Home / Gear Lists / Gear that Worked, Gear that Didn’t on my Appalachian Trail Section Hike

Gear that Worked, Gear that Didn’t on my Appalachian Trail Section Hike

Most days were overcast with morning mist on the high ridges
Most days were overcast with morning mist on the high ridges

I took an 18 day/ 250 mile backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail through Northern Virginia in April and thought I’d give you the low down how my preparation and backpacking gear worked. If you’re interested in seeing a full list of the gear I carried, together with a breakdown of gear weight, click here to view the gear list and environmental conditions assessment I prepared beforehand. There’s no such thing as a static gear list in my opinion and you might benefit by reading through the conditions I prepared for.

The trees hadn't leafed out yet so I was fully exposed to the sun and cold winds.
The trees hadn’t leafed out yet so I was fully exposed to the sun and cold winds.

Time and Place

I began this journey in Daleville, Virginia, just outside Roanoke. and hiked northbound paralleling the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park until Route 522, 3.5 miles west of Front Royal. This was a ridgeline walk, up and down many small mountains, with elevations ranging from 600 feet up to 4000 feet. The trees had not leafed out yet so I was fully exposed to wind and sunlight throughout the hike.

Layered up against the chill
Layered up against the chill

Weather Conditions

Temperatures ranged from 78 degrees to 30 degrees during the day and from 60 degrees to 30 degrees at night, including several mornings with hard frosts. While I had 3 or 4 gorgeous sunny days, most of the hike was done in cloudy and overcast weather. I never had to walk all day in rain, all though I did have to walk in pouring rain for a few half days.

Bringing a wood stove proved to be a good choice.
Bringing a wood stove proved to be a good choice.

Gear That Worked

Wood Stove

I ate a hot dinner about two-thirds of the time, heated on a collapsible wood stove using easily gathered wood. I only had to use Esbit solid fuel one night. The rest of the time I ate cold dinners. I never stopped for lunches or snacks and ate while walking. I had a sit down cold breakfast once or twice, but also ended up eating on the trail as I walked to get an early start.

Clothing

My clothing and layering system was perfect. I was never too warm wearing long pants in warm or humid weather but still remained comfortable on the days when we experience brisk temperatures and cold winds I used every item of clothing I brought.

Ex Officio Halo Check Shirt with Insect Shield
Ex Officio Halo Check Shirt with Insect Shield

One stand out, was the Ex-Officio Halo Check Shirt I wore, factory pre-treated with Insect Shield, which never got stiff from sweat and remained super comfortable even after worn for a week. This shirt has earned a permanent place on my clothing list and I plan to buy a few more of them. It should make a great fly fishing shirt too.

Footwear

I switched my trail runners to La Sportiva Wildcat 3.0’s (suggested to me by Dan Bortz). These proved to be very comfortable, cushy even, and a have a slightly roomier toe box than the La Sportiva Ultra Raptors that I’ve used previously. I’ll do a detailed review of these soon. They’re a good hiking shoe for well maintained trails where you don’t need much as foot protection and want an extremely breathable shoe that dries quickly.

La Sportiva Wildcat 3.0 Trail Runners
La Sportiva Wildcat 3.0 Trail Runners

I also switched to Darn Tough Socks on this hike, which I sent out to be pre-treated with Insect Shield. I like the hiker boot sock size because they provide more calf protection against ticks than a short crew size. Darn Tough makes awesome socks with much better durability than the sock liners I’ve used for the past few years. I’m a convert.

Sleeping Bag

My NEMO Nocturne 30 sleeping bag kept me toasty on the all of cold and damp nights we experienced, while being easy to vent in warmer weather. The Nocturne 30 has an optional draft tube (really a down filled flap) that you can use to seal in the warmth of the bag or vent it. It’s a great design and I’ll probably sell my Western Mountaineering Ultralite 20 sleeping bag, which it’s replaced.

Shelter

I slept in trail shelters much more than I expected because the campsites along the AT in northern Virginia are just horrendous. The campsites located adjacent to the shelters were dished out, sloped, and full of rocks. Stealth camping wasn’t a good option either because the slopes on either side of the AT are so steep, there’s no good flat ground to camp on.

Inner tent of a Yama Mountain Gear Cirriform DW-1P Tarp Shelter, used as a mouse and bug bivy inside AT shelters
Inner tent of a Yama Mountain Gear Cirriform DW-1P Tarp Shelter, used as a mouse and bug bivy inside AT shelters

The shelters had mice and I’m not to keen on sharing my sleeping bag with them, especially since they’re Lyme Disease tick carriers. I normally carry a bivy bag for sleeping in shelters, even in early spring, but I decided to leave it at home on this hike and use the inner tent of my tarp shelter instead. I hung it from shelter ceiling when needed and the floor of the inner tent helped protect my inflatable sleeping from nails in shelter floors, as well. I was never disturbed by mice or by bees and gnats on the nights I slept in shelters.

Next time I head south, I may switch to a hammock. I plan to test a few called bridge hammocks before then, which are designed for side sleepers.

Gear that didn’t Work or Wasn’t Needed

Bear Poles eliminated the need for an Ursack in Shenandoah National Park as long as I camped at shelters.
Bear Poles eliminated the need for a Ursack in Shenandoah National Park as long as I camped at shelters.

Food Bag

There was absolutely no need for me to bring a bear-proof Ursack bear bag on this trip because I always stayed at a shelter or its adjacent campsite and I could hang my bear bag from the shelter rafters or from a bear pole. I should have brought a cuben fiber stuff sack for my food instead.

Trekking Umbrella

I added a hiking umbrella to my gear list at the last minute, no doubt influenced by my friend Hikerbox. I sent it home after a few days because it wasn’t getting used, even when it rained. I really don’t mind walking in the rain anyway.

Good-to-Go Gourmet Dehydrated Meals
Good-to-Go Gourmet Dehydrated Meals

Food

My food preferences seem to change on every long backpacking trip I take. On this trip, I gave up on eating prepared breakfasts and ate snacks that I could consume while hiking my first few miles each morning. So instead of the granola and dehydrated whole milk I sent to myself in my mail drops, I ate dried fruit, nuts, candy bars, smashed potato chips, or Chex, which proved easy to resupply.

For dinner, when I could burn dry wood (about 12 days), I ate Minute Rice which only takes 5 minutes to rehydrate in hot water, mixed with a soupy dinner entre from Outdoor Herbivore or Good-to-Go. The rest of the nights when it was raining or I didn’t feel like cooking, I ate tortillas stuffed with Tuna Fish (packed in olive oil) or Nutella. After I ran out of tortillas, I’d just ate Nutella out of the jar straight with a spoon. I still lost weight.

Conclusion

All in all, I pretty much nailed it in terms of gear and expected weather on this hike. I’m hoping to go back south this Autumn to walk a slightly longer section from West Virginia through Pennsylvania and expect to bring a similar gear list then, and possibly a hammock.

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46 comments

  1. I look forward to your write up about your shoes – a slightly roomier toe box? The la sportiva line tends to be way to narrow for my feet and while I don’t plan on doing any trail running I am always looking for quick-drying light shoes for the warmer months.

    I converted to Darn Tough about 5 years ago and have never looked back. I bought four pairs each of three different lengths (ankle, summer weight boot, and winter weight boot) and still have each and every pair in wearable condition.

    • Fitting Sportivas is a long process of trial and error. They come in .5 European sizes, so you just need to try on different variations with your desired sock until you find a good fit. They do run narrow, though the Wildcat 3.0’s are roomier and much more comfortable without compromising on grip. I think Gambino wears these too.

      • I wear wildcat 2.0s and love them. I was doing some tests with them last summer and I jumped in a river with some ultra-light socks on. 10-15 minutes later I couldn’t even tell they were wet on my feet. That isn’t to say they were drive but the sloshing and discomfort were gone. I typically wear a 10.5″ wide sneaker.

        I would recommend the wildcats 2.0s to anyone with the caveat you aren’t getting the same support of a boot, but you already knew that.

      • I wear anywhere from 10.5-11 wide in normal shoes. I have to bump that up to 12.5 or 13 in Sportivas. Just go to the store and try a bunch on. Took me a while to figure out the sizing.

  2. I’m glad the FireFly stove worked for you, but I know you had quite a bit of experience with it prior to your hike. Your fire skills are probably excellent as well. How well do you think it would work for someone who is new to wood stove cooking?

    • Great question Rob. Boiling water with most wood stoves including the Qiwiz Firefly wood stove is very easy and doesn’t really require any special skills. Finding dry wood is easy, especially at shelters, since all you need are a handful of small pieces, which are usually strewn on the ground around the shelter fire pit. Lighting the stove is also easy. I never once used matches: just Vaseline covered cotton balls and a fire steel.

      The only real technique required is to position the stove out of a strong wind (the stove walls are a great wind screen for milder conditions) and storage of your stove and pot when not in use since they can stink up all your gear. I store my stove and pot on the outside of my pack in mesh and outer pockets so it’s never been an issue.

      Not having to carry fuel or worry about fuel Resupply is just great. All the hikers I met were jealous!

  3. LA sportiva shoes, do you have a wide or narrow feet?
    Been looking for a shoe for a while, have big wide feet.
    Do they work for that?
    Is the nemo bag down or synthetic?

  4. Phil,
    I’m looking forward to seeing you test out the hammock for sleeping on your side. I switched to a hammock a couple of years ago and I love it but being on my back is kicking my butt and I’m sure that with my snoring. I’m able to call in a bear or moose.
    It sounded like you had a great hike. It would be cool to run into you when you get through MD and southern PA.

    • I tried a gathered end Hennessey years ago which didn’t work for me as a side sleeper. I’m hoping the bridge hammocks will be better. They sure are heavy though, but I like sleep and privacy, so it may be worth it.

      I did have a good hike, but I can’t see doing a thru. 2 weeks was just about perfect. Still feeling the laid-back buzz.

      • I think that best thing about a long section hike is when you get in a car for the first time in a week or so and it feels like your going a thousand miles an hour and really its just 30.

      • I’m normally a stomach or side sleeper, and currently do all of my backpacking in a gathered end Warbonnet Blackbird. If your Hennessey wasn’t an asymmetrical design (sewn with a footbox kickout to give you more flatness), it’s worth giving it a try to see if it is any better.

      • Steve McAllister

        I am also a side sleeper and prefer the WB Blackbird over a bridge hammock.
        I feel the shape of the Blackbird has a flatter lay than other gathered end hammocks.

        I find that even though I sleep on my side when ground sleeping, I can sleep all night on my back in a BlackBird. I will occasionally side sleep and sleep in the foetal position depending on where my aches are:-)

        Another thing to think about are longer hammocks like those made by ButtInASling.

        The longer length hammocks have a flatter lay and allow more range of sleeping positions. I really like the BIAS bugnet, no zipper to fail.

      • I’ll check them out. Thanks!

      • I would second trying a longer hammock. I found that switching to a longer 11foot gathered end made a big difference. Also, before I purchased an underquilt (which I love), I used a large neo air xtherm in my hammock, and it kind of created a bridge affect that allowed you to easily lay on your side.

  5. Too bad you got sick.

    Glad you had a good time!

  6. I don’t explicitly remember suggesting Wildcats, but I’m not surprised I did. Wore them exclusively for years. Coincidentally, I switched to Ultra Raptors because of something you had written. Ultra Raptors seem more durable, but Wildcats are more comfortable.

  7. I have a Warbonnet Blackbird hammock. It has an offset footbox which allows for a flatter lie in the hammock. I’ve been able to sleep on my side in it. You may want to give it a try as well. Less weight than a bridge hammock as well.

  8. I’ve been hiking in desert areas with lots of rocks/scree in La Sportiva Wildcats (original, not the 3.0) with the factory insole replaced with a SOLE Dean Karnazes Signature Series Custom Footbed for the last few months — they’ve been awesome. I agree re the wide toe box — very comfortable and something I spent a lot of time searching for. I’ve got an average width foot, but when my feet swell from a hot, long day, loosening the laces works fine. Paired with Darn Tough socks, they are perfect combination for me. I find the Wildcats not quite as wide as the La Sportiva Helios.

  9. That’s my favorite time of year to walk. What a wonderful section of trail too. Lots of views that get blocked by foliage latter on. Been a while since I’ve hiked it.

    I’m a side sleeper too and I don’t have any problems doing it with my Hennesy A-Sym. There is a trick to it and being on the short & small side might be a plus.

    Thanks for the thoughtful gear reviews.

  10. Philip — The Insect Shield order form specifically states that undergarments are not permitted for treatment. Did you apply permethrin to these garments (Under Armour Heatgear Boxer Jocks) yourself? Also, do you notice significant shrinkage in your clothing after treatment? Thanks!

    • Good catch. I meant to send them out, but did n’t get around to it. I’ll update the gear list. I would have had to have applied Permethrin by hand. I only washed my underwear twice on this hike so the treatment would have remained effective for the duration. Is that too much information? :-)

  11. Just a heads up, I am a side curl up sleeper using a gathered end hammock. I sleep diagonally for a flat lay. Try it first with a cheaper hammock ( make sure it’s wide and long enough for the diagonal, about 54 by 110 inches). I tried it first car camping. When its cold, I switch to ground systems since I don’t have an underquilt. Hammocks excel in hot weather.

    • Steve McAllister

      Hammocks also excel in cold weather if you have an underquilt and a hammock sock.
      My most comfortable winter nights have been in a hammock. No cold nose well bellow freezing.
      A sock like the one Warbonnet makes really extends the warmth and allows you to carry a smaller lighter tarp. This also means you need less insulation.

  12. How did your Pathfinder watch work for you?

  13. Question on the Darn Socks. Do you guys ever double up on a super thin wool sock (inner) with a heavier outer wool sock. My father’s generation (70+) swears by this method and I have just always done it that way on long treks. But it sounds like you all only wear one sock, even on 20 milers.

    • Steve McAllister

      A lot of people do that for blister prevention. I think it depend on your shoes, how much hiking you do and how tough your feet are.
      100% Merino wool socks tend to wear out much faster than synthetic socks, which is why a blend like Darn Tough are becoming so popular. Patagonia make a real good blend sock that I like.

    • Only when I wear mountaineering boots in winter. Many of us aren’t wearing boots, but trail runners these days. They’re much softer than leather boots….no need for a heavy sock layer.

  14. Thanks for all your blog posts! Good reading. Quick questions. What pad were you using on the hike? And did the short height at the foot end on the Cirriform cause any concerns?

    • I used a Therm-a-Rest XTherm which worked really really well for the cold temps I experienced, but are the norm for the month of my hike. I was nice and warm all night while others froze.

      No issues with the foot end of the Cirriform. You raise and lower its height depending on weather…also.

      My next newsletter (tomorrow) will have a discount coupon from the manufacturer if you’re thinking of buying one.

  15. I am just starting to learn about all this. I need a sleeping bag and cannot afford to buy more than one at this point. Is the NEMO Nocturne 30 sleeping bag good for 3 seasons? I will mostly be hiking this year in the south. Mostly in and around the BR and Smoky Mountains. Would it get too hot during the summer months? Also do you use a pad with it? Awesome site by the way.

    • You need to use some kind of pad with a sleeping bag for insulation from the ground, Mine varies depending on the season. The NEMO Nocturne 30 is a very good 3 season bag and it’s ventable of course with its zipper. But I don’t know what summertime temps are in BR and the Smokies. You should check what the seasonal averages are at the elevations you plan at camping at. I think Weather Underground has historical averages.

    • I also do most of my hiking in the South, and the majority of that is in winter. For me, a 30ºF bag with a full length zipper is a good all around one. When the temperature is warmer, I can unzip and use it like a quilt and adjust my comfort zone that way. In colder weather than the bag is rated for, I wear extra layers in the bag. I’m 5’9″ and 168 lb. but I prefer the “long” version of a bag because those also generally have more girth, which allows layering without being quite as claustrophobic.

      • What type of bag do you use, Grandpa? Down or synthetic? What name brand? I’m in the market for a winter bag, and I do most of my hiking in the south.

  16. Thanks for the advice. Well. I went ahead and picked one up at Backcountry.com. Got it on sell. I can’t wait to try it out.

  17. Greetings JMike and Christian,

    Here are my two cents. I am not in the woods as often as many of the posters here, but I do have years of experience.

    In the old days, Down was much lighter than synthetic. My Kelty 15 degree is 10 years old and still a great bag. At that time, I saved over a pound paying for Down. Also historically, it tended to pack smaller, but you are paying much more for that 800+ fill if you want to save weight nowadays. If you go with the 550-600 down fill, the weight difference between synthetic and down is minimal. I am not sure on the stuff sack size, other readers can help there.

    Also, I am a big believer in a sleeping bag insert (used one for 3 years now): http://www.rei.com/search.html?ir=q%3Asleeping+bag+insert&page=1&q=sleeping+bag+insert
    I tend to go with the Thermolite 25degree one, but I do most of my backpacking in Colorado or Oregon. If I am too hot, I sleep in it on top of my bag. If freezing, it takes my back rating below zero. Since I got one, everyone else in my backpacking group has one now too.

    Finally, you must have a pad! I prefer the http://www.rei.com/product/810386/therm-a-rest-ridgerest-solite-sleeping-pad because I am 6’1″ and it is long and wide. But honestly, I used a cheap pad from Walmart for almost a decade and it worked just fine. Please think twice on the air pads. I have had fellow back packers get holes in theirs making for a miserable rest of the trip. Also during the cold months, some of my buddies double up with a second foam pad on top of the air pad due to feeling cold if only sleeping on an air pad (possible benefit on warm summer nights). For me, they are a waste of money and weight.

  18. Philip,
    What did you think of the Good to Go and Outdoor Herbivore meals? I usually go with Hawk Vittles which I like very much but I am open to trying other brands of healthy, no preservatives meals. You can either respond here on your blog or you can email me if you prefer.
    Thanks.
    Gerry

    • They’re both my two favorites the moment, in terms of taste and the fact that they have far less sodium than other meals from companies including Hawk Vittles. I usually add a cup of instant rice to them to add a few more calories. The only problem with the Good to Go meals is that they take 20 minutes to rehydrate which is a long time to wait, while the OH meals take just 5-10 minutes. But both are tops for taste!

      • Thanks, Philip. I think I’ll try them. BTW, some of the Hawk Vittles’ entrees are very low in sodium (many are very high). Their Cashew Curry only has 65 mg of sodium and 616 total calories.

  19. Hey, I’m new to this and I’m wondering with these long hikes how you carry all your food? Or how do you get it?
    Thanks
    -James

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