(This has been updated)
In 2012 I set off on the Appalachian trail for a section hike with a backpack weighing in the range of 60-70lbs. This was one of my first real backpacking experiences… and I sure learned a whole lot! I learned that all the comforts of home I was carrying didn’t actually add anything to my enjoyment of the wilderness. By the end of that 250 mile section my ankles hurt, my back hurt, and I hobbled around for a week after.
Since that hike I really started to look at my gear in an effort to lighten up as to learn from the past. I began pairing down what was necessary, and developing a style of my own along the way. Through the course of hundreds of trips, and mountains of research I found that as my pack got lighter, walking got easier, and life got simpler. I am no longer in pain, and I now enjoy being in the woods even more!
Since deciding to take on 4,000 miles of the Eastern Continental Trail, I’ve collected all the gear that makes me the most happy, I’ve spent a whole lot of time on the trail, and I’ve stayed tried and true to the philosophy that less is more. My base pack weight, the weight of my gear without counting food or water, is just under 7lbs to start the AT, and I’ll likely get that down to 6lbs once the weather warms up. This is the gear I’ve been fiddling with for the past two years. Everything has been used thoroughly, and prior to that researched endlessly.
My gear list can be found here if you wish to look at individual weights and everything in a more condensed form. This list is live so when I change something you can see it there.
Some of this gear is expensive, some of it isn’t. I could have thru hiked last year but I wanted more time to hike in my local area for training, learn new skills, and continue my research. I’m very happy with this decision. It has allowed me to buy the exact gear that I want, and learn how to use it as second nature. You’ll find that with sufficient research most ultralight gear is actually cheaper.
Everything on this list is something I fully support, unless stated otherwise. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t be carrying it.
If you too are looking to shave weight from your pack, don’t rush it. With experience will come weight savings. Only after spending a very long time in the woods have I gotten to this point. I am still always looking to lighten up, try new things, and become more efficient with the gear I use.
This is a series of mini reviews of the gear I’ll be starting out with on the Appalachian Trail for a mid June start up north, in Maine. I expect low temperatures for the first 500 miles, and a whole lot of rain for the entire trip. I will be going solo, and plan on taking advantage of shelters in heavy storms. I will continue past the AT to the Florida Trail, and my gear will remain the same. I expect to reach Florida sometime around October or November after finishing the AT in September… if all goes as planned. A faster thru hike is my goal, and I think my gear reflects that.
Mountain Laurel Designs Burn 32L Backpack
I love this pack so much I bought 2 of them! I have used it for the past two years, and its gone over a thousand miles without any sign of wear or tear. It’s everything I ever wanted in an ultralight pack. It’s frame-less so I use my sleeping pad to give it rigidity, and save weight. This pack is minimalism at its finest with no useless flairs or features, and weighing in at only 11 ounces! Fast and efficient, everything you need, and nothing more. The most food I’ve had in it has been 9 days and that was pushing this pack to its absolute limits. I wouldn’t carry more than 25 pounds with this thing which is why I don’t recommend it to most people. It was made for really low weights, and a more fastpacking versus backpacking attitude. I really like the design, and since I’m going for a faster thru hike, carrying less than a normal amount of gear, this backpack suits my style perfectly. I actually cut off the hip belt it came with on the first one I purchased, and for the second one MLD made it for me without one. My pack weight is so low I don’t need the extra hip support, and thus it’s just dead weight to me. It allows a quicker style of use, and I dropped a few ounces in the process.
MLD makes the Prophet which is slightly bigger and would be more suitable for most people. The Burn is tiny, at 32~ liters you seriously have to pair your gear down to only the essentials. Non bulky, lightweight, essentials at that! The small size is possibly one of my favorite parts about it. I see day hikers carrying bigger packs than me. I used to use a GossamerGear G4 which was of similar style but really wide. The Burn has a really skinny profile, and I love that in comparison. It doesn’t catch on anything protruding into the trail, and sits very centered on my back.
I’ve taken this pack through some harsh conditions, and put the pain down on it. It’s held up through everything with no sign of slowing down. It’s made of a very strong, and light weight fabric called Dyneema. Able to withstand even the most brutal of falls, scrapes, long term use, and general mishaps. I know this pack will not fail mechanically on me in any way, even after thousands of miles. Mountain Laurel Designs has done an amazing job of making a well built, durable, and extremely lightweight backpack. Very comfortable as well! The most comfortable pack I’ve used to date. In comparison to carrying my monster from the AT in 2012 or any pack since, this is a dream with shoulder straps.
I will use this pack for all my future hikes. The small size is pushing it for a thru hike, but I think with my minimalist kit I will be able to happily manage. One day I’d like to make my own pack but even then it would roughly be the same design as this.
Mountain Laurel Designs Pack Liner
The idea behind a pack liner is that if you have a big bag full of your gear, sealed, it will keep out any water. Most traditional backpackers will use a pack cover which just covers 2/3rds of your pack and lets water seep in through your back. A pack liner keeps everything out, where it belongs. A pack liner weighs less than a pack cover and does its job exponentially better. The reason I bought the MLD pack liner versus the typical trash compactor bag that you can find at any grocery store is that the MLD version fits my tiny pack better. A true trash compactor bag would be far more durable but I like how this fits. It’s ever so slightly lighter as well. I guess I couldn’t resist. So far the MLD pack liner has held up over the last year of serious hiking. I expect I’ll have to replace it sooner than later. Came with two for just 5$.
Enlightened Equipment Enigma 20 Degree Quilt
Enlightened Equipment makes some quality quilts! I highly recommend them. I also own a quilt from another highly regarded cottage company that I use for warmer weather, and I’ll say the difference between the two companies is night and day. When it comes to quality my EE Enigma is top notch. Everything about it. The degree of warmth, the stitching, the small details, and the low weight are all on point. It’s a worth while company to look into if you’re contemplating a new sleep system.
What is a quilt? A quilt is a sleeping bag without a back or zipper, which saves loads of weight! I choose a quilt over a bag because when you lay in a sleeping bag you’re compressing and crushing the insulating material, and it’s no longer keeping you warm. Only the fabric on top of you is actually doing anything for you. So all that fabric you sleep on top of is dead weight. Potentially a large sum of weight, that you have to carry! A zipper is too since you just tuck the sides of the quilt under neath you. This can create drafts if you happen to untuck one of the sides while you sleep by rolling around, but I haven’t had a problem with that yet. I like how this quilt comes with vertical baffles, which hold the down in place better, instead of horizontal. With horizontal baffles the down tends to migrate to your sides leaving your front exposed without insulation.
I got this with a rating of 20 degrees as I’ll be starting my hike in Maine just after winter. There will still be cold nights and I could get away with less but I’d like 20 degrees so that I could use this same quilt on other trails with more harsh weather. It’s a small luxury but It’s actually lighter to carry a slightly heavier sleeping bag than to get that same warmth from extra clothing. The downside to that idea is that to stay at your peak warmth you must be in your sleeping bag and not able to be hanging around camp wearing your extra clothing. With my style of hike hike hike, camp to recharge, this is what I want. Since I’ll be hiking all the way south into winter I also foresee running into some cold nights in Florida assuming I’ll be hiking the FT in November/December. So 20 degrees seemed like the proper choice all around.
Some people like for their jacket to have a hood or for their sleeping bag to have a hood, you wont get that with a quilt. I believe this way is a more modular system. You can’t remove the hood, and you certainly can’t wear your bags hood while you hike. Thus I carry a beanie to sleep in or hike in. Same effect with many more uses.
While on the Appalachian Trail it’s going to warm up maybe 500 or so miles into my hike, and at that point I will send this home and swap it out for my much lighter 40 degree bag. Once I’m very sure it’s not cold anymore this will drop half a pound from my back just as I’ll be picking up the miles!
GossamerGear Nightlight Torso Length Sleeping Pad
Do I like this pad? Yes. Would I recommend it? No. If you camp in a location with a lot of natural ground cover like leaves, grass, or pine needles it’s great. Those things provide extra insulation from the cold hard ground. More comfort and padding. If you are one to choose a campsite near a shelter or in an area commonly camped on this pad will not be comfortable, it will purely take away the “edge”. Unless of course you like a stiff bed. So you will commonly find me camping in locations away from shelters in areas that aren’t used often or ever before. I do like this pad, and I will continue to use it until I am older, and require something more cushy. The pad is stiff but if I sleep on my back, and follow the guidelines above I get good sleep, and sleep comfortably sleep with it. This pad is also used as the frame for my frame-less backpack giving it form and rigidity, and as my camp chair while lounging around after a long day. It also happens to be extremely light at just 4.9 ounces. Which is why I would only recommend it to those who are really looking for the lightest possible setup.
It’s a great foam pad but you have to think about your sleeping location a little more than the next guy. It’s only the length of my torso, from my shoulders to my butt so I use an inflatable pillow under my head, put my backpack under my feet for added insulation from the ground, and to elevate my feet at night for better recovery. The bottom half of your pad is mostly useless, so cut it off! You can even do this with inflatable pads if you have one, using a hot iron to seal it up again. It’s your upper body that really needs the most insulation unless hiking in winter, while your backpack can separate your legs and feet from the ground.
Exped Ultralight Air Pillow Medium
Of all the camping pillows in existence I’ve found this one to have the most positive reviews. I’ve personally found it to be very comfy, and I have happily carried it on all of my hikes in the past year without issue of breakage or a bad nights rest. Before this I used my shoes, blown up ziploc bags inside a stuff sack, clothes inside a stuff sack, and my food bag as different pillows. Yes, seriously, my food bag. Although all of those are good choices, this pillow is really comfortable, and offers superior sleep. Getting a good nights rest is very important to having a strong day of hiking, and you won’t go wrong with this cushion of air. Even the fabric on top is nice against the face, and doesn’t feel like plastic. Sometimes it slips out from under me a little but due to its curved shape I always wake up with it under my head. I remember this pillow as being on the pricier side but I would still buy it again if the one I own breaks beyond repair. I do worry about it busting so I do try to be very careful with it. I highly recommend an inflatable camp pillow, and this one works wonderfully for me.
Mountain Laurel Designs 5×9 Cuben ProPoncho Tarp
I’m a tarp guy. I wasn’t always. I used tents for years and even bought a really nice one. Then I decided I’d get a cheap tarp and try it out. I never looked back. There is much beauty to behold in a flat tarp. You can set it up in almost endless configurations depending on your skill, and the weather. If you have a really amazing view you can set it up to have a nice vantage. If you have a crazy storm you can pitch it low, and away from the weather. Most tarps provide much more space than a tent, and they do it at a small fraction of the weight. Only recently have tents gotten to a point where they weigh 2 pounds or less. Where as I could buy a tarp that weighs around 4 ounces and it would provide twice the space. This particular tarp gives me 45 square feet, doubles as my rain gear, and only weighs half a pound with all of its guy lines. When my options are a 2lb tent with a 6oz rain jacket, or an 8oz tarp that doubles as a rain poncho, I’m saving almost 2lbs off of my back. A tarp is another one of those things were the amount of skill, experience, or research you’ve done will dictate how useful it is. Or rather how much fun you can have with it, and how happy you’ll be with your decision. Practice, practice, practice, much like everything else.
One of the tips to having a lighter pack is having more multi-use items. This poncho tarp embodies that. As I mentioned, I’m saving pounds off of already really lightweight tent setups. Not only because tarps are by nature lighter weight, but also in this case it’s multi-use, eliminating another piece of gear from my backpack, the rain jacket. As tarps go this one is rather small at 5×9 so I am risking it with the sheer amount of rain on the east coast, but with the intention to use shelters when needed, and my brain when choosing a site to camp I think I can out smart the weather. If you’re not already very experienced with a tarp I would not recommend this particular shelter. The overall size makes it a tight fit, and increases the risk of use by a considerable amount if the conditions aren’t good. A more comfortable size for a new tarp user would be 7×9 or upwards of 9×10. The small size does dictate that I generally set it up lower to the ground in a storm, and have to be more careful with where I’m camping.
This is a very specialized piece of gear, yet as a tarp still remains flexible. My choice of bringing it on the AT is that if need be I can stay in one of the many shelters that litter the trail. I plan on taking advantage of those lean-tos when I can as the margin for error with this piece of gear is rather small in bad weather. In constantly wet, and raining conditions without the option of these shelters this tarp wouldn’t be a very wise choice. To make things easier I use mini carabiners(instead of having to tie knots daily) to make setting up, taking down, and changing to poncho mode easiest in inclimate weather. Carrying an umbrella really helps the transition from rain gear to shelter in a storm, as well. For the Appalachian Trail, with all its rain and glory, I’ll be using the shelters very frequently to escape the rain.
The whole product is extremely well built, and designed. The rain gear aspect of it is awesome. This essentially replaces a rain coat, rain pants, and a pack cover. I absolutely love that my shorts stay dry, and that I don’t have to wear rain pants or a rain kilt using this poncho. It goes over my entire body, and my pack, keeping both the outside, and its contents dry. The hood on it is really well made, and as I understand was recently redesigned in the version I have. It fits great over my head and I can cinch it tight so when I look around it follows with me. Has a cute little brim too, keeping the rain out of my eyes.
My biggest factor for looking into this in the first place was how much I disdained rain jackets, and their lack of breathability. All rain jackets have big issues with breathing, you simply sweat them out, negating almost all reason of wearing them in the first place. Being a poncho this breathes extremely well by letting air flow in from under my arms, and the dress portion around mu legs, keeping me dry of perspiration and rain. You can tie the poncho close to your body with a guy line for really bad weather, or you can let it hang loose and have maximum air-flow. This is wonderful in a very wet climate, with sweltering humidity, like the AT and FT. Being a Florida hiker, humidity is nothing new. A rain jacket simply wasn’t working for me, and this was the answer. I now hike more comfortably than ever in the rain.
Most peoples issues with tarps are that they think they’ll either get wet in a downpour, or the bugs will get them. A tarp is actually even better in a storm than a tent. You have multiple ways to set it up, plenty of space, and once you set it up no more rain is falling, and you can peacefully put down your dry ground sheet for a water free zone. Having to set up a tent in the rain I found that I would get rain in the tent, and then have to mop it up before I could do anything. That isn’t an issue with a tarp as it stops the rain before you put down your ground sheet. When it comes to bugs, they are an issue in Florida, it can be remedied with just about any bivy or bug netting. If you set up your tarp so that a draft can blow through, the bugs will be blown away! If you pitch your tarp away from water then you are avoiding even more of them.
Overall I’m very happy with this tarp, and the experience of using a tarp as my primary shelter as a whole. There’s nothing like the feeling of closeness with your surrounding wilderness you get while being under a tarp, and not zippered up inside a rigid tent. The same goes for being in the rain under your tarp. You’re there, you see it, you could touch it, but only if you want to. It’s really magical to hang out dry, while the rain falls around you.
Mountain Laurel Designs did an amazing job with this tarp. I wont be using a bivy with it as I find them too confining. Maybe in the future I will.
How to pitch a Tarp: Suluk46
How to minimize condensation
Stakes – 8
I use titanium stakes to keep my tarp pitched to the ground, tight, and in position. I also use them as a poop trowel. Titanium is lighter than steel, and more sturdy than aluminum. I have found only using the skinny shepherd hook stakes isn’t quite enough unless you put rocks on them to keep them in place when the ground isn’t so stable. So I use 6 shepherd hook stakes and 2 stakes on the most crucial points, the ridge-line, that are shaped like a V. The V shaped stakes are so much more secure in soft sand or ground with a lot of brush.
A ground cloth is almost a necessity with a tarp. I guess I’ve seen people without them but that is beyond my knowledge thus far. If you’re using a tarp you’ll want one of these. Polycryo versus Tyvek is the question. The only reason I would use Tyvek over polycryo is that Tyvek is more durable. If I were using a blow up sleeping pad and was worried that rocky ground might pop it this would be the answer. I use a foam mattress so this isn’t an issue. Polycryo is far lighter and will still keep me off of the ground. As I mentioned with the tarp is that once you get it set up you can pull out your ground sheet and you have dry ground to organize your things, eat your food, and sleep.
I’m using the size medium from GossamerGear. This stuff is some sort of common construction material used for windows. Forget the name exactly but large quantities can be gotten for cheap. I buy from GG because it’s still pretty cheap, they give you two of them, and they probably last a good 500 miles or more depending on where you’re using it.
DIY Bug Net Condom
Weird name huh? I attribute this marvelous piece of gear, and idea to Lint. Lint has been a big inspiration to me while researching the hiking world, and this is a totally ingenious idea that he came up with.
This will be my bug protection, which will be much needed up north at the start of summer, in the land of lakes, Maine.
It is a large bug net that is close to 5 feet in length, and it slips ontop of an umbrella. When I lay down to go to sleep I slip this bug net over my umbrella, open it up, it keeps the netting off my face, and gives me living space. It’s like a miniature tent… for my upper body. The net only goes down to my torso, and gets tucked into my quilt, creating a seal between me, and the nasty mosquitoes trying to suck my blood. My quilt acts as the second half of my bug protection, which is why this is so light. This particular system weighs less than most bivies(the alternative option for tarp users,) and I find it to be vastly more comfortable. I have room to eat inside, read, I don’t feel claustrophobic like I do inside a bivy, and most importantly it keeps all the bugs out! I love how simple it is, there are no zippers, and I can easily take it on or off of me. I don’t have to stake it down, or tie it up to my tarp like most bivies. I just take out my umbrella, and open it inside the netting! Some who choose to tarp in bug season, and want to go extremely light only use a bug head net with their sleeping bag over 95% of their body. That system fails when it’s to hot outside, and you wish to take off your sleeping bag, thus leaving you exposed to the bugs. This is similar to a bug head net but 5 times the size, and more robust! Being that your umbrella is behind your head you also have the added benefit of rain protection at your head end.
Love this piece of gear although the one downside is it does nothing for splash from rain coming in on your sides or your foot end. If you are experienced with a tarp this can be prevented with site selection, and how you pitch your tarp. Due to the heavy rain on the Appalachian Trail, and the Florida Trail a bivy would be the better option, but with the availability of shelters every 10 miles on the AT I can always hide out in one for the night if need be.
Water / Eating
Aquamira Water Purification Drops
My favorite of all water filters. It’s a chemical solution of chlorine dioxide, and an activator. When mixed and added to water, will kill bacteria, viruses, guardia, and crypto. It is two bottles that you mix in a little cap, let sit for 5 minutes, add to 1 liter of water and hike on while you wait another 15 for it to do its job. This is why I love it. I spend 5 or so minutes eating a snack while the liquid readies and I’m off again. I started first with a pump style water filter that weighed a pound, was bulky, and had tubes everywhere. You would sit there and pump away until you had water. It was annoying and eventually got clogged and took more effort, time, and patience to get it to work. I swapped to a Sawyer Mini which was toted as the lightest water filter on the market. Again after just a few trips the filter got clogged beyond repair and I wound up drinking all sorts of unfiltered water cursing the darn thing out. At best the flow rate on the Sawyer Mini was terrible. It would take me anywhere from 20-30 minutes to squeeze a liter out of it. After not long I couldn’t squeeze anything out of it.
I met this guy on the trail who laughed at my aquamira drops and how I had to wait to drink my water. I added my mixture and was a mile away before he had half the amount of treated water than I did.
Bottom line is Aquamira is efficient and extremely light weight. The more disgusting the water the longer you should wait to drink it. It says to use 7 drops of each but I only use 5 on most water. Never been sick and I’ve certainly drank my fair share of putrid water. I love the get up and go style which is what I center my entire backpacking kit around.
If I were to switch to anything beyond this it would be bleach. Same idea but only 1 bottle necessary instead of the 2 for Aquamira.
2x Smart Water 1 Liter Water Bottles
These are my choice of water bottles. They are lighter than Gatorade bottles and the long and skinny profile fits well in my backpack pockets making it easy to remove while walking. I like these over a water bladder because a bladder and the tubes weight a whole lot more than people think. This is the easiest way for someone to drop weight from their pack as it seems like most people use a bladder without giving attention to trying two bottles.
On the AT water comes frequently and is plentiful. Frankly I could do this trail with less than 2 liters of carrying capacity but the 2 liters is specifically for camping. Have extra water for food, the morning, and less trips to a source in general.
Plastic Ziploc Screw-Top Container For Soaking Food
Going stove-less on the trail. This isn’t my first bout of stove-less cooking, I’ve been doing this for most of the last two years with the exception of a few overnight trips. Some say this is masochistic to not cook food for weeks or months while hiking. I personally love it. I used to carry a canister stove with the big bottle of fuel and that was obviously very heavy and bulky. I decided to switch to a cat food can alcohol stove. That was pretty awesome. Much lighter than the canister stove, looked badass, and it was very small. Until I stepped on it. I made another, and once lit a table on fire, another time I burned my leg pretty bad. I decided to stop using those. They are very accident prone. I actually had someone else step on the final one I made! Squished my cat food can like a mushroom in Super Mario Bros. I love the alcohol stove idea, and I think everyone should make one as its a very good thing to know. They’re also known as a ‘hobo stove’ as you can make them very cheaply and pretty much wherever you are. The true and biggest problem with them if you’re careful enough to avoid accidents or areas with fire bans is the fuel you have to carry! A big bottle of HEET or a repackaged smaller bottle of denatured alcohol. So for short trips they’re sweet as you wont find many stoves lighter. For long trips the weight of the fuel outweighs the benefits.
After all this fiddling with stoves I found some articles online talking about stove-less cooking. Its more of a soaking, or a re-hydrating. You put your food in your plastic screw top container, add some water, and let it sit for a mile or two as you walk. Boom you’ve got ‘cooked’ food. It’s completely hassle free, it reduces on smell by a considerable amount, and the food tastes the same at room temperature as it does hot. If you’re hiking big days you won’t even care. Did I mention how much lighter this is than a stove? I just looked up your typical cat food can stove, and eating system for a former AT thru hiker. The total weight including fuel was 1 pound. My screw top container and my spoon(my entire cook-set) weighs 2 OUNCES. That’s 14 ounces saved, or in other words almost a pound. There are few places you can lose this kind of weight from your pack without upgrading gear and spending a bunch of money. That’s significant.
When eating stove-less I do a lot of couscous, noodles, powdered mashed potatoes, and granola with powdered milk. I’ll add anything and everything to these meals. spices, dehydrated vegetables, olive oil, etc. I recommend trying this sometime and you may be surprised. The possibilities of no cook meals are endless especially if you have a dehydrator. I’m currently working on vegan meals that are extremely healthy, once I have a few of those nailed down I’ll likely do a post about that.
These screw top containers can be found at your local grocery store. You could also use a peanut butter container or a gelato container. Has to be screw top and you must be sure it won’t leak.
Food Bag – OPsak
This is my food bag. Its an odor proof bag in the size of 20 x 12.5. I can fit about 5 days of food in it and I will put my first days food in my backpacks outer pocket if I need to carry more. I’m not going to go to far into detail but I have no intention of hanging my food away from animals unless there are bear poles available. No, I don’t want your opinion on this 🙂 Using this bag isn’t fool proof but it adds to a degree of being careful that I hike by. This bag is a piece to a puzzle of an overall low odor strategy. If you want a serious review check out “swami” who is a man with more than 55,000 miles of backpacking long trails under his belt.
At night I keep this bag under my feet to elevate them and reduce swelling while I sleep. It could also be used as a pillow. Another really great idea if you are worried about critters is to keep your smelly shoes and socks on top of it to mask any additional odor. This is a trail tip from Bobcat.
Fits nicely in my pack, holds a considerable amount of food, and best of all I’ve yet to have critter or ant problems using it. Nice bag, would recommend.
A plastic spoon is lighter, you can also cut a plastic spoon in half to take it to that next level. Yet here I am with a titanium spoon? For all of my shorter trips I go plastic. In the cold though, plastic has a tendency to harden and then break. A fate I don’t wish to subject myself to while somewhere in the mountains. I’ve had to carve wooden spoons before and I don’t particularly want to do so again out of necessity. The titanium offers peace of mind. I’ve tied a piece of orange string to this one so that I can more easily see it, and hopefully not lose it.
Initial thoughts: Being that I’m living in Florida most of these clothes don’t have the miles under them that I would like to give a fair review. I have used each piece of clothing in ~20 degree Florida weather a few times, but it’s not a true judgement. A SOBO hiker experiences less harsh weather due to the time of the year we start. I plan on starting with all of this, and sending most of it home within the first 500 miles of the trip. I have done extremely extensive research and believe these clothes to be MORE than enough for the conditions ahead.
The multi purpose item of all multi purpose items. You can use as a towel, protection from the sun, water filter, pot cleaner, tent drier, handkerchief, or in my case… I chose orange as my color and thus protection from pesky, hiker hungry, hunters!
Socks – Injinji Trail 2.0 midweight micro
I love these socks!! No blisters, ever! I attribute this to the socks, and shoes I wear mostly, with a good helping of foot care when I can. Toe socks feel weird at first, and takes just slightly longer to put them on but you’ll not only get used to the feeling but also addicted to the feeling. Being able to wiggle and move your toes independently inside your shoes is a wonderful thing. I got the really thin socks as that is what works best for me to avoid hot spots, and the eventual blister. I chose pink so I could know which ones are mine in a group laundry load. Just kidding I want to look really cute in my pink toe socks.
I carry 2 pairs in total, one I’m wearing and one in my pack. I wash them as often as I can and switch them daily. Taking care of your feet is the number one priority while hiking, and these socks in combination with my shoes are a very crucial component to that. I tried sock after sock after sock until I came upon these. No other sock compares.
Montbell Ex Light Down Jacket
An incredible jacket. Extremely light at just 5.3 ounces. This goes into my layering system as all of my clothes are capable of being worn at the same time for maximum warmth. I don’t plan on using this in the rain. It’s more of a not while hiking item. Only being used at night or in the morning. I do believe there to be warmer jackets but for the conditions I’m facing this one has me stoked. Just so damn light. For the quality it’s actually fairly cheap too.
Zpacks Fleece Beanie
My jacket has no hood nor does my quilt. This is the solution. More versatile than having a hood on either of the two aforementioned items a down or fleece beanie is the way to go. I can wear it when hiking, I can wear it when sleeping. It’s only 1 ounce and I probably won’t send it home for the entire 4,000 mile trip I am attempting. Something I can’t say about most of my other clothes. I plan on sending home most everything else as soon as I can tell summer is upon me.
PossumDown Glove Liners
Just a thin layer for my hands. It’s important to me for my extremities to stay warm. Although I could use my extra pair of socks as mittens or put my hands in my armpits I think the 1.5 ounce glove liners are worth it so I can maintain dexterity and actually be useful in the cold. Not overkill like most gloves, just right. I think I could save half an ounce with a different pair… maybe that’s too picky.
Montbell Tachyon Wind Jacket
For the weight of 1.6 ounces, and the ability to scrunch it up into the size of a golf ball, it really can add some warmth. I expect to be hiking in this on bald mountains, and always have it handy. It cuts the cold out of the wind and traps a bit body heat in while not being suffocating. The perfect balance of breath-ability in comparison to the other top wind jackets. Not to be used in the rain but in a light drizzle or heavy mist would work great. I’ve heard great things about this jacket, and I look forward to testing it more outside of Florida. A wind jacket would be best used in the desert in lieu of a rain jacket but I’m using this as an extremely light breathable layer to add to my clothing system.
Montbell Dynamo Wind Pants
I wear the shortest of short hiking shorts. Not the best when its cold or windy. These pants will cut some of the wind, and give me a bit of warmth for my legs. Being that summer will be just around the corner when I start my hike in Maine I think these will come in handy until I’m much further south. While hiking you don’t need much to stay warm as your body generates enough heat for itself. The wind jacket and wind pants are probably all I’ll need on chilly or windy days on the trail. The other clothes I’m carrying are more for while I’m in camp. I debated carrying long underwear instead of these but in the end as a southbound hiker walking during mostly the summer I don’t feel I’ll need more warmth than these pants provide. In much colder conditions I would carry both the long underwear, and these wind pants.
Sea-To-Summit Bug Headnet
Works like a charm. Can see through it well, keeps the bugs off my face, only 1 ounce, fits over any cap, and only looks just slightly stupid! When I first saw these it was on the AT years ago, a couple sitting on a log, miserable, and both wearing bug head nets. The black fly were particularly bad that week and this couple was literally crippled by the biting flies. I thought these people looked mighty silly wearing these nets as I was doing great. Maybe as a Floridian I have a higher tolerance for bugs that bite. I’m carrying this on the AT because the bugs in the north as I’ve heard, specifically the 100 mile wilderness in Maine, are a nightmare. So I figure for 1 ounce it could save my sanity for a few days.
Misc. & First Aid
Golite Chrome Dome Trekking Umbrella
I love my umbrella!! It is without a doubt my favorite piece of gear. It’s silver, and I use it more in the sun than in the rain! Either way it’s the most amazing, and wonderful thing you can own or take backpacking, in my opinion. Sun umbrellas are huge in places like Asia, you wonder why Americans haven’t caught on. Hikers have! Or at least I have. A sun umbrella is the style for me. It’s constant shade when you’re out in the sun, on an exposed trail, or it’s shelter from rain. I can huddle up under it in a storm or when I’m taking a break from the heat. At a half a pound I think the ultralight community is split on its worth, but it’s been decided time after time for me. When using it constantly in the sun I am able to carry less water, and thus evening out the weight of the umbrella. Even on a trail like the AT I think this umbrella will be extremely useful. Not for the sun but for the constant rain. Have you ever been rained on for days on end? I have, and it’s a lot more fun when you have an umbrella.
After Golite went out of business many other companies have sprung up to take this large market of sun umbrella lovin’ fools.
Fenix LD02 Handheld Flashlight
A single AAA flashlight is what I desired for my light weight madness, and this is what I got! There are many on the market that are quite unreliable but I’ve found this one to be excellent. It has three settings with a low of 8 lumens and a high of 100, for reference a candle produces 13 lumens. In other words the low, and medium setting are very dim. Yet I find myself exclusively using the low setting. If you’re scared of things that bump in the night this probably isn’t the flashlight for you. I use this as my primary source of light, and often night hike with it. In the night a flashlight is better than a headlamp because it’s held lower and thus extends the shadows of obstacles on the ground, making it easier to navigate. For me this flashlight is amazing. It comes with a clip that attaches to the brim of my hat to take it from a handheld to a head lamp. I always carry at least one extra AAA battery just in case.
I bought some Visine so I could dump it out… and put some DEET in it. It’s not much but I don’t often use it. When I do I put it on my clothes, as deet actually works because the mosquitoes don’t like the smell. That’s the secret of DEET, the smell. My worst experiences with bugs should be in Maine. I have coated my clothing in Permethrin, which is also a bug repellent, I’ve found to be exceptionally good against ticks. It also helps with mosquitoes allowing me to use less of this terrible chemical.
DEET: A registered pesticide
Swiss Army Classic Knife
I have the smallest of all the Swiss Army Knives. I primarily use it to cut food. the tooth pick and tweezers can come in handy as well as the scissors. Almost the most minimal knife you can carry. If anyone is looking for a gift idea I’d love a Derma-Safe knife 😉
Mini Bic Lighter
I rarely, if ever, make fires on my own. A little bit of leave no trace ideals, a little bit of too much work after a long day. I will probably be making them far more than I typically would since it’s a nice moral booster. Nothing like sitting by the fire while camping.
Cell Phone – Samsung Galaxy S5
It’s a pretty rad phone. Takes far better photos than my last phone! I was really stoked on that. I love to take photos. I never knew it would be such a big part of my hiking. I used to think that these experiences were for me, and what I saw and did was mine alone. Now it’s the exact opposite! I love to share my experiences backpacking through photography, and hopefully more in this blog. I am carrying both a plug, and a USB cord for my phone to keep it charged. When hiking I keep it in airplane mode 90% of the time, and that does an incredible job saving the battery from dying quickly. Having a smart phone is great just in case I need to order a piece of gear online while I’m on the trail or to look up the weather or maybe play some music. My phone will be a pretty big deal to blog from the trail, and post pictures as I go. I hope to keep in touch and let everyone know how I am doing along the way!
RAVpower 10400mAh External Battery
My biggest issue with this is how long it takes to charge. If I do find I don’t need it I will certainly get rid of it. If you do buy one pay attention to the charge input and make sure its more than a measly 1.5A! Otherwise I love this battery pack, I can charge my phone about 3 times while in the middle of no where. It gives me the opportunity to fiddle on my phone, make calls, upload photos, and message friends in my down time. I also have to carry a small USB cord to charge this. I could probably use a smaller, lighter, external battery, but I already happen to own this. 6600mAh would probably suffice. Although, I do very much like using my phone for various reasons, that I would not to like to lose the ability.
Dr. Bronners Soap
This is both my tooth paste, and hand soap! Dr. Bronners is magic. Just read the label on the bottle at the grocery store, the hype is real. I use the peppermint flavor, and it’s certainly not for everyone. I happen to like it as a very little bit goes a long way with this stuff. So I get to carry less, and not have to carry both soap, and toothpaste. Hand sanitizer does very little to clean you, and is not effective for giardiasis. Next time someone offers you some of their food, don’t take it. A vast amount more people get giardia from someone elses dirty hands than from unclean water.
In true ultralight fashion I cut off the handle of my toothbrush. I’m still fully able to brush my teeth even with the inch long handle that is left, and I saved a full ounce from the original thing! Not a big deal to most but when your backpacks base weight is at times 80 ounces in total or less, one full ounce is a big deal in getting to that level.
Advil & Tylenol
I use Advil for inflammation and Tylenol for headaches. People use Advil so much while hiking it’s almost disgusting. It’s so common to take daily that it’s known as “Vitamin I.” I prefer not to use it as often as possible because it simply masks the problem instead of treating it. If you’re taking Advil frequently you’re choosing to ignore the problem, and likely letting it get worse. Listen to your body, and treat it right. Advil only when necessary.
Imodium is for… stomach issues, lets say. I’ve never had to use it but I do carry 2 of them at all times, just in case.
Safety pins, Needle, and Thread
This is for blisters but I hardly get them so it’s more reserved for gear repair. If you do have a blister thread the needle through it, and leave the thread in there over night. This allows the fluid to drain and the blister to dry.
Earplugs are essential on the Appalachian Trail, mostly because of sleeping in shelters in close proximity to hikers who snore loudly. Also hikers who roll into campsites late at night, hikers who wake up earlier than you and make a lot of noise, or hikers who are generally disrespectful after 8-9pm. This is one of many reasons I usually camp away from others, at sites less often used or never before. Just get some earplugs, you won’t use them a lot but when you need them, you need them.
Duct tape and Leukotape being the two most useful tapes out there to carry backpacking. Duct tape for gear repair, Leukotape for medical issues. Leukotape can be used to improvise in many ways but it’s most common use is foot problems, more specifically blisters. This stuff is super sticky, once it’s on you’re not likely to have an issue with it coming off assuming you applied it when your foot is dry. Most other tapes will move around in side your shoe, bunch up, and come off. Now in my ultralight fashion I personally don’t want to carry a whole roll of this stuff, nor do I think I need it. I cut off strips of this, and put it on slick paper that stickers come on. At the post office you can get sheets of shipping labels, take those off, and put tape on in its place. Most do about 1 foot strips to avoid any contamination from your fingers as once you touch the tape it looses quite a bit of stickyness. In the field you cut up your 1 foot strip into the size that you need. My Swiss Army Knife scissors work great for this.
The Appalachian Trail, and the Florida Trail are both very wet environments. You can expect your feet will be wet very often, and there is no way to avoid that. Now there are many ways to deal with wet feet, and Bonnies Balm or other wax salves are a great tool to make constant wet feet a non issue. I apply it at night before I go to bed to the bottoms of my feet and let it sink in while I sleep. This is effectively adding another layer to your skin, and making it so water can’t seep in, and be absorbed as easily.
How to minimize the effects of wet feet
Zpacks Cuben Fiber Repair Tape
Although duct tape is most useful for repair in most situations this repair tape is made specifically for Cuben Fiber gear. A very expensive, very light weight, and very sought after fabric. My shelter is made of cuben so I am carrying this if the worst shall happen, a rip, tear, or hole shall appear. You can get tents, packs, bags, clothes, just about anything you could ever want made with cuben, and it’s guaranteed to empty your pocket book while making your pack lighter than everyone else’s even when they carry less than you. It’s kind of cheating in some regards when you just buy your way into the ultralight weight (under 10lbs of gear,) without taking the time, and gaining the experience prior to whittle your loadout down safely. It is wise to carry a little bit of this tape if you own cuben gear.
I like a ball cap while hiking, nothing too fancy like those large sun hats. It’s just enough to keep the sun or rain out of my eyes, keep my scalp from getting burnt, and keep bugs out of my hair. I’ve had an Appalachian Trail hat since 2012, and it has been my go to ever since I bought it. I do really love big floppy colorful sun hats but I tend to be too serious to be wearing them often.
Altra Lone Peak 2.5 Shoes
I absolutely love these shoes. Coupled with my thin Injinji toe socks, this is the secret to my personal comfort, and blister free hiking, even while covering ultra-marathon distances day after day. One of the things I like most about these shoes is the really wide toe box, giving me plenty of room to spread, and stretch my toes. Having breathing room in that area is very important to me as I used to get blisters in between my toes from other shoes that were more narrow. I no longer get blisters of any sort, and although I’m sure a part of that is how I take care of my feet, I believe my choice in shoes and socks are a very big part of how I take care of them.
Altra shoes are probably most noted for their “Zero Drop.” Meaning your heel and your forefoot are at the same height vs most traditional shoes where your heel is typically twice as high as your forefoot. This seems dandy to have more cushion under your heel but in reality it promotes an unnatural style of walking. If you ever have the chance, give these shoes a try, and see for yourself. After a thousand miles of wearing them happily, and comfortably I’ll never go back to another brand.
I wear the version 2.5, which is new. So far as I can tell they are more breathable than their former 2.0 version, and offer more cushion under your feet than the previous iteration of this shoe. The breath-ability is great in most situations, although I’ve found in Florida while hiking in soft sand or really silt ridden swamp they tend to let in more sand than I would like. Not that big of an issue if you have time to dump it out occasionally. The breath-ability is good in another sense, besides keeping your feet cool, if you are hiking in really wet conditions these shoes dry out very quickly compared to other shoes I’ve worn. Maybe not over night but once you get walking on dry ground again it isn’t long before your shoes are completely dry again.
These shoes come with a velcro trap on the back of the shoe to hold gaiters in place, so for those of you that like gaiters you’ll love this. No more taping and gluing velcro to your shoe that eventually falls off. Now you have a designated shoe made for such gear.
I’m a big Altra fan after experiencing a big change in comfort during my hikes after buying my first pair, and now after ruining 3 pairs I recommend them to everyone. One friend specifically is now just a big a convert as I am. If you have the chance, and are looking for new shoes I highly advise trying these out.
These will last you anywhere from 600-800 miles depending on how you treat them. I will probably go through 6 of them during my 4,000 mile hike.
Ditch your boots
Spread your toes
My favorite shirts are long sleeve, button up, with a collar. Although I may not smell so good while hiking I at least look classy! The long sleeves are good to fight the war on bugs, keeping ticks and mosquitoes off of me. Ticks being a big issue on the Appalachian Trail this is something very much so worth thinking about. The long sleeves also help in a big way to avoid sun burn, and add another layer to my arms if the temperature drops. Synthetic, never cotton. I soak all of my clothes in Permethrin, a bug repellent. Not fool proof but really does help with ticks.
I’m a big fan of short shorts. Like, really short shorts. Like 1inch inseam, short shorts. Almost feels like I’m wearing nothing at all, and are extremely comfortable to hike in. I get a tan as I’m walking, and get to show off the legs that are carrying me on my journey. One true advantage of shorts or if they get wet, they won’t take nearly as long as pants to dry out, and they’ll be far more comfortable while wet. Although with lyme disease, and ticks on the Appalachian Trail I’ve been told I’d be wise to wear pants. I think with taking precautions like being tested during my hike, and checking myself daily I’ll be ok. I guess I just like shorts too much. Black is my color of choice, and the shorter the better. Wish my shorts had a pocket of some sort but it seems none of the shorts I ever order have pockets.
Over the course of my life I’ve ruined a whole lot of sunglasses. So naturally after ruining my last pair I decided to get a really really nice pair of Natives. A most logical decision. Well I do very much like having sunglasses while hiking, and these just happened to have a life time warranty. So in the long run maybe I’m actually saving money? Sunglasses as the name says… keeps sun out of your eyes, and just so happens to make you look super cool. On trails with a lot of snow they are a must so you don’t blind yourself, the Appalachian Trail and the Florida Trail don’t happen to have a lot of snow. Still, I’ll be wanting them in the future, and for the time being they are nice to have for less pertinent comfort.
Photon Freedom Micro LED Flashlight
I love this thing, and I totally recommend it to everyone. It’s a small necklace with an LED light at the end. I wear it all the time, and find many uses for it in my every day life even. I mostly use this around camp at night to save the battery life of my actual flashlight. It only produces a small amount of light, but it’s just enough to do camp chores or answer natures call during the night. It uses one of those stupid watch batteries but it does last a long time so it’s not like you’re replacing it often.
GossamerGear LT4 Carbon Trekking Poles
Very nice poles. When I first got them I didn’t believe how light they are. It’s seriously incredible how little they weigh. Since with every step you are swinging these back and forth, the less weight means the less energy is expended. Anyhow, this comes with its downsides. The poles are made of carbon fiber, and from what I hear it isn’t the most durable in high winds under pressure, or when getting them stuck in between rocks. Using these I’ll have to be more careful not to break them as I would with cheaper aluminum poles. GossamerGear doesn’t offer any sort of warranty like Leki, who has a lifetime warranty on their trekking poles. I’ll be using these to set up my tarp, and again I hear in really high winds they snap like twigs. So I’ll have to avoid camping in really windy locations and opt for more covered areas for camping, a wise choice regardless but having the option would be nice.
I wanted the lightest poles, and that’s what I got. In fact I didn’t even want to use trekking poles for a long time. I still don’t. I think that using them you are compromising your walking style by having to pay attention to your pole placement vs just your foot placement. Also by using trekking poles, overall you’re using more energy being you’re no longer simply walking, now your arms are getting a work out effectively tiring yourself out faster than the next guy. One last thing, trekking poles typically propel people forward, making them go faster than your natural walking style would allow. The ability to walk faster sounds like a good thing but now you’re pushing your body in a way that it isn’t accustomed to, potentially causing injury. These are the reasons that have kept me from using poles for as long as I have, although I eventually decided that I was happy I haven’t used them for a long time to develop my walking form, it is now time.
Trekking poles help immensely to go both down, and uphill. I choose to use them mostly because I want to avoid injury at all cost. Injury specifically in my knees. By using the poles to guide myself downhill I’m removing a lot of the impact that my body is receiving, and hopefully making life better. I may or may not still send these home, it’s undecided. Some people love them, some people don’t. I think I’m closer to the latter although I see their merit.
Patagonia Lightweight Travel Mini Hip Pack
First of all Patagonia is a great company, I’ve experienced nothing but the most excellent of customer service from them, and top notch gear to boot! I guess “hip pack” is the new word for “fanny pack.” Are fannies not cool anymore? Hell yeah they are! I love a fanny pack. Besides from being really stylish it’s also really useful. I don’t use a hip belt on my backpack, and this gives me the option of carrying a few items in which I don’t need to take off my pack to get to them. I often keep my water purification, phone, map, identification, money, snacks, and other miscellaneous gear in this. Patagonia makes this fanny pack in a whole bunch of awesome colors, and many different sizes. I got the mini but I think I might have liked one size bigger even more. You know… for extra snacks.
This has been pre-thru hike gear reviews. When I finish I’ll do something again similar to this but with the new found knowledge of 4,000 miles behind me.
One thing I hear a lot about ultralight gear is that it isn’t durable. This is simply not the case, and I believe it’s a poor justification for ones own pack weight. My pack for example is BOMBPROOF, and it’s only 11 ounces to boot. It’s not made in a factory, it’s constructed and sewn by hand out of very strong material, by a man who runs a cottage company where customers are everything. What makes it, and a lot of my gear lighter is that it has less features. That’s the big difference in light gear vs mid weight, or heavy gear. The amount of useless add-ons, and extra features adding grams, ounces, and you guessed it… pounds. I have never felt that any of my gear wasn’t as strong as a big box companies “heavy-weight” gear. Just because it’s heavy doesn’t equate to more durable. Similarly, just because it’s light doesn’t make it fragile.
The true idea behind ultralight backpacking is traveling more comfortably. Isn’t that what everyone wants on a long distance backpacking trip? You don’t have to be doing big miles to take advantage of being happier while you walk. I’m sure we’ve all experienced the death march that is carrying a really heavy load. It’s not fun, and at times detracts from your wilderness experience. I’ve carried the 70 pound pack, and everything in between, I didn’t start out with an ultralight pack. By carrying less, and or lighter gear you’re able to walk more freely. As my pack has gotten lighter I no longer face as many problems, I’m no longer in pain, and I no longer get blisters. This equates to freedom, to me. The freedom to do what I want without being burdened by my pack weight. This may seem like fantasy but it’s true. While keeping my brain busy with dreams of sugar plums… and my base pack weight, I just happened to come across other useful information which has also guided my pain free hiking. The safest way to carry less is to know the conditions you’ll be facing extremely well. By knowing what you’ll be going through ahead of time you’re more able to pick the lightest gear for the task. By doing so you’ll be safe, and more comfortable than that guy carrying all that “what if” gear. By knowing whats to come, without leaving it to surprise, you’re more able to plan properly. This is purely why I do so very much research.
The mind game that has been, how to take my pack this far, has been a whole lot of fun. I feel like I learn something new every single day, and it’s a constant process to evolve further.
Regardless of what you carry all that matters is that you’re having fun. This happens to be part of the fun for me 🙂