Mountain Hardwear.

A lot of people were interested in ultralight backpacks, like from ULA. These packs are super lightweight, but are designed to only carry a light load, and aren't very comfortable if you over pack them. These ultra light frameless packs are a good option if you are going to be carrying ultra light gear.

Sleep System

I used a Thermarest Prolite, and Beau used a Big Agnes my mom had lying around. (Remember, I researched for months and he joined on late and was kind of scrambling for gear!) I had used the closed cell foam pads in the past and pretty much woke up every few hours each night. I knew plenty of thru hikers that had closed cell sleeping pads, but I could not understand how they got a good night's sleep!

I loved my Thermarest. I was a little worried about a couple things when I got an inflatable mattress: 1) Getting a puncture 2) Not having enough cushion to be comfortable. Because of #1, I chose a self inflating pad because the material is a little thicker/less prone to wear out. They're also a little cheaper because they're not as light. It's only 1 inch thick, but it was plenty comfortable, even on hard shelter floors.

Beau's Big Agnes worked well, until the valve developed issues and it deflated within a few hours. We were a few weeks from being done, and he didn't care enough to replace it.

For sleeping bags, I had the EMS Mountain Light 0 degree bag. Ohhh how I love my sleeping bag. One of the most comforting thoughts in the world is the idea of cozying up on a cold evening in my sleeping bag, on my thermarest, with a bag of gorp any my kindle. 0 degrees is a little overkill for an April start thru hike, but it was super on sale thanks to someone who made a repairable hole and decided to return it!

Beau's bag was borrowed (same friend who lent us her tent!), and I'm really not sure what kind it was. But it's rated to 20 degrees, which would probably be fine for most hikers.

From mid June to July (Harper's Ferry to Manchester, VT) we wanted a lighter sleeping option. Rather than purchase a 40 degree bag (sleeping bags are so expensive!) we used fleece liners, like this one. That was still a little cold, so we got creative. We had my parents bring us fleece blankets we had lying around- like the kind you can get for $5 from Target in the winter. These two things together were perfect for summer nights, and inexpensive, too!

Trekking Poles

If there any item of gear you can get by with not spending a lot of money on, it's trekking poles. Both of us hiked with Mountainsmith poles, the cheapest you can find, and they worked fine. We actually liked that they were so inexpensive because we didn't mind if/when they got worn down or bent. Beau is SUPER hard on his poles and they ended up breaking in the last week of our hike. Oh well! I know of a few people who had really light and expensive poles that broke early on because they couldn't hold up to the pounding and terrain. If you're trying to save money in any reasonable area, get cheapo poles.

I knew a few thru hikers who didn't use poles at all, but almost everybody does.  I hadn't used them until I started preparing for my thru hike and now I can't imagine not hiking with them.  I think they saved me from a lot of slips and falls.


For reservoirs, We started with Osprey HydraForm water bladders, which were fine, but too heavy. We switched them out for the Platypus, saving six ounces. Beau got a 3 liter bladder but usually only filled it to 2 liters.  It was nice to have the option of getting 3 liters so we could have extra water to cook with or drink at night. We also each carried an empty gatorade bottle so we could collect enough water in the evening to last us till the next day.  When it got hotter, we using powdered gatorade or drink mix in our bottles. Don't bother with Nalgene bottles! They are heavier than gatorade and, obviously, more money.

For purification, we tried a few methods.  When I was solo, I had a Katadyn Hiker Pro pump.  We kept using this until southern Virginia, when the handle broke off.  The problem was that the filter was getting dirtier and the handle got harder and harder to pump until the stress broke it off.  Katadyn gladly sent us a new handle, and until that came, we started using iodine tablets (the only thing available to us in the town we were in).  These actually weren't bad! First you put the iodine in, then a few minutes later the tablet that removes color and taste from the water.  Once we got the new handle, we also got AquaMira as a backup. It was really easy to use and didn't have any unpleasant taste.  I still, however, prefer the water pump because it's easy to get water from shallow water sources and I feel like it is more effective in purifying water.

Stove and Cooking

We had the Soto-OD1R. Absolutely loved it. I picked it up at a very discounted price at an REI attic sale without knowing much about it.  I loved not having to deal with a lighter to get it going, I loved how quick it was, I loved that it regulated the gas flow by itself. The gas flow is asdjustable, so it was able to be stronger to get a rapid boil going and lighter for simmering.

Getting fuel for this stove was not a problem at all. It's the same canister as the MSR Pocket Rocket and the Jet Boil, the most popular stoves on the trail.  We found that for the two of us cooking breakfast AND dinner every day, one fuel canister lasted about a week or more.

We also carried one cooking pot (just a cheap thing that I don't even remember where it came from), a little plastic cup for each of us, and another bowl with a lid so we could serve two things at once. We both used LMF Sporks until they broke mid hike. AND, I wasn't a huge fan of having my grimy hiker hand on the fork end while I was using the spoon end.  Now I have a dirty fork!  After they broke, we used the cheapo 79 cent spork at the outfitter and that was fine.

Whew! That's a lot of information. Stay tuned for clothing and food talk in future posts.

1 comment:

  1. Mackenzie, congrats on whopping the AT! I have followed your blog the whole way and I'm so excited for you and Beau!
    Thank you for reviewing your gear! The info about the trekking poles was super helpful.
    I am planning on starting my own thru hike in March '13, so any info is helpful! I'm looking forward to your clothes & food review- those are 2 things I am still trying to figure out.