Trying to figure out what gear one must bring to be comfortable and successful for the next several months on trail is exciting and overwhelming. It’s like being a young kid in a candy store and you want to try everything, but you’re paralyzed with the vast amount of choices and you have no money. Similarly, you only have one small bag to put everything in and you have to be strategic.
Navigating the wild world of consumerism has been a head rush as I’ve searched for what makes it into my pack. I count myself lucky that I already have some backpacking experience so I know what I can live without or not. Below, I will discuss the reasons why I selected certain gear, items not often thought of, and the stuff that makes my personal journey stand out. Just note, none of the brands I’m mentioning are sponsoring this.
For my tent, I’m using the Durston X-Mid 1. This tent has won several awards over the past few years, but I could care less. Now, I typically wouldn’t even mention my shelter, but this tent has a few things going for it.
With its trekking pole required design, the poles don’t stand in the way of the vestibule. This tent is the only one I have found in my price range that doesn’t block the door. On previous backcountry journeys, I have carried only free standing tents. I mention them because they are my typical go to, but they tend to weigh more, hence my reason for trying out a trekking pole tent. I also have gotten use to a vestibule with no obstacles. Knowing myself, I would drowsily attempt to get out to take my routine midnight pee and run into the pole, bringing the entire tent down. It’s a little dramatic, I know. The tent would be fine, but I’d probably fall back onto my sleeping pad or facedown in the dirt.
The second, or main reason, I discuss my tent choice is that the inner layer can easily be removed from the outer layer to keep dry. I know the Appalachian Trail is a wet one and I’ve had enough incidents in the past to know how frustrating it is when the inside is wet too. I know some will read this and question why I don’t just sleep in the shelters. Here’s why:
- Space at shelters is never guaranteed.
- I like my privacy.
- I’m not messing around with mice and all their diseases.
In the end, it just comes down to personal preference. With the Durston X-Mid 1, I hope to minimize the frustration of wet gear and the need to let it dry.
I bet you haven’t seen that on a gear list. Let me explain why it’s on mine. My nose is a temperamental brat that is sensitive to weather. I’m not the only one. Have you even gone hiking and not need to blow your nose? I thought so. While I’m sure most can do a decent farmer’s blow or snot rocket, I can’t. I’ve tried many a times with less than ideal results. In the past, I used toilet paper before realizing that it has a far more precious function than my nose juice. Behold, the handkerchief! You can use that cloth as much as you want and wash it whenever it pleases you. It may be gross, but so are you.
I never thought I’d use a bidet until I bought one. There’s an art to pooping in the woods and I’m determined to be a master. On previous trips, I would always be the classic toilet paper bringer. From what I’ve experienced, there are only downsides to toilet paper but one: toilet paper doesn’t freeze your butthole in the winter. Let’s dissect TP’s issues shall we?
- Rain is a natural enemy of TP. You’ve got to store it properly.
- Wet TP doesn’t work great. It’d be easier, faster, and cleaner to use a bidet.
- TP doesn’t make you feel as clean down under as filtered water would.
- A bidet is more LNT (Leave No Trace) friendly.
- TP tends to weigh more and take up more space in the pack.
- Have you ever had to wipe? And wipe? And wipe? And wipe? AND wipe? I have. It sucks – especially when you’re squatting and your legs begin to shake and cramp and you fear that you’re going to fall into your own feces. Having a bidet minimizes that situation greatly.
There is a learning curve to having a bidet, though. Just like with regular pooping in the woods, finding a position is important. With a bidet, you have the added hand positioning to worry about as well. It may be a struggle not to shoot a stream of water onto your clothes, but you’ll figure out fast (you have to, that is) on what works.
Every good gear list discusses the need/want for toenail clippers, ear plugs, and floss, but they never mention q-tips! They are a must have if you want to feel the most comfortable while on trail. When I worked for the conservation corps back in 2022, I stupidly refused to carry q-tips and floss for the duration of the season. I don’t know why I didn’t spare the mere half ounce it would weigh to carry up a mountain besides increasing the amount of suffering felt while on hitch. Every night after dinner, I wished for floss to clean my teeth and q-tips to clean my ears. Everyday, when all we did was hike and work on the trails, all I could think of was how irritating my mouth and ears felt. It’s like an itch you can’t fully scratch – for days.
I’m well aware that q-tips aren’t great for your ears and I don’t use them all that often, but if you value the ability to minimize discomfort felt on trail, bring some. Their weight is almost negligent and can be shoved anywhere. The mental battle of a thru-hike is almost always more difficult than the physical.
When I became determined to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail at the beginning of last year, for weeks, I stressed about what sort of shoes I would wear. Your feet are arguably the most important tool when hiking and you’ve got to take care of them. Trying to find the right shoe for your foot is a headache though. I have always struggled with shoe wear when hiking because I get blisters after a mile and downhill threatens to remove my toenails (gross, I know). I have tried different brands, different styles, and even different shoelace techniques. Nothing. All but one. Chaco sandals.
My love for these shoes started when I first learned about the Appalachian Trail at the age of ten. It wasn’t until years later, that I had the money to finally purchase them. They provide great arch and ankle support, are essentially water proof, the straps are adjustable, can be hiked in with or without socks, doubles as hiking shoes and camp shoes, and their tread lasts longer than most trail runners.
When I started my season at Glacier National Park, one of my goals was to put Chaco’s to the test to see if they held up. And held up they did. I hiked about 125 miles in rain, in snow, on glaciers, on sand, through lakes and creeks, and on slippery rocks where the drop below would kill you. My arches never ached after a long day on trail, there wasn’t a blister in sight, nor were my toes ever impacted.
What’s the Takeaway
In the end, only you know what works best for you while out on trail. Gear lists can give suggestions and weight and durability can motivate choices, but that’s all it is – suggestions. I’m lucky enough to know generally what it is I’m wanting in my pack. When I did trail work, I had no idea about anything and shoved whatever I could fit – four pairs of underwear, a variety of jackets, you name it. If you’re new to backpacking, accept that it’s all going to be trial and error for a bit. Hell, a good portion of the gear I’m taking on the AT is fairly new to me too. Let time be your guide.
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