This is a rough posting of what I would do differently had I hindsite and its a bit all over the place.
04 was good as far as the weather went, when compared to the rain of 03 or the drought of some past years. we did get a few dumps of snow.
Id not start march 1st again. it was great with the community spirit, but id start mid to late april. I didnt get to see the rhododendrons in bloom, which kinda sucked. starting late lets you see them all.
starting early, all the trees are bare and make the forest look dead. with no cover you easily get burnt, but you do get good views. but there will come a point where you get sick of them. 'aah just another overlook.' 'another mtn range'.
Id start at harpers ferry and go south, to springer, then go back to harpers ferry and go north to katahdin. doing this you miss all the crowds, and keep with the good weather, since in the 3 months it will take you to go to springer,
i went through 3 packs. a osprey aether 75, a black diamond 40 and my final one which I love is my gregory reality (60L i think). I would either stick with my gregory reality or get an osprey aether 60.
one thing to note about the gregory over the osprey, with the gregory you can change out the straps and hipbelt, which is not something you can do on the osprey. I have small waist, so fitting packs was a HUGE problem for me, in the end I got a small hipbelt and small shoulder straps. (and I am not far of maxing the small, making the two ends join in the middle!)
the black diamond was a very nice pack. its a climbers pack. no compartments no frills. but for the weight I had in it, the minimal hipbelt/shoulder belts didnt cut it. it would be a good day pack when not carrying 12-14 pounds of food for 4 days.
the packlid was the first thing to be sent home. it was an extra thing to fill up, so it went home. i also didnt bother shortening any of the straps on my gregory. i shortened them on my BD and Osprey packs, and found i needed that little extra one day to hold something on. didnt make that mistake with my gregory.
i started with boots, which was fine in the early mud and snow (especially in the smokies!), and ended up with trail runners. ill never go back to boots. next time however, i will make sure they have a good arch underneath to allow the gaiters to go on easier so Im not stepping on the strap. (minor technical note).
i was very satisfied with aquamirror and my 3L camelbak bladder. when things started to dry out i did go back to using my msr waterworks ex 2003. its slower by half compared to the pur hiker / katadyn hiker filter. if i was going to carry a filter, id get the hiker over the msr.
as for pack cover, id either go without and just use a good STRONG bin liner, or use one of solid plastic packcover. everyones pack cover on the trail wet out and soaked through. nobody had a pack cover that was 100%.
ditch the multitool if you have one. didnt have a need for one once. i carried a locking knife and scissors. the knife was < 3inches blade length a CRKT M16-00K. and the scissors were tiny ones in my med kit. its a lot easier to cut cheese and other things with a good solid blade. the blades on the swiss classic sucked, too small and fragile.
my medkit... i only ever used ibuprofen, everything else was a waste but its one of those things you might need.
maps, data book etc, Id stick to just using the databook and put the companion into the bounce box. as far as maps go, i wouldnt bother. your following the trail, if it goes over a mountain, you go over a mountain. you wont get lost.
bounce boxes. I initially didnt have one, but you quickly soon find one invaluable. extra food, the companion book pages, nail clippers, etc, so Id definatly use one again next time.
food, I was eating heaps. my food bag was about 10-14 pounds for four days.
my typical day
2 packets of poptarts (4 poptarts)
granola bar + jerky
granola bar or quick nibble of something
2 or 3 large tortillas covered in peanut butter + honey
snickers/milkyway/butterfinger or something like that
liptons with packet of tuna
cup of tea
granola bar or laffy taffy or something
food weighs a lot.
I didnt like ramen but always had one as an emergeancy meal. I also spiced my food up as I carried dried chipped garlic and gried pepper flakes. when I did have ramen (ugh), ditch the packet of sauce, its all salt + msg. just add garlic + chilli peppers.. mmmmmmmm...
learn how to soak rice in a gatorade bottle over night before cooking it. small amounts of rice go a long way, so you can save weight. just add some spices to it, or throw in some jerky.
i drank water all the time, unless in town where i had gatorade. lots of people took coolaide type stuff, but i didnt bother. i love plain ole water, but a lot of folks dont.
I carried a 1man 3lb tent (mountain hardware PCT1). its a great tent. love it. but its 3 pounds. Id go a hammock without a doubt and take a tarp for extra tarp coverage with the hammock.
most of the time I was in shelters, and can see how some people dont even take one with them on the AT. maybe a tarp incase.
i started with a thermarest ultralight, but really, they are so thin i think it gave less padding than my plain old blue foam mat (i carried both when I started). foam mats for me all the way.
i carried a 20 degree down bag, and it was fine. never got wet once so the down/synthetic wasnt an issue for me. it also weighed 2lbs (i think). i didnt get cold in it once
clothing wise, id keep with my kilt. it didnt do me wrong once on the hike. id probably ditch the rainpants tho. used my rainshell a lot and id keep my nike dryfit tights and my longsleeve halfzip wicking top and standard old fleece. beanie and neck gaiter. id get different gloves than I had, probably mittens where I didnt have to fight my fingers down fingerholes, or halffinger gloves.
gaiters + hiking poles i wouldnt compromise on. loved em both.
dont get sucked into buying crocs or thier kin. plain old flipflops will do fine (and take up less space!). dont bother with big old chacos or teva sandles unless your going to hike in them. they weigh too much.
stoves, i LOVED my brasslite solo. aaron doesnt make this anymore and id take it again in a heartbeat, or take one of his newer models that replaced it. alchohol stoves all the way. never once had problems buying fuel anywhere. People were giving up their gas stoves everywhere.
pocketmail is king for journal writing and staying in touch with family. I LOVED mine. avoid JVC ones, they break. get Sharp or PocketMail branded ones. I found this often to be an essential item. journaling in it is a piece of cake.
if you were smart enough you could transcribe post office ph# and other info into an memo/email and not bother taking the companion pages for that section and just bounce them.
cameras. saw lots of different types on the trail. but not many big SLRs. my digital was a FujiFilm FinePix A205s model. ran on two AAA batteries so no recharging needed and takes XD cards. I got 250 photos on a 128mb card and carried 3 128mb cards. this gives me 250 1600x1200 pixel photos per 128mb. just for safety, i usually changed my batteries every 2 weeks out of the bounce box.
headlamps. I only tried nighthiking once. my petzl zipka was VERY inadequate. 3 leds and can only see as far as your arm. good for journaling at night but not for night hiking. the zipka uses a zippy wire to keep it on your head. stability is a problem. Id trade that in for the newer petzl tikka plus. better illumination + leds and better headstrap. I never had to change batteries on my headlamp once! used it in camp heaps.
cant think of anything else right now either.... if i do ill add it later.. or if you have any questions...