Appalachian Trail -

Good Gear and Great Gear

After hiking on the trail in all four seasons this past year we have had the chance to try out all kinds of gear. While hiking on the trail it was one of the most common conversations that could be heard at camp. Dion is such a gear head, he could talk about it all day. He really knows his stuff too, if this graphic design thing doesn’t work out for him the first place he will be looking to get a job it REI. He will not require any training. When we lived in Boulder, a few blocks from REI, he spent as much time in there as a full time employee does. He just can’t get enough. I love that about him, he wants to know everything and try everything to see what is the most efficient and durable gear.

When we first began the trip we started with more car camping gear than backpacking gear. Before hitting the trail, the longest we had all been out for was about two weeks. We figured that because we had the car, we would bring extra stuff and be more comfortable on the trail. This proved to be a silly mistake and looking back in hindsight ignorance of the experience is our only excuse! We did several gear shake downs and swap outs along the trail. Here is a list of the gear we used and what we thought about it. The rating next to each item is our thru hiking score for it.

 

After about two weeks we did a serious shake down and cut down on enough stuff that we got rid of the plastic carryall on the roof and were able to fit all our necessities into the trunk. This Jeep couldn’t have been a better vehicle to travel the trail in! It was just barely big enough that we could fold the seats down and sleep on a platform we built. The second day on the trail the starter died which makes for a great story now, not such a good experience at the time. But, once that was fixed we never had another engine problem again. Only after 7 months did I get a flat tire and I was on a main road. For the amount of back roads, all rock “roads” and times of my stomach sank to my feet while I was driving and saw what was ahead of me to get through, this Jeep is heaven sent. That Jeep got stuck in a muddy “puddle” up to the windshield in the middle of Maine-nowhereness and I was able to back it out and arrive safely at my destination. We couldn’t have asked for a better car, it did great on gas and still runs perfectly after driving across country twice and then up and down and in between the entire AT. We love you Red Backpack, you rock.

 

When we first began the trail we had the Asolo Velocity 3 Tent which weighed in at a whopping 7 lbs 2 oz. We liked the shape of the tent and thought the weight wouldn’t be an issue because we were slack packing. After a few days of having to try and fit this massive, heavy tent into my backpack to slack it “only” 4 miles, it was time to rethink this decision. We had the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL4 tent when we were backpacking the Rockies and absolutely loved it. While we were visiting family on LI one time we stopped by REI and saw that the UL3 was on sale and we decided we had to have it! It comes in at 3lbs 3oz and we absolutely love this tent. It is a single pole super easy set up, rain fly on and done in just a few minutes. We have used this tent in downpour conditions for days on end, and only after 7 nights in the 100 mile wilderness did it become a little ‘iffy’ on whether or not it would hold up again. But, after a few minutes in the sun, it was completely dry and back to its fantastic original condition. Thankfully we are not very tall so Dion and I are able to lay vertically and put Christian horizontally across the bottom of the tent. Setting up like this gives us endless amounts of space to bring everything into the tent if it’s raining. Something pretty serious is going to have to come along to get us to switch tents.

I LOVE my Granite Gear Blaze A.C. 60 pack, as does everyone else I saw on the trial who had it, and that was a lot of people! It is extremely light and you can fit an unbelievable amount of stuff in it. Sometimes I unpack it and I am truly amazed at all that comes out of it. The side pockets are perfect and very durable. The only thing I would add would be some hip belt pockets and some solder strap pockets. Pockets are everything when you are hiking. You want to be able to just grab your snacks, camera, chapstick or anything else you feel is a necessity while you are hiking and it’s nice to have it right there.

Dion is not so crazy about his Granite Gear Vapor Day pack. Having the zipper is one of the main drawbacks on the bag. The blaze has a draw string and straps that allow you to really load it up and then compress it down. With this bag, if it doesn’t fit it doesn’t zip. It does have the same side pockets as the Blaze and also has a great front zipper part that holds a lot!

Buddy’s Osprey Jet Daypack is great for what it is. Unfortunately there aren’t too many options in kids backpacks. Buddy’s pack could stand to be a bit lighter, but it also has a great number of interior and exterior pockets. When he did carry his pack he only had his sleeping bag and snacks in it, so we never did try to get too much into it. But there is only so much any kid would carry. The hip belts have a good amount of padding on them which made it very comfortable. It is a really good size, one that he can still fit into in a few years if it’s still in one piece.

My sleeping bag, for $50 was fantastic up until about September. Then I had to layer it with a down sleeping bag for the winter. Dion didn’t use anything but a wool liner and an emergency bivy until early September. Then he got the Montbell, the caddy of sleeping bags and has to be pried out of it every morning at camp. Other than it being a bit large, and more suitable for fall/winter hiking, he just loves it. It is so comfortable and packs pretty small into the compression sack. It would be too heavy and warm for a typical March-September thru hike. Buddy’s sleeping bag was perfect for him. If only it were a little bit lighter, it would have been the perfect kids bag. It kept him warm in the winter with a wool liner on a good pad, but also didn’t make him sweat when left unzipped and used as a blanket in the summer. Again, for the price it can’t be beat!

The SteriPEN was my least favorite piece of gear we had with us this year. After a few days the red light of doom kept coming on, telling us the water had not been sterilized. We changed the batteries,  but still nothing. We brought that back and tried the Katadyn hand pump. I like this a lot better because not only did it work but the sediment was being filtered out leaving you with no chunks in your water, unlike the SteriPEN. But like all hand pumps that problem was pumping. At the end of the day we just didn’t want to. Finally we got the GravityWorks filter and we wont ever switch. You just scoop up 2 liters, attach it to the filter, then that to your clean water bag, hang it up and sit back and watch gravity do it’s thing. You do have to remember to backflush it after every use, but we did a little over half the trail on one filter. Our bag also broke while we were in Virginia but the great thing about Platypus is you just bring it into a gear shop and they will give you a new one right then and there.