~Thru-Hike Equipment Review~
I figure that this reflection could, one day, help someone make some
gear decisions for their Long Trail thru-hike. I am going to rate everything using a star system.
* = Very poor performance; will take something else next time
** = Satisfactory; did the job, but on the lookout for something that might be better
*** = Above average; very pleased; considered a "staple" on my next checklist
**** = Damn!, dat's some good shit
Dana Design Glacier (modified) backpack **1/2
This is the first and only pack I have ever owned. As I got
into lighterweight hiking, I started cutting and whacking to shave more and
more weight. However, now at the bare minimum without sacrificing the integrity of the pack, it is still heavy. It carried 20-35 pounds
very well, but is probably just a little more pack than I really need for my relatively light
loads. Why should the thing I carry the load in be the heaviest part of the load? Have been looking at the Mountainsmith Auspex, Wild Things AT, and Gregory Reality though for my next big hike.
TNF Blue Kazoo sleeping bag **1/2
Because this is the only bag I own, it is also the one I brought.
However, though many of the evenings dipped down into the low 40's and high 30's (well not as many
evenings in the 30's), I was comfortable in this bag with barely any clothing underneath. That's the problem.
Lots of my clothes just went into making a fluffier pillow when they could have been actually worn
if I used a lighter bag rated at a higher temperature. I still love my Kazoo, but for summer hikes I would rather shave a pound and use a lighter bag....or just get a superlight
(and ultra-expensive) Western Mountaineering or Feathered Friends bag. Oh, by the way, no matter what goof ball tells you that the
Appalachians are too wet for a down bag is obviously inexperienced. The thru-hikers that I camped with never had problems with getting their down bag wet and all appreciated the lighter weight and lower bulk. Besides, would you REALLY want to sleep in any soaking wet sleeping bag?
TNF Canyonlands tent ***1/2
Days before the start of the hike I caved and decided to use my Sil Shelter tarp and a bug bivy. After suffering severe black fly bites that caused an allergic reaction and caused me to go on medication, I was through with life in my little and not-so-protective bug shelter.
I ended up getting my tent back at Killington and was very pleased to be carrying the extra weight. I could use it in shelters for bug protection and it was easy to set up on the trail. I got my best nights sleep in my tent away from all the racket of shelters. I also weathered 3 intense thunderstorms in
my tent and did not get wet! When I become man enough to try my tarp again, I might have a different opinion of my beloved tent, but right now I believe that it was one of the best "luxury" items I carried. Yes, I admit it....I am a lightweight hiker who (sniffle) likes tents and does not use tarps!
Cascade Designs Z-Rest sleeping pad ***1/2
Right now, the Z-rest is the best pad on the market. So compact (enough to fit INSIDE my pack), so light (compare it to ANY thermarest), and so comfortable (well, at least more so than any closed cell pad that I have ever seen). The only thing
that keeps it from getting a perfect score is that it compressed quite a bit during the trip leading me to believe that it will not
stay comfortable forever. Well worth another 15 bucks for a new one, though, when I need one.
Most of the time I did not use a groundcloth under my tent finding that it really wasn't needed. Actually, one of the
storms that I used it rain got all over it while I was setting my tent up and then seeped through the floor of the tent. Groundclothes are
probably just the industry's attempt to get outdoor gear consumers to buy one more fancy thing. If you use one, nothing more than a cheapy, 2 mil, hardware store bought thing is needed.
Stove and accessories ***1/2
I started with less than a pint of alcohol and, 18 days later, still had a couple ounces of fuel! Talk about efficiency. My little homemade cheapy outperformed every other stove I saw, in my opinion.
Why carry around a chunk of metal that weighs more than a pound just to cook one meal a day? A little alcohol stove is the best thing for someone who cooks simple, one pot meals and is concerned with packweight. My only quibble is that the coat hanger
pot support that I made was adequate, but I almost lost a meal or two because it was a little flimsy. Oh well.
Cookpot and utensils ****
My titanium pot worked fantastic. Great size and efficiency and strength. Absolutely no complaints.
Aquamira Water Purification ****
Perfect! No funky taste, no sickness, no filter to clog. Though I used it only occaisionally, I was very glad to have it when I needed it (Read- There is some funky lookin water out there sometimes). God..and to think people are still trapped in their micro-pore, liter per hour, arm workout world of useless filters!
Platypus Water Carriers ***
The platypus water carriers are the lightest way to carry liquid and the most compact thing to store when not being used, but are not incredibly durable and able to stand up to regular usage. One of my 2.4 liter jugs developed a leak near the cap that prevented me from carrying it filled inside my pack. Because I
used the smaller two everyday for water along the trail (and not just in camp) they took quite a beating, but now appear that they are starting to delaminate a little. I think I am going to go with empty gatorade bottles next time and just use the two 2.4 L bottles for camp.
CMG Infinity Flashlight ***
The light worked very well, though I didn't use it much. It gave me enough
light to do the things around camp that needed to be done, though I don't think it would have
been good for night hiking. I think that if I started to read more on the
trail I would get a Petzl Zipka. If not, I think I would bring one of the
many quarter-size keychain LED lights on the market (ala- Photon, CMG Q4, etc) saving around 1.5 ounces.
Victorinox Classic pocketknife ****
Everything I could ever want or use in a knife (and more)!
Olympus Stylus Epic ***1/2
Until a lighter and smaller 35mm camera is released, this
thing is great. Very pleased with the quality of most of the pictures. The
ones that turned out poorly (or what I thought were poor) were due to photographer error
not the camera's.
Montrail TRS Comp shoes **
Don't get me wrong. These are great shoes, but I think
that I would have preferred simple running shoes that were 100% synthetic.
I never really needed "support" from my boots (I don't think boots should
take the place of strengthening and careful hiking) and, because my shoes
were mainly leather, they were wet for about 14 of the 18 days of my hike.
I don'y just mean moist, I mean splish-splash-taking-a-bath wet. Running shoes
would have been lighter (every pound on your feet is equal to 10 on your back) and
would have actually dried at night!
OR Low Gaiters *
I used to love the fact that my gaiters kept crap out of
my boots, but now I resent them for simply keeping water from evaporating
from my boots and socks. Ventilation on the trail is everything and these things prevented
good air flow.
EMS Bergelene socks *
These are good socks as replacements for traditional sport socks, but are not good
hiking socks. They were relatively thin, but did not dry well. Next hike, I think I will
invest in some nice Smartwool Trailrunners or Light Hikers or wear a pair or two of superthin liner socks (like Ray Jardine).
The wool socks that I brought for camp were nice, but were a luxury, I guess. One of the most important things that I learned on
the hike was that happy feet equal a good mental outlook. Big boots and slow drying socks are
not the thing to wear if you want your feet to smile.
Hat and gloves ***
Though I only wore the gloves hiking on a couple cold mornings, I consider them essential for any season backpacking. Same witht the
hat. It kept my noggin warm on many a cold evening.
Thermal Undies **1/2
I was glad to have at least one set (top and bottom) dry
for the end of the day when I arrived at camp and everything else was soaked. They also
kept me warm enough on cool evenings that thermal underwear and a lightweight sleeping bag would
be sufficient enough for next time.
Marmot Precip raincoat **
This is one of those things that it is tough to be critical of. Because
it was summer, I never wore the jacket while hiking in the rain, but was glad to have it hiking in cold
and blustery weather atop mountains, etc. Did I need a 13 ounce windbreaker? No. In fact this is the
reason that I would, next time, consider carrying a lighter, non-waterproof jacket for the wind and an umbrella for the rain
or just use one of those superlight (ala Frogg Toggs, Rainshield, etc) jackets and sacrifice some features and durability.
Ex Officio Shirt ***
Though I probably didn't need to be wearing such an
expensive shirt hiking, I did appreciate the fact that, with long sleeves that rolled up, I was able to
roll them up in warm weather and unroll them when the bugs came out for their one last hoorah in the evenings. I also liked being
able to unbutton the entire front of the shirt for ventilation. Maybe next time, though, just a regular polyester T-shirt would do
EMS Convertible Pants **
I liked being able to zip on/off the legs, but did not care to do it in the dark.
I also did not like having to wear a belt (that I had to keep pulling tighter as I lost weight) to keep my pants up.
I also did not like how thick the shorts were. Granted, they were "tough", but I think what would have really suited me (and what I USUALLY wear hiking)
is some cheapy nylon shorts with the liner cut out (for freedom reasons, of course).
EMS Alpinist trekking poles ***1/2
I will never backpack without trekking poles from now on since they helped me so
much along the way. They prevented numerous falls, helped me navigate rocks and steeps, and made it
easier on my legs and knees. I did, however, slightly bend a pole section when I took a pretty nasty fall
coming down Whiteface Mtn. The cork grips on the poles were also great. I never wished I had pogo stick springs in my poles.
Fleece jacket **
I only actually put this thing on once in the entire trip. Every night, though, it served as a comfy pillow case. Next time
I should really reconsider its worth (and weight) in my pack
Things That I Didn't Have and Needed or Had and Didn't Need
I guess I never realized that I had and allergic reaction
to blackflies. I was very glad to pick up some Benadryl pills to help combat the
itching and inflamation. I also ended up getting rid of my anti-itch, ammonia stick and picked up
a tube of topical Benadryl that soothes itches which I really liked.
"Disposable" Water Bottles
Though I am an avid proponent of less consumption and a general reduction in the amount humans waste everyday, I would
have still liked to have plastic bottles to use instead of my two one liter Platypuses. I would have liked to make instant breakfasts or sweet milk or some sort of drink mix, but
did not want to "contaminate" the soft bottles because of the difficulty in sterilizing them. With plastic bottles, when they start to get funky, you can just toss them in the recycling bin. Hell, I
still bought drinks in bottles, but was always throwing them away right after I drank the fluid. Might as well get a little more bang for the buck.
It wasn't until halfway into the trip that I discovered the benefits
of using a foot powder for moisture control. Two southbounders (a mother and daughther team- Natalie and Harriet) ended
up giving me a little canister at Taylor Lodge that I used every day for the rest of the trip. Reminder to self- use powder to keep