Acorn’s AT Thru-Hike Gear Review

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Gear preferences are a very personal thing and everyone needs to find what fits them the best. When I did my preparation, I talked to former thru-hikers, and obsessively read posts on Whiteblaze and Facebook.

Then, I got overwhelmed and just flipped a coin.

Honestly, don’t worry too much about gear.  It’s really easy to change your mind mid-hike and get something different.  I ended up switching out of a hammock into a tent in Pennsylvania.  The following items are what worked for me.  Everyone has their own weight-to-comfort ratio.  For me, I wanted to go as light as possible, while still being happy

…. But, I still carry a kite.  Because you gotta carry what makes you happy.  .

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ULA Ohm 2.0 Backpack
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Pros:  My baby.  Beautiful fit.  Amazing ride without hurting or chafing my back, hips, or shoulders. Many hikers had to replace packs, and this pack easily withstood the abuse of 6 months on the trail.  Lined it with a trash compactor bag and didn’t worry about a pack cover.  Side pockets and hip belt pockets worked great.  I could reach my water bottles, camera, and snacks without taking my pack off.
Cons: Pretty minimal support.  Only good for carrying <30 pounds.  I felt like the pack was starting to push the limit when I entered the 100 mile wilderness (I carried 5.5 days of food + winter gear + 2 liters of soda.)
Bottom Line:  Perfect for carrying my gear on the AT, where most resupplies were only 3-4 days and water was plentiful…  If I ever hiked in a place where I had to carry more water or food, I would switch into the ULA Circuit.   I would probably suggest the ULA Circuit for most AT hikers too. (Oh, and my Ohm is black because I dyed it myself with RIT dye.)
Price: $200
Weight:  23 oz (some items removed)
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LightHeart Gear Solo Standard Tent   (PA-ME)

Pros:  My palace!  I switched into a tent in Pennsylvania and never looked back.  Light and spacious. It kept me dry and safe from the elements.  It dried out quickly after rain or a night with high condensation. This tent was setup using my hiking poles and setup was quick and easy.  Just stake down 4 corners, crawl into tent and pop hiking poles into place.  Then add 4 tent stakes to tighten things up.  Simple.
Cons: Not free standing, so it needs to be staked securely.  Had to get creative a few times when I camped on wooden tent platforms.  It can use 4 stakes, but I recommend using 8 for the best setup (makes it nice and tight!).  I used MSR mini-groundhog tent stakes, and they were fine.
Price: $245  (purchased on sale for $184)
Weight:  27 oz .
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Hennesey Hammock Expedition Asym Zip (GA-PA)

Pros:   Comfort. There was no feeling more amazing than falling into my hammock after a long day.   Crawling into my tent just isn’t the same.
Cons:  So…. why did I switch??  I needed space.  After 1000 miles, my hammock stopped feeling like a palace and started to feel more like a coffin.  I wanted space to play with my gear, eat dinner, journal, etc.   Another reason for the switch…  I never felt like I had any privacy in my hammock.  Also, my hammock is much colder than my tent and more annoying in the rain.
Price: $170
Weight: 41 oz
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Western Mountaineering Megalite 30 Sleeping Bag (Short)

Pros:   Awesome bag!  Saved my life on multiple occasions.  Light, warm, soft. I struggled to get out of it each morning and would dream of getting back into the cushy bag all day.  I saved money, and carried the same bag the whole way.  But, I was a late March starter, so I knew that I would be warm enough (never even saw snow on the trail!).
Cons:  Sometimes too warm and it is pricey…but totally worth it!
Price: $299 (shopped around)
Weight: 23 oz
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Sea to Summit Reactor Thermolite Mummy Bag Liner

Pros:  Added that extra warmth on cold nights and used as a light blanket on warm nights. Extends the life of the sleeping bag by keeping skin oils away.  I got really muddy on the AT, and loved that I could just crawl into my liner bag at the end of a long day without having to worry about washing my legs.  Having a liner bag felt like a cozy set of bed sheets.  It was simple to wash it when I did laundry, so it always felt clean.
Cons:  Could be considered a luxury item, but I don’t think I would have slept well without it.
Price: $55
Weight: 8.1 oz
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Therm-a-Rest ProLite Short Sleeping Pad
Pros: I’m a stomach/side sleeper, so I loved this pad.  The harder pads (Z-Rest) seemed really uncomfortable, and the Neo-air is really loud and squeaky. This pad was comfy and simple.
Cons:  Heard of other hikers with inflatable pads who had leakage or pops… but I never had any problems. The short length covers me from head to knee.  I generally prop my feet on my pack at night.
Price: $79
Weight: 11 oz
 
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LEKI Ultralite Titanium Trekking Poles
Pros:  These poles saved me from falling on a daily basis.  I kiss them everyday.  Back story:  I started from Georgia with a pair of $30 hiking poles.  By 500 miles, they were both starting to fall apart.  My friend saw my poles in Virginia and loaned me his LEKI poles to finish my hike.  I busted a tip in New Hampshire, and had that replaced at an outfitter 2 days later.  Other than that, the LEKI poles made it all the way to Maine, with zero issues.  Pretty impressive, especially considering the fact they already had ~2,800 miles before they even got to me!     TL;DR:  I love them.
Cons:  Expensive, if you don’t have amazing friends.
Price: Couldn’t find these specific ones online, but LEKI poles are generally $100-$150
Weight:  ~ 15 oz ?
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Zelph Venom Alcohol Super Stove 

Pros:  Alcohol stove with wicking. Light, efficient, simple, and sturdy.  What else do I need to say?  Tried some other alcohol stoves, and ended up loving this one.  It was really effective at boiling water without using a lot of fuel.  On the AT, finding fuel  (denatured alcohol or HEET) was simple.
Cons:  Took a bit of practice to use properly.  Slower than a Jet-Boil.  Oh well.
Weight:  1.6 oz
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GSI Minimalist Cookset

Pros: Wonderful! Small, light, gets the job done.  And includes a cozy, so I don’t burn my hands too!  Sippy lid was also nice for hot cider/tea.
Cons:  Only 0.6L, so kinda small… but big enough for me.  I usually only cook pasta sides or mac and cheese.  If I’m still hungry after dinner (and I have extra food), I’ll just cook dinner #2.
Price: $ 27
Weight: 5.5 oz
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SteriPen Adventurer Opti Water Purifier

Pros: Kills all bacteria/viruses/parasites in a liter of water in a minute with UV light.  Simple.  Quick.  No chemicals.  Boom.  Magic.
Cons:  Only fits wide-mouth bottles, like Nalgene or Gatorade bottles. Didn’t fail on me, but I still hate using things that rely on batteries in the wilderness.  Might switch to the Sawyer Mini-Squeeze in the future.  Batteries lasted about a month, and I ended up always carrying a spare set.
Price: $89
Weight:   3.6 ounces (with batteries)
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Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX30V 18.2 MP WIFI Camera

Pros: It was hard to switch from a big, bulky camera to this.  No, wait.  It wasn’t.  I love this little thing.  My favorite feature is the fact that it’s a WIFI camera!  Connected to my phone, so I could update my blog with photos.  Always kept it in my hip pocket. Sharp photos, epic zoom, shoots video, self-timer mode.  All that good stuff.
Cons: Heavier than just using my iPhone for photos.  Started making funny noises after 2000 miles.  Oh well.
Price:  $298
Weight:   9 oz
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Outdoor Products 3-Pack Dry Sacks

Pros: Come in various sizes and colors for organizing small things.  My pack is lined in a trash compactor bag, so I didn’t really need these to be water-proof.   I used the yellow sack for clothes, the red sack for misc items and the blue sack for toiletries.
Cons: Not waterproof…just water resistant.  But it was $10 for 3 bags.  Am I really complaining?  Nope!
Price: $10
Weight: ~ 2 oz?
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Sea to Summit eVent Compression Sack

Pros: Compressed my sleeping bag and kept it dry.  100% dry.  One day, my sleeping bag almost rolled into a stream.  I wasn’t even nervous.  I knew this dry bag would keep the water out.
Cons: For some hikers, it could be considered a luxury item that adds weight.  Some hikers just shoved their sleeping bag at the bottom of their pack.  I tried that a few times, but never really liked it, since my sleeping bag took up too much space.
Price: $24
Weight: 3.5 oz
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Z-Packs Cuben Fiber Food Bag + Rope
Pros:  Kept my food dry and safe.  Never had a mouse chew through my bag.  I am a bad person, and I probably only hung my bear bag 5 times.  I know.  Please yell at me in the comments section.
Cons:  Expensive.
Price: $45
Weight: 3 oz
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Petzl Tikka Plus 2 Headlamp

Pros: Did great! Had various light settings and guided me through a lot of dark hiking.  Loved the red light setting to use at night in shelters.  Also, loved the low battery indicator light.  Never had to worry about my headlamp dying in the middle of a night hike.  Sweet!
Cons: Probably not the lightest one out there.  Light got really dim when the batteries weren’t fresh.
Price: $40
Weight: 4 oz

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NewTrent 5200 Battery Backup

Pros:  This is how I kept my phone and camera charged in the woods.  The NewTrent battery provided 3 extra charges for my iPhone.
Cons:   A little heavy.  Took ~8 hours to fully charge.
Price: $30
Weight: 8 oz

iPhone 4s

Pros:  Amazing! It was my own personal computer, phone, camera, alarm clock, journal.  And yes, I basically always had a good internet connection in the woods.  For the record, I was using Sprint.
Cons: Battery died quickly.
Weight: 4 oz 

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SPOT-Personal GPS Device 

Pros: Reassure your family that you are okay on a regular basis.  Also, has an emergency button for summoning a helicopter.
Cons: This was a very expensive paperweight.  I had difficulty with my SPOT device. My first one randomly broke after 600mi, and I had to order a new one (I had purchased it used though)…  Luckily, the company sent me a new one for $30.  After that, my SPOT lived in a ziplock bag.  There were a few times when I later found out from my family that they never got my nightly signal.  Kinda frustrating…
Price:  $100 + $100 yearly service  (Wanna be safe?  Take that $200 and just buy yourself a warm sleeping bag.  Seriously.)
Weight: 5 oz
Bottom Line:  Don’t tell your mom that this item exists. 
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Leatherman Micra Knife
Pros: Small, light, has multiple tools (including scissors and tweezers!)
Cons:  Didn’t really use this very often.  Could probably get by with a razor blade instead of a multi-tool knife.
Price: $26
Weight: 1.75 oz
 
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The AT Guide
Pros:  The one book to rule them all.  Elevation profiles, town maps, buffet hours, where to find water next, post-office phone numbers.  C’mon.  Just buy this.
Cons:  This book is quite wonderful.  I heard some hikers complain sometimes…. but look– things change.. Water sources may dry up.  A store may close.  Be flexible.  And for the record, “AWOL” is wonderful, and even sends out an “update” email during the year  (sign up on his website).
Price: $16
Weight: 8.4 oz (However, book was cut into smaller pieces.  You don’t need the Maine information when you’re still in Georgia.)
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Marmot PreCip Rain Jacket

Pros: Kept me mostly dry and warm.  But, after 3 days of rain in Maine, I’m not sure anything will keep you 100% dry.
Cons: A little sweaty.  Even with pit-zips.  Not the lightest rain jacket.
Price: $70 (sale)
Weight: 12 oz
 
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GoLite Demaree 800 Fill Down Jacket

Pros: Cozy, light, warm.  Maine surprised me by being warm and beautiful.  I didn’t really wear this jacket that much, since it wasn’t really that cold.  Doubles as a pillow, though.
Cons: It’s a down jacket – Don’t get it wet.
Price: $110
Weight: 12 oz
 

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Merrell Moab Ventilator Hiking Shoes

Pros:  I started the AT in a pair of waterproof KEENS.  Mistake #1:  Don’t hike in waterproof shoes on the AT.  I arrived at a hiker box in Damascus wishing for a pair of low hiking shoes.  I found these shoes– in my size —  free — and wore them from Virginia until Vermont.  In Vermont, I bought a new pair and wore them until Maine.  Love the mesh.  I didn’t even take my shoes off during river fords.  I just plow right though.  Man, I love these shoes.
Cons: I got a few blisters the first week I wore these shoes.  But after that rough week, it’s been a pretty swell relationship.
Price: $90

 

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SuperFeet Insoles
Pros: My feet are always happy.  I hiked every mile of the AT in SuperFeet insoles.  I want to try hiking without them, but why mess with a good thing?
Cons: Expensive, but only replaced them once in Connecticut.
Price: $40
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Other Random Things That Acorn Likes:
Acorn is getting lazy.  I just wanted to give a shout-out to a few random things that I loved:  Snow Peak Titanium Spork, Cat Hat, Outdoor Research Mittens, ExOfficio Lace Undies, Darn Tough Wool Socks (amazing socks with a lifetime guarantee!!!), Royal Robbins Shorts, Nike Sports Bra, Nike Running Shirt, Old Navy Running Shorts, GAP Running Jacket, Mountain Hardware Button-Up Shirt, Old Navy Flip Flops.
 
And I’m not going to go into details, but I really liked the Diva Cup (for the rare moments when I actually got my period on the trail), and the P-Style (pee funnel.  Yes.  I carried a pee funnel until I lost it in Maine.  It’s on the trail somewhere.  Oops.)
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And…. one last thing…
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Pocket Kite !
Pros:   Yea.  You’re gonna need a kite.
Cons:  You’ll get distracted and probably hike slower.  Especially when you find a windy mountain summit.  Oh, baby.
Price:  $5
Weight:  ~ 1 oz
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I hope this helped some of you with your gear research.  Good luck, wherever your feet may take you.
And remember,  less is more.
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goodbye
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Categories: Gear | 26 Comments

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26 thoughts on “Acorn’s AT Thru-Hike Gear Review

  1. Doug Sweeney

    Thanks for the gear review. I am sure it help a lot of us future thru hikers. Congratulations on a great thru hike.

  2. Dennis A. Cooley

    Thanks for the write-up, Acorn. Glad you had a great hike! I hope to hike the AT when I retire. :) I’ve lightened my gear substantially in the last year or so but always could go lighter…..I too have the Outdoor Products bags and the GSI cookset – it’s awesome.

  3. Stacey

    Thanks! This was helpful in planning my 2014 Thru!

  4. Always wondered why you didn’t see more folks flying kites on the balds. Excellent write up, I wish everyone who thru hiked would take the time to this. I am sure new folks would find it very helpful. Thanks gal

  5. Great write up! I like the way you explained why certain things worked better than others. It is very helpful. Like why you didn’t like the hammock after a bit. What you said made sense, but the things that bothered you wouldn’t bother me and that gives me a better idea of what I could live with!

  6. jalan jalan

    Thanks for the gear review. Hiker geeks love those.

  7. Acorn, thanks for the gear review. I am interested in the fact that you began feeling that your hammock was a coffin instead of a palace. I can only imagine how that feeling would start to seep into your consciousness and finally mandate a change. I am surprised to read your description of the SteriPen Adventurer Opti Water Purifier though. From a scientist like you, I was surprised to hear you say that it “Kills all bacteria/viruses/parasites in a liter of water in a minute with UV light”. Because the Steri-Pen doesn’t kill them at all. It does sufficient damage to the DNA of bacteria, and viruses that they cannot reproduce (and make you sick) but they remain quite alive.

    In any case, thanks for a little glimpse into your pack. If it’s any consolation, even on you your pack looked small! I will have to send you a photo of my backpacking kite. I am so on board with the kite flying idea for balds, overlooks, etc.

    • Oh! Of course, you’re right on about the SteriPen’s UV killing method. They are still alive, but just can’t reproduce.

  8. Dennis

    I never posted during your trip just enjoyed listening to you and wondering what odd pix would come next. I’ll miss that. Congrats!

  9. Angie

    Well, ya did it! Congratulations! I enjoyed your post and looked forward to them. I hope you enjoyed the box of goodies. Best to you on all your journeys big and small!
    Angie

  10. Rey Lopez

    Hi Acorn
    Thanks for sharing your experience with your equipment and for all your postings. For some reason I feel like I,m missing something from the early days..Didn’t you started with a water bladder then switch to Gatorade bottles at one point? Or perhaps you had a pump water filter then switched to SteriPen? If so, will be great to hear why you made the change.

    Tropikal

    • Oh yea!

      I carried a 3 L water bladder for a few weeks before I switched to Gatorade / Smart water bottles. It was just easier to deal with.

      I’ve always had the SteriPen though :)

      -Acorn

  11. Turk

    Thanks for the gear review. You confirmed a lot of what I have discovered on my limited time on the trail. I was surprised to see you switched to a tent in the north. I get what you mean about the privacy because I have always used a tent, and no matter where it was set up, I felt it was home sweet home. I was considering using a hammock, but I really don’t see a need to switch at the moment.–Turk

  12. Randy Ruble

    Great job with your descriptions, Acorn! Hope you go for the Gear Tester positions being sought at Backpacker. I still enjoy your writing style and look forward to more opportunities to read your journals.

    Godspeed!

    Shady (near Atkins, VA)

  13. Meagan

    Congrats on completing your thru hike. Your gear review is very good. What was your food resupply plan? did you use mail drops? what type of foods and how much did you carry at one time?

    • I didn’t have any pre-planned mail drops…. but I received some mail drops from blog readers/friends.

      I used this plan: http://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/content.php?177
      (written in 2003, but still pretty relevant)

      I typically carried 4 days of food from town, and ate some of the following things: snickers, oatmeal, pasta sides, rice sides, mac n cheese, little debbie snacks, trail mix, peanuts, dried fruit, cheese, beef jerky, etc

  14. Kumduh

    I’ve been planning a thru starting in mid April and was also planning on using a hammock. Did you use your sleeping bag the whole way? I know a lot of hammockers prefer blankets, and was curious how you thought the sleeping bag held up when you were in your hammock. I’m also interested in what you did with your pack at night before switching to the tent.

    • Yep- used that bag the whole way… but I don’t toss and turn a lot when I sleep.

      Sometimes, I would clip the bag on the hammock line. If it was going to be rainy, I would almost always try to sleep in the shelters.

  15. Congratulations on the successful through hike. Thanks for the great gear review list.

  16. Slim Pickins

    I really enjoyed reading this post. I was happy to see your pride with your non-UL and “luxury” items. I especially liked the kite (from a kite lover). Congratulations and best of luck on your future hikes!

  17. Great information. I love all the posts, I really enjoyed, I would like more information about this, because it is very nice, Thanks for sharing. I like the site best.

  18. Hawg

    Why don’t you recommend waterproof shoes for the a.t. Love your posts.

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