The list includes everything I started with, items I sent home and got back, as well as gear I sent home never to return. I also provide mini reviews and commentary where I have something to say. At a minimum I will let you know what gear I Loved, Liked, found Meh, or Hated.
Here is a video review of most of my gear.
My base weight (gear only, no consumables) fluctuated, but was 17 to 18 pounds in the beginning and at the end (with winter gear) and about 14 pounds in summer. Fully loaded weight ranged from 26 to 34 pounds.
The Big 3 (and accompanying accessories)
Tent: Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 3—Loved
The BA was an excellent choice for us and we used it the whole trip. I am so happy we went with it rather than our second choice, the Z-Packs Tri-plex. The primary reasons we went with the BA over the Z-Packs was the BA was dual walled, could be freestanding, and cost about $500 less. The only advantage of the Z-Packs was it was about 3 pounds lighter. With Chica and I sharing weight, a small weight penalty was no big deal.
The tent held up well in high winds and rain, and on nice nights we could leave the fly off and sleep under the stars. It had two entrances (that were also vestibules) so we didn’t have to crawl over each other to get in or out and could store our gear separately. The Big Agnes was big and fit my 6’3” frame well. Laying down I had a good 2 inches extra room at my feet and head—try finding another 2 or 3-person tent that offers that. The shelter was downright palatial. Make sure to check the floor dimensions because some of the new models of the Copper Spur are not as long.
My only complaint (and it’s a big one) was with Big Agnes customer service. I know, I know, you had a great experience with BA support. Well, I didn’t. My request was a simple one. A tree branch had fallen on our tent during the night and I needed a replacement segment to the pole system. I even told ‘em it wasn’t a warranty issue and I was happy to pay. I won’t go into the whole story of back and forth here, but will say that it took a couple of days shy of a full month to get a replacement segment … while I was out. Hiking. The AT. In the wilderness. In a compromised tent putting my wife and me in a compromising position every night.
So, BA Tent Score: 5 Twinkling Stars. BA Customer Service: 1 Withering Star. One because I did talk to a live person, I could understand them, and they had a nice demeanor.
Despite the service issue I recommend the tent highly, especially if you are a couple, it is roomy and reliable.
Tent Footprint (Jen carried this)—Liked
We just bought a piece of Tyvek that was cut for the CS 3. It had grommets and worked well enough. We bought it from Ebay. The Tyvek lasted the entire trip.
Here’s a tip for Tyvek—wash it several times in a washing machine prior to use. This will make the material soft and the crinkly sound will go away (mostly).
The BA tent has a delicate floor, so a footprint is advisable. BA sells one, but it costs like $60 (we bought the Tyvek for $20) and is only a bit lighter than the Tyvek.
LineLoc 3 – Loved
From ZPacks. These guy line adjusters made setting up the fly on the tent so fast. After staking out just pull on the paracord and the line lock holds the position for a tight pitch.
Carbon Tent Stakes – Hated
6.4″ Carbon Stakes from ZPacks. Not one in eight lasted a month on the AT. An expensive item for very little weight savings. Ended up replacing with .49 Walmart stakes. They would bend (never broke though) but were cheaply replaced. Sadly, people leave tent stakes at campsites ALL THE TIME, and you can pick up replacements for free. As they say, the trail provides.
Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20 Degree Quilt – Liked
I chose a quilt over a traditional “mummy” sleeping bag for several reasons. First (when I thought I had to count every ounce) was the weight savings. The philosophy is that the part of a sleeping bag that lays on the ground or sleeping pad does not provide insulating value because the camper’s body crushes the down down, and down needs loft to work. So, you can effectively cut away the back, remove the zipper, and rejoice in weight savings. Because of this, quilts are also cheaper.
The second advantage is for the person who tosses and turns in their sleep – aka, me. I can sleep on my back, my left side, my right side, and my belly all within an hour. A sleeping bag doesn’t allow for that much movement. The quilt is designed to be strapped down to the sleeping pad. I almost never did this. In addition to multiple sleeping positions I like to kick a leg out … or kick the whole quilt off. I sleep warm.
I only “liked” the quilt because the 20-degree setting worked fine but was not enough warmth a couple of times and was too warm many times in the heat of the summer. That being said, I wasn’t about to buy two separate quilts; suffer over spend, that’s me.
Enlightened Equipment makes a quality product. And it’s cool to customize the color and fill (I chose black and orange with 850 DownTec treated fill). They take a long time for custom orders so order well in advance or buy one that is already made and ready. For custom I would add a couple weeks onto what they tell you the lead time is. I got mine extra long and extra wide. The added length allowed me to fully cover my head on cold nights. The size worked great for me and it still stuffed down to the size of a basketball.
If you read reviews on the Mariposa you will see that my rating is a dissenting one. Let me explain. The backpack is well made, it is light, it is durable, it has pockets in all the right places, it has a replaceable hip belt so when you lose 50 pounds (like I did) you don’t have to ditch the backpack all together.
So, what’s the problem? The pack caused me shoulder pain. Not every day, not all day, but enough to make me notice it was a problem. I heard the same shoulder pain complaint from other Mariposa users. They were all tall with long torsos, like me. For me, I give the pack 3 Stars. It may work for you, but this is my experience.
Gossamer Gear’s Customer Service was almost flawless … almost. I contacted them 3 times. Two times they were unbelievably great. I had to buy a new hip belt and trying to pinpoint the next town was difficult. The Customer Service Agent was able to tell me exact delivery dates helping me get the belt timely. The second positive experience was when I stepped on my pack buckle and destroyed it. I contacted Gossamer Gear and the agent said he knew navigating their menu on a phone was a challenge so instead of me ordering one he would just send me one free. I found one at an outfitter in the next town (for $2) so it was a no-go, but the gesture was appreciated.
What was the request that wasn’t handled perfectly? I’m glad you asked. Before getting on the trail, when I first bought the pack, I contacted the company asking about a pack cover. The conversation went something like this:
Me: I notice on your website you don’t sell pack covers. Is the Mariposa waterproof or do I need a cover?
Customer Service: You should ask other hikers what they think.
I couldn’t even think of a response, so just said thanks and goodbye. So odd.
Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter – Loved
Evernew 2-liter Bladder – Loved
The bladder that comes with the Sawyer is poorly constructed and prone to failure over the course of a thru-hike. Platypus bladder’s threads don’t fit the Sawyers. What is a hiker to do? Choose the Evernew. It fits the Sawyer perfectly and it is built to withstand the abuse of daily use (and me throwing it around and stepping on it).
(2) 1-liter smart water bottles – Loved
Worked well for storing our clean water. Once they got too dirty they were easily replaced and could be bought at any convenience store.
Sawyer Backflush Coupling – Loved
Gear that facilitates multiple uses is good gear. The coupling allows you to backflush the Sawyer without using the bulky, heavy included syringe. It allows you to set up a hands free gravity feed. And also, the coupling can be used to attach a funnel to your bladder for collecting water more easily. See this article for these Sawyer Hacks.
Most of our clothes were sent off to Insect Shield to be treated with Permethrin. Ticks were not a problem for us on the trail, I credit Insect Shield. In 6-months between Jen and I, we had 3 ticks crawling on us and one that was attached. Not bad, I think.
North Face Shorts – Loved
These shorts were shredded by the end of the hike so I threw them out. Too bad as North Face no longer makes them. They were awesome and had lasted me years and many half-marathons and a thru hike. They had a 9” inseam and a liner. I went commando for the whole trip.
Water Bottle Holder
If it weren’t for Jen I would have never even thought about storing my Smart Water bottle anywhere but the designed, hard to reach, side pocket. Luckily she saw a post on a Facebook group from a guy who was custom making 1 liter holders that attached to a backpack’s shoulder strap and we ordered two, The accessory became one of our favorites. Like all great products, it solves a problem (hard to reach water bottles), it’s build well (lasted our entire trip), and is incredibly light. Plus, we love helping cottage industry pioneers. Read more about the water bottle for shoulder strap here.
Ice Breaker Merino Wool T-shirt (2) – Loved
I am a very frugal shopper and yet I love a t-shirt that retails for $80 and which best price, even on sale, is a whopping $40 … for a damn t-shirt!
But, still I love them. Merino wool really does exhibit the properties it claims. It wicks sweat, holds in heat when needed, cools when needed, sheds water, dries fast, and doesn’t stink … as bad as synthetic. It’s a magical material. Oh, and it feels wonderful against my skin, although I have heard some people don’t care for how they feel. They are badass and worth the money.
In the summer I was always hot, so I bought a tank-top at Walmart for $5. The sleeveless shirt got me kicked out of a bar in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania. I’ll have to tell you that story sometime ?
REI Zip Off Pants—Loved
I thought I would hike some in long pants. I never did. Not once. I did use the pants for town wear and when we were doing laundry. I tried multiple pants and the REI ones worked the best. All the other brands I tried, Prana, et, al, had the zipper falling right on my knee cap. It rubbed when I walked, and I was sure I would have had chafing issues if I would have bought them. Buy what fits.
If you don’t know what a buff is you need to look it up. And despite what some will say the knock-offs are not as good and a bandana is not a replacement. Once again, I am frugal but am happy I shelled out the $20 for one.
I used it around my wrist to wipe sweat from my brow, as a head band, around my neck when it was cold out, like a bank robber’s mask, and I am sure a few other ways. Here is a video showing all the different ways you can use them.
I am not a big hat person, but I needed sun protection and this hat did a great job. It was also pre-treated with Permethrin and has an attached bug net that can be folded away.
Nike Running Tights—Liked
I used running tights under my shorts on days that started out below 45 degrees F. They worked great and were light. Like the rest of my cold weather gear I sent them home at Damascus, Virginia and got them back just before going into the Whites in New Hampshire.
This was a great second layer for those cooler mornings. Easy to shed once the temp (body or ambient) was warm enough for a short-sleeved shirt. The shirt was a pull over with a zipper for ventilation and had thumb-holds to keep sleeves in place should you need another layer on top.
I could take or leave ZPacks fleece hat . Didn’t fit great after a couple of washes. It was priced right though and warm enough. Sent home for summer.
Huge shrink factor after putting in a dryer. Of course they were supposed to be air dried, Who’s going to do that on the trail? Developed a hole and I didn’t even wear them too many times. Not as warm as other options available. Sent home for summer.
Ice Breaker Thermal Bottoms Mid-Weight Merino—Liked
I sleep warm and only slept in these a handful of times, but they did the job. Sent home for summer.
I used this mainly in camp after hiking. I still wear it now I am off the trail. Great shirt. Sent home in summer.
Ghost Whisperer Puffy Jacket—Loved
At $300 the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer is an outrageously expensive jacket … unless you get it for 50% off like I did. The jacket is extremely light, folds into its own pocket, and is warm enough for all the weather conditions we experienced (when layered). I bought the hooded version and never regretted it.
I kept this jacket, even in the summer, just in case we had a cold night. We didn’t.
Therm-a Rest NeoAir XlLite Sleeping Pad. Other than the name being excruciatingly long I have no complaints about the Neo Air. If I had to do it all over I would probably just get the torso-length wide version as I propped my feet up on my backpack each night inside the tent rendering the extra length useless. The pad does make a lot of noise when you move around. Because the pad is so popular whenever we were in a crowded campsite it was like a symphony (ok, maybe cacophony) of Neo XLite rustling. We put the plastic from a window insulation kit under it and that seemed to help (thanks Ziplock for the tip).
Big Sky International Dream Sleeper. First I tried to use my clothes stuff sack as a pillow, because of the weight (about 2 ounces) of a pillow. I even bought the Z-packs stuff sack that could be reversed leaving a soft felted sleep surface. Lipstick on a pig I tell you. Along with NOT cutting your toothbrush down, investing in a pillow is the best weight spent ever. If you go with the Big Sky pillow, order well before your trip. The company does a great job of not keeping up with demand and the pillow is often out of stock, both on Amazon and the Big Sky International website.
La Sportiva Wildcats—My favorite piece of gear!
There are 5 pieces of gear that I can’t ever imagine changing (never say never, right?), the La Sportiva Wildcat trail runners are one of those. We were living in Costa Rica when we decided to hike the trail. I had been hiking in Merrill Moab’s and liked them fine. The problem was, if they got wet, they stayed wet, so I started to research. It became clear quickly that trail runners were replacing hiking boots for long distance hiking at a very fast rate. When we went back to the US for a trip we went to REI to try some shoes on. I thought I would end up with a pair of Salomons, but they just didn’t feel right. As soon as I slipped on the Wildcats it was like a fairytale. They fit just right. I bought a pair half size bigger than I typically wear and took them back to Costa Rica. I proceeded to put 500 miles on the shoes and I fell in love.
Once I find something I like I stick with it, until inevitably the company changes something on the product. La Sportiva are now my daily wear shoes. I only went through 3 pairs on the trail and that should be testament enough to their durability. They don’t fit everyone’s foot perfect, but if they do yours, consider yourself lucky. Read my La Sportiva Wildcat review here.
Darn Tough Socks (3 pair)—Best socks ever
I carried 3 pair of Darn Tough’s on our trek. Two pairs to hike in (switched out as needed) and one pair to sleep in. While the socks do wear down (2 pairs got holes in them over 2200 miles) I was able to get replacements along the way from outfitters that carried them. No fuss.
The socks are wool and do a great job of keeping feet dry and warm. I can’t see owning any other type of sock.
Camp Shoes—Almost Hate
Xero Z-Trail sandals followed by $3 OP flip flops when the Z-trails failed. I held such hope for the Xeros, but alas due to a “manufacture defect” one of the straps broke on my way down to a water source one night. I had barely put a couple miles on the shoe. It was tough dealing with the company and we went back and forth (they wanted pictures, etc) and finally they sent a replacement.
I had them sent to my home because I didn’t want something that could break so easily. I still have them, unopened 6 months later. Maybe I’ll take them to Spain if we hike the Camino next year. The $3 flip flops held up great the rest of the trip.
Another annoying thing about the sandals is no matter how tight you strap them down, when they are wet, they move on your feet. Especially up or down hill … that would be the entire Appalachian Trail. So, I didn’t like the sandals at all. To be fair Jen loves her Z-Trails and didn’t have the problems I had on the AT with hers.
Z-Packs Bear Bag—Liked
Expensive, but did the job. Build your own kit and save a few bucks or not. The bag lasted the entire trip. One shelter did have bear boxes that were bear proof but not rodent proof and an industrious band of rodents gnawed into every single bag in the box (always read shelter logs!). So, it’s a good idea to have a cuben fiber repair kit along if you buy the Z-Packs kit.
Also, once we hit Pennsylvania I had to replace the 50 feet of para-cord. It had become frayed and weak from using it. One last tip, use a full size carabiner for your bear bag not the mini ZPacks gives you. I saw the small ones fail and get (inexplicitly) hung up more than the large ones.
Sea to Summit Long Handle Spoon—Liked
Worked just fine. Get the aluminum version and save a buck over a titanium spork. You need the long handle to dig deep down into the peanut butter jar. In my opinion the fork part is useless, so just go with a spoon.
Cook Pot – Evernew .9 Liter Titanium—Liked
Worked great. Light and big enough for a big meal for a big guy. Very lightweight and the handles are coated with plastic so you can actually use them while cooking (unlike some other popular pots – I’m looking at you Toaks).
Water came to a boil very fast and the the Evernew held up for the trip.
MSR Pocket Rocket Stove—Liked
Jen carried this. It worked great. No complaints.
How to handle rain on a thru-hike is the riddle of all ages. Maybe the answer is unknowable. Being wet is miserable, getting hypothermia is dangerous, so we have to try. The problem is rain gear may keep you dry from rain, but you still will get wet with sweat.
I didn’t try it, but the best solution might be an umbrella to keep the top half dry and a rain skirt for the bottom half. I met a fellow at the Yellow Deli Hostel that had an umbrella that attached to his head via a strap around the chin. This would work great for both rain and sun. Jen also carried an umbrella that worked well for her.
Mountain Hardware Ampato—Liked
This rain shell is no longer made. It was overkill and a heavy option for the AT but it was what I already had and I didn’t want to buy another one. I used it at the start and got it back at the end.
Cheap ‘O Poncho—Meh
I used a cheap poncho from Walmart for the summer months. Really I only wore it maybe twice, the rest of the time I just got wet. It billowed in all the wrong places and it was uncomfortable to wear.
ULA Rain Kilt—Liked
A rain skirt is a good choice over pants. Mine went down below my knees, kept me dry and allowed for air flow. Since I almost always wore just shorts I didn’t care much if my lower legs got wet. It also made a great ground cover to sit on when we stopped for a break.
ZPacks Pack Cover—Liked
It worked OK. Due to the Mariposa’s lid design the top still got wet, but would have with any other pack cover.
Anchor Power Bank 20,000—Liked
This was total overkill as Jen and I each carried one of these. We filmed and did work on our phones daily … OK, ok, Jen filmed and worked on her phone daily. I read and listened to music. Still, we wanted to be sure we could stay powered up if we were on the trail for 6 or 7 days straight.
It’s a great battery and can charge an iPhone 7 Plus at least 5 times.
I know I am in the minority—the very very small minority—but I did not use my headlamp hardly at all. I did use the flashlight on my phone quite a bit. Maybe it’s because my phone was always out when it was dark as I was reading, while my headlamp was somewhere in my pack.
When I did use it the ReVolt worked fine for me. Not for Jen, hers stopped recharging almost immediately and we had to buy regular batteries for it. Recharging via a USB cord is the only reason we bought the thing .. so we didn’t have to carry batteries … that we ended up having to carry. Disappointing. So, my rating is for my experience, not hers.
Leki Cork Lite Trekking Poles—Best Things Ever
Before our thru-hike I had never hiked with trekking poles. But, during our research I read story after story of how they can save your butt, literally. For me they are no longer an option on the AT. They saved me from falling so many times. And the times I did fall the results would have been worse if the poles hadn’t broken some of the fall.
The Cork Lites are durable and Leki stands behind their product forever. They are very helpful with warranty claims while on the trail and most issues can be fixed at any outfitter that carries the brand.
For an item I used every single day for 6 months – and when I say used I mean abused – they just plain worked. The Speed Lock system is the best out there. I will (most likely) never need another trekking pole, ever.
Ken Onion Leek Knife—Loved
I love this serrated knife with speed assist opening and a locking blade. Still, I sent it home after a month. It was extraneous since we had a Swiss Army knife, and scissors, and fingernail clippers (all that Jen lovingly carried). Most of what you need a knife for is cutting paracord and foodstuffs, and we had all that covered.
The phone carrier barely fit the iPhone 7 Plus but it was sufficient and it kept my phone on my chest within easy reach.
It did the job, it held all my clean clothes (sleepwear and town-wear). I really didn’t need the lightness (hence the expense) of cuben fiber. I also didn’t need the felt on one side for use as a pillow, I never used it as a pillow. Clothes sack pillows are hard and not comfortable.
See a ZPacks trend here? They get so much press, and their stuff is well made. But really, looking back I could have saved a lot of money on stuff sacks made of sil-nylon or other material. But the wallet I loved and still use. It is water proof and small and a carabiner can be attached to it so that it can be clipped anywhere.
ZPacks Mini Carabiners—Liked
They are OK. The ones on the outside of our packs started to rust by the end of the trip. They are strong enough for attaching things to your pack.
iPhone 7 Plus 256gb—Loved
The iPhone acted as my video camera, digital camera, iPod, and eBook reader. We even used it to make phone calls once or twice. The large storage capacity meant very little time was used dealing with storage issues. In fact, I didn’t have to off-load anything. If I deleted pics and videos that were not useful I had plenty of storage.
The image stabilization is spectacular, just watch our videos – no shaking.
I used a 9” snow stake from REI. It was light and strong and long and cheap. I wrapped a couple inches of the handle with extra para cord because you just can’t have enough para cord.
Some will try and convince you that a trowel is unnecessary. Try digging a 6” inch cat hole with your boot heel or a stick and let me know how it goes.
Guidebooks—Loved, Notebook and a Pen
I carried both the 2017 AWOL Guide as well as the Guthook App. The combination of using both guides was wonderful. Where one fell short the other one picked up the slack. Although I carried the AWOL Jen used it exclusively to plan and I used Guthooks to navigate. We had the paper guide spiral bound at a local print shop. This allowed us to turn pages freely and was $3 well spent. Also, I would recommend buying the .PDF version of AWOL for easy reference while on trail. Pulling out the physical book is a pain, but it is nice to have to take notes on. Some people burn pages as they use them or send themselves sections at a time. Like trimming your toothbrush, if you are not going for the lightest pack on the planet award, carry the whole book. At the end of your trip you will have quite the memento of your travels.
I used the notebook to keep track of all our expenses for my weekly video recap.
Small bottle of sunscreen, which I used, way more than I imagined I would. Small tube of toothpaste. Dr. Bronner’s soap which ended up in a hiker box before we were through with Georgia. Toothbrush, 3 iterations: I used a ZPacks ridiculous travel toothbrush, and then an equally ridiculous cut down normal toothbrush, before finally coming to my senses and carrying a full sized toothbrush. Trust me on the small toothbrush thing.
Chica carried our first-aid kit that had copious amounts of Vitamin I (ibuprofen), bandages, antibiotic ointment, foot care stuff etc…
So, there you have it, my complete Appalachian Trail thru-hike gear list. Starting to plan a thru-hike is daunting and understanding gear choices is a challenge. My hope is my list along with my thoughts on each piece of gear will help readers make wise choices. We welcome comments and questions.