This is a review of the gear we used on our thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.
You can see our full Appalachian Trail couple’s thru-hike gear list HERE. We are not reviewing every single item we brought, (such as clothing) but at least the major gear items. Feel free to message us with any questions you might have.
Thru-hiking as a couple offers some real gear advantages, because we get to split the weight of major items like tents, water filters, stoves and cooksets. This is a review from a couple’s perspective, as most gear resources online are aimed at solo hikers. However, anyone could use any of the gear we carried on this trip, not just partners.
We did not start the trail with this tent, but purchased it at Trail Days in Damascus, so it made it over 1700 miles with us. We made the switch for a few reasons, primarily for the weight savings, but also because our previous tent was leaking, even after field repairs.
When doing research on tents, most people will tell you to go up a size. That is, if you are camping with 2, you should get a 3 person tent to avoid being too crowded and also be able to bring your gear into the tent. We started the trail with a 3 person tent for this reason. However, going up a size adds a lot of weight, and in truth, on a thru-hike you are really not spending much time awake in the tent so the extra space just felt frivolous. Still, we felt that being a too-cramped space would lead to some annoyance/tension. In the end, we felt that a decently-sized 2 person tent with 2 vestibules would be best. This allows each of us to store our gear on our own side, sheltered from the rain while still outside the tent. It also allowed us to enter/leave the tent without having to crawl over the other person and their gear. Win/win.
Although this tent is crazy expensive, it is stupid light. It’s easy to set up and has lasted over 1700 miles on the AT, and will come with us on the PCT. It is single-walled but has great airflow to minimize condensation issues. It is made of waterproof materials but can be prone to punctures (this hasn’t happened to us yet but we carry some 3M tape for repair just in case). There is great headroom and is long enough for tall people. If you can afford the price tag, this tent is worth it. Did I mention the tent and the materials are made in the USA?
These bags made the entire trip. The Igneo is the men’s version and the Joule is the women’s. Both are rated to about 20F. Although they are both mummy bags, they are designed with the option of zipping them together. On the coldest nights, we did not zip together, because it allows too much cold airflow, making it warmer to stay in our own bags with everything cinched up tightly. On the warmest nights, we just draped these over ourselves like a blanket. In the future, we plan to buy a 2 person quilt. This will give us more weight and space savings. However, the price tag on down quilts hasn’t made it worth replacing these bags yet.
We both carried the same pad, and they both made the entire trip. This is a step up from the closed cell foam pads, but not as nice as something like a NeoAir. We’ve gotten ourselves a 2-person pad for the PCT, which inflates more, cut an ounce or two of weight, and will also work better with a quilt whenever we upgrade. After sleeping on the new pad, I’ll never go back to the self-inflating style pad again. The difference in comfort is huge, especially for a side sleeper. At the end of a long day on the trail, you can probably sleep on just about anything, but the extra comfort of a nice thick pad is worth it.
This is a luxury item, but totally worth it if you like to sleep on a pillow. Some people use their spare clothes as a pillow, but on the coldest nights I’m wearing all my clothes. Others sleep on their food bags, but we typically store/hang our food, plus I don’t like all my snacks being crushed.
This pack is great. It weighs less than 3 lbs, the frame transfers the load to the hips quite well, the side pockets are great for easy access to your water bottle. The shoulder strap pockets will fit most phones, the hip-belt pockets can fit quite a few snacks, or even a small pair of binoculars. Megan carried this pack the entire trail. It held up very well. In New Hampshire and Maine, the rugged terrain did lead to a few holes in the mesh outer pockets, but nothing beyond quick repair with a sewing kit. The pack is less comfortable over 25 lbs, but most of the time is very comfortable. The 58L option proved too roomy. When Paul had to get a new pack on trail, he opted for the 48L Exos. The main issue I have with these packs is the hip belts are designed for large people (although this pack is clearly designed for thru-hikers). By the end of trail both of us had them tightened all the way. It wasn’t bad enough to be a problem, mainly just an annoyance. Lots of people had the excess straps cut off and re-hemmed by Osprey at Trail Days.
Paul carried this pack for almost 1700 miles. This pack weighs under 2 lbs, has really nice pockets, an adjustable hip belt, and the back pad doubles as a sit pad. Paul loved it until the stitching started to come undone at the bottom of the pack where the hip belt attaches. This really affected the comfort and performance of the bag. We reached out to Gossamer Gear, and they seem to have corrected this issue with their new model (The frame actually inserts into the hip belt now). However, they wouldn’t replace the bag with a new model, and they were out of old models, leaving us with only one option: to send the bag in for repair. That is not possible on a thru-hike, and they were aware we were thru-hiking. This was disappointing, and is the reason we have chosen not to get another Gossamer Gear pack, despite enjoying this one while it lasted. Like the Osprey, as the weight approaches 30 lbs, it starts to become uncomfortable. Fortunately we rarely had that much weight in either of our packs.
At under 2 oz, this is probably one of the lightest canister stoves out there. Many people on the AT used alcohol stoves, but we did like the ability to control the heat. This stove worked well for the entire trip. A few times, the small screws started to loosen, making the stove a bit wobbly. I found that the prongs on my spork worked as a screwdriver on these small screws, so it was a non-issue. We are planing to keep this stove for the PCT.
We got this pot to be big enough to cook for both of us at once. It’s light, affordable, and shallow. Water boils faster in a shallow pot than a tall pot. It was a great size for 2 people.
We got a bowl that nests perfectly inside our pot. When we had dinner, one of us would eat directly from the cook pot, and the other would eat from the bowl.
We started with the lighter, smaller Sawyer mini. I’m amazed how long we kept it, but we finally switched to the slightly bigger Sawyer Squeeze, because the flow rate was vastly better. In both of these filters, the flow rate slows on the trip, even with repeated backflushing. The mini got so slow, it felt like our water stops were taking 30 minutes. The nice thing about both of these filters is you can backflush them with a Smart Water bottle, as the squeeze cap fits right onto the filter, leaving no need to carry the plunger that it comes with and just use our water bottles. (Also, on the AT, there are plungers in practically every hiker box, so oftentimes we would borrow the plunger while in town and return it to the hiker box before leaving). It is important to know that the integrity of these filters is compromised if they freeze, so on cold nights you need to bring it to bed with you.
Most people love these, and they are great for some things, but we do not recommend this product. The tracking function never worked properly, so we had to physically push the button if we wanted to mark our location on our map. For some reason, halfway through the trip, the first half of our check-ins totally disappeared from our map. The second number added never got the text message updates (although the first number did). Sometimes the light indicated our check-in sent, when in fact it did not. The AT is a crowded place, so having the GPS tracking was pretty frivolous. This is a great item if you have a very worried family member at home, and you would like them to get a daily update that things are okay. For anything more serious, it would be worth spending the money on a GPS device with 2-way messaging capabilities. We are not carrying a tracking device on the PCT.
A great guidebook that most AT hikers seem to use. Daily elevation and mileage charts with great info about towns and amenities. I also really liked that the book would note interesting plants to watch for.
This app is expensive but we loved it. Topographic maps for each section of the trail, with GPS waypoints for the shelters, water sources, etc. I loved that I could pull out the app and see exactly how many trail miles to the next water. It was also nice if we hadn’t seen a white blaze in awhile, I could instantly check our location and make sure we were still on trail. Much less town info than the AWOL guide, and you can certainly hike the trail just fine with the guidebook alone. Still, this app was great and I would recommend it.
This was an affordable and versatile power pack with 2 ports, great for 2 people. This usually got us through 4-5 days before it ran out. One of the ports is a rapid charging port, but after a 20F night in the tent, the rapid charging port turned into a slow charging port. Other than that, it worked fine for the entire trip. There is a lighter version out now, but we’ll probably stick with this one as long as it’s still working.
This camera is rugged and waterproof, but a little pricey. The app that accompanies the phone is great, allowing us to link with the phone via bluetooth and then use the phone either as a remote control for the camera or just to import photos. Once the photos made it to the phone, we only needed wifi to upload to Google Drive, and rest easily knowing that even if we lost the camera or the phone, our photos were already backed up.
This was Megan’s headlamp, while Paul carried the non-rechargeable version. Both worked well, although the battery on the rechargeable version has less life. This isn’t a problem so long as you remember to charge it regularly. Both headlamps allow for direct or diffused light, a dimming option, strobe, and a red light.
For ladies who are active, the Diva Cup is the best alternative to tampons. Less fuss, less waste, and less money in the long run. Make sure to try this at home to get used to it before you try it in the field.
Probably the lightest trowel you can get, and works better than your boot heel, or trekking pole at digging a proper cathole. On the AT, however, there are plenty of privies, and you should use them when possible. With some planning, you might never have to dig a hole.
The chafing on the AT was like nothing we have experienced before. We tried Body Glide, but it fell far short. Better follow Grandma’s cure all: A+D ointment. We often had other hikers ask to borrow this stuff, it might be the best thing out there.
Athlete’s Foot Cream/Tea Tree Oil
Itchy feet are the first sign of athlete’s foot. Tea Tree Oil is naturally anti fungal and antibacterial, so we always kept a bit on hand in addition to some athletes foot cream to keep our feet healthy.