Day 69: Harpers Ferry Zero Day

Day 69. Now that I have reached the (unofficial) halfway point to my Appalachian Trail thruhike, I used today to conduct a much needed and full evaluation of my backpacking gear thus far. Even though I am in Harpers Ferry, mileage wise, I spent my day off with family in Potomac, MD instead. It was a great rest day that included a massage, a trip to REI, a resupply, and a fun night babysitting my nephews. These days are precious to a healthy physical and mental experience on the AT. If nothing more, to be a goal you strive towards and then reward yourself for achieving.  But, let’s get back to the matter at hand. Gear, glorious gear.

I spent months years planning the gear I brought with me to Springer Mountain. So after 1000 miles on this trail, how did it all fair? Some worked out better than expected, some worse. Some things were replaced early on, others have lasted the test of time. I went through everything on my original Gear List, and others that were added later. If it isn’t important, I didn’t mention it below … but almost everything is important so it’s a long list. Apologies to those who don’t care, you can come back tomorrow. For everyone else, here’s a detailed breakdown of how my gear handled 1000 miles, and what is changing changing for the 2nd half of this adventure beginning tomorrow.

  • Backpack: As I mentioned a few times over the past few weeks, I failed to realize how much weight I would lose on this trip, and how it would effect the fit of my backpack. My Osprey Talon 44 has a hip-belt for a minimum men’s waist of 32″.  After losing 20 points in 2 months, I am now at a 30 or 31 inch waist. You cannot adjust or replace the hip-belt for a smaller size, so I have been forced to wear much of my pack weight on my shoulders for weeks. I considered replacing it with the Osprey Levity (their new ultralight series), but don’t want it to be obsolete a year from now when I gain that weight back. Also, I never saw a single one on the trail and wasn’t impressed in person. The two most popular UL alternatives on the trail are the ZPacks Arc Blast/Haul and the ULA Circuit. Neither are available at REI or local retailers in DC, so I ordered both to test which I like better. They are very similar, and both have their perks. Unfortunately, neither arrived in time, so I’m stuck with the Osprey until next weekend when they hopefully arrive and my sister can bring them to me. My gut says ZPack, because of the air ventilation in back, but we shall see.
  • Hammock & Tarp: Working great! I am proud to admit that I get a lot of compliments for my hammock setup. The Dutch Chameleon Hammock is solid, and the UGQ Winter Dream Tarp is heavily envied by other hammock hangers. The storm doors and large size for such a small weight are perfect for nights of heavy rain or wind. At least two other hikers have bought one after eying mine.
  • Hammock Quilts: No issues, complaints, nor changes. I was going to swap these 20 degree Enlightened Equipment quilts out for smaller summer ones, but I decided there is no reason to. They are great and although may be too hot at times, that can be mitigated easily. And I’ve never been too cold. There were some close nights in the Smokies, but it was manageable with a good sleeping pad and long underwear.
  • Sleeping Pad: This is old news by now, but my Thermarest Z-Lite Sol was unbearable as an emergency shelter pad. It was not nearly enough for a side sleeper like me, so I never slept more than an hour a night when trying to use it. I swapped it out in Gatlinburg for a Thermarest EvoLite, but then again swapped that out for the smaller, thicker, and lighter Nemo Astro Lite in Damascus. It was 40% off and too good a deal to pass up for those upgrades. This one is so nice, I almost don’t mind sleeping in shelters anymore … almost.
  • Shoes: If you’ve been following me this long, you know my frustration with the rocky trail terrain on my feet. I started with Salomon X-mIssion 3s, then bought Salomon XA Pro 3Ds for my 2nd pair because of the thicker sole andtoe box. Both have worked well, but neither protected my feet as much as I’d like on those rocks. Those were pretty good, but for my 3rd pair, I’m thickening the sole even more and going with Oboz Sawtooths (the boot I initially planned to start with). I already know they fit me well, and they should protect my feet more as a boot than trail-runners do. I’ll best these rocks yet!
  • Hiking Poles: I thought I didn’t need them, and I was dead wrong. After 4 days, I purchased LEKI Cressida Poles at Mountain Crossings. They have saved my life from rocks and rivers more times than I can count. Don’t be dumb like me, bring poles. And these ones are great, they are lightweight and have a really comfortable and lightweight cork handle. However, the metal tips broke (a day apart) about 2 weeks ago, and the 3 inches of plastic on the rest of the tip wore down to 1 inch in that time. LEKI doesn’t cover this in their warranty, but REI sells replacement tips for $20. I picked up a pair and swapped them out today.
  • Clothes: Short answer for a big category … Things that exceeded my expectations and should be considered by every hiker: Merino Wool T-Shirtand Dexshell Waterproof Socks. Things that are good and unchanged don’t need to be mentioned, those that failed or I’m done with are further itemized below.
  • Hiking Pants: Great early on, but unbearable as I lost weight. They caused my boxers to ride up and chafe more than normal, and the belt was more and more irritating as the inches came off. Now that it’s warmer, I am sending these home and replacing them with Nike Dri-Fit pants. They are extremely light weight and will serve my needs if its ever too cold for my Dri-Fit shorts. The shorts will be my hiking attire, but the pants will serve multi-purpose at night or on cold hiking days.
  • Underwear: Absolutely loved the Merino Wool Boxer Briefs. When combined with the T-Shirt, I swear I never had the “dirty hiker” smell. The material is very comfortable and completely odorless, keeping your stink very bearable. However, the boxers wore out after 4 weeks. Because of my hiking pants (see above), they rode up on me constantly and the thin material fell apart. I had to send them back to Smartwool to be replaced (warranty). Using my shorts and new pants, this hopefully shouldn’t be an issue again … when I get my replacement pair in 4-6 weeks. 😦
  • Fleece / Puffy: Both my Patagonia R1 Fleece Hoody and my Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer Puffy are excellent. The fleece is my best piece of gear, by far. Now that it’s warm, I don’t need both. So I am sending the puffy home for now and will pick it up again before the Whites.
  • Long Underwear: Worked great, but leaving home now for the summer.  I wore the pants at night a lot, but almost never wore the top. I wore my R1 Fleece every night at bed instead, which was more than enough warmth (excluding some of those early bitter cold snowy nights). Better to be safe than sorry on this one, so the thermals are coming back before the Whites too.
  • Winter Hat and Gloves: Needed them almost every day or night until Damascus, as this year was unseasonably cold. But stopped needing them mid-way through Virginia, so sent them home today. Will be the 3rd item I pick up again before the Whites.
  • Rain Jacket: The OR Helium II rain jacket is very popular out here, and mine worked great. But without pit zips, i constantly sweat on the inside and was just as wet. I don’t know if a jacket with pit zips would make enough difference, or a poncho for that matter, but it worked well enough for me this far. You’ll get wet, no way around that, so whatever makes you comfortably wet is the solution. This was and still is mine.
  • Rain Skirt: The skirt, on the other hand, was a knockout winner. I could never wear rain pants and handle sweat on my bottom half the same way. The EE Rain Wrap is another A+ gear item that others were envious of, and I love having out here. And I don’t care if it looks like I’m wearing a garbage bag, Mirra!
  • Buff: Everyone loves the buff these days, and I’m fully on board. I sent my extra bandana home after a couple weeks and use this almost every day. I hike in it and I sleep it in (great sleep mask). It’s also a nice lightweight hat, towel, etc.
  • Socks; Three pairs is the right amount for me. One pair of waterproof socks, one pair of Darn Tough wool socks, and one pair of Injinji wool Toe Socks. The toe socks were added after a pair of Smartwools quickly fell apart. They are important for me at night also, as my camp shoes are now flip-flops (see below). But they also were very helpful during the 4 days of straight rain when I started getting blisters.
  • Camp Shoes: I was ready to throw my Crocs away after 2 days but had to wait a week to finally find a pair of flip-flops at the Hiawassee Dollar General to replace them. Crocs are good camp shoes, but too bulky and heavy. I have only taken my boots off once to cross water, and I just walked across barefoot. When I hit Maine, I’ll need river shoes, but I’ll deal with that when the time comes. I did need to replace my original flip-flops in Waynesboro, as they started to wear thin … but at $1 a pair, I’m ok with that.
  • Food Bag: The Lopsak Opsak odorless bag was a great addition, but it is not very well made. Both this one and the tiny wallet bag I bought in Hot Springs quickly broke at the top where the seal closes. Its now very hard to open and close without leaving a hole (eliminating it’s purpose). I still use it, but would recommend any one else wanting to odor-proof their food to have extras ready at home for replacement.
  • Water Purification: I covered this in an earlier post as well, but my Aqua Mira phase is over. The combination of the solution eating a hole in my backpack pocket, bleaching my t-shirt, and being far too long to wait for on a hot day, did it in. Good for a short trip maybe, but not a thru-hike. I’m loving my Katadyn BeFree filter now, but the 0.6L flask I bought was too small. Today I bought a 2L Hydropack Seeker flask for it instead, which allows me to fill up once, and use it to fill both my smartwater bottles.
  • Battery Charger: If anyone tries to convince you that you need more than a 10,000 mAh charger, they are wrong. I have only come close to running out of juice on my Anker Powercore once, and didn’t even then.
  • Bag Cover / Liner: I thought my Sea to Summit Pack Cover would be enough, but it wasn’t. The rain seeped through early on and I added a cheap trash compactor bag on the inside to keep everything waterproof. It is starting to fall apart though, so I bought a 35L Ultrasil Dry-Bag today instead. Now everything goes in that, and that goes in the backpack. When I get my new backpack, which is considered “waterproof”, I’ll consider sending the Pack Cover home.
  • Headlamp: My cheap amazon eGear Headlamp is great for everything except night hiking. It has a much dimmer light than that of others, and is not enough for a true dark hike. But that’s ok, I only did it once and did not enjoy it, so won’t again. Their is a benefit to the dim light though, as it is easily useable in the shelter without annoying others. The heavier, more expensive headlamps have a red light for this reason … mine doesn’t need it.
  • Ear Plugs: I use them almost every night. I have avoided hearing many loud shelter farts thanks to these wonderful tiny ear canal sponges.
  • Mosquito Head Net: Haven’t used it once yet, but the bugs are coming. It’s 1 oz will come in handy very soon.
  • iPhone / Camera / Kindle: My used iPhone SE did not survive through the Smokies. My case was not waterproof, which likely caused the issue, but the screen was simply too small too. It was annoying (and difficult) to have to get a new phone in Gatlinburg, but the larger iPhone 8 is significantly better. Because of the larger screen, I was able to send home my Kindle eReader as well, ridding me of those unnecessary 7 ounces. Also, this time I didn’t mess around and bought the expensive Lifeproof Fre Waterproof Case.
  • Stove: The only item from my cooking gear that I changed was the stove. I originally brought a homemade alcohol stove and the BRS Ultralight canister stove as a backup. The alcohol stove failed me for 2 reasons and eventually was tossed. One, the alcohol would sometimes have trouble lighting in sub-freezing temperatures (which occurred too often). And two, the gas canisters easily last me 2 weeks before needing to be replaced. I had to replace alcohol every 3-4 days for the same weight of a canister. They sell them everywhere, so it has never been an issue.
  • Spork: Technically I didn’t change this … I just had to keep replacing it. My original plastic spork was lost, my replacement broke, my next replacement broke, and my 4th has finally lasted. A smarter Sharkbait would have bought a titanium spork with a hole and clipped it to my backpack, but I am not he.
  • Health Kit: Because I was chastised for it during my planning, I will give an update to this. I used 3 of the 6 band-aids and replenished them a few days later. I also have used just one of my pre-packaged mini-rolls of Leukotape (3 feet), but I’m glad I have more coming in each resupply box anyways. This is hard to replace on the trail and could be used up quickly. Also replaced some molefoam after the blister week. That’s it.
  • Repair Kit: I’ve used almost none of this. I replaced the rubber bands with hair binders that won’t break as easily, I used a few scraps of duct tape on one of my replacement sporks, and a couple extra carabiners for my hammock tarp. Everything else is unused.
  • Med Kit: I feel I don’t need Ibuprofen much at all. It may help if I take it, but I find that any pain subsides pretty quickly once I start walking. I do use my Ibuprofen PM whenever I sleep in the shelter though. I really struggled to sleep well in them, and the sleep-aid helps. Other than that, I thankfully haven’t needed much else (including Zyrtec).
  • Bug Spray: Haven’t used once, but like mentioned above … they’re a-coming.
  • Toothbrush: I replaced mine a couple times out here, just to be safe and clean.
  • Anti-Chafe Balm: I replaced my original Body Glide stick after a few weeks, but haven’t used it lately. I think your thighs gets acclimated to the rubbing after a while, and then it doesn’t chafe any more … at least, that’s been my experience.
  • Pillow: Waste of $40, sent it home after a couple weeks. The Exped AirPillow UL was slippery and constantly fell out from under me. Plus, I was much happier using my Puffy. Even on the coldest of nights, I never slept with my puffy on as it would block the body heat from my torso from reaching the rest of my body in my quilt.
  • Foot Massager: My pickle ball was a HUGE success (with me and others), and was part of my required nightly stretching routine for weeks. But once my trail legs came in at Hot Springs, I no longer needed it. I sent it home in Damascus.
  • Frisbee: I decided not to bring one, then bought one in Hot Springs. After not using it for 2 weeks, I sent that one home in Damascus. There was simply never a chance or people to toss with. (Any friends joining me in Maine would be wise to bring one for us though, hint hint).
  • Corncob Pipe: Alas, I’ve used this only 2 or 3 times. Its funny, because I enjoy it on other camping trips and thought I’d love having it out here. But I am so tired at night that I pass out almost immediately after dinner. There were a couple good opportunities with campfires early on to relax with my pipe, but nothing in weeks. I’m keeping it (for now) because I’m stubborn, but this is probably dead weight.

And that’s everything worth noting! Sorry it’s so long, but if you didn’t care for detailed gear reviews on a thru-hike, you probably aren’t reading this blog … and you definitely didn’t get to the end of this post. As for me, I am now (almost) all fixed up with my gear and ready to hit the trail again. My backpacks will hopefully arrive by Saturday, so I can compare the 2 options and swap out the Osprey when my family comes for one last visit in Allenberry, PA. As for my mental fortitude, I am good to go. I am eager for the next 1166.1 miles and to conquer the rest of the beast that is the Appalachian Trail. Still loving it, still hiking it!

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1024.8
  • Start Time: 00:00
  • End Mile: 1024.8
  • End Time: 00:00
  • Miles Hiked: 0.0
  • Miles to Go: 1166.1
  • Lodging: Family (Potomac, MD)

21 thoughts on “Day 69: Harpers Ferry Zero Day

  1. Great gear review. I will definitely come in handy as I finish my initial gear list prior to testing this fall.

    I use Oboz Firebrand II here in Rocksalvania on the AT and they have worked well. Hopefully they help as you traverse the “flat & well-worn forested trails” of the Keystone State.

    God Bless & Hike On!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Tom! I may be a bit overly sensitive, but I don’t know what flat and well-worn trail you speak of. Haha

      Like

  2. We are on the third pair of shoes already? Honestly, I think you will be so happy with boots.

    I am glad you are keeping the bandaids.

    Sending love from MN – we are proud of you for making it to Harpers Ferry!

    Like

  3. Half way! What a milestone! Happy to get the gear update. Even after my only four days with you, I know I would have made changes. I hope the packs arrive on time for you. Have a great day on the trail today!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great update! Love the detailed gear review! I’m always impressed that you are typing this up on your phone and embedding links and such. Will you do a food review when you get a chance? Love to hear what adjustments you’ve made from your original plan. Also, random question, can you tell how many people read your blog every day?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great list Michael – enjoyed the review. Our basement looks like a glorified garage sale as I begin to assemble my gear to join you.

    Michael and I spoke and some length, and I am going with his recommendations for water filters and water bottles. I’m replacing my First Need Water Filter with the “BeFree” system. I also bought a new stove (Snow Peak) which is self-lighting and attaches directly to the propane canister. I’ll have a back up cigarette lighter when the self-ignition unit fails (I assume it will, but we’ll see). This replaces my MSR Whisper Light propane stove. I also bought a GSI pot to replace my two-tiered aluminum nestled pot kit. The propane canister fits nicely inside..
    I am opting to bring my Teva water sandels. Yes, they are relatively heavy, but I have a priority to protect my feet, and the thought of hiking in wet shoes for hours/days (I’ve done it) does not appeal to me.
    Okay… I’m on my way to pick up a quantity of gallon zip-lock bags and some of my non-perishable food items.
    Again… great list Michael! Keep on truckin’
    xxx
    mom & dad

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great work. When you kept going on about how long it was I waited until I had plenty of time. I was expecting “War and peace”. You work was well written and edited. It was informative and easy to read. The only thing that made me laugh was the bit about the food bag. There is absolutly nothing that can hide the smell of food from animals. If a bear can smell tuna two miles away there’s no bag you can use to cover the smell.
    I really could have used your reviews of equipment years ago. It would have been helpful. Of course some of the things didn’t exist or were just too expensive. The first hiking poles I ever saw were German at over $300.
    Thanks for the work and sharing. Happy Trails

    Liked by 1 person

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