Sunday, October 30, 2011

Gear Review

The gear review is finally here!

I did a gear update around 1500 miles. Most of my opinions are still the same; I'll reiterate here some of what I said then. I didn't cover everything though so this one should be more detailed. If you want to read the first, I posted it on July 25. And if you have any questions, I have steady internet access now and I can respond to comments!

I loved, loved my Osprey Atmos 50 pack. I went through two REI Flash 65 women's packs and the framesheet ripped out of both. I never carried more weight than was recommended with that pack so I'm not sure what the problem was, but I wasn't very happy about it. I ended up trading for the lightly used Osprey men's pack and I loved it. It was smaller but it fit me so well. I mentioned before that it was almost too small capacity-wise, but since my winter bag packed down smaller than my summer bag, I didn't have trouble fitting my winter gear into it. With a full food bag it was a tight fit, and I actually tried on an Atmos 65 at an outfitter in Vermont, but strangely it didn't fit me very well. I wish they made a 55 liter! But this pack has a perfect design--a main compartment, two front zip pockets, a front stretch pocket, stretch pockets on each side, and two waist belt pockets. It was perfect, and it held up through all the rock-scraping and other abuse I put it through.

My tent (Henry Shires Tarptent Moment) was sufficient. I loved the weight and size but had major condensation issues. Most mornings I would wake up, sit up, and the top of my head or my back would get wet when I was packing things up and moving around a lot inside. And the foot of my sleeping bag was usually wet as well. It wasn't so bad in the summer when it didn't matter, but waking up, crawling out of a warm sleeping bag, and accidentally rubbing the wall of the tent in cold weather was no fun at all. It was fine in light rain but in a storm I usually got wet; the bathtup floor didn't rise very high and it leaked at a few of the seams, despite my multiple efforts at sealing them. I carried the freestanding option pole the whole way, and used it enough to justify the weight to myself. It was nice for the tent platforms in the north, but using the pole didn't make for a good pitch, and made the tent even worse in the rain.  For a dry climate this tent would be amazing, but for the AT I would go with a double-wall. I mentioned the MSR Hubba earlier, and it's a great tent, but the Big Agnes Fly Creek is also freestanding, and is more spacious and significantly lighter; this would probably be my choice tent.

My Thermarest NeoAir was amazing. Pricey but totally worth it. It weighs less than a pound and packs up smaller than any other pad I've seen. I didn't like blowing it up but I could sometimes get out of doing that by getting someone else's (Bear Bag's ) water or something. But seriously, it's worth it. I was worried about it not being insulated enough for the colder temperatures but that wasn't a problem. I know Thermarest was working on another version of it with insulation but I'm not sure if it's been released yet. And I'm sure it's a bit heavier, but probably still lighter than most others.

I absolutely loved my Lafuma Patrol Lite 45-degree bag for summer. Synthetic, cheap, and functional. My winter bag was an REI Sub Kilo 15-degree down bag. It's a discontinued model but a decent bag for the price I paid. The only problem I had was that I got the women's version, and I was about an inch too tall for it (though I'm only 5'6"). On cold nights I got frustrated because I couldn't pull it up over my shoulder when I was laying on my side. I probably would have been happier with the longer men's version, but obviously it was good enough. My opinion is that a down bag is definitely the way to go; I was worried about it getting wet and not keeping me warm but that wasn't an issue at all. Even when it was damp from the inside of my tent, it was never wet enough that it didn't do its job. I just kept it in a dry sack and it was fine. I would have loved a down sleeping bag for summer too but I already had the other one; the compactibility and lighter weight of down makes it superior to synthetic insulation. It is more expensive though.

I loved my Trail Designs Caldera Cone stove as well. I was happy I went with an alcohol stove and this one was sturdy and perfect. My pot was an REI Titanium .9-liter and was perfect sized, although I mentioned before I would not get a nonstick pot if I were doing the trail again. I didn't have any problems with it but it wasn't very versatile. I used a plastic MSR spork with a long, foldable handle, and I think it was the only plastic utensil that made it the whole way! I loved it. When I dug into cold peanut butter or nutella I was always worried about it but it never failed me. I saw a lot of people switch to titanium spoons, which are also a great option and practically indestructible. I carried my fuel in a 16-ounce small-mouthed Nalgene bottle. The bottle I started with leaked and I was always concerned about the durability of a soda bottle...leaked fuel=cold potatoes and dry ramen. This bottle was pretty indestructible as well and I carried it from Hot Springs, NC to Katahdin. I didn't ever have trouble getting a fuel resupply; I preferred to just buy a yellow bottle of Heet when I could find it, but most trail towns had some place where I could buy denatured alcohol by the ounce. I usually carried more than I thought I would need just in case I couldn't find fuel in a town, or if I forgot to get some.

I wasn't sure in the beginning what clothes to bring but I was pretty happy with my choices. For cold weather, I wore a synthetic t-shirt and a synthetic long-sleeved t-shirt overtop, and running tights with running shorts overtop, and this was a good system. If it was really cold I would wear my rain jacket as well. I never hiked in my Patagonia Micro Puff synthetic jacket; I saved it exclusively for in-camp warmth, so it would always be dry when I needed it. I loved that jacket and would definitely buy it again. Patagonia's down jackets are much pricier but surely even better. I had a pair of Under Armor Coldgear thermal bottoms for camp which I loved...very lightweight and warm. I also carried a spare long-sleeved t-shirt and pair of running shorts for in town. I never wore these on the trail unless I absolutely had to, so that I would always have a clean set of clothes to put on after a shower and wear while doing laundry; my rain gear was dirty and smelly so I didn't like wearing that when I did laundry. For summer I sent home the thermals and my running tights, and switched out my spare long-sleeved shirt for a t-shirt. I sent home my jacket too. I carried two sports bras and this was enough; again I always saved one for town. I actually carried four pairs of underwear but that wasn't necessary; honestly I would have been fine with only two. In the beginning I carried three pairs of hiking socks and a thicker pair designated for camp use, which was nice in the cold weather. I sent those home when it got warm and only had the other three. Once I got to New Hampshire I actually carried another pair so I had four pairs to hike in. It was worth the weight to me; clean sock day was by far one of the greatest feelings on the trail. I usually wouldn't wear a pair of socks more than two days, and never for more than three, because the dirt and grime would start to irritate the skin on my feet. If the weather was warm, I would rinse my dirty socks and dry them on the back of my pack to wear again, otherwise I would just stuff the dirty ones away and use a clean pair. I also carried a fleece toboggan and fleece gloves for cold weather; I wore the toboggan from time to time and the gloves less frequently, but they were nice to have when I was just sitting around. I was usually warm enough hiking that I didn't need them. I started with a pair of waterproof gloves that I only wore a couple of times; if it's raining you're going to get wet anyway, so I sent these home and didn't miss them.

Rain gear. Oh, rain gear. Is there such a thing as good rain gear? I started with Marmot Precip jacket and pants. The pants were okay and kept me pretty dry. A lot of people sent their rain pants home for summer but I carried mine the whole way, although I didn't use them much. The jacket was another story. It soaked up water and took awhile to dry, not to mention it didn't keep me dry. I wasn't very happy about this but it wasn't such a big deal in the summer because I usually didn't wear it in the rain since it was so hot. Once I got to Maine I switched it out for an older White Sierra rain jacket, and I wished I'd had that earlier. As for a pack cover, I didn't start with one because I couldn't find one that fit properly, so I bought one at Neels Gap. I'm not sure it was waterproof, probably just water resistant, but it was fine. I lined my pack with a garbage bag as well, and most of my gear was in dry sacks, so I never really had a problem with wet gear. You can only do so much in the rain though; when it rains, you get wet and your pack gets wet no matter what.

I wore Keen Targhee II waterproof boots for the first 600-ish miles and then switched to Keen Voyageur hiking shoes, which I preferred. The shoes were more comfortable, and I don't know if I'll ever hike in boots again. I loved the rubber toe cap on both models and the shoes fit my wide-ish foot very well. They didn't dry quickly at all though, which was one downfall. I saw a lot of people wearing Salomon trail runners and they were all very happy with them; looking back I wish I would have tried a pair because they were light, supposedly supportive enough, and they dried very quickly.

I carried a 20-liter food bag which seems big but it was perfect. It was a Sea to Summit ultra-sil drysack and wasn't really durable enough to use as a food bag; I went through two and my second one had holes in it for probably 1000 miles. Sea to Summit makes more durable dry sacks so I would recommend one of those...a dry sack was nice because I did not enjoy sticking my arm into a wet bag and hoping my food wasn't mushy. I packed all my food in ziplocs inside my food bag for added protection. Most of my other dry sacks were the same kind and they worked perfectly. I carried two Outdoor Products (the Walmart brand) "dry" sacks, and these were not waterproof...water resistant at best.

Some things, such as my guidebook, notebook, camera, and phone, I just carried in ziplocs, which I would replace as necessary, and these worked fine. I double-bagged most things and didn't have any problems.

For water, I used a 1-liter Platypus Hoser system and carried two 1-liter Platypus PlatyPlus bottles. These were great and I only had to replace my hoser once; I was expecting these to be less durable than they were. One bottle had a normal cap and the other had a sport-bottle cap so I could use it as a little fountain for brushing my teeth; it was perfect. I said before it would have been nice to have a container for camp that held more water to avoid making multiple trips to a water source, but I made do without. I only had to carry three liters of water a couple of times, but it was nice to have that capacity just in case, and the bottles weigh next to nothing and pack down small. The only problem is filling them in poor (many) water sources, so I would borrow someone else's bottle for dipping when needed, or use the lid from the container I carried my stove in.

As for water purification, I started using Aquamira and switched to bleach in Harpers Ferry. Aquamira was fine; it had a slight but not unpleasant taste, but it was expensive and the five minute wait for the chemicals to mix was annoying. In Harpers Ferry I rinsed out one of my old Aquamira bottles and filled it with bleach, and used that the rest of the way--3 drops per liter, 4 if the water is pretty questionable, and wait 30 minutes. Overall the wait was longer but I didn't have to stop on the trail and wait before I could even put it in my water. I'm pretty sure bleach does not kill giardia (Aquamira can but it's not "extremely effective"), the biggest safety concern with water on the trail, so I wouldn't recommend using it. That being said, it was easy and lightweight and I didn't have any problems with it; neither did three other people I hiked with who used bleach. Steripens seem like a good option but every Steripen I saw on the trail was accompanied by complaints from the owner. They seemed to have trouble mostly in cold weather. There were several filters out there as well, but I didn't want to deal with the hassle and maintenance of one.

I didn't carry much for first aid, and thankfully I didn't need much. Neosporin was a must, and medical tape. I used all but one of my antiseptic wipes as well. I carried some bandages but used maybe two or three the entire time, and I carried moleskin but it never really did its job for me. One of the best options for blisters is Band-Aid brand blister bandages. They are expensive but are the only thing I found that would stick on my foot and stay there, and they assisted with healing as well. I carried a few safety pins and some guaze, and used them sparingly. For repairing things I brought a couple of needles, thread, and McNett Tenacious Tape, all of which I only used once. Of course I carried duct tape but I didn't use that very often either. I carried Immodium and Benadryl the whole way and never used them, but I definitely used the Ibuprofen!

I carried sunscreen and only used that a few times in the beginning when there were no leaves on the trees. I carried sunglasses but didn't use them much and could have done without. Bug spray was an absolute must...I carried some all the way to Maine (there were a couple of weeks where I was going through an 8-ounce bottle every 5 days or so), and made the mistake of throwing it away in Andover; the mosquitoes bothered us basically all the way to Katahdin. I never used my ear plugs and actually gave them away in Virginia I think; some people loved them but I slept fine without them.

I started carrying two MSR PackTowl Ultralite towels, one for general use and one I kept clean for showering on the trail. I lost the first one and replaced it with a cheap bandana, which worked just as well for washing up in the evenings. The second I carried the whole way and it was nice to have when I showered at a place that didn't provide a towel.

One of my favorite pieces of gear was my closed-cell foam sit pad. The same piece of foam went with me the entire way. It was perfect for sitting on the ground, sitting on wet rocks, and sitting on dirty shelter floors. My Leatherman Micra multitool was perfect as well. I really only used the scissors, and mostly only for cutting medical tape. I lent it to some of the guys for mustache trimming as well! I carried knock-off crocs for camp wear and they were great, although they lacked traction, so I learned to go get water with my hiking shoes still on.

My Petzl Tikka XP 2 headlamp was perfect--super bright and a red light for nighttime in shelters. More importantly it felt good against my head. I replaced my batteries for the first time in Harpers Ferry; after that I had to change more often but I was very impressed by this thing.

As for guidebooks, I loved AWOL's AT Guide. This seemed to be the favored book on the trail as well; the people with the ATC Thru-Hiker Companion complained about it a lot, and liked to look at other people's profile from the AT Guide. AWOL's book had detailed information about water sources, shelters, and landmarks, and included an awesome elevation profile and detailed town maps. The Companion seemed to leave out necessary trail information and gave more historical information. I reccomend AWOL's book for sure.

And finally, possibly my most crucial piece of gear: my trekking poles--Leki Khumbu Aergon Speedlock. These things were amazing. They are about the cheapest Leki poles you can find but they saved my life more times than I can count. I was happy I went with the speedlock because I saw a lot of the twist-lock poles fail. I had to replace the tips twice but that's to be expected, and my poles never bent or caused me any problems (once I figured out how to tighten the fastener to keep them from collapsing), and I depended on them to support my entire weight probably thousands of times. Whenever I think about trekking poles I remember the Smokies when we were hiking through snow. Fiber was behind me and I heard him slip on the ice. I looked back as he steadied himself and breathed a sigh of relief, and then he brought his poles to his face and kissed them. I laughed at the time, but as many times as they've helped me, I think my trekking poles deserve a million kisses.

13 comments:

  1. Lindsey, thanks for taking the time to write up this awesome gear review! It is definitely helpful in my planning for my hike next year. I'm sure I may have questions in the future, but for now all the info you posted is perfect!

    Any thoughts of going back on the trail next year?

    (previously posted as humuhumunukunukuapua'a)

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  2. Lindsey, great review! Will definately refer to this when I start to shop for gear. I have been reading your blog for so long and you are such a great writer that I feel as though I know you. And I have tons of questions for you. If you ever have time to answer a ton of questions from a very inexperienced hiker let me know. katiebravesfan@aol.com

    Thanks, Katie

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  3. Great Review!
    1. It may help your readers to see the list as a list with weights.
    2. Was your rain gear gore tex?
    3. With condensation issues on your tent, Saturday, I saw a like new Hubba for $135. Talk to Seth I am sure he would buy it for you.
    4. Another review may be food.
    5. A breakdown of your total cost (not just gear) would be nice. How much did this 7 month trip cost?

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  4. Thanks for the review!

    Any particular bug spray work better than the others?

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  5. Lindsey,

    Thanks so much for the through gear review. You shed a lot of light on both the positive and negative of the equipment you carried and why it was important to you. I really appreciate that and will take your recommendations to heart. BTW, I may have a fix for your leaking narrow mouth Nalgene fuel bottle. See my YT video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgIyRkPNoSw

    Funny you mentioned the White Sierra rain jacket. I have a White Sierra jacket too but I’ve been shopping for something else lately. Maybe I should just keep what I have. Thanks for saving me a little money :-)) Thanks too for the heads up on the AWOL AT guide. Good to know that.

    I’m going to look for some of those Band-Aid brand blister bandages. Sounds like a good thing to have in my first aid kit.

    I really enjoyed your trip. I felt I was right there with you. I found your Youtube preparation video back about March or April, shortly after you had started your trip. Don’t know if you noticed my YT comment on that video but, I believe you did your test outing at the same place I was going to hike and camp last fall (Burr Oak?). Unfortunately, my trip up there had to be cancelled.

    I’ve enjoyed my 7+ month visit with you and I wish you the best in your future. You seem like a really great person. Hang in there… next spring and great hiking weather will be here before you know it.

    Jim… aka Woodenarrows

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  6. Lindsey,
    Thank you for all the updates throughout the last 6 months. I spent that time looking forward to each & every update. I lived my dream of hiking the trail through you. I hope you have as much fun & success in your life as you had on the trail.

    Thank you
    My2rots

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  7. Thanks for all the updates and pix and info. Definitely inspired me to start section hiking (job issues - rats!)next summer.

    Couple of questions - how did you handle photography? batteries, model, etc

    Phone - how did you handle the updates? Not very phone savvy, so any info there appreciated!

    Again, thanks for taking us along on your trip.

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  8. Bug spray? DEET. The higher, the better.

    Daniel, I started with an old Kodak MD863 camera. It took decent-enough pictures and I didn't want to risk a new one getting ruined on the trail. I carried two extra batteries (rechargeable lithium-ions) for this camera but I don't think I ever used them...although that may have had to do with the fact that I was taking pictures on my phone as well. The Kodak got wet in Vermont so I bought a new one, a Canon Powershot A2200...still a cheap little camera but it took better pictures and got the job done. I only had the one battery for this one and it never died on me.

    I have a Motorola Droid 2 phone that I purchased two months before I started specificallly so I could update along the way. The phone has a keyboard so that makes typing a lot easier. I discovered the Blogspot app (Blogger-Droid) that would allow me to update directly from the phone, so that's why I chose to use Blogspot. I usually didn't update anything from the trail to save battery (I had two phone batteries and had to be pretty conservative), so when I got into town I would go through all the drafts I had saved through the app and upload them. The whole process took some playing around in the beginning but once I figured things out it worked really well.

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  10. Cool, thanks for the info. I am going to take along a canon (forgot the model) with a pretty good optical zoom. Also going to take a couple of extra batteries, charged and ready to go (my usual m.o. on vacations - I always try to remember to recharge used batts when i can) Since my first time on the AT is going to be only until we get out of georgia (10 days planned to accomplish) shouldn't be a problem - I like to take LOTS of pix and keep the good ones. I think for this first trip, I'll write drafts and upload at the end. Maybe next section, a 2 monther,in 2013, I will try to emulate what you did and update on the road when we are able to.

    Thanks again for all the blogging - definitely helped make up our minds to git 'er done! It's nice for us old folks (57 and 62) to get inspired by you young'uns!

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  11. Loved your Blog and YouTube video's of your amazing journey. I teach business at Ivy Tech Community College in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I am not sure how close in Ohio you are to Fort Wayne but I would love to see if when you have time if you would be interested in speaking to our students as a guest speaker about your hike. If you have any interest in sharing your story and inspiring others, please contact me at pmccormi@Ivytech.edu

    Congrats again!

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  12. First , I would like to say congratulations! I will remember your journey, so I can only imagine how awesome it must be for you. Second, I have so many questions. What kind of food did you find yourself eating mostly on the trail? How much money did you spend (not counting gear) during your hike? Is there anything you would do differently in order to spend less money? I have more, but I don't want to over do it. You have inspired me, and I hope to follow in your footsteps someday soon.

    Thanks for everything
    Take care

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  13. Lindsey:

    Thanks for the gear update. Please consider the comments made by Bear Bag's Dad.

    Also, I have a few questions for you:

    1) How did your socks hold up? What brand/type did you use?
    2) Did you use the same weight sock the entire time or did you switch to a light weight sock in the warmer months?
    3) Did you use a sock liner?
    4) You have some snow at the beginning of your trip. Do you think you would have been comfortable in the snow had you not been wearing boots at the time?
    5) You had a lot of trail magic and stops in town. What did you eat while on the trail (when not getting trail magic) and how did you choose your food?
    6) How much did your food typically weigh after a resupply?
    7) What was your pack's base weight (all gear minus food and water) at the beginning and at the end of your journey?

    Thanks again.
    Kevin

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