Gear Review

This is a review of all the principal gear I used on the Appalachian Trail in 2014 along with suggestions to myself for changes I might make if I restart next year.

Note that I “only” covered 730 miles in a little over 2 months, moving from freezing temperatures to 90 degree heat and high humidity. Take the findings within that context.

Main Gear

Pack
Gossamer Gear Mariposa

Gossamer Gear Mariposa

Started with 70L Gossamer Gear Mariposa, finished with the 60L Granite Gear Blaze AC60. The enforced change was made at mile 30 after the Mariposa’s straps cut off blood flow to my left arm, causing numbness and nerve inflammation. The Granite Gear pack has ‘J’ straps that curve in towards the centre of the chest and thus was guaranteed to avoid the problem. If I had more time I would have preferred to go with the ULA Circuit pack as it was the most comfortable I tried in store but Mountain Crossings didn’t have a men’s medium with J-straps in stock so I had to made do with the Blaze.

Granite Gear Blaze

Granite Gear Blaze

Not surprisingly I immediately missed all the features of the Mariposa that were not present on the Blaze, namely the insane lack of hipbelt pockets (like, seriously?!); a large front pocket (the Blaze’s is ok-ish but too narrow so you have to remove all the gear that is stored higher than the thing you want); a tall side pocket (the Blaze has two small side pockets with compression cords above which is a complete waste of space and greatly constrained my packing choices and constantly threatened to eject my gear as the pockets were so shallow); and finally it lacks the Mariposa’s removable foam sitpad, not really a criticism as it simply an outcome of the design but it did mean that I had to use one of the small side pockets to carry my own A3-sized piece of CCF. Further, the Mariposa weighs 770g while the well-padded Blaze weighs 1.3Kg, about double once I had added two after-market hipbelt pockets in Hot Springs. On the plus side it didn’t cut the blood-flow to my arm and risk permanent nerve damage so swings and roundabouts I guess!

If I did it again: evaluate the cuben ULA Circuit (1Kg), the SMD Fusion 65 (1.1Kg), Klymit Motion 65 (1.2kg), HMD Windrider (900g) and any other new options. I’d take the Blaze again if I had to though.

 

Shelter
Lightheart Gear SoLong

Lightheart Gear SoLong

Started and finished with Lightheart Gear SoLong 6 in cuben fiber (no longer made). This was a consciously safe choice in four respects: it is a large tent-with-floor so no worries with bugs and water ingress; material weight (and thus robustness) was not cutting edge; size (considered palatial by thru hikers) and simplicity of setup (one piece only, only 4 structural stakes). It weighed 808g (1.7lb). I have no complaints whatsoever. However…

Zpacks Hexamid SoloPlus

Zpacks Hexamid SoloPlus

If I did it again: I would happily have ordered a lighter weight of cuben, especially for the canopy. This would have reduced pack size and weight a bit for no drawbacks. I would have only gotten one door, not two and saved some weight in exchange for paying more attention during setup each night to where the single door faced. But Lightheart Gear no longer offer cuben material for their shelters so this is a dead end. I would also consider other similar tents again and think about whether I could live with less indoor space in order to save weight and pack space. E.g. the Zpacks Hexamid SoloPlus, new Zpacks Solplex or rarely-available SMD Skyscape X which are all around 500g (1.1lb).

 

Sleeping Pad
Exped SynMat UL 7 Inflatable Sleeping Pa

Exped SynMat UL 7 Pad

Started and ended with the 450g Exped SynMat UL7, regular length and width. I slept perfectly soundly throughout my hike other than being woken by pain or bad weather.

Thermarest NeoAir

Thermarest NeoAir XLite

If I did it again: The Exped mat worked very well which gives me the confidence to experiment with a less comfortable pad in order to save weight and pack space. For example, the very similar, but 100g lighter, Thermarest NeoAir XLite (the noisiness of which would prove to be a non-issue since I never slept in shelters) or even a ¾ length pad. Interestingly, the women’s NeoAir is 330g (20g less than the men’s) as it is 15cm shorter but has an R value of 3.9 versus just 3.2 for the men’s.

 

Sleeping Bag
Zpacks 20f Bag

Zpacks 20f Bag

Started and ended with Zpacks 20 degree wide bag (579g / 1.3lb) with hydrophobic down, regular zip and baffle plus a LifeVenture EX3 silk liner (131g / 0.3lb). The bag was excellent though I did find I slept a bit cooler than the bag’s rating suggested. In other words when the temps reached freezing I felt pretty cool inside, enough to wake me at times and wear my rain pants. Since I stopped in mid-June I didn’t experience the warmest temperatures possible. I never experienced significant problems with water or damp air so the hydrophobic down option was probably irrelevant.

LifeVenture EX3 Silk Sleeping Bag Liner

LifeVenture EX3 Silk Sleeping Bag Liner

If I did it again: It depends on the time of year and temps expected. If it was identical to my trip then I would be happy to re-use the same bag. If money were no object I might get the 10-degree bag without a zip baffle for spring and the Whites and then get a Zpacks 40 degree bag or a hoodless quilt from another manufacturer for the middle 1000 miles. I would re-use the bag liner which would push me towards a quilt instead of a bag for summer since it would be between me and the pad to avoid me sticking to the pad.

 

Groundsheet

Started with Sol Emergency blanket, ended with nothing. This 54g shiny blanket was intended to be (much) more about heat reflection in colder temperatures than a protective groundsheet to keep the pad from being pierced. It does a good job to my mind and there were several colder nights after I sent it back when I wished I still had it as I could feel the cold earth below me.

If I did it again: In shoulder seasons: take the same blanket, keep it longer, but cut it down to the sleeping pad length and a bit wider so about half the current size thus saving about 28g or an ounce.

 

Clothing

Insulation
Arcteryx Cerium LT

Arcteryx Cerium LT

The hoodless Arcteryx Cerium LT down jacket was great value for 235g / 0.5lb (small) but it did get more use as a superb pillow than a lifesaving insulated jacket. When it’s cold and you’re outside of your tent you’re usually hiking and thus don’t need a down jacket on (though there are some times in camp or in town when it’s nice to have a jacket on). When you’re indoors you can get in your sleeping bag. It was never cold enough for me to need to wear the jacket while in my bag which was one of its planned uses. I found it much harder to sleep when I sent this home and started using just my fleece, spare socks, etc. as a pillow.

If I did it again: Take the down jacket when temps are cold (e.g. in spring and in the Whites), leave it at home during summer but focus on figuring out a new pillow system.

Hiking Clothes
Craghoppers Nosilife Cargo Pants

Craghoppers Nosilife Cargo Pants

Rab MeCo 165 at Wayah Bald

Rab MeCo 165 at Wayah Bald

The Craghoppers InsectShield pants in spring were a good design but the atrocious stitching caused me lots of problems. The Rab MeCo 165 baselayer was fine when it was cold but was too heavy once it got to 5c (40f) or above. I would take a lighter weight top next time but the Merino material was super – I really noticed how cold it felt when sweat got blown by wind once I switched to my summer shirt whereas the merino really is ‘warm when wet’ as they claim.

 

Columbia Insect Blocker shirt and pants

Columbia Insect Blocker shirt and pants

The summer Columbia InsectBlocker 30/30 pants were misleading to be called ‘cargo’ since they only had one small zipped pockets and otherwise you had to use the regular hip pockets which always felt like my phone or other contents were liable to fall out. The matching shirt was fine.

If I did again: Not sure. I finished up wanting long trousers with InsectShield protection as much as when I started so that limits the range of items available. Maybe get the key seams of the Craghoppers proactively restitched by a tailor? Or try the Rohan Trailblazers with BiteGuard. I ended up being less bothered about having a long-sleeved top in the summer but I did like being able to wear the sleeves down in exposed areas and just forget about sunburn. Would be happy to re-use the same items I guess but the spring baselayer ought to be thinner, more like a 120-150 weight.

 

Longjohns

Started with Icebreaker Bodyfit 200 (185g in small), ended with nothing. Once the weather warmed up sufficiently (early June) I sent the longjohns home and would have gotten them again in New Hampshire. I only ever used them at night rather than hike in them but of course that was an option if it had gotten cold enough. Some kind of ‘pyjama bottoms’ is pretty useful for use around camp also as it’s socially acceptable to hang up your wet and dirty trousers.

If I did it again: I would take the same item again in the cold weeks of spring but for fall I would consider a lighterweight, synthetic, garment like the Montbell Zeo-Line LW (125g in medium)or REI Silk Long Underwear (100g in medium).

 

Hiking Shoes
Vasque Mantra

Vasque Mantra

Started with Ecco Biom Mid Hike boots size US 8 (41.5 EU). Ended with Vasque Mantra 2.0, size US 9 (EU 42.5), non-GTX. I had lots of blisters and Achilles heel problems with the boots, despite having worn them beforehand many times, and the Vasque shoes sorted those problems out. I still had a few blisters between my toes so would now use anti-chafe gel or just tape them up. But the boots always felt impregnable from rocks underfoot and the shoes, despite having a proper PU footplate, were what I wore when I got chronic Plantar Fasciitis, continued Achilles tendonitis and a broken metatarsal so it’s hard not to think bad thoughts about them even with no evidence.

Hoka Tor

Hoka One One Tor

If I did it again: Consider the upcoming (Jan 2015) Hoka Tor hiking shoe or one of the Hoka trail runners. This one is a quandary but unless something new happened I would re-start with the Vasque.

 

Camp Shoes
Mizuno Universe 5

Mizuno Universe 5

Started and ended with Mizuno Universe 5. Weighing 166g the pair (so just 2.9oz per shoe!) and squashing down to an inch of depth they were the lightest full-coverage shoe I could find. I wore them at camp and in town and they showed no signs of wear after 65 days other than the white upper being a little less white. I received a compliment about them every few days for the whole trip. You do need to keep their lugs away from light fabrics though.

If I did it again: I would take the same shoes unless a new even-lighter version was out.

 

Raingear
Zpacks rainjacket in use

Zpacks rainjacket in use

Started and ended with Zpacks cuben jacket (2013 white model), MLD eVent mitts and Montane pants. Also, started with a Zpacks cuben medium backpack cover but swapped it for a Granite Gear silnylon cover in Hot Springs. The Zpacks (white) cuben jacket at 148g was superb. It had all the features other than a pocket I wanted and none of the weight and bulk of traditional jackets. I hummed and hawed over this decision for a long time but in the end the cutting edge was the place to be. You don’t need a jacket that can withstand hundreds of days of alpine rock climbing when walking along the AT so most jackets found in stores are overkill. My rainpants were my old Montane Featherlite made with regular Pertex. At 120g they worked well, felt nice and were easy to get over shoes (boots were harder). They were useful as overtrousers on cold nights in bed and I was happy to wear them on their own when starting out in the rain. The Zpacks pack cover did not fit the new Granite Gear pack so I had to change to a slightly heavier Ultra Sil (silnylon) one from Sea To Summit which was a bit larger and about 100g more weight. On the plus side it fitted much better, faster and easier than the Zpacks one and the pack for it was attached so you could never lose it.

Berghaus Vapur Smock 2.0

Berghaus Vapour Smock

If I did it again: I would take the same gear happily but would also consider even lighter alternatives if they existed (e.g. 2015 Berghaus Hyper Light smock for a mere 70g!). I would retry the Zpacks cover on the new backpack (e.g. ULA Circuit and think long and hard about which cover to take).

 

 

Wind Jacket
Arcteryx Incendo Jacket

     Arcteryx Incendo Jacket

Started and ended with Arcteryx Incendo (125g). I didn’t get as much use from this as I thought, at least when hiking by a long way. You are protected from cold wind most of the time on the AT because you are in the woods 99% of the time. It would be more useful on more exposed sections (e.g. the White mountains) than I encountered. It got heavy use in town and around hostels though and it presented a smart outward appearance even if what lay beneath and below the waist was in bad shape. I wore it 7 or 8 times for extra warmth at night as it was very low profile and comfortable to wear, and silent compared to traditional wind shirts made from rustly nylon.

If I did it again: Tough call. For summer I might leave it behind. In New Hampshire I would probably get it again.

 

Fleece
Arcteryx Delta LT fleece

Arcteryx Delta LT fleece

Started and ended with Arcteryx Delta LT Zip. This is just a well-cut light Polartec 100 weight fleece. At 260g it was an excellent choice after I correctly decided against my original choice of a Rab Baseline Hoody which, although warmer, was 100g more and much larger to pack. As well outdoor usage in cold conditions I also found it necessary for sleeping on about 75% of the nights.

If I did it again: There isn’t a need for too much insulation in summer but you should have one item, be it a fleece or jacket. In spring and fall I would have preferred a hood on the fleece for cold nights since I wore the fleece most nights in the first 6 weeks. So maybe a Patagonia Cap 4 hoody at 230g.

 

Headwear
Standard Buff

Standard Buff. I never took it off.

Started with a standard Buff and down beanie, ended with same. Since the sleeping bag had no hood it was important to have some head insulation and I could not have done without the beanie. For the first month it was one of the most critical pieces of gear I carried as it got worn all night every night, on cold early mornings and once all morning when it was particularly chilly. For 24g it wasn’t even funny how useful this was, in fact it may have been the best weight-to-usefulness ratio of my entire kit. If it had been any colder I would have needed another layer, such as a fleece hood but for

Black Rock Gear Down Beanie

Black Rock Gear Down Beanie

freezing and above this was perfect on its own. It’s only downside was being unusable in the rain while a wool or fleece hat would have still been usable. The Buff was as useful as everyone said it would be. Hanging around my neck when not in active use it didn’t spend a second in or on my pack taking up space and weight. Keeping me warmer when it was cold and windy, and cooler when it was hot (by soaking it in cold streams) it only became useless in the rain as it doesn’t dry overnight. If it had been just an inch bigger it would have been more comfortable as a night-time neck-and-headscarf for warmth but that’s being picky for a cheap item that weighs 36g. One final word on headgear: my spring Rab MeCo 165 baselayer had a hood, deliberately, to provide extra warmth but it only came in useful on a few occasions as I get hot when hiking and the Buff around my neck was usually sufficient. Hardly a problem but the baselayer was always too wet to wear at night so it’s hood wasn’t used once in bed when it may have been useful. I debated cutting off the hood so I could use it as a night hood but I Imagine it wouldn’t have stayed on.

If I did it again: I might actually try a merino wool beanie for a few grams more so it can be used outdoors, e.g. a Chaos Skully.

 

Underwear
Saxx Quest boxers

Saxx Quest boxers

Started and ended with Saxx Quest boxers (80% nylon, 20% elastane). These were perfect, quick drying, didn’t ride up, weren’t too hot or too cold, kept their shape, never seemed to get dirty or smelly and, presumably, were a major factor in avoiding getting a single case of monkey butt. After 65 continuous days they show no signs of wear at all. I wasn’t really ever conscious of wearing them which is perfect.

If I did it again: I would buy a fresh pair to start with and get another pair sent halfway.

 

Gaiters
Dirty Girl Gaiters

Dirty Girl Gaiters

Started and ended with the same pair of Dirty Girl Gaiters. One of the pieces of Velcro came off but it stayed roughly in place for a week until I got to town and could replace it.

If I did it again: I would use the same gaiters, making sure to carry enough Velcro and maybe a tiny bottle of superglue to be able to make in-field repairs (not using glue guarantees the Velcro will come off in a few weeks).

 

Bedsocks

Started with 100% Angora ankle socks (60g), sent them back once it warmed up. These may be considered a luxury item but my hiking socks were usually damp and I wouldn’t have slept well without these dedicated socks which are lighter than a single hiking sock and twice as warm.

If I did it again: if temps were expected to dip below 5c I would take them again or consider even-lighter down socks (PHD Wafer down socks are just 45g).

 

Electronics

Camera
Olympus TG-630 camera

Olympus TG-630 camera

I started and finished with an Olympus ‘tough’ point-and-shoot camera weighing just 167g. I found the video feature to be more useful than stills partly because its panorama function just didn’t work (or, at least, I couldn’t make it work) whereas the iPhone’s panorama feature worked flawlessly. Since about 50% of all pictures were panoramas (even if you just want a picture ever so slightly wider than normal you can use a pano mode: top tip!) I ended up using the iPhone by choice.

If I did it again: I wouldn’t really want to be without a proper camera but since any camera also requires a spare battery and a charger and takes up space and about 200g total weight I would reluctantly leave it at home next time and rely solely on my phone.

 

Verizon Jetpack 5510 MiFi device
Verizon Jetpack 5510 MiFi

Verizon Jetpack 5510 MiFi

Very small (like a bar of soap) and light so it wasn’t a burden physically and the monetary cost is a personal choice to be weighed up. But usefulness: hmmm, it was uniquely useful (as in I would have no signal without it) on just 3 evenings. On 8-10 other occasions it provided me with a better connection than AT&T on my phone did. On every other occasion either AT&T gave me a good-enough 3G signal or, more often, neither the MiFi not my phone could get a signal. I was surprised by this having heard how Verizon was great in the south but I guess that is voice/SMS-only. 3G and 4G, not so much.

If I did it again: I’d probably still take it. It’s 94g and was sharing a micro-USB cable with my camera and MP3 player. But I wouldn’t spend $100 to re-buy it, if you see what I mean.

 

Phone (aka mobile computer!)
iPhone in Lifeproof Fre Case

iPhone 5 in Lifeproof Fre Case

Started and ended with iPhone 5 plus Lifeproof Fre case. Awesome. I know everyone hiked without a smartphone 5+ years ago but so what? They hiked without lots of things in the past (and I am hiking without lots of things the class of 2024 will use), that doesn’t mean I have to go back to 1920’s clothing and gear. Especially for a foreigner hiking solo with little support it was super useful. And it weighed just 112g which might even wrest the Best Use of Weight award from the down beanie. One major use was the Guthook App showing your position using GPS, which was often more accurate than the paper guides from AWOL or the ATC. And, you know, texts and emails. And having all my gear manuals in PDF format. And using the camera function. And blogging. And the AWOL guide as a backup to paper. And… As to the Lifeproof case. It definitely makes the screen harder to read and less responsive and is hideously expensive for a plastic thing but it’s the thinnest and lightest waterproof (though the screen still doesn’t work when wet) case on the market and it meant my phone wasn’t a hard-to-pocket thick brick like many other hikers. And if the phone was any bigger it would have been less secure in my pocket – this is not the time and place for those 5.5” ‘phablets’.

If I did it again: Rinse and repeat.

 

E-Book Reader

Started with a Kindle Paperwhite. Sent it home after 5 days. I believed I would never have the spare time to read a book. I was correct.

 

Headlamp
Petzl Tikka XP

Petzl Tikka XP

Started with 2014 model of Petzl Tikka XP at 52g plus about 12 spare batteries. In April it gets dark by 6.30pm but by early June it is more like 9.30pm. I never had the energy or inclination to night-hike so rarely used the lamp. I was usually in bed ready for sleep by the time it got ‘proper dark’. When I left the headlamp at Standing Bear Farm by mistake after 3 weeks I just gave away the batteries and experimented with no lamp for a week. Then two. And then it was light so late I decided not to bother again. The iPhone light and the torch embedded in my external battery were more than sufficient at camp (they would have been less appropriate for wet night hiking). It saved quite a lot of weight and pack space but it did lead to a few stressful evenings where I felt I was racing darkness to set up camp.

Petzl e-lite

Petzl e-lite

If I did it again: I’d find a very small light/lamp (e.g. Petzl e-lite at 27g) and carry no spare batteries for it and only use it when really necessary.

 

 

External battery
EasyAcc 9000

EasyAcc 9000

I started and finished with an EasyAcc 9000 weighing 191g. The built-in torch was quite useful once I had lost my headlamp. It has the best grams-to-juice ratio in its class on the market and it worked perfectly.

If I did it again: I’d probably take the same item, after checking nothing with a better ratio had been released. 9000mAh was about the right amount of power to enable nightly blogging and be out in the woods for at least 5 days. The only other option to consider would be a smaller capacity unit (e.g. 5000mAh) to save 60g/2oz of weight.

 

Wall USB charger
Powergen USB Wall Charger

Powergen 12W USB Wall Charger

Powergen 17w/3.4A dual USB, 86g. The lightest wall charger with two USB slots and foldable prongs (so they don’t poke through soft materials in your tightly-packed pack) I could find that gives out 2amp per port. It worked just fine, albeit with a blue power light of Absolute Doom, requiring clothing to cover it in a hotel room so I could get to sleep!

If I did it again: There are lighter ones that deliver less power (so just 1amp in each port) including a 12W one from the same Powergen range at just 40g and that is all I actually needed. The delivery of 2.4A in one slot was OTT since I didn’t have an iPad with me so this makes the unit heavier than it need be. I would also use white-out or tape over 99% of the blue led!

 

Apple charging cable: Started and ended with an official short Apple lightning cable. I thought I was being clever by getting a short 50cm cable instead of the standard length (1m?). That was a minor mistake since it limited where my phone could sit when being charged, e.g. it usually wouldn’t reach a hotel bed nightstand.

If I did it again: Use the extra few grams and space and take a standard length cable.

 

Headphones: Started and ended with cheap JVC water-resistant earphones. These worked well except when I lost a tip and only a real store could replace it meaning a week with just one working earphone.

If I did it again: Same again but carry at least one spare tip in the repair kit.

 

Cooking
Pot
Evernew 900ml Titanium Ultralight Pot

Evernew 900ml Titanium Pot

Evernew ECA252R 0.9L. Worked just fine, no complaints. 900ml was the right capacity. At one point I tried to downsize to find a pot that could still store the gas canister and stove inside but was smaller (not necessarily less capacity, just less wasted space, i.e. it would be more canister-shaped) but I couldn’t find one.

MLD 850ml pot

MLD 850ml pot

If I did it again: I would happily take the same pot but if I would also consider smaller options like the MLD 850ml pot which can still hold a gas canister and the Soto stove in a smaller volume item and with 16g less weight.

 

 

Stove
Soto OD-1RX WindMaster

Soto OD-1RX WindMaster

Soto OD-1RX Windmaster: Worked perfectly, including the integrated ignition. Just as small, light and powerful as it first appeared. Almost everyone on the AT used a canister stove; every single person who used an alcohol stove either complained about various difficulties or actually demonstrated problems when they used their stove. I only ever used a small size ($5) canister and didn’t go to any great lengths to protect the stove from wind and never ran out between resupply points.

If I did it again: Same again.

 

Drinking Mug

Started with full size GSI

GSI Cascadian Mug

GSI Cascadian Mug

Cascadian plastic mug. Ended with nothing having thrown the mug away due to it taking up too much space. I replaced it in Hot Springs with a 250ml ‘X’ mug which collapses down flat but that soon proved way too heavy, too small and hard to clean so it got left behind. After that I just used my main 500ml-750ml drinking bottle (e.g. Vitamin Water bottle) – it could handle small amounts of boiling water to melt shakes, coffee, etc and then the bottle was also an excellent shaker for mixing powder drinks (e.g. protein shakes). Afterwards, just add a splash of water once the, say, hot chocolate, is drunk and shake it up, drink the residue and the bottle is 99% clean again for regular water use. This compromise saved me almost as much pack space as, say, a rainjacket.

If I did it again: I would start the way I finished: no mug. Some people cut the last few inches of a large plastic water bottle off and used that as an ultralight easily-replaceable cup. I might consider that but only if I had spare pack space – this change was down to pack space more than weight.

 

Cutlery
MSR Folding Utensils

MSR Folding Utensils

Started with long-handled Sea to Summit titanium spoon and a foldable plastic MSR fork. Ended with just a foldable plastic MSR spork. I liked the long-handled spoon but finding a place to pack it was not worth the hassle. Since it was twice as long as my pot+stove+canister+foldable-utensil it didn’t fit in the cooking bag and would stick out awkwardly. I liked having all my cooking things in one small bag so I ditched the spoon. Can’t remember what happened to the fork, I probably ditched it early at Mountain Crossings when trying to reduce weight. When I decided to lose the spoon in Hot Springs the only foldable utensil they had was a spork and I never saw a spoon afterwards either.

 

Misc

Travelex Mastercard Prepaid Currency (Dollar) Card (“Cash Passport”)
Travelex Cash Passport

Travelex Cash Passport

Bizarrely painful to actually obtain in London originally but it did at least earn its stripes as it was able to pay for every single thing in America other than one visit to, of all places, mighty Walmart, where the cashier couldn’t tell her machine it was a credit card and so it wouldn’t process and I had to pay cash and their (one!) ATM wasn’t working. Of course I could have paid with one of my UK credit cards but they weren’t to hand. Anyway, the other 64.9 days the dollar Mastercard worked at every business and in every ATM machine I used, saving me numerous FX charges and letting me carry small amounts of cash like everyone else instead of loading up infrequently. It turns out, also, that you can often register it to any address when buying gear and resupplies through websites so, for example, you can tell Amazon or REI to delivery your stuff to Fontana Dam, then Hot Springs, then Damascus, etc.

 

Food Bag and Bear Line
Zpacks Blast Food Bag

Zpacks Blast Food Bag

Lawson Equipment GloWire

Lawson Equipment GloWire

Started and ended with a Zpacks Blast rolltop cuben foodbag. No complaints throughout though they were common enough that marking yours somehow is a good idea. The matching Zpacks rock sack was way too thin and split on first use. Eventually I picked up a small silnylon bag from some outfitter and used that which lasted the next 50+ days. Having accidentally dumped my Lawson GloWire cord I was using for bear cord into a trash can I reverted to 40’ of AntiGravityGear’s only to find it was too short and it frayed easily and got caught on any small splinter so ordered more GloWire to be quickly delivered to Standing Bear.

If I did it again: I would use the same food bag and would be happy to use the Lawson GloWire. I would, however, check out the slightly lighter (good) options from Zpacks and Mountain Laurel Designs.

 

Knife
Gerber Ultralight LST

Gerber Ultralight LST

Started with Gerber Outrigger SE. Ended with Gerber Ultralight LST. You will be told that you don’t need anything more than a teeny tiny knife on the AT but you may not believe it. I only started with a 3” knife weighing 54g but I still traded down in Hot Springs for this little 2” thing weighing a mere 17g. It took up that bit less pocket space (which became important in summer with my trouser lacking in pockets and it saved 37g, which is not inconsequential. I had also thought I might want a serrated edge to fall back on but it wasn’t the case. Both knives worked perfectly, the smaller one just more so.

If I did it again: I would start with the LST.

 

Trekking Poles

Started and ended with a pair of Leki Makalu (420g). These worked well as hiking poles and well enough as poles for my shelter. They were a bit fiddly and unreliable to adjust when putting up the tent from inside it so a flick-lock mechanism would be easier if using the Lightheart Gear tent.

If I did it again: Depends on the tent used – a Zpacks Hexamid is easy to set up with a pole so I would keep the Lekis. If re-using the Lightheart Gear tent then I might look into new poles with an easier adjusting mechanism e.g. Locus Gear CP3.

 

Trowel
Big Dig Trowel

Big Dig Trowel

Started and ended with Qiwiz.net Big Dig (though not the same one since I left my first behind by accident). Excellent tool. I was forced to use a tent stake for a week between trowels and it was too difficult to make a proper cathole (e.g. when there are roots, or the ground is hard or it’s raining and you want to hurry… so all the time basically) so you took shortcuts. Well worth 15g.

If I did it again: Same again or I might consider the smaller size. Not for weight reasons, just to make it easier to pack (though this was only an issue due to the annoyingly narrow front pocket on the Granite Gear Blaze backpack – if I changed the pack I would just keep the same Big Dig size).

 

Soap

As well as hand sanitiser, I took a small 37ml bottle of ‘Campers Suds’ and liked it well enough that I replaced it with something similar when it ran out. I liked using ‘proper soap’  once or twice a day rather than relying exclusively on hand sanitizer (which weighs the same after all since you’ll use twice as much of that as I did – if use you only use sanitizer then you don’t save any weight).

 

Towel

Started and ended with a medium Pack Towl which was useful on occasion for mopping up condensation from the tent and water ingress in the tent from storms and leaking bladders but it wasn’t essential.

If I did it again: Probably worth it for an ounce or so.

 

Wallet
Zpacks Wallet Zip Pouch

Zpacks Wallet Zip Pouch

Started and ended with Zpacks purse pouch. Carried in my zipped hip trouser pocket in spring and loose in Columbia hip pocket in summer. Contained my driving license, cash and Mastercard. Never had any problem with water ingress however wet I got. And I got very wet. And the weight and bulk is about as minimal as possible so this may be a perfect solution.

If I did it again: Use the same product.

 

Food and Water

Water Filter
Sawyer Mini water filter

Sawyer Mini water filter

Started and ended with Sawyer Mini. Did not take the syringe, just used a Smartwater water sports cap to blast filtered water back through a few times with a knock between each. I found it frustratingly slow at times but I don’t think any other method is much faster.

If I did it again: Same again.

 

Water Containers

Started with a 750ml bottle in a Zpacks shoulder pouch on my shoulder strap to drink from and a 1 litre bottle in my pack side pocket. As it warmed up that became a 600ml bottle (American drinks don’t seem to come between that and 1 litre) plus 2×1 litre bottles in my pack side pocket. I was trying to develop an Evernew 2 litre bladder+hose solution when I had to quit the trail. I used a single Sawyer 1 litre pouch as the only dirty container the whole time but it did split in multiple places after a month or so and I had to get a replacement. Not really a massive problem, but it might be worth replacing them proactively if it starts to look worn.

If I did it again: I would “camel up” more, something I kept forgetting to do and then stressing that the water I was carrying was insufficient when I could have drunk a litre at the previous source and carried less. Still, some people carried 3-4 litres routinely whereas I rarely filled up the second litre bottle. I would have liked a gravity system at camp to save me time but couldn’t figure out a method that didn’t need you to carry two filters or wasted container weight. Engineer clamped the Evernew bite valve over the Sawyer mini and said that worked but I didn’t get to try yet. I might consider carrying an extra small 16oz/500ml bladder for backup/emergency use.

 

Food
Protein Shake

Protein Shake

This is definitely something I got a bit wrong although it’s a reach to blame this on my eventual injuries. The two main problems were a lack of calories each day and a lack of protein (especially before bed when the body seeks to repair itself). Dealing with the first problem first, I could have eaten more especially at dinner when sometimes I would only cook half a Pasta Side (pure carbs) because that’s all I fancied. But I could have forced more down. I was also trying to limit the weight I was carrying from Day 1 due to my arm injury and that may have caused me to err on the ‘stupid light’ side of things when it came to purchasing food. The second problem is harder to solve but one solution is to source a high quality training recovery shake powder (meaning one that is not just about the protein but has other helpful nutrients) for regular resupply. This would not be easy to do and doubtless there would be some gaps when delivery is impossible or goes wrong but it’s well worth trying. I did carry such a thing in my final week that I found in a drugstore in town but it wasn’t a high quality one and by then it was too late. I was thinking of such powdered shakes as being an “extra” on top of my usual food but of course it isn’t. It is still calories, and good ones too, certainly better than ramen noodles so actually it means I can carry and eat one or two less snack bars per day and instead drink a lovely chocolate shake which only needs 30g of powder. So the problem with my lack of appetite is sidestepped as I could drink anything. Triple win – more food, more nutrients and more healing ability. And no more weight.

Emergen-C Health and Energy Booster

Emergen-C Health and Energy Booster

US suppliers include truenutrition.com .

Use Emergen-C Health & Energy Booster or similar to avoid hypernatremia.

9 thoughts on “Gear Review

  1. Other than your gaiters lacking a bit of pizazzz….

    I’m looking into a Six Moons Fusion for the rest of my hike. I have their Starlite and love it but now I wish it was a bit smaller. Tbough yesterday, afterhiking with it for 900 miles, I did figure out that what I thought was just a string for carrying a jacket could actually be used for compression straps! I also tried on a NOBOs fully loaded z packs and it felt pretty good too. He said he’s had 40 pounds in it before and it carried ok.
    Glad to read your article . Ive missed your sense of humor!

    1. Hey Birdy. Let me know how the Fusion goes if you get one. You are very flexible with changing your gear mid-hike – I remember us comparing notes on the Lightheart tents!

  2. Sparky! Great to see a new entry from you. Hope you are healing quickly. Thanks for the thorough and thoughtful gear review. Did you start out with gloves or mittens? Also curious if you used sunglasses? I always wear them hiking in sunny California, but I’m thinking they may not be needed on the AT?

    1. Hi. I never took sunglasses because I sweat quite a bit when I hike and they would become uncomfortable. I didn’t see many hikers with shades FYI. I did start with thin glove liners actually, I should add that in. But I can’t remember what they were and my sent-home box hasn’t arrived yet to check! I didn’t need them at night as my sleep system was warm enough so they didn’t get that much use. But they are light so worth it. Either merino or fleece anyway. I also started with some Seirus All-Weather gloves but never wore them so sent them home. I did have MLD eVent rain mitts the whole time which were fine for all-day rain days but oversized when not wearing winter mitts underneath so I would look around next time for something similar – thin waterproof shell – but smaller.

  3. I came late to your blog and have really enjoyed reading it. Thank you for writing it. I am sorry to hear about the foot and wish you a fast recovery. Hope to see you soon.

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