Lessons Learned from the A.T. Making some gear changes.

I’ve spent about twenty seven minutes (give or take) planning for this newest hike on the Mountain-to-Sea Trail, and I’m just about ready. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating – but not by much. I guess I’ve had enough time in the preceding months to reflect on my Appalachian Trail thru hike to figure out what worked and what needs to change. Most of the issues could be worked out with what I already owned; as for those few lingering problems, there was nothing that a couple of quick trips to my local outfitter (Blue Ridge Mountain Sports) couldn’t fix. Some stuff might make sense to you; other stuff, I sense, you’ll think is wacky. In any case, here’s a list of changes to my gear list for this trek.

1. Sleeping pad.


On the A.T. I used an inflatable sleeping pad. When it worked, it was great, providing insulation and buffer from the cold, hard ground. However, it began to leak after 600 miles, after which the company (Big Agnes) sent me another one, which leaked after another 600 miles; and the third replacement leaked after another 600 miles. I decided I had enough of inflatables. This Thermorest Z-Lite unfolds flat from its accordion shape, and I don’t have to worry about it leaking (although that would be an interesting trick). The version I got is only 4 feet long, so it’s lighter (at 10 ounces) and less bulky than the longer version. I opted for this version because I like to prop my feet up on my pack anyway, so the longer version just gets in the way. It was only $18 on sale. I’ve been selling Girl Scout cookies door to door (this is not true), which is hard work, so I’m glad I didn’t spend my entire piggy bank on just my sleeping pad. Incidentally, did you hear there is now a gluten free variety of Girl Scout cookie? Yeah, there is. Unfortunately, not one entrepreneurial Girl Scout is selling them within at least a 75 mile radius of Virginia Beach.


2. Shoes.

On the A.T. I wore Merrell Moab boots with Superfeet insoles and brought Crocs for camp shoes. I also had a pretty rough time with my feet. I’ve decided to throw caution to the wind. Not only will I be starting in a pair of Montrail trail running shoes instead, but I will also be bringing along my trusty Vibram Five Fingers (i.e. toe shoes) for good measure. I’ve had them for several years, and the left one is forming a hole where my bunion is. I can’t think of a better pair of shoes to bring along.


I’ll wear my Vibrams as often as possible unless my feet get pissed off. Being closer to the ground (as in, lacking a thick sole), I find that I never roll my ankles in the Vibrams. However, if the lack of cushioning wears on my feet and knees too much with a heavy pack and many hours of walking, I’ll have the Montrails. I’m hoping the trail runners, with their more flexible soles and lighter weight, will get along better with my feet than the sturdier, less forgiving Merrell hiking boots. Also, somehow my fat feet fit into a size 9 pair of Montrails, which is a full size larger than usual, so there will be plenty of space for my recently pedicured toes. (Yeah, I actually have toenails again, all ten of them.)

3. Pills.

Speaking of knees (I said something about knees somewhere, I’m sure), I’ve decided to take glucosamine daily. Some of my friends on the A.T. swore by glucosamine pills. I only began taking them a couple of months ago when my knees were still achy, and they improved almost immediately. This time I’m not messing around. I will carry them alongside my multivitamins – which I also didn’t take seriously on the A.T. but should have considering how much healthier I felt when I took one daily but this time, I’m serious, I’ve learned my lesson and will take them every day, scout’s honor.

4. Water filtration.


In a rare moment of impulse purchasing, I bought a Sawyer Mini on Amazon over the holidays; it was listed as one of the website’s Lightening deals (which is the best marketing gimmick I’ve ever seen, maybe with the exception of putting Pound Puppies in McDonald Happy Meals). I was happy with my Lifestraw filter last year, but the Sawyer Squeeze was a popular option among my fellow hikers. The Sawyer Mini is essentially a smaller version of the Squeeze, so I figured I’d give it a shot. As you can see in the photo, you fill up the water bladder and screw the filter on the bladder opening. You then gently squeeze the bladder, which filters on its way to your distinguishing palate. I’m also going to bring along a small eye drop bottle full of bleach as a backup or for when I get a craving for pool water.

5. Sleeping bag.

Last year I started with a 20 degree sleeping bag and still shivered through many nights in the first month. This year, since I’ve had enough sense to pick a trail that starts not in the mountains, I’m going to start with my 45 degree sleeping bag and bring my sleeping bag liner that adds 20 degrees of warmth. That should provide sufficient flexibility to account for a variety of weather conditions without the bulk of my heavier bag. Either that or it’ll help me burn more calories by encouraging me to shiver through the colder nights.

6. Hiking pants.

N/A. I’m so completely over hiking pants. I’ll never forgive them for all of the friction that ensued last year. This time I’m going to opt for a pair of Nike Dri Fit (spandexy) shorts and rain pants as a second layer on colder days. The rain pants do a good job of breaking the wind as well as trapping body heat. It’ll also save some pack weight theoretically, although I’m fantasizing about packing real books to read, which may be counterproductive.

7. IPod Touch.

OK, fine, I won’t pack real books, but I am bringing along an old, hand-me-down IPod Touch (thanks, Nicki). I do still have my iPhone , but I don’t want to drain its battery while listening to audiobooks during the day and reading e-books at night. And since I’m determined not to let my brain go to moosh this time ’round, I’m going to load the IPod with audiobooks and e-books. I plan to check most of them out (digitally) from my local library. I’m mostly into non-fiction (all types), but I also like epic, historical novels; classic literature; and the occasional novel (but not really pop fiction). If you have any recommendations among those interests, I’d love for you to share so that I can check availability for borrowing from my library (Please and thank you).

8. My new patch.


Trail angel Fresh Ground sent me this patch recently. It’s definitely going to find a home on my pack. Enough said.

Meandering on,


22 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from the A.T. Making some gear changes.

  1. “Cold Mountain” written and narrated by Charles Frazier for when you get into the mountains. His Southern accent and pace will make you think you’re back in the Civil War years. Good luck and thanks for sharing with all of us.

  2. I took my Five-Fingers for a trip down Eagle creek trail in the Smokies. They were certainly nice to have for the numerous creek crossings. Not having to worry about them getting wet or stopping to takeoff/puton shoes. It also lets your feet stretch and works the muscles. It was nice to “feel” the terrain and roots and moss. However, after a few hours it was VERY NICE to take those things off and put on nice dry supportive hiking boots. The Five-Fingers were always cold, no support and made my feet tired after a while hauling a full pack. I also didn’t like them as camp shoes because I couldn’t just slip them on and off. Let us know how they work out.

  3. I’m reading Following Atticus right now and it’s great! A true story about a middle-aged overweight man and his little dog hiking the 4,000 footers in the White Mountains. Highly recommended!

  4. Don’t give up on the glucosamine, it pays cumulative rewards and sometimes takes months, in my case years. After three knee surgeries, I never leave home without it.

  5. All great tips for future long distance hikers. May I add that the sleeping pad can be tailored (cut) to your body shape, if your goal is to save an once or 2! (But I am assuming that the pad already saved quite a bit of weight compared to an inflatable one!

  6. http://www.npowerpeg.com. Check out this charger. It is $129. But maybe you could get them as a sponsor. You certainly move enough to be a good tester/reviewer. Good luck on your next hike and I am looking forward to reading about your adventures. Jan

    • Neat product. It’s tempting just for the novelty of it, but it’s really too heavy for my purposes. I have a backup battery (that weighs 3 ounces), and I – like the A.T. – towns aren’t that far apart. Thanks for thinking of me, though.

  7. Hey, from Montana…if you’re still looking for book suggestions, I just finished “Claiming Ground,” a remarkable, true story of a woman going through various stages of life in various jobs, including being a sheep herder in Wyoming. Beautiful life story, although it had me in tears more than once. Highly recommended. Also, I’m now reading “Empty Mansions,” – the story of Huguette Clark – the reclusive multi-millionaire who died in 2010. Especially interesting to me as her dad made many of his millions near us, in Butte, MT, mining copper. This book is written in an engaging manner and is full of great history. When I first got it from our library I didn’t think I’d get through it, but now I look forward to any reading time I can find! I’m looking forward to choosing a reading list when I tackle walking across England in the spring/summer of 2015…be sure to share your choices!

    • That’s great! Both of those seem right up my alley. And the second one’s available as an audiobook on my library’s website. Perfect. Thank you.

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