Gear (Mid-Point Review)

Although I researched all my gear selections prior to my hike, I did make some modifications along the way. Following is a list of my current gear, with some running commentary on how items worked, and what changes I would consider making in the future.

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I stuck with my Osprey Atmos 65 AG pack the entire time. The pack had plenty of room for what I was carrying and was comfortable enough. I did encounter problems with the hip belt. A known problem with this pack, when the pack got wet, the adjustable velcro on the hip belt would not hold. I sweat substantially, and more than once, when I tightened my hip belt, the velcro would pull apart. Thankfully, Osprey was at Trail Days in Damascus and they resolved this issue.

More sinister was pack sizing. I initially bought (and used) a size Medium pack. I currently have exhausted the adjustability of the hip belt, and if I loss any more weight, it would be necessary to move to a different size pack (or different pack). This is rather annoying.

Hanging off the back of the pack are my Crocs. Without doubt, Crocs are one of the more popular choices of camp shoes. They’re light, comfortable and if need be, have sufficient support so you can walk around town without stressing your feet too much. My Crocs were clipped to my pack with a paracord bracelet. I also had a small bungee cord to keep them from swinging around. I’m thankful that I had two restraints. At one point I found a single Croc on the trail, “recognized” it and carried it about ten miles until I finally caught up with the owner. He was very appreciative when I came into camp waving the missing Croc!

Also visible in the side pockets are my SmartWater bottles. I had an internal hydration bladder for drinking and used these bottles primarily when in camp for cooking. When I arrived in camp, I would refill the bladder and fill up these bottles. I accepted the weight penalty (3 ounces) in favor of having filtered water readily available for cooking, mixing with my vitamins (Emergen-C) or for brushing my teeth.

The SmartWater bottle is nearly the defacto bottle of choice on the trail. It’s light, practically indestructible and fits well on a Sawyer filter. I used the same set the entire time I was on the trail!

The last item of note in this picture is clothes pins. I carried three with me. When the weather warmed up, I made it a point of washing up every night before I went to bed. I really (really) don’t like climbing into a sleeping bag feeling grungy and dirty. I would rinse out the clothes I hiked in, string a small clothes line, and hang a few items up to dry (shorts, shirt, socks). Granted, they hardly ever dried completely, but staving off the cumulative impact of stench and dirt, and putting on less offensive clothes in the morning was a big plus.

Under the Crocs is a stretchy front pouch that held a number of items. Take a guess!

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The top item, which looks like a mini sleeping pad is a small seat. Widely popular on the trail, and for good reason, this extra prevents you from sitting on logs that are wet and slimy, rocks that are cold, or shelter edges that are dirty. The more accessible it is, the more you will use it.

The plastic bottle was my foul weather bathroom bottle. When it was raining out, and I had no desire to leave my tent to well, er, you know, this bottle did it’s job. However, in reality I never had to use it in that fashion! I did however on many an occasion, fill it with water and use it as my shower. The weight weenies will argue if it’s really necessary, which I understand, but it did come in handy on multiple occasions.

DSCN7038The red bag contains my  “bathroom.” One plastic bag contains toilet paper, one plastic bag contains wipes, and one plastic bag would contain used wipes. Holding true to “leave no trace,” I would only “deposit” toilet paper in privies and dug holes. The wipes were used for any number of things, cooling off, cleaning between toes, etc. When resupplying, if I had the chance, I’d add witch hazel to the wipes. The mail drop resupply would be modified this way also. The witch hazel would just make the wipes feel a little better, and me a little cleaner, when they were pressed into action.

Lastly is my trusty Deuce of Spades shovel. It performed as advertised!

In the main compartment of my pack I carried my food, clothes, “kitchen” and tent.

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Without delving into too much detail, the dark yellow stuff sacks hold the tent. Poles and stakes in the upper, tent, fly and footprint in the lower. The gray bag in the lower right was my food bag. This along with my “smellables” would get hung every night using either a bear line or in camp cabling system or bear pole.

The blue dry bag holds my extra clothes; two pair of underwear, convertible pants, long sleeve shirt, buff, extra pair of socks and camp socks. To combat the bugs in camp, which were getting progressively worse, after my daily refresh I would change into the long sleeve shirt, convertible pants (long length) and camp socks. Either I was not all that tasty, or the nearly complete coverage provided an effective deterrent, because bug bites were thankfully minimal.

If I really wanted to save weight, I could ditch one pair of underwear. I started hiking in Patagonia baggies, which worked really well. As a result, I was only using the underwear in camp after my daily refresh, not hiking in them. I’m thinking most likely one pair would have been sufficient. Hey, ounces are ounces!

The red stuff sack holds my “kitchen.” More on this in a bit.

The purple dry bag holds my puffy, specifically a The North Face thermoball jacket. Early on in the hike, I was wishing I had a puffy with a hood. In the beginning of the hike, there were some cold mornings. I was a bit envious of those that had a puffy with a hood. Not sure I’d opt for a hooded puffy, but something to consider if you’re heading out into colder environs. Of course my buff was pressed into service on those colder mornings!

Here’s my “kitchen” plus a few other items that I carried along in the kitchen stuff sack. From the upper left (excluding the stuff sack) …

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Snow Peak Trek 900 pot with Four Dog Stoves lid (with cozy). Perfect size, never had an issue with needing more capacity.

I typically carried a large fuel canister (white and blue with red top). Although a bit heavier than the smaller canister, I liked the way it fit in the SnowPeak pot and it lasted a really long time. I’m talking weeks. I would boil water for dinner and breakfast. As the weather got warmer, some hikers ditched their stoves to save weight. I’m not one of them. I enjoyed a cooked dinner and breakfast.

On the green towel is my Snow Peak titanium spork. I started the hike with a dual sided (spork on one side, knife on the other) plastic utensil, but when people started snapping their similar utensils on cold peanut butter, I switched over to the titanium spork. In reality, this is one of the few items I would change. The handle on this spork is too short to adequately dig into freeze dried meals, large foil tuna packets and quart size Ziploc bags. I did a lot of cooking using quart size Ziploc freezer bags. A long handled spork is definitely the way to go.

The green towel is a Cocoon, size small towel. It’s amazing. It’s in my kitchen because I would use it if the pot handles were hot, and to wipe out any excess water from the pot when I was done cooking. Although only 2′ x 1′ after a shower in a campground or hostel (anyplace you needed your own towel) this thing could dry me off completely. The ability to absorb and then shed that water was incredible. In my mind, no reason to carry a bigger towel than this one.

The small plastic cup is my dipper. It’s a laundry detergent measuring cup. When you needed water, and flow at a spring or stream was insufficient to easily fill your dirty bag or bottle, sometimes you had to fill the dirty bag one scoop at a time. I used it on multiple occasions and was glad I had it.

Snow Peak LiteMax stove. One of the lightest stoves you can buy (under two ounces), the stove worked flawlessly. JetBoils are very popular on the trail and although I have a JetBoil Sol Ti, given the smaller size of this LiteMax, the weight saving, and the time it took to boil water (just a bit longer than a JetBoil), I did not regret my decision to go with the LiteMax versus the JetBoil.

Bic mini. Hopefully no explanation needed.

Cozy, made from Reflectix material. As I mentioned, I was progressing the art of Ziploc cooking. Although originally included to keep the pot warm. I would cook my oatmeal and other meals in this small insulated container. Heat up the water, put oatmeal in plastic bag in cozy, pour in water, cover, wait a few minutes and breakfast is done. Of course, in that few minutes, I would go do something else like pack up my sleeping bag.

Although I was progressing the art of plastic bag cooking, some hikers were clearly much further ahead. Some of the meals prepared were incredible. I saw one individual prepare a dinner of angel hair pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and tomato paste that was a stunner. And then, there were those that dehydrated their own food. Not to mention the spices that people carried. I was eating okay, but clearly room for improvement moving forward.

The CVS prescription bottle holds my fire starters. Cotton balls saturated with Vaseline. They’ll burn for about four minutes, and if you can’t get a fire started with these things, maybe you shouldn’t be out camping. A fire, once settled in camp was nice, especially as the evening got cooler. Fires also kept the bugs away, and post rain, were an inviting attraction to other hikers, especially if they’d gotten caught in that rain.

Of course as time went on, as you might expect, it became harder and harder to find suitable wood to burn in close proximity to a shelter. Such is life in the AT bubble.

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The Atmos 65 has two side pockets. In one of those pockets I stored my rain gear. This consisted of myy pack cover (smaller item on the right) and my The North Face Hyvent 2.5 jacket. Here’s the deal with rain jackets. Regardless of how good a rain jacket is, when you’re hiking up and down hills carrying a loaded pack, no material, no matter how high tech, is going to vent and keep you dry. You’ll be as wet from sweat as you will be from the rain. As the weather got warmer, in the rain I’d cover my pack and enjoy the “shower.” Accepting that no jacket can possibly vent sufficiently, if you’re thinking about hiking, the primary concern should be weight of the jacket.

I started my hike with rain pants, but sent those home. After using them once on Big Bald, the only time I used them after that snowy day was when I was doing laundry. Other options that should be considered are rain skirts (growing in popularity and for good reason), rain shorts, even if you have to make your own and the classic poncho which covers you and your pack.

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In the other side pocket of my pack I kept my water filtration system. I started the hike with a Platypus gravity system but switched to a Sawyer Squeeze with some modifications. The Sawyer bottles, although very light, break down quickly (tear, rip, etc). So, I retained my Platypus dirty bag (on the right), which compared to the Sawyer bags, presents a more robust alternative. I also added quick connect capabilities so that I could refill my hydration bladder without removing it from the pack. I left the backwash plunger at home and to backwash the filter, after every use, I simply blew out any water remaining in the filter. I believe this worked well, as I noticed no degradation in flow rates over the course of my hike.

DSCN7052The Atmos 65 also has a bottom sleeping bag compartment. I stored four items in this compartment. They were my Western Mountaineering sleeping bag, my Exped sleeping pad, my Cocoon pillow and Exped pump bag which doubled as a dry bag for the other three items.

Western Mountaineering makes great sleeping bags. Light weight and warm. For the colder parts of the trip I had a 20 degree bag, and when things warmed up a 32 degree bag. The 32 degree bag is as light as 45 degree bags that other companies produce, so it made no sense to go even lighter. If the 32 degree bag became too warm, I would consider just a sleeping bag liner. Some hikers had already switched over to liners only, some that were treated with permethrin to repel insects. A smart idea.

I picked up the pillow in Hot Springs. Up to that point, I had been using my puffy as my pillow. I’m really glad I added the pillow. It’s larger than the puffy stuff sack and you can adjust the firmness of the pillow by adding more or less air. I meet other hikers who had multiple pillows; one for their head, one to put between their knees, one for their hips. Sleeping well is desirable.

My Exped sleeping pad was light, warm and comfortable. But, it was noisy and certainly contributed to the Ivan the Terrible moniker! Not the nosiest one out there mind you, but noticeable. Noisy as in I’ll tent here, you can tent over there, pointing to the other side of the campsite. I did quiet the pad somewhat when I added silicone dots to the bottom side of the pad. This prevented the pad from sliding on the tent floor (rarely if ever is your tenting area truly flat), this reducing noise a bit.

With three or four fillups from the pump bag, my sleeping pad would be fully inflated. As it was the dry bag for my sleeping bag and these other items, there was no weight penalty. And pushing down on the pump bag was certainly easier than blowing into the sleeping pad to inflate it.

Lastly, in the detachable lid, the Atmos 65 has two additional pockets. I used these pockets to store all my “smellables” and items I wanted quick access to. Here’s the contents of the upper most pocket.

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Beginning at the upper left is the 2016 “awol” guide. To save weight I carried only the first half of the book. Occasionally I would rip out the pages for the sections I had hiked through. These pages provided good fire starter material can according to some hikers, in a pinch can be used as toilet paper. I’m not so sure about that, and I’m happy to report never had to test that theory.

The awol guide is a great resource. In addition to the paper copy, I also had the pdf version on my phone. Also on my phone, I had the “”guthook” app, with the full complement of AT maps.

Next is my journal. I wrote comments for every day I was on the trail, although admittedly not, always on that day.

The scissors on my knife failed, so given the amount of taping I was conducting at various times, I thought it prudent to just buy a small pair of scissors. They came in handy for both me and others asking if anyone had scissors!

My reading glasses.

My electronics consisted of a 6700 mA battery, dual port charger and charging cables. I carried my iPhone in a pocket. DSCN7041

Although I did have to use the battery to charge my iPhone periodically, I never came close to being without a charged phone. It’s possible I could have gotten away with a smaller (read lighter) battery. Aside from checking the awol guide or guthook app, and the occasional text message, I didn’t use my iPhone for much. I didn’t use it to listen to music or iBooks for example. Obviously if I used the phone more, maybe I would have pushed the limits of my battery power, who knows.

The last item is a headlamp. I’d like to say it’s my headlamp, but actually it’s a friends. My headlamp, which was a Black Diamond Revolt died mid-hike. I could think of worse things to fail, but it’s not a long list. Black Diamond is going to make good on their product and warranty, it’s just that I’m still waiting. How different companies react to and support hikers on the trail could be very long post on its own.

I consider smellables anything that has a scent, could attract animals (bear, raccoons, rodents), those items that should be placed in your food bag and hung at night. Or, alternatively placed in a bear canister if one was available.

I had two such collections of items. DSCN7035

With the exception of the water treating tablets (brought more as a backup to my filtration system), the Imodium A-D and the tweezers, I used all the items I carried. I’m thankful there was never a need for the Imodium A-D (seriously) and more thankful I didn’t have to dig any ticks out of my body.

The small blue container is Body Glide, and the small bottle New Skin. I believe everything else is readily identifiable.

When it started to get hot, and I started to sweat more, chaffing and itching became more of an issue. That’s when I added the Lotrimin. As one of the proverbs reads, don’t let small problems become big problems!

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There’s no method (nor madness) to how these items are broken up into the different bags. Hand sanitizer is important stuff, don’t leave home without it. Hmm, double chap stick, how silly of me. The small bottle is Dr. Bronner’s soap, for sure, a main staple on the trail. It can be used to wash and clean virtually anything.

The small broken off tooth brush was my nail brush. Taking into account how dirty you get, and the fear of norovirus, keeping my finger nails short and clean was a high priority and preoccupation. Again, thankfully I did not need the Imodium A-D.

At one Trail Magic I was lucky enough to stubble upon, one question that was posed to every hiker present was, have you cut down your toothbrush? Always an interesting question. In my case, the answer is yes, not to save weight, but to have it fit in the Ziploc bag. It’s no surprise that I was not the only one with that answer!