I'm a gearhead. I'll admit that I like to play with things and systems to find what works and doesn't. I'm always asking questions of other's, poking around gear shops, and reading manuals or reviews. Along the AT journey I was no different. My last week at home I changed my system based on a friend's recommendation, a former long section hiker, and along the way I changed several pieces of gear as well.
My pre-leaving kit was based on the Gosamer Gear Mariposa pack and a Kelty 20' down sleeping bag. I had a homemade under quilt under a Dream Hammock hammock. My stove was the Caldera Cone wrapping a Snow Peak 700 Ti pot.
The week I left I went to my go to of the Go-lite Pursuit pack. It held a bit more then the other. I dropped to the ground in a Six Moon Design Lunar Solo single walled tent with a Therma-rest Z-pad and went with a Hammock Gear 20' top quilt. I kept the cook kit as is.
My first night at the trailhead in Amicolola State Park GA, I forgot to tuck my ground sheet under the drip zone of my tent and consequently flooded myself out in the rain on April 7th. From then on I shelter hopped spending only three nights in the tent. I didn't find the balance between ventilation and condensation. When I asked Uncle Johnny , at his hostel in Erwin TN, what to do about that issue he replied, "Burn it, single walls don't work in the East." I took his advice and sent it home. This actually was my second gear swap.
My first gear swap came as my Pursuit started to part at the shoulder straps. I called REI and ordered a replacement. Long story short, I ended up with my Granite Gear Crown 60 from the NOC, which remains with me and it never complained about who much weight I put into it. One benefit to this pack is the hip belt can be swapped out for a smaller or larger size. It can also take on the optional top lid, aka brain. The Gosamer Gear and Go-lites have weight limits close to 30 pounds, after that they complain and or start tearing a part. These are okay for the occasional day or so of 30 pounds plus but, don't count on longevity with the heavier loads.
My second gear swap, I've eluded to already, that of swapping out the tent for the hammock. I got my original Hennessey Backpacker sent to me during Trail Days at Damascus VA. The original has a bottom entry and is single layered. Later, that weekend I bought the Expedition double layer from Hennessey himself and has a side zipper bug net. My tarp of choice is the Hex-tarp from OES - Outdoor Equipment Supply. It sets quickly and is compact. For the White's, I went to the 10 point cuben from Hammock Gear for the all around weather protection.
My third major swap out was for the stove. The Caldera Cone is plan bulky for my set up. I had an older canister stove sent out. The max flame setting was larger then my pot base and the most fuel efficient setting took as long as the alcohol stove I just ditched. I went to a homemade cat food can stove with aluminum wind break. I found I used 3 ounces of fuel to heat 20 ounces of water. Someone had a Flat Cat Gear stove/wind screen he liked and I ordered one. When I got it, my fuel usage dropped to 1 1/2 ounces for my water requirement. The Flat Cat requires two wires for set up, I lost 'em promptly. I grabbed a coat hanger and made a new set. So don't loose 'em if you get a Flat Cat.
My fourth change out was with what I wrapped up in at night. I'm a restless ground sleeper. My quilt great for the hammock not for the ground. I developed a grab and tuck every time I rolled over. In Damascus I also picked up my 45' sleeping bag. I did go back to the quilt with my winter gear adding in a 20' under quilt also from Hammock Gear.
Along the way somethings just need replacing. Foot wear is crucial. I know of a few who did the journey in two pairs of shoes. I did it in 4. My fourth pair will see life beyond the trail. Sizing is essential to get right for each pair. Every time get the foot measured to ensure proper fit. Just cuz one pair fit good don't think the next pair based on insoles fitting will be the right choice. I did have two good pairs, Moab Ventilators by Merrell, wear out in the heal padding around 500 miles of my usage though I stretched it out to 600 odd miles. My third pair, Keens, wore out quickly with the multi rubber sole parting in several places among other wear issues. I'm doubious if I even got a hundred miles before wear set in with those. I left them in a hiker box. My fourth pair is back to the Moabs however, I used the previous insoles to size them. This was a mistake. My toe width was different, it became wider as I hiked. I should have gone wider or gotten a size larger. The place I got them though had limited selection. Limited selection meant I may not have gotten a bettet fit. Still I should have tried sever pairs instead of just the one. Thankfully, I only walked away with sore cramped feet. Am I the only person who did not have to fight major blisters?
Clothing is something to be replaced along the way. My first shirt wore out from the pack rubbing on it. My red t-shirt I picked up from, of all places, a laundromat. I forgot to take rain gear with me to wear when washing my clothes and asked the attendant if she had something I could wear, thus I got my shirt.
Socks are a highly debated clothing option. We all found our favorite brand and or pair. I started with a brand I hiked comfortablely with for years. When they crusted up I tried Smart Wool. They too crusted up quickly and wore out fast. I finally tried Darn Tough, the only sock endorsed by the ATC. I can see why. They rinse out easily, take longer to crust up, and have re-enforcement in critical areas. Simply put Darn Tough socks are darn tough, a high quality brand of socks. I actually tried close to 5 different brands of socks. My gagging factor is to wear the sock as long as possible without washing and check the performance. Since I might do laundry once every two weeks how long a sock kept my feet comfortable without washing was the deciding factor. Periodically, I'd stream wash the socks and air dry on my pack. Steam washing, do so only down from the water gathering area and don't use any soap, rinse a lot only. A better practice would be to grab water in a bucket or large ziploc and rinse away from the water source area.
I've made a lot of references to companies and specific gear in this entry. I am by no means endorsing them or receiving any sort of compensation by them. The expressed is strictly my observations and what I experienced. Please take what I've expressed just as that, someone's perspective. Your needs and requirements will be different then mine. Please take multiple views into account if you are gear shopping. My opinion, check in return policy, but don't abuse them, and play with the gear until you are comfortable with it. Better yet, if you are new to long distance hiking or hammocking please try to get to a local event and ask questions. At an event one will see different set ups whereas a retailer may not have the experience or many options needed for you to make informed decisions about crucial gear.
Enjoy and hike strong.