Having the right gear can make or break a thru hike. Weight, functionality, durability, comfort and cost all come into play, and ultimately a hiker must ask themselves, “Will this item help me get to Canada?” for each piece of gear they choose to bring. Bring too much, your pack will be too heavy. Bring too little, you may sacrifice preparedness or comfort to the point of critical failure. Spend too much on “ultralight” gear, run out of money halfway through the trail.
Gear list 2019
A hiker’s “Big Three” includes their tent, sleeping bag and pack. These tend to be the heaviest items that they carry. Recently, it has been expanded to the “Big Four” including sleeping pad in the mix.
Tent: Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo (26 oz)
This little tent is incredible and so far I absolutely love it. Instead of having tent poles to lug around or potentially break, it uses one of my trekking poles and tension from the guylines/tent stakes. It is a fully enclosed tent (bug netting to keep out the mosquitoes!) and had enough room for me and all of my stuff without feeling too cramped.
A note about the Tyvek footprint: A footprint helps prevent damage to the bottom of your tent but doesn’t have to be the sometimes expensive one from the tent manufacturer. I got a piece of Tyvek (the stuff they wrap houses in) from a friend and cut it to just smaller than my tent floor. I then wrote “HIKER TO TOWN” on one side and “HIKER TO TRAIL” on the other- my footprint will now do double duty, helping me hitch a ride when necessary so I look slightly less homeless.
Pack: Superior Wilderness Designs Superior 40L Custom (25.2 oz)
There are hundreds of options for packs out there, some with full suspension for heavy loads, some little more than a fancy sack with straps. Pack are measured by their internal volume, so I can carry 40 liters’ worth of stuff and other than what I strap to the outside, no more. This pack is from a cottage company (a small, grassroots business- think mom & pop shop) in Michigan, and is made of a high-tech material called Dyneema that is ultralight and waterproof. Since it is from a small company, I was able to totally customize it with the exact colors and extra straps/pockets/etc that I wanted.
Sleep System: REI Igneo Sleeping Bag (31 oz), Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Sleeping Bag Liner (9.3 oz), Big Sky International Inflatable Pillow (1.4 oz), Thermarest NeoAir Xlite inflatable sleeping pad (12 oz), NeoAir Pump Sack (3.4 oz), Quaanti CCF Mat (2.5 oz).
Ok, yes, that is a lot of stuff for sleeping, but getting a good night’s sleep is crucial to your performance on the trail the next day. You need quality sleep in order for your body to recover, and it will need to do a LOT of recovering. I sleep cold so my sleeping bag is top-notch: it is rated to 17 degrees (F) and I am coupling that with a liner that will add 20 additional degrees of warmth. This may be overkill, but there is nothing worse than being so cold that you can’t sleep. I’ll have a 2″ thick inflatable insulated mattress with a bag to help inflate it (no huffing and puffing!) plus a tiny inflatable pillow, giving me some comfort and helping insulate me from the cold ground. The closed-cell foam mat will give me a little bit more cushion and insulation, help protect my inflatable mattress from pokey things, and be used a LOT when not sleeping as a sitting pad during breaks (soft and dry!) and even to provide structure, cushion and support in my pack. I likely won’t need/use all of these items every single night on the trail and may send some ahead if I think I won’t need them for a large section (like the 700 miles of hot desert!).
Cooking & Hydration:
Water filter: Sawyer Mini (2 oz)
Some people do not filter their water along the trail, but pathogens such as giardia can knock you off the trail for many days, so I am choosing to filter all of my water. This little filter will clean up to 100,000 gallons of water for me as long as I take care of it. The water going in can be muddy and gross and will still be pristine coming out, the filter having removed all bacteria, protozoa, microplastics and general crud. I’ll have two 2-liter collapsible Sawyer pouches (4 oz) to collect and carry water, and multiple Smart Water bottles to carry clean water. These bottles are generally accepted as one of the best options for lightweight backpacking and can be easily replaced when they get gross.
Some people choose to go without a stove on their adventure, but a hot meal can do a lot for your morale after a long day on the trail, and can heat up a hot water bottle to put in your sleeping bag on a cold night. The JetBoil is a heavy-by-comparison stove, but can boil half a liter of water in 2.5 minutes. I’m impatient, especially when it comes to my food, so this is my choice. It uses small isobutane/propane fuel canisters which must be lit every time it is used (hence the Bic). There are a million options for utensils, and I chose to go eco-friendly with the Kupilka spoon/fork combo- we’ll see how it holds up. The PB jar is for cold soaking food when I don’t necessarily want/need a hot meal. I can dump a dehydrated meal in the jar at breakfast time and add water, and while I hike all morning my food will rehydrate perfectly in time for lunch. I can also use this for overnight oats, protein shakes, etc. And when I need a new one, I get to eat a whole jar of PB!
Bears and “mini bears” (mice and other rodents) can cause major issues for backpackers when it comes to their food. Bears have been known to destroy an entire campsite looking for food, and rodents will chew through your tent, pack, food bag, pretty much anything to find a tasty snack. Bear canisters are required through the Sierras of central California, and are basically bear-proof. You put all of your food in the canister and place it far from your tent at night. If a hungry bear comes along while you are sleeping, it will argue with the canister all night instead of disturbing your zzz’s. This also means that you will not end up stranded in the middle of the wilderness with no food. Where the HEAVY canister is not required, I’ll use the bag kit, and hang my food from an available tree, out of reach of bears and mini bears.
Headlamp: UCO Hundred (3 oz)
I got this in a subscription box and haven’t really used it much. It has high/med/low settings and is pretty dang bright on high. This will be useful when night hiking and for searching for whatever goes bump in the night. Takes 3 AAA batteries so I will be taking a replacement set for when they die on me.
GPS locator: SPOT Gen3 Messenger (4 oz)
This little guy will track my location, allow me to send messages to my designated support group, and send an SOS signal to emergency rescue personnel if I need to be evacuated. I hadn’t planned on taking something like this due to the cost, but I read enough horror stories that I figured it was worth it.
Phone: Samsung Galaxy S7 (5 oz) in an OtterBox Defender case (1.5oz)
Yes, part of the point of going into the wilderness is to “unplug” and “disconnect” but I will be using my phone as my camera and also as a navigation tool via specialty mapping apps. I’ll also be updating this blog with it along the way!
Power: Anker PowerCore 13000 (8.5 oz)
My phone and SPOT device both take electricity, and I will be away from an outlet for many days, sometimes up to 2 weeks. I will charge this and my devices when I come through towns and will be able to recharge them with this little brick out on the trail.
Main shirt: Railriders Tradewinds (9 oz)
This shirt is a long-sleeved button-down with pores in the fabric to help it breathe. It will protect me from the sun in the desert and wick away moisture quickly to keep me cool. They recently discontinued the women’s version this shirt, so hopefully it holds up to the abuse of the trail.
Midlayer: Sherpa Pullover (9.3 oz)
I received this as a gift and absolutely love it. A lot of warmth for very little weight, antimicrobial so will resist odors, durable and high quality.
Jacket: Brooks Running Jacket (10 oz)
Found this at a thrift store for $8. Windproof, waterproof (aka water resistant), lightweight and packable. I’ll probably add a cheap plastic poncho in Washington for the inevitable rain, but this will be fine on its own until then.
Pants: 90 Degree Ankle-length Interlink leggings (7.5 oz)
Many people use shorts only (no pants) on the trail but I am just not ready for that. I can wear these on their own or layered with my shorts and/or wind pants depending on what the weather is like. These seem to stay put well and keep me warm, which is really all I need!
Shorts: Reebok training shorts (6 oz)
These compression shorts are nice and long, stay put and prevent chafe. Would be nice if they weighed a few less ounces.
Wind pants: Dance warmup pants (3.5 oz)
There are many brands that make very expensive wind pants but these work just as well. I can wear these over my shorts or leggings on the trail or wear them in town while the rest of my clothes are in the wash.
Apparently there is no such thing as an attractive sun hat, but this one has a flap across the back to protect my neck and a flap across the face to protect from sand, smoke, etc. The Icebreakers hat is SO comfy- I kept stealing Colin’s until he finally just bought me one of my own. This super lightweight hat will keep my heat from escaping at night in my tent and keep me cozy while breaking camp in the morning.
Bra: Patagonia Barely (2.1 oz)
Ultralight, wicking, quick dry, stays put, can be used to swim in. Hopefully won’t create sores on my collarbones under my pack straps like every other bra I’ve tried.
Underwear: Patagonia Barely Hipster (0.85 oz), 2 pairs
Ultralight, wicking, quick dry, stays put, can be used to swim in. One to wear, one to rinse/dry daily.
Socks: Darn Tough Cushion 1/4 crew (1.86 oz), 2 pairs
Best. Socks. Ever. And they have a lifetime guarantee against basically anything so they are perfect for walking a gagillion miles in. One pair to wear, one to rinse/dry daily.
Sock liners help prevent blisters! I’ve used the Wigwam liners for years and like them, but have heard nothing but good things about the Injinjis so I’ll try those too.
The merino gloves will come with me the whole time, but the others will swap out depending on the usual weather situation. The HydroSkin gloves are for kayaking but I feel like they will work beautifully in the Cascades when it is just cold and miserable.
Sunglasses: Ironman (0.95 oz)
I always break or lose sunglasses so I refuse to spend a lot on them. Got these at a drugstore for $20 and they have held up really well so far.
Gaiters: Dirty Girl (1.5 oz)
Gaiters help keep the rocks and sand and general crud out of your shoes. These are the brand that pretty much everyone wears since they do their job, hold up well, and have a ton of color/pattern options.
Hiking Shoes: Xero Shoes Prio (12.8 oz)
Camp Shoes: FitKicks (7.55 oz)
Changes for 2020
I really liked my kit from 2019 but I did make a considerable number of changes along the way as I learned about the trail, the terrain, and how I experienced all of it. Now I also want to lighten my load as much as possible without breaking the bank. This is my proposed kit for 2020:
Tent: Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo (26 oz)
This little tent is incredible and I loved it on trail. It is definitely coming with me again.
Pack: Superior Wilderness Designs Superior 40L Custom (25.2 oz)
My custom-made pack from last year was great and I plan to use it again. It got stained, my ice axe ripped a few holes in the mesh front pocket, and the attachment points for the added pouches are showing some wear, but overall it held up well and still has a lot of miles in it.
Sleep System: Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Sleeping Bag Liner (9.3 oz), Big Sky International Inflatable Pillow (1.4 oz), Thermarest NeoAir Xlite inflatable sleeping pad (12 oz), NeoAir Pump Sack (3.4 oz), Quaanti CCF Mat (2.5 oz).
I am changing my sleeping bag but keeping the rest. I never actually took the pillow but sometimes wished I did. I loved the NeoAir and the pump sack as a luxury item. The CCF mat was a life saver, keeping the sun off in the desert and providing just enough insulation and cushion at night to be worthwhile. The sleeping bag was too cold and too bulky, so I am going with a lighterweight quilt.