AT Gear Plan: Secondary Gear

With all the big stuff out of the way, it’s time to focus on the important little guys. Sitting somewhere between Big 3 and Luxury, these Secondary Gear items fill in the gaps for other must-have things.  Items for water purification, lighting, electronics, etc. You could argue some of these are luxury items too, but for my planning purposes, not really.  These are things I know I will need on a daily basis, and although one could technically live in the woods for 5 months without them, it wouldn’t be pleasant.  This isn’t Naked and Afraid people, its more like Limited but Happy. Hello Neiman!

And now for this Week’s Political Questions (as if we could not have at least one)…

Water Filter vs. Water Treatment
Can you drink the water straight up? Yes. Will I take that chance? No. Water purification options are plenty, and choosing one is tough. Some prefer a filter, others prefer a chemical treatment. Because of how heavy, cumbersome, and tiring filters are, I moved to water treatment many years ago.  I do not like the taste of iodine (sorry Polar Pure fans), but a dash of chlorine isn’t bad. So, although the Sawyer Squeeze or Sawyer Mini are thru-hiker favorites, I will stick with Aqua Mira drops to begin. Unfortunately, though, these will run out after a few weeks – and when they do, I’ll decide whether to continue treating or switch.

Gun vs. Mace vs. Knife vs. Nothing
I am so sick of being asked whether or not I need to bring a form of protection. Although I understand others will feel different, I have no desire to carry a weapon. This is a beautiful trail and community, and I do not fear what a day’s hike will bring. The bear activity here is much different than the Rocky Mountain grizzly’s I am used to, and bear spray is not needed.  I have never and will never feel the need to defend myself with a firearm, so there’s no way this is the reason I start.  And this isn’t the jungles of the Vietnam War, no machete or hunting knife is adding to my safety.  I will have a very small Swiss Army knife for utility use, but that’s it.

Secondary Gear Items

Bag Cover / Liner. Most people skip a cover and instead just use a trash compactor bag as a liner. Good cheap option, but they don’t consider the weight added by a watered-down pack. It isn’t perfect, but I like my Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Pack Cover and would rather use it to protect the bag too. If 5 days of straight rain eventually penetrate through, I’ll deal with it then. To be safe, I also have stuff sacks to protect important items on theinside (e.g. quilts, hammock).

Water Purification. As mentioned above, the chlorine flavored Aqua Mira drops are my water purification of choice.  This 1 oz product will filter 30 gallons (120 water bottles), which should last a few weeks.

SPF Chapstick. I don’t have many oddities to me. One of them is the need to always have a stick of chapstick in my pocket.  Don’t know where it came from, but I’m just happier in life that way.  A tiny SPF12 Chapstick will cure the OCD factor while also keeping my lips moist and happy all day long.

Knife. As mentioned above, the only blade I need is a small utility knife. The Victorinox Classic SD has been a staple in my bag all my life, it has everything I need day-to-day and comes with a bonus file, scissors, tweezer and toothpick (another OCD need).  It may not thwart would-be attackers, but it covers everything else for which a sharp edge is required.

Night Items Stuff Sack. Nothing fancy, just a very small Sea to Summit Purple Stuff Sack to keep all my necessary night items together. I find it easier to just have one thing to grab when head to bed.

Ear Plugs. I’m a pretty light sleeper these days, so these Walgreens Super Light Foam Ear Plugs are a no-brainer when sleeping with 50 other people in a campsite.

Phone Wall Charger. I’ll need something with multiple USB inputs to handle the iPhone, Kindle, and/or Power Bank at the same time.  I’ll also need one that allows the device to plug in and rest on top of it. And lastly, I need one that will fast charge for efficient use of time.  The Ailkin Wall Charger checks all the boxes.

Phone Portable Charger. I’m not sure if a newer phone will still get the 3 charges out of this my old iPhone 6 does, but this Anker Astro E1 5200 mAh Battery should be enough to get me through 4 or 5 days if I keep the phone on airplane mode during the day.

Headphones. I’d love to upgrade to wireless air pods for this trip because, honestly, they are awesome. Seriously, I was a doubter too, but they are amazing and its time to forgive Apple for the weird looking design. Unfortunately though, that would be a silly waste of precious battery charge use, so standard Apple Ear Pods will have to do.

Mosquito Head Net. Ok, so the Dutch Chameleon has a built-in bug net, but for days when I sleep in a shelter and/or hike among black flies (very common in the NE states), a head net will be very nice to have.  The Sea to Summit Mosquito Head Net is only 1 oz and could be considered a luxury item for how rarely I’ll use it, but sometimes peace of mind is more important.

Phone/Camera & Case. I’m still deciding on this one. I recently upgraded to the iPhone X but it is crazy big, expensive, and heavy. For a trip like this, it really doesn’t make sense (even with that beautiful new camera). I’ll most likely sell and downgrade to the 125gb iPhone SE with enough memory to download all the music, books, and podcasts I need. TBD.

Sunglasses & Case. The Maui Jim Sugar Beach Aviators are slick, offer great protection, lightweight … and most importantly, durable. They are more likely to blow off your face, but fortunately will not break when they float to the ground. Great specs, highly recommended.

Camp Shoes. These Croc Classic sandals are a staple in most people’s packs … if they opt for camp shoes.  Many people leave these at home to go barefoot at the end of the day, but I like having them.  And more importantly, they are great for river crossings and town walking when off-trail.

Headlamp. It doesn’t have a red light, which is helpful when sleeping in shelters, but I don’t plan to sleep in shelters much.  This eGear LED Lighting EQ2 headlamp is super bright for its price ($10) and weight (1oz). The band allows you to wear it on your head or wrist, and the addition of a clip allows you to snap it on a hat bill or hammock ridgeline.

AT Gear Plan: Clothing Worn on Body

An ultralight purist will not include the items worn on one’s body in their “base weight”, but that doesn’t mean these ounces don’t matter!  It’s easy to get carried away and say things like your knife, gaiters, fleece, etc. count as “worn on body”, but let’s keep it simple for consistency – For this category, we are only talking about the items you wear on your feet, legs, torso, and head every single day regardless of weather.  Ok, with that settled, let’s discuss one heated political question …

Hiking Boots or Trail Running Shoes?
Like Tent vs. Hammock, this is another popular argument among hiking enthusiasts.  So much so, that multiple research studies have been done to validate the claim that “one pound on your feet equals 5 on your back”.  I can confirm, it’s true, the lighter your footwear, the lighter your pack feels overall. I know I will be replacing my footwear every 500 miles or so, but for the initial weeks, I will start with a light-weight hiking boot I know my body already likes. This way I can evaluate any early hiking issues knowing my shoes are not a variable. Later on, when replacements are needed, I’ll move to a breathable running shoe like the Saloman X-mission 3.  Hello Neiman!

Oboz Sawtooth Low

Hiking Boots. Oboz is a great company out of Montana, and the Oboz Sawtooth Low is a light-weight boot that already traversed the mountain ranges of Denali and Glacier National Parks. Oboz even calls out my needs on the website description, saying it is “proven on rocks and roots of the AT.”  As I strengthen my hiking legs early on, I’ll be happy to have this boot’s sole support and ruggedness to lean on. Only 15.6 ounces, and not high on the ankle, they are still pretty lightweight for thru-hiking.

Smartwool PdH Outdoor Light Mini Socks

Hiking Socks.  Not going to get into the conversation about liner socks vs. wool socks vs. injinji toe socks. I’ve tried them all and they all work … but no-one should obsess over socks too much. As long as you how to protect your feet from hot-spots and blisters, you can make any sock work. I prefer the Smartwool PdH Outdoor which I already know pairs well with my boots. They fit nicely, dry fast, and only weigh 1.8 ounces. They don’t come in orange, but nothing is perfect…

North Face Paramount Trail Convertible Pants

Hiking Pants. Lightweight? Check. Convertible to shorts? Check. Light and chafe-free? Check. I have only tested these out a couple times, but the Paramount Trail Pants are very comfortable and have yet to cause discomfort from chafing that I can tell. The one downside is lack of zipper to the back pocket, but I can live without that for a couple thousand miles of hiiking. I also love the color, as their ability to camouflage dirt and grime stains may keep me from looking like a hobo among people.

North Face Ambition Short Sleeve

Hiking Shirt.  One can use any shirt, don’t be fooled by anything fancy here. The only reason I’m picking this one is that I need to identify something, and saying “an old Ultimate Frisbee jersey” doesn’t look as fancy. I want a shirt to be lightweight, moisture-wicking, and odor-fighting – and The North Face Ambition Short Sleeve is a good combo of all 3.  Its polyester, which is not the typical merino wool others suggest, but this is a very comfortable and breathable tee.

ExOfficio Sport Mesh Boxer Briefs

Underwear.  It’s not often a grown man gets excited about underwear.  But how can I not gush over these amazing briefs?? (swoon).  Having gone through many variations over the years, including an attempt to eliminate all together with 2-in-1 shorts (skivvies), nothing beats ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh Boxers.  The ultralight mesh/ spandex material is breathable, quick-drying, antimicrobial, and a lot of other scientific stuff that equates to a very very very very very very very very comfortable fit.

Orange Tough Headband Buff

Bandana. Every trip I go on features at least one picture in an orange bandana, because I wear them exclusively every time I go backpacking. But the masses have spoken and I have listened, making the switch to an Orange Buff. Not so much for the versatility of wearing it 11 different ways, but for the ease of use and ability to double as a sleep mask (with a bandana, I have to deal with the uncomfortable knot). The orange bandana will still be backup, but this is the go-to head covering from now on.

Timex Ironman Classic Mid-Size

Watch. Breaking the initial rule above about non-worn things making this list is the Timex Ironman. I’m counting it in the Clothing Worn category because its never coming off. Simple, classic, digital, waterproof, lightweight and easy to use. It tells the time, has an indiglo night light, and an alarm.  No need to fixate on this, it’s just a watch. But this one has been with me a long time and is special to me, so I like that it’s coming along on my journey.

AT Gear Plan: The Big 3

The Big 3! The most intriguing, most expensive and by far heaviest of items a hiker carries on their back … and the ones that can cause the most anguish if done wrong! What we’re talking about here are the items that make up your Backpack, Shelter, and Sleep System. There is no shortage of options to mix and match a great setup for each, but you have to be content with what you decide – replacing these will be costly, frustrating, and limited on the trail.  Oh, and they damn well better hold up in the rain!

In this post, I’ll break down each item, why I chose it, and other variations I considered. The Big 3 are the foundation of your entire setup, and can “make or break” a good night’s sleep – meaning, it’s a good idea to test everything and be very confident with it in all weather conditions.  Keeping these items as light as possible is a constant negotiation between comfort, weight, cost, and technology innovation, so getting it right can sometimes feel like an expensive moving target.  I feel good about my setup and am confident it will last me all 2,190 miles comfortably.

But first, 2 political questions for the unfamiliar or morbidly curious:

Hammock or Tent?!
This question comes up a LOT in the forums and facebook groups.  There is no right answer, it is simply personal preference. There are some great light-weight tents out there, especially the ones that use hiking sticks as poles. But I tried hammocks a few years ago, and can’t go back to the ground unless I have to. It is a much more comfortable sleep, and allows for some creative modification of components … a great thing on the AT, because if one thing breaks, it’s easier to replace the component without needing to replace the whole tent.

Ok so hammock, why not mummy bag and pad?!
I thought I could get by with this, but I was wrong. Technically you can sleep on a pad in a hammock and avoid the need for an underquilt, but it’s really hard to stay warm. The pad does not stay put without a double-layer hammock or other modifications, and if you move around in your sleep a lot like I do, no parlor tricks will keep it under you. I tried everything to make this work, as I really wanted to have the option of a normal bag and pad for shelters/hostels, but going with a standard Top Quilt and Underquilt is a much better plan.  It adds a new luxury item dilemma to consider, but more on that later…

Ok, with that, here are my Big 3 items! Combined, they add up to 7.5 total pounds, which is a great place to start for a 15 lb goal base-weight.  Anything under 9 pounds for the Big 3 is a reliable strategy, so this should hopefully work out very well.

Osprey Talon 44

I love my Osprey Talon 44, it’s been my go-to pack for years. Although it is heavier than most UL packs at 37 ounces, it packs great features:  Solid back air ventilation, a soft hip belt, bottom-entry pack access, mesh back pocket, easy-access side pockets, quick access hip-belt pockets, and many other bells and whistles. The biggest perk to this pack is its size at 44 liters capacity, which will fit a ton but force me to minimize what else I bring. Other considerations I really like are the ULA Circuit and GG SIlverback.

Dutch Chameleon, UGQ WinterDream

The Dutch Chameleon is a premier modular bed. And with the added dyneema straps and whoopie slings, it can stretch 30+ ft between trees. The Hexon 1.6 material is lightweight but durable at 21.6 oz (with bug net). For rain cover, the UGQ Winterdream is heavier than a rectangle tarp, but those doors will be clutch to stay dry, comfy, and cozy in heavy rainfall. I heavily considered going to the ground with the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 tent, but the AT is easily hangable all the way to Mount Katahdin, so why not!

Enlightened Equipment Revelation, Revolt

As prefaced earlier, hanging requires a Top Quilt above & Underquilt below the hammock. For the cold start and end of the trail, the Enlightened Equipment Revelation and Revolt 20-degree 850 fill down quilts will keep me warm (#minnesotamade). Between Damascus and the White Mountains though, I’ll swap these out for 40-degree quilts I made from cheap Costco down blankets. Other alternatives were the Hammock Gear Econ line or the REI Igneo 25 mummy bag.


AT Gear Plan: Introduction and Strategy

(sigh) Gear … the most exciting and frustrating part of backpacking. Wait I love gear! How could it be frustrating?? Any avid hiker knows that life is simply an unending tug-of-war game between tried-and-true old gear and flashy new expensive gear. I wish I could be more like my father on this topic, and use the same daypack, stove, and hiking shorts for 30 years … but the allure of newer and lighter things simply never ends. For my thru-hike, this has challenged me deeply.

I’ve been planning this hike for 15 years, right? So for 15 years I’ve been reviewing and collecting gear I will eventually want for this hike. I have owned everything needed for this thru-hike over and over again. But outdoor gear companies simply refuse to stop innovating, and my wallet refuses to want to stay full of money. So I upgrade, and I upgrade, and I upgrade.  I’m pretty good at selling old gear, at least, so new purchases aren’t breaking the bank, but at some point I have to say “this is it”. And well, I’m happy to say now, this is it.

I have reviewed my gear and upgraded it to the point I can comfortably say I am ready to hike for 5 months with this all on my back. That being said, I know I need to make some more cuts. No more “I need to this new 7 oz puff jacket instead of my current 12 oz one”.  Now it’s just “Can I live without this extra windbreaker?”  Or “Can use this item for this purpose also?”

My goal continues to be an ultralight base weight of sub-15 pounds, and I’m currently over by 1.6 pounds, so I need to make some hard decisions.  Will the Kindle make the cut, or should I count on phone battery life and use that instead?  Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Future blog posts will break down each section of the Gear List and explain the purpose and rationale for each item, potentially with video.