Over the past few years I've thru-hiked America's Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. With over 5000 miles hiked I can offer a lot of technical advice for ultralight backpacking. In this post I’m going to share my 10 Favourite Pieces of Gear for Thru-Hiking.
Whether you’re hopping over the pond to tackle a long trail or you want to lighten your rucksack for your next weekend trip. These pieces of kit will serve you well and help to keep the weight to a minimum.
Gossamer Gear Gorilla - Over the years I’ve used many different backpacks from different companies. Recently though I’ve been using rucksacks made by Gossamer Gear who are based out of Texas. The “Gorilla” is a 40 litre backpack that carries everything I need. It’s design is simple and well thought out with no unnecessary features adding extra weight. At 678 grams the Gorilla is a hard backpack to beat at the 40l volume range.
Thermarest Neoair Xlite - Prioritising a comfortable nights sleep on a thru-hike is important for recovery and it’s hard to beat the Neoair Xlite. There are lighter air mattresses on the market but none that provide as much as warmth as the Xlite. Weighing in at 353 grams the Neoair is as light as it gets for it’s warmth. It has an R Value of 3.2 which in real world use means I’ve slept down to below freezing temperatures and been plenty warm. I’ve used closed cell foam pads but there’s no better night sleep than on an air mattress.
Reflective Umbrella - I always thought carrying an umbrella on trail was unnecessary and impractical. Until I used one. Towards the end of the CDT I picked up a reflective umbrella and immediately regretted not carrying one for the entire trail. I prefer a jacket for dealing with rain but an umbrella is invaluable in the desert or anywhere with harsh sun. Covering up and using suncream is essential, but hiking with the umbrella keeps the sun from beating down on you. The temperature is also cooler under the umbrella which makes hiking in the heat more bareable.
Altra Lone Peak Trail Running Shoes - My go to shoes for three season hiking trips are the Lone Peak Series from Altra. Lesser known in Europe, Altra makes shoes with a wide toe box that are zero drop (completely flat). I found that some other shoe companies force your feet into restrictive designs that unnaturally elevate your heels. The design of the Lone Peaks make them well suited for long distance hiking. They have a good amount of cushioning, lots of breathable mesh and enough durability to last 500+ miles.
Titanium Long Handled Spoon - When choosing gear for a thru-hike there are certain characteristics that a piece of gear needs to fill. Lightweight, reliable and fit for purpose. A long handled titanium spoon fits all three of those. It’s long handled design makes it easy to eat from your pot or from a freeze dried food bag. Titanium is incredibly strong and I have no fear of snapping one which is a common occurrence with plastic sporks. Weighing in around 18 grams makes carrying a long handled spoon a no brainier. I also use the handle of spoon to cut cheese and open beer bottles, making it a truly multi-function piece of kit.
MSR Pocket Rocket 2 - I had my original Pocket Rocket from MSR for over 10 years. When it finally gave out I switched to the Pocket Rocket 2. Alcohol stoves are lighter, but for reliability and the ability to boil water quickly I carry a gas stove. The Pocket Rocket 2 has wide pot supports, packs down small and a build quality that will see me using it for another ten years.
Platypus 2L Water Bag - Low weight and reliability is what I’m looking for when I go on a hike. The Platypus two litre water bag ticks those boxes. For an on the go water container I use a one litre disposable plastic bottle with a Sawyer filter screwed on top. When I need more carrying capacity I fill up the platypus water bag and I’m good to go. It folds down into nothing and weighs just 34 grams, it truly disappears inside a backpack.
Trash Compactor Bag - I started using a “trash compactor bag” to waterproof the inside of my backpack after my first summer working in the US. Basically a heavy duty rubbish bag, I put everything I want to stay dry inside the trash compactor bag. I push it down inside my rucksack, compressing out the air and twist it closed. My kit is now fully waterproofed for the days hiking. I’ve made one bag last for thousands of miles.
RAB Xenon X Jacket - RAB have been churning out quality mountain clothing since 1981 and I love their range of insulated jackets. The Xenon X served me well for over 5000 miles of hiking before being retired earlier this year. The Xenon X uses Primaloft Gold synthetic insulation. This means the jacket does well in damp environments and is more affordable than similar jackets filled with down. It’s very warm for its weight and packs down almost as small as down insulation.
Merino Wool Buff - This versatile piece of gear has many uses such as a scarf, a towel and a pot lifter. Being made of Merino wool means the stink is held at bay for as long as possible whilst being soft to the touch. I use one on every hiking trip and in winter conditions move up to a thicker, winter version made of fleece, such as the Buff Thermonet.
Those are ten of my favourite pieces of gear I take when I go on a long hike. To see in depth reviews of all the gear I use as well as “how to” articles and more come visit me at Pie On The Trail