NOTE: This post originally appeared on The Trek. Read it here if you'd rather.
It’s so fun seeing the flurry of thru-hike planning happening now on The Trek. I love to plan and to do research, so I’m having some pleasant, and not-so-pleasant, flashbacks to last year at this time as I was making my own decisions.
Not-so-pleasant because I definitely wasted some money on bad purchases (anyone need a hammock?). And I wasted some precious, precious calories on carrying useless things.
Gearing up is a learning process and you don’t really know what works and what doesn’t until you’re actually out there chewing up the trail like a beaver in a stand of new-growth saplings.
Here, then, are my top five pieces of gear…the things I will carry religiously on all future long distance hikes. Spoiler alert…the hammock does not make the cut.
1. Brolly, my beloved Umbrella
Anyone who met me on the trail last year probably knows how smitten I am with my umbrella. Best. Thing. Ever. In spite of the fact that I didn’t use it that often.
But when it rained, Brolly was my savior and worth every ounce. (8 ounces, if you’re wondering. Here’s the one I loved.)
Umbrellas keep your top half dry and allow for ventilation…no sweating on the inside of a “breathable” rain jacket. Rain jackets don’t breath. Ever. Pair it with a rain skirt, and you’re good to go for head to ankle dryness. (Not head to toe because the feet always get wet and you just gotta deal.)
And if you’re dehydrated and nauseous and frying in the sun, the umbrella will give you some shady relief. Personally, I like naps under rhododendrons.
Still skeptical? I met an ultralighter name Bobcat somewhere in New York during a pelting downpour. His pack was the size of my food bag and he was practically naked because, who carries clothes when you’re hiking 30 miles a day? But he was rocking a folding umbrella and big shit-eating grin as he strode on by, dry and happy under his brolly.
More umbrella pros and cons here, if you’re still not sold.
2. My Z-Packs Altaplex Tent.
You won’t see many of these on the trail, but I grew to love this tent. I won’t lie, there’s a learning curve to getting a good pitch (hint…let out all the guy lines like they say in the instruction video).
But once you’ve got it, this tent is sweet. Lightweight (18 ounces). Fast pitching. Big enough to hold me and all my stuff (I’m small, so results may vary). Tall enough to do Supta Padangusthasana.
It isn’t free-standing, but that didn’t actually matter.
I was so worried about the tent platforms in New Hampshire. I fretted for a thousand miles about how I would pitch my non-freestanding tent on a platform. Totally needless worry because it turned out to be easy.
Here’s how I did it: Pitch the Altaplex so the front of the tent is parallel to the boards on the platform. Secure the guylines by sliding the knots between the boards. Bob’s your uncle.
Now I adore platform camping. Guaranteed flat every time.
3. Therm-a-Rest Z Seat saved my butt.
Kept my butt warm. Kept my butt dry. Kept my butt clean. Kept my butt comfy.
All good things, but the most important thing it did was cushion my hips so I could sleep at night. I’m a side sleeper and my hips would get sore after an hour or so. So I would thrash around from side to side all night long trying to relieve that soreness.
A fellow hiker suggested I put the Z Seat under my hips (under my sleeping pad) and sleeping on the ground has never been the same since.
4. Guthooks App
I hemmed and hawed on buying this app, but it’s worth every penny for the real-time updates, the town maps and figuring out where you are when you’re in the woods in the middle of nowhere.
Two things about Guthooks, though.
Thing one… read the fine print. The magic is in the fine print. And by fine print, I mean scroll through the comments. That’s where the good stuff is.
Thing two… use Guthooks sparingly. A Guthooks check every five minutes makes for miserable hiking. I found ignorance about elevation to be climbed and miles left to hike to be bliss.
One last thing…don’t check Guthooks while you’re hiking. You’re just asking for skinned knees.
5. Foot Balm (with toe socks and trail runners)
This is a three for one, but, seriously, do everything you can to take impeccable care of your feet. For obvious reasons.
I had two minor blisters in the first week of my hike as I got used to the mileage, then never saw another one again. I credit the trifecta of Altra Lone Peaks with their wide toe box, Injinji toe socks (the wool ones) and my essential oil laced foot balm.
I changed my shoes every 500 miles and massaged foot balm into my warrior peds every night and my feet were happy for miles and miles).
(People gave me grief about my use of essential oils on the trail. You know…bears and stinky stuff. But the bears never materialized to gnaw my feet off, so I kept at it with the balm.)
Okay, just one more...
Dang. I could go on and on.
If I could add one more, it would be sending my clothes off to Insect Shield to douse them in tick killing goodness. I saw the beasts, but none latched on over the whole summer. Insect Shield is the bomb.
I got so bonded with all my stuff while I was out there. Well, not all of it. Some things I happily sent home. I’ll share that list next week. Learn from my bad decisions!
Meanwhile, what gear decisions are you struggling with? Leave a comment and let me know what you’re agonizing over.