View Full Version : The Ol' Thinkin' 'bout Thru Hiker Gear Blues!

The Weasel
09-04-2002, 14:04
I'm responding to Mike's comments/questions about how to go about thinking about thru-hiker specific gear and prep issues: Here goes. Mike wrote:

"By the way.....speaking of gear, my pack choice is a Dana Designs Terraplane X and that's about all I have now (except therma rest and little stuff) I'd ~LOVE~ some suggestions or feedback on your choices...PARTICULARLY tent and sleeping bag. I hear down filled bags are better on the A.T. ya'll hear that too? Tent: clip flashlight seems to be winning the popularity contest but functionality? Boots: Vasque sundowners popularity contest winners also. I actually found an old pair of Vasque sundowners at the goodwill that fit me like a glove and I love them! Bought a pair of High Tech that really rub badly under the ball of my ankle, though.
Teach me.....i'm a dry sponge thirsty for your thoughts"

My thoughts:

-- Mike, first thing you do, get a subscription to Backpacker Magazine, and spend a Saturday morning at a local library that has back issues. Frankly, if it ain't there, it ain't happened in backpacking.

-- Next, get Ray Jardine's book, "Beyond Backpacking". He's the father of the ultralight backpacking movement. There is MUCH to disagree with Ray about, but once you read it, you'll understand why I said so. Should be available at REI, and easily from Amazon.com etc.

-- Next, don't obsess about gear. Easy to say, hard to do. But gear is the least important issue for a thru hike (and I obsessed a LOT, so this is the pot teaching the kettle!). Read about Granny Gatewood (canvas sack, blanket and shower curtain for a tent!) who did the AT multiple times, and you'll understand what I mean. (A few gear comments below)

-- You're just damn outright smart to put emphasis on conditioning. Use stairmasters/stairs and tough miserable hills DAILY. Carry ANY pack with 25 lbs when you do. Build your legs every way you can. Lose as much weight NOW as you can. You'll lose more as you hike, but if you can drop 20 lbs NOW, that is 20 lbs you will NOT be carrying on the AT: A "front pack" is just as hard to carry as a backpack.

-- About gear: BORROW what you can (don't buy!), and RENT the rest (most outfitters, includling REI, will rent much gear). Try everything you can to get an idea of the virtues/vices.

-- Keep these thoughts in mind: 3/4 of the gear you start with will not finish with you, being sent home, worn out, or replacd with lighter/better gear. You will wear out 2-4 pairs of shoes/boots (or soles, if you have them replaced) due to delamination and just wear. A boot that feels great today will not fit you after a month on the trail.

-- Bags. You'll use at least 2, maybe 3: Cold weather (Springer in March, NH and ME in September), warm weather (VA-MD-PA in late May-August), and maybe something in between the rest of the time. Down is warm and light. It's also crap when wet and can be destroyed by extreme compression. Artificials can be almost as good and cheaper. I use a K-Mart fleece "car blanket" in the summer.

-- Tents. You'll end up tarping or using a hammock by mid Virginia. Consider one now: You can "practice" with a cheap tarp around home (read about them in Jardin and elsewhere) and go to a siltarp when convinced. Ask about Hennessey Hammocks (several reviews here). Trust me; once you figure out just how damn heavy (4-5 lbs)that really nice tent is, you'll start to hate it. (Tarps= 14-18 OUNCES, hammocks 28 oz +/-).

Hope to see you walking!

The Weasel

"Well a promise made, is a debt unpaid, and the Trail has its own stern code." -- Robert Service

12-08-2002, 01:24
Gear is just gear to me, but as Weasel said there is a easier way and hes right. However you need to carry heavy first and cut down not the other way around. I carry a Shasta pack that looks like it was chewed up by ... oh know never mind, but i've made many mods and its down to 5 pounds now. I'd rather carry alittle more weight on my hips than less on my shoulders. I'm not a gearhead as you probably know I don't think I ever posted in the gear threads before. My packs around 35 to 38 pounds, I carry a cozy clip flashlight tent and a full stantard thermarest and these will never leave me. I just wanted to add my 2cents into the fire.

12-08-2002, 11:53
my advice is:

don't read backpacker, the latest and greatest ain't gonna get you to katahdin

yeah, get in shape, lose a little weight, but keep in mind, that ain't gonna get you to katahdin either

leave ray jardine for the ultralightists, who by the way, aren't as prevelant (on the AT) as numbers on this site seem to suggest

you probably won't dump your tent and thermarest along the way. by virginia, EXTREMES in carried weight seem to even out among thru-hikers

read every gear list you can find and pick and choose what seems sensible to you. nobody makes the right gear choices at first, nor does anybody have all the answers

carry what your body says you can carry, this ain't rocket science

don't take advice from me, my expertise lies elsewhere

SGT Rock
12-08-2002, 15:52
But when your stuck in doors, a visit to the local outfitters can be a fun expidition. I just find that over the years I'm less interested in what they have. Another good idea if you have those gear blues is to make a couple of projects. Try stoves and mesh sacks.

If you get gear burn out, let me suggest getting out the maps and guidebooks. I love to pour over them, especially places I've been. It re-kindels the memories.

Maybe it is time for a fair weather winter hike? Too bad it is hunting season in LA, I don't feel like getting into a gun fight.

12-08-2002, 16:04
My tactic for killing time until the AT is to try different trail foods and see whih ones appeal to my taste/cooking methods. You should have seen my neighbor the other day when she drove up and saw me cooking a pot of food on my porch.