Survivor: Our Toughest Gear from the AT

Very few pieces of gear are actually able to make it 2,185 miles. Especially in an unaffected state. Much of our gear broke or was replaced multiple times throughout the trip, other pieces broke but were still usable and a very select few made it the whole way in good condition! This is our final gear review but also a thank you to the few pieces of gear that made it the whole way. We couldn’t have done it without you. Much of our gear rotated with the seasons. We switched out packs, sleeping bags, clothes, and shoes. Of course, we wore many of these items long past their due date. I donned a pink tank top by Icebreaker until there were holes over the nipples (don’t ask me how they got there) and all down the back. Kyle’s shorts were ripped in the crotch. The Lafuma sleeping bag that we shared all summer was stained yellow by the time we got our down bags back.

But there were a few things that flat out broke and we had to exchange or replace. Both of us had problems with our Granite Gear packs and their stiff plastic frame sheets. After two or so months of use they had cracked in half. Our tent, although it held up pretty great and didn’t have any major breakages, was starting to leak in the corners and probably needs the seams resealed.

We also had some great experiences with companies, who we would like to tip our hats to. Kyle started out with a MSR 4L dromedary and in New Jersey the hose began to leak. He called MSR to see if he could get a new hose but instead they offered to send him a whole new dromedary and when he hinted that he would actually prefer a different system they said, “No problem!” A week later he had a completely new MSR dromedary, for free! We also had an issue when Kyle’s Black Diamond trekking poles seized shut. For a few days Kyle had to use my purple trekking poles while I used his permanently shortened ones. When he called Black Diamond they asked him how many miles he had used them for. When Kyle admitted to around 1,700 miles the sales rep hesitated and then said that, “1,700 might be a bit of a grey area in the warranty”.  However, that didn’t stop him from getting Kyle a brand new pair! Yay for Black Diamond! Honorable mention: Lifeproof sent us a new case for our iPhone. For anyone looking to do a long hike with an iPhone a Lifeproof case is necessary and if you wanna get one for cheap I can tell you where to go! Check them out here:  Worst company to work with?  Sierra Designs. We bought a Sierra Designs sleeping bag which broke two days after using it and even though it had their logo on it they refused to even recognize that it was a sleeping bag they manufactured… what?

A few select items survived the whole trip and shocked us both. The head lamps functioned the whole time as long as they had batteries in them. The tiny towel performed admirably as long as we remembered to wash it. Our crocs kept our feet comfortable the whole time and we managed to not loose them during any of our river fords. Our sleeping pads persevered hole-less. Our stove and our pot kept us fed the whole trip. But the two most amazing survivors? Our phone/camera charger and our dry sacks. When we bought both of them we figured they would last a month or two. Especially the dry sacks, even the heaviest duty dry sacks tend to rip around the buckles when you use them for your bear hang every night. Not only that, two of our dry sacks were chewed through by mice or squirrels while hanging on a bear pole in Shenandoah. We patched the holes with duct tape and they continued to function just fine until the end!

Overall we felt good about all our gear purchases and changes. The last thing we would like to talk about is footwear. Both Kyle and I switched to trail runners when the weather warmed up and we didn’t mind having wet feet. We chose Brooks Cascadias because they were on sale at REI and thank god we did. We loved our Brooks, we used our first pair from Roanoke, VA to Great Barrington, MA. We are still using our second pair to run in. Our first pair lasted eight hundred miles and weren’t even completely worn out yet. Most people used their trail runners until their toes were poking out the front and most trail runners completely fell apart after only five hundred miles. We were very impressed by our Brooks as was everyone else we met who was using them. We highly recommend them if you are looking to switch to trail runners! BUT we aren’t like most people who go trail runners and don’t go back, we still believe there is a time and a place for boots. When its cold and wet a great pair of water proof boots and a taller pair of gaiters keep you dry, warm and comfortable. We attribute our blister-less healthy feet to good footwear choices throughout the entire trip.

If you have any more questions about gear, brands and our choices or are thinking about a thruhike and are wondering what we would suggest let us know! We love talking about gear, as any good thruhiker does.

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As Edward Abbey said, "An indoor life is the next best thing to a premature burial."

8 thoughts on “Survivor: Our Toughest Gear from the AT

    1. We actually just got wet. We bought rain kilts from Zpacks and used them in conjunction with tall gaiters for a while which worked but when we got rid of our boots, aka it was balls hot out, we decided to just suck it up and get wet. We figured if our feet were going to be wet anyway there was no harm in the rest of us being wet as well, just keep moving right? It worked out fine, we were never super cold or anything, but we always made sure we had dry layers to put on at camp and actually kept our rain jacket dry for later as well.

  1. So, I’m curious. Was this tiny towel a specific brand or just had magical powers?

    1. The tiny towel is PackTowel. Its not the super lightweight one, just one of the midweight super high absorbent ones. We actually started out with two, the other one was a microfiber towel used for exercising and stuff, it was awful! Everything stuck to it, we threw it away after it became covered in leaves. We just loved our tiny towel because it is so useful, wiping condensation out of your tent, drying your feet off after you soak them, cleaning out your pot, putting it in your dry sack to make it a better pillow… so many uses!

  2. Thanks for the gear review. Great to know that the Brooks Cascadias were awesome on the AT. My son Michael wore them almost exclusively on the PCT, as did many of the other hikers he encountered. He also had a pair of Solomons that didn’t hold up as well, and asked for his WORN pair of Cascadias back! What kind of boots did you wear at the beginning? I’m not a big boot fan but wondering if I ought go that way at first. And congratulations on your thru-hike completion! What an accomplishment.

    1. Marilyn, due to popular demand I’m going to write a post completely about our foot wear and our advice about how to pick quality footwear for a thru-hike! So keep your eyes open for that, we’ll tell you all about our boots! And thank you for the salutations, we are both happy and sad to be done. I know Michael has lots of miles under his belt so you will be in good hands but if you have any AT specific questions feel free to ask! We love to share!

    1. Pretty crappy most of the time. Not by choice either. In a lot of the towns you pass through dollar general is your best bet for resupply, and they don’t have a lot of healthy options. So especially in the south we were eating ramen, easy mac, and pasta sides. As we got up north we were able to switch to cous cous, whole wheat pasta, ect. We did five mail drops that had higher quality food and in retrospect I wish we had made more mail drops for ourselves!

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