View Full Version : AT 2014 thru hike gear review

01-25-2015, 13:54
Long overdue gear review of what worked well, and in a few cases, not so well for me during my AT thru hike this past year. Hopefully, of some use to those who may be thinking about hiking in 2015 and beyond.

Important for me to point out a few things:
- This is what worked for me - there are lots of other good options out there. The problems I encountered on specific gear may have worked just fine for others; this is just my experience.
- Although we had some very cold nights, hot days, rain, sleet, overall I thought the weather was relatively good for the 2014 hike.
- I did switch from cold weather to warm weather gear somewhere in southern VA and back again just before New Hampshire Presidentials - worked well.
- Invest up front in decent (but not necessarily expensive) gear and take it for a test run in cold and rainy weather then fine tune. A test run in February in snow was critical for me. Recommend you invest in a kitchen table scale and put together a spread sheet or checklist for all to keep it straight and help you make choices.
- My base weight at start was 17.5 lbs and we departed March 19 from Springer and completed September 2 at Katahdin. I am 5'6" and weighed about 134 lbs at the start. Additional info and pictures of gear at http://www.trailjournals.com/awillnerAT2014/
- Safety first - these worked for me but you may get colder, hotter, face different weather, whatever - take below for suggestions based on what worked for me.

Clothing packed and worn: Mainstay was a Sucoi, zip next to skin base long sleeve which was great in cold, cool and rainy weather. Retains warmth and is breathable. For hiking I chose to wear Asics running shorts with a compression like liner rather than underwear - I only had the one pair and it lasted the entire trip; easy to clean and very little chafing - I did have a pair of cotton underwear that I switched to at night. For cooler hiking, to fight mosquitos or hanging out at the end of the day, I had a long pair of REI travel pants - lasted the entire trip and, although I did not wear them all the time, well worth having. I used trail runners - went through 3 pairs. I started out with New Balance 610 with superfeet inserts which I used for running distance as well. Turned out the superfeets in hiking over uneven terrain caused blisters so I switched out to super thin Soles in Tennessee and these worked fine. I switched to Brooks Cascade 9s. Excellent shoes and lasted about 600-700 miles; good grip, large toe box important for expanding feet, and good cushioning - the D width seemed to fit my wider feet just fine. For socks, Darn Toughs worked great - go a size bigger because they will shrink a bit in the many washing and dryings you do. I used Black Diamond carbon, cork handle trekking poles - excellent, lasted the whole trip and saved me on a number of occasions especially going down hills. Being a tech geek, I did take a Garmin fenix but only used the GPS once to find a parking spot for pick up. It has lots of neat features but I think you can go cheaper and with fewer gizmos for the AT trip especially since you have to recharge the thing enroute. One thing I did find helpful in long climbs and fog was the altimeter to give you a sense of where you are in relation to the next water point or campsite. For hats I took a runners cap (I wear glasses so helpful in keeping rain off them) and a wool night watch cap (watch the drying, it'll shrink). I took Possum gloves which proved to be a disappointment - warm in snow and rain, they did not hold up at all with large holes appearing in them. I switched to Smartwool liners which worked just fine. I also bought Zpack glove shells but never used them. My rain jacket was a Mountain Hardwear with adjustable hood and plenty of pockets - This was an essential piece of equipment in keeping warmth in during wind and cold weather. I also had a lightweight insulated Mountain Hardwear synthetic primaloft inner parka which worked very, very well. The combination of the Sucoi ziptop, MHW synthetic jacket and MHW rain jacket worked great in keeping warm. Don't forget an AT thru hike is about moving forward and you will generate plenty of heat if you keep moving. At night, you need the warm clothing for that water collecting, cooking, setting up tent but then you are in your bag. My sense is be careful not to overpack cold weather gear. Other things I had initially were a long sleeve Army Ten Miler synthetic running shirt, Marmot lw wind pants and extra pair of socks. I did not originally take camp shoes but ended up picking up a pair of very lightweight sandals - I just needed to get out of those shoes at the end of a long day. All packed clothing went in a special Sea to Summit or Zpack waterproof stuff sack.

Pack: I used a small ULA Circuit pack which worked for the entire hike. Great, simple pack. Moving from a pack that had lots of pockets and a top pocket required some adjustment but the savings in weight was well worth it. I made up for not having separate zippered pockets by using a mix of sea to summit and Zpack stuff sacks to keep things organized. I also bought a Zpack shoulder pocket which I placed my iPhone and notepad in for easy access which worked well. One think on the ULA Circuit was that the belt pockets developed holes in them late in the game but I taped them and the friendly folks at ULA replaced the belt and pockets on my return. No worries. For a wallet, I took a few key things and placed them in a small Aloksak sealable bag and kept it close at hand for shuttle rides and town purchases.

Shelter and sleeping kit: I have been a big fan of Tarptent and used a Moment DW on this trip. It was excellent for my size and need to get organized inside the tent. Single biggest joy or complaint I heard on the thru hike was about tent so in my humble opinion this is a critical selection. This worked for me because it was quick to set up, kept out the insects, repelled rain very well, had two side entry doors and was big enough inside for me to sit up in and get organized each night and morning. Vestibules proved nice for soaked, muddy shoes, trekking poles, hanging socks, shirt, etc. My sleeping bag starting out was a 20 degree Western Mountaineering Ultralite - light enough, although on really cold nights (our coldest was about 16 degrees in north Georgia, taken from temperature gauge on my Garmin fenix) my feet got chilled but put on fleece socks and that helped. It proved too warm once we got into Virginia so I purchased a 40 degree Enlightened Equipment Revelation quilt. Great piece of kit, very lightweight and did the job until I switched back to the WM ultralite in the NH mountains. I also had a sleep clothing system that I only used for sleep - an Ibex hoody (great!), Army silk underwear or cotton shorts and fleece socks. As it got warmer, could adjust. It is critical to protect your sleep system, bag and clothes, dry and protected throughout your trip. At the end of a long miserable day, knowing that you can climb into dry, warm gear is key to your physical and psychological well being. I also brought a Big Agnes insulated mummy sleeping pad - I have to say that when it worked, it was a great pad - warm, comfortable. However, my first one developed pinholes that I could not find and, after being replaced free by Big Agnes, my second one after a time also developed holes that I could not find/repair. Believe me, not fun to blow up your mattress multiple times during the night. So, while I was happy with the mattress when it worked, and Big Agnes agreeing to replace it, the slow leaks made for some unhappy nights until I could get it fixed. I also had a large Exped air pillow which proved to be the cats meow - no ruptures and very comfortable wrapped in a jacket.

Cook kit: I used a titanium Evernew 900 ml cook pot which which worked well with the primarily mashed potatoes or noodle dinners we had. Just the right size for a single person. I also carried an REI titanium double wall cup with cover which made for good tea drinking at night and Starbucks Via coffee in the mornings. I also bought an AntiGravity Gear cozy which was helpful in cooking off the stove and keeping food/water warm. After much research, I decided to go isobutane canisters (easily found along the entire AT); I purchased a Soto stove with piezo igniter and Soto windscreen. All of the above worked well the entire trip. For a thru hike, I don't think you need a sponge or pot scrubber; just a bit of biodegradable soap and your fingers (BTW a small bottle of hand sanitizer as well). Remember you will be boiling your water in the pot for the next go around so - good enough. All of this went into a Zpack cook kit stuff sack. For my food bag, I purchased a medium plus cuben fiber Zpack food bag with small carabiner - it worked very well for the duration, convenient, doubled as my bear bag and easy to pack with multiple ziplock bags in town. With the wear and tear I will not be able to use it beyond my thru hike but it did the job for the trip.

Small essentials: Place in smaller containers as you can. Toiletries: for me included folding toothbrush (travel kind), small tube, floss, toilet paper, flat scrub comb, nail clippers - over 5 months these things become important, at least they did for me. Foot care: Body glide, duct tape, Krazy glue, foot powder, vaseline, blister treatment. First aid kit: 800mg ibuprofens (saved me when my achilles heel gave me problems in the Presidentials), antibiotic ointment, benedryl (two wasp stings, separate occasions, it did the trick), Immodium (never got diarrhea but good to have), Ambien for sleep challenges. (There is of course the potential for injuries and sickness on the trail - besides falls, the two biggest challenges I saw/heard about during the 2014 thru hike - tick borne Lyme disease and Norovirus - read up on these before you go and how you can both reduce your chances for getting them and how to recognize them and get help. Repair kit: safety pins, needle, thread, tent pole sleeve, tenacious tape. Don't overdue this kit but figure out what you can't live without and what can wait until you get into town. Bear bag hanging - I purchased a small Zpack lightweight throw bag with a Zline Slick Dyneema cord - the cord did not work out, to messy to work with so I went out and got a regular cord - if I were doing it over again, I would buy reflective guy line so I could find it easier in the dark. Insect repellent - get a roll on or a creme squeeze tube for simplicity - important stuff when the gnats and mosquitos start to drive you insane up north. I found the spray or squirt bottles tended to get on your hands and the outside of the bottle which can be a problem eating away at other things it touches especially the Deet. Headlamp was a Petzl Tikka XP2 which is adjustable and has a red light option - uses AAA batteries. A good light is key in shelters, at night in camp and for me, really proved important on the nights I ended up hiking in the dark. Try one out and see what works for you. I did carry an iPhone 5s with a Lifeproof case - allowed access to the outside world and a nice camera. I had Sprint; if I were to do it again I would switch to Verizon; too many places where I could not get a signal and Verizon users could. Lots of phone options out there but recommend you get one that has a cloud backup to quickly synch your photos and potential journal entries. Also, the Lifeproof case proved critical the one time my phone dropped out of my shoulder pocket during a river crossing. Under water for 15 minutes and still worked (but be careful to keep the headphone mike sealed; mine was off and a bit of water got in fogging up the camera lens). Water filter: I used the Sawyer mini which worked the entire trip. The soft bottles it came with are another story; recommend that you switch to Platypus 1 liter handle soft bottle - you only need one. BTW, speaking of bottles, I used the 32 oz. Gatorade and the thinner SmartWater bottle for my two bottles. Light and strong and easy to replace in town if you need one. Gatorade bottle, I found was too heavy and overkill. Other things I brought: Mosquito head net - kept me from going insane in certain places up north; Bose in ear phones - pricey but fit well, good sound, and good to have when you want to break away with music or an audio book; Bandanna; ear plugs - you have not heard snoring until you are treated to it being echoed off an AT shelter; a sit pad (half a closed cell mattress pad, invaluable for breaks, your knees as you are adjusting things in your tent, an additional layer on cold, wet nights); AWOL guide - excellent tool - I got the version that is separated and carried what I needed, sending the rest of the book forward - take your notes right in the guide as you go along, marking where you stay, mileage, weather, thoughts of the day, a nice keepsake at the end of the trip; iPhone battery charger - I ended up getting a small Anker 6000mAh 3.7v recharger which provided up to two full iPhone charges - good peace of mind; Packtowl especially for wiping down the tent before packing it up - that excess water adds up; and another cuben fiber stuff sack to keep much of this in.

Dinky stuff - Stuff I ended up needing which went into my pack waist pocket: toothbrush, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, bug juice, chapstick, small tinker knife, sunscreen. Ended up using sun screen a lot more in the beginning because of lack of tree cover at the beginning of the hike, not so much later on; Inversely, I never used insect repellent in the beginning but did especially up north - no doubt the mosquitos in western Mass and Vermont are already getting ready for the Class of 2015. Place all of this in a Ziplock bag.

Sorry this turned out to be kind of long - one of the most helpful posts I found from an earlier thru hiker was her review on what worked and what did not so I felt I owed the same.

My 2014 AT thru hike was epic. I met some truly phenomenal people on the trail and in small towns, witnessed some fantastic sunrises and star skies, challenged myself in ways I had never done before. I think the trek and the things I learned about myself made me a better person. I am 54 years old and am glad that I did not wait any longer to go. Let me know if I can clarify any of above and good luck getting ready. A great adventure awaits you!

NOBO 2014

01-25-2015, 14:27
Excellent review. Congrats on your thru-hike. You carried many of the same items I carried on my thru-hike.

01-25-2015, 14:33
Thanks for the feedback. Congrats to you as well - my understanding is that the weather was a whole lot colder and rougher at the start of 2013 thru hike.

Pie Guy
06-18-2015, 18:10
Did you use a compass?

06-18-2015, 19:02
Thank you! Great info.

08-16-2015, 00:16
Thank you Wingnut. Excellent information and a nice read. I will be looking for your advice on my 2016 NB.

08-16-2015, 11:10
Excellent summary, thanks for typing that up. These lists are very helpful even to experienced backpackers who may not have done a long hike.