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.
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.
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.
Gear That Worked
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.