I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while since I know some of you are interested in backpacking and maybe even hiking a long trail like the Appalachian Trail.
In the first third of the trail I made some significant changes in my gear and I want to share those with you. I researched my original gear choices very thoroughly but no amount of pre-hike research can replace actual experience on the trail and the lessons you learn from using you gear in the field. I also learned a lot from other thru-hikers and took their advice into consideration. If the is one guiding principle for all of your gear it is to find the lightest and most compact gear possible. I am convinced that paying a little more for light, compact, high quality gear is worth it and will increase your chances of having a pleasant and successful backpacking trip. After all, you’re going to be using this gear a lot on a long trip like hiking the AT.
Here are the changes I made in my gear:
1. Backpack – I switched from my GoLite Jam to a ULA Circuit. The hip belt on the Jam had a limited range of adjustment and when I lost weight I found I could not tighten it any further so I was carrying the weight of the pack on my shoulders which is very uncomfortable. When I reached Damascus, VA I went to Mount Rogers Outfitters and Jeff, who works there, spent over an hour working with me on finding and fitting the right pack. The ULA Circuit is great and I am 100% satisfied with it. Not only is it much more adjustable than the GoLite Jam, it is a much better engineered pack. I highly recommend ULA packs but regardless of what brand you buy be sure to find a knowledgable salesperson to help you select a pack that meets your needs and fits you well.
2.Tent – I started out with an MSR Hubba one-person tent. It worked fine until the cross pole broke and I had to use a splint on it until I got to Lexington, VA and the went to the REI in Richmond to return it. I upgraded to a Big Agnes Copper Spur one-person tent which was more expensive than the Hubba but well worth it. There are several features of the Copper Spur that make it a better tent, in my opinion. The first is that the cross pole is under much less stress when the tent is put up and is less likely to break. The second is that the tent weighs considerably less. The third is that the ‘tub’ of the tent – the part that keeps the rain out – is much higher so when a hard rain is falling and the wind is blowing strong, you don’t get rain drops or spray in the tent. Finally, the Copper Spur is designed to be wider at the end of the tent where you lay your head and narrower at the foot. I didn’t think this mattered much but after using it I can see that it does make a difference. Overall I think the Copper Spur is more durable, lighter and a better tent for a long backpacking trip.
3. Sleeping Bag – I started with a Mountain Hardwear Ultralamina 15 degree synthetic bag and it was fine for the beginning of the trip when it was really cold. After it warmed up I wanted to switch to a lighter down bag so I got a Mountain Hardwear Phantom 32 degree down bag which I should be able to use for the rest of the AT. With both bags I have used a sleeping bag liner that adds about 10 degrees of warmth and helps keep the sleeping bag clean. When it is really warm at night I can use the liner by itself. Last night, for instance, I started out with just the liner but in the early morning hours I pulled the down bag over me. I had unzipped it when I went to bed and used it like a quilt when I got cold. The down bag weighs about one pound less than the synthetic bag. The synthetic bag certainly did its job keeping me warm when I needed it but now it’s good to be using the lighter down bag.
4. Shoes – I started the hike wearing Keen Voyageurs after having worn a pair on the Camino de Santiago last year. I liked the Voyageurs but wanted to try some lighter trail runners so I got a pair of Vasque Mindbenders at the REI in Asheville, NC. I love the Mindbenders and am now on my second pair. I got 800 miles out of the first pair which is pretty remarkable. One trick I have used with them is to use a small amount of super glue to coat seams that are exposed to abrasion from rocks on the trail. I think this helps extend the life of the shoes.
5. Stove/Cooking Pot – I may have mentioned this back before I started the hike but just before I left I switched from a Jetboil stove to an MSR Micro Rocket with an MSR titanium pot. I had two problems with the Jetboil. First, I could not adjust the flame low enough to simmer and frequently got boil overs. Second, the built igniter quit working after about ten uses. The MSR Micro Rocket is great and fits inside the titanium pot along with a small fuel canister and a lighter. Oh yeah, the MSR stove/pot combination weighs about half of what the Jetboil weighs and also takes up only half as much space in my pack.
That’s all I have to write about gear for now except to say that this is only what is working for me. You may find that something different works better for you. That’s great..I’d be interested to hear what you’re using.
Here’s a photo of my Vasque Mindbenders on the summit of Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia.