Gear: you love to have it, you hate to carry it.
Hiking the Appalachian trail is an amazing experience. The experience extracts every emotion imaginable from you. I had the best time of my life, some of the worst individual days of my life, the hardest days, the most spiritual days, the party days, the feeling invincible days, the physically hurt, emotionally hurt, overworked, etc. I also had the best time of my life!
At the beginning of such a long distance hike, I believe that everyone is what trail friend Merlin and I would refer to as a yuppie. Yuppies know that to be a real hiker, you need the best gear available on the market. The more gadgets, the better (but they have to be “ultralight”)
I started as a yuppie. I had a good idea of what I was doing, sure; though I carried way too much junk, and I wasn’t attuned with nature. After hiking for a while (a loooong time to most), you become so attuned that you can literally smell deodorants / laundry soap from possibly miles away. You hear things that are out of place (like other humans) in the forest. You drift further from consumerism and become more comfortable in the woods. You can then really better determine what gear is important to you or not.
Basically, the point is: don’t stress about the gear. Quality gear is great (light, durable, etc.), but you can get by with anything. Mental focus and determination is, no doubt, what is really critical. With that being said, lets geek out.
I picked the Osprey Atmos AG @ 65 liter capacity for my foundation. While it’s not ultralight, it is basically a balance of all qualities. It is still quite light, but extremely durable with good suspension for heavier loads. I like to have this piece of mind when I want to carry out extras such as beer, hotdogs, or other heavy foods and treats. The beauty of the pack is that the lid comes off which slims it right down. I rocked it this way for the hot summer time months.
I carried the MSR Hubba Hubba NX tent, and while we went through 3, I’m still a huge fan. Sleeping without the fly is fantastic when possible.
The Thermarest NeoAir Xlite is super expensive, super light, and super comfortable. Aside from having a hole in it my first day on the trip, a quick repair and it is still like new (aside from some stank). There really is a benefit to having a foam pad (using it near a fire, etc, but the air pad really is comfortable to sleep on every night.)
I started with the USGI green patrol sleeping bag. My sleeping bag probably changed the most out of any of my gear. The patrol bag is very light, but also not very warm. I picked up a Thermarest liner as well. The liner helped, but I was still pretty cold some nights. Summer time was ditch the sleeping bag and go with light blankets. Once I got back to Maine, I picked up my 4lb winter sleeping bag. It was worth the weight to me at that point, and after all those miles thru hikers are machines (myself included). We carried whatever we wanted at the end. 40lbs was nothing (not really, but quite manageable still). If I were to do it again, I think that I would have sprung for an ultralight down bag rated around 20 degrees. Musicbox did that and it was quite nice even in summer to sleep on top of the bag in a liner.
I think that I invested about 15 bucks in my stove system and I’m still very happy with it. I used a pocket rocket type clone from Amazon (Etekcity) the whole trip. The piezo igniter broke, but I just pulled it off and started using a lighter (just like the MSR). The stove and a can of gas fit just right in my Walmart aluminum grease pot. This was my pot / pan / cup / you get the point. I started with a sponge which makes me chuckle now because it turns out that moss (thanks Solace) or sand and water makes the perfect cleaner. I also used a long handled (to reach down into the pot or food bags) titanium spork.
I carried a Mora robust knife as well as a Leatherman Squirt PS4 multi-tool. The multi-tool had everything I needed for my vape, hygiene, first aid, etc. The Mora is my go-to for food-prep, wood carving, fire prep (including batoning w/ no problem). I think that the Leatherman was probably overkill and I could have used a Swiss Army Classic, but they are both very light.
Gear changes during the weather when you really want to go as light as you can. Dropping my sleeping bag and heavy clothes when it was HOTTTT in PA saved POUNDS on my back for a few months. This also allowed me to ditch the lid or “brain” of my pack because I had more space inside for the time being. Early on, I also made other changes. Stuff sacks were gone quickly. Trash bags are actually waterproof, disposable, and work for tons of things. Insulation layers definitely change throughout the seasons. You can obviously opt to not switch anything at all throughout the trip (many thru hikers don’t), but for myself, I already carry quite a bit and being able to save a little bit of weight for hundreds of miles was very appealing.
My clothes didn’t change very much throughout the trip, but I send my wool long johns home for a while in the summer. I also switched to a polyester tanktop from Walmart. I ditched underwear pretty early on. I hiked in a pair of LL Bean shorts and mostly carried a pair of REI convertible pants (didn’t use very often). A Reebok t-shirt held up the whole trip. Sleeping in a wool baselayer with thick wool socks felt oh so nice after a cold damp day hiking. Darn tough socks are what I wore hiking on the the trail, and they are now the only ones that I’ll wear day to day.
I also acquired some other items along the way. Fake Crocs from Walmart are the BOMB! Not only fashionable (I’m obviously joking), they are super comfy and even lighter then Crocs. I started without “camp shoes,” but now I love them. I also picked up a battery pack for my electronics instead of my solar panel. Solar panel technology does work these days, but the hassle and efficiency (lack of) made the decision for me. My 10aH battery weighs quite a bit (half a pound I think), but got my mp3 player, vape, and camera through stretches throughout the mountains in between charging opportunities.
Kayfun Lite v2 and iStick 30w battery. The 1.8ohm coil that I wrapped on 28 gauge wire lasted the entire trip.
Speaking of charging opportunities, I put a bit of research into this and went with a 3 port (2amp / port) charger made by Aukey from Amazon. It is definitely a little more hefty then what most people brought, but I could charge 3 devices at full speed and then be on my way while others were charging foreeeeeeevvver.
Water filtration system: SAWYER SQUEEZE! I changed my system up a few times. Initially Music Box and I shared a Coghlan’s pump filter (2 microns) w/ a sawyer mini inline (.1 microns) worked well for a little while, but soon got SLOOOOOWWWW. We ended up getting another sawyer mini so that we each had one and ditched the Coghlans “pre filter” idea that I had been previously so proud of. The minis were also painfully slow, so we both ended up with the original sawyer squeeze filters. These are great, and I highly recommend them.
Trekking pole tips protectors are useless and you always lose them, don’t bother.
Nalgene bottles make me laugh whereas they weigh about 8 ounces if my memory is correct. I’m a Gatorade bottle fan, or a 1L Pepsi bottle for my Sawyer.
Hats are too hot for me. When you are thru hiking, if you are not sweating, then you are not hiking (regardless of the temperature). Tie a bandana on your pack somewhere for easy access to wipe sweat.
Baby wipes are the key to success. Soap, hand sanitizer, deodorant, what a joke.
Poop trowels are very handy. Ultralight weenies like to use sticks or other makeshift implements, but I actually like to BURY my poop in accordance with LNT principles. Rocky ground is tricky and when you gotta go, something to help out that only weighs a few ounces is well worth it.
Record video in 720p instead of 1080p to save space and battery.
The mile crushing outfit
While this post certainly didn’t include every little thing that I carried on my hike, it doesn’t need to (plus the fact that my wife is getting very impatient with my post taking over a year to complete, and if I were to specify everything it would be a novel). Everyone carries different things. My kit is constantly changing. For example, I no longer carry rechargeable batteries w/ a charger for my headlamp as I’m only out for a few nights at a time these days. Future long distance hikers: do the research, but don’t try to solve every problem. You will learn along the way. You will learn tricks from other hikers and from your personal experience. If you ever have questions about gear or systems that I found to be useful on my trek then, by all means, please ask. I enjoy talking about hiking and especially giving my opinion (the correct opinion).
Happy trails everyone! Keep feeding that mile monster, he’s hungry.