The hike is 87 days away and I’ve been planning since spring. As the start date creeps up on me, I’m having increasing anxiety. I’m second-guessing EVERYTHING. I’m not second-guessing doing the actual hike (although when I’m warm and cozy in my bed at night, I think about how potentially awful it will be), but I’m agonizing over my gear, my clothing, and my strategy. The worst is when, after a day of prepping (not a day goes by where I’m not doing some sort of prepping), I lie down to go to sleep and my mind races. “Maybe I should bring this? Maybe I should cut that? Should I wear that? How did that feel during my hike today? Was it comfortable? I don’t remember, I’ll have to try it again.”
I’ve gone through so much gear and clothing in the past 6 months, you would think I’ve already done the hike. I’ve bought, returned, bought again, tested, re-tested, and probably will repeat. So far, it’s looking like an outdoors-man’s Christmas List:
- 4 Backpacks – I started with an Osprey Exos 48 (ultralight) and discovered that it wouldn’t fit all my stuff. When I went to exchange for a larger size, the associate at Campmor talked me into the Osprey Viva 65. I still actually have this pack and I like it, but then I saw the Osprey Ariel 65 at REI and liked the AirScape™ backpanel. Since I sweat like an animal, I decided to get the Ariel, however I wasn’t thrilled with the color (blue) so I returned it and I’ve finally settled a red Ariel aka “Big Red”. It’s not an ultralight pack, but it’s awesome. I can happily announce that this choice is definitely not going to change.
- 3 Hiking Shoes/Boots – I battled with shoe vs. boot. I was anti-boot when I first started out this year, but after I got a 40lb pack on my back, my feet were screaming after about 6 miles. I was wearing my Merrell Siren Sport hikers (which I now have two pairs of, because I bought the 2nd pair thinking they would be my AT shoe and I would have a backup ready). Then I saw the Vasque Breeze 2.0 GTX boot in REI and liked them a lot. I took them out for a test run and found my toes were hitting the front on the downhill, so I went in to exchange for a bigger size. The associate talked me into trying a firmer boot, since the issue I had with my hikers was that I felt every single rock under my foot. I ended up with the Asolo Fission GV hiking boots. After hiking in various terrain, I believe they will serve me well, they seem light enough and feel like shoes.
- Socks and liners (dozens) – Because of my change in footwear, all of the socks I owned needed to be replaced due to the height of the boot on my ankle. I needed to swap out all of my micro socks for crew socks and since I wear a synthetic liner with a wool outer, this means double the pairs of socks.
- Shoe Insoles – I hate them. Not much more to say about that.
- Gaiters – When I was wearing my Merrell’s, I used Outdoor Research Sparkplug Gaiters™, but now since I have boots, they won’t work. As of today, I haven’t bought a new pair of gaiters to go with my boots. I’m still undecided about this one.
- 3 Stoves – I started with the BioLite Campstove, because it served a dual-purpose, being a stove to cook with as well as charge my cell phone. The other beauty of this stove is the fact that you don’t need to carry fuel, it runs on wood. I took it hiking and took it camping. There were two problems with this stove: 1. It’s quite hefty at 33oz (just over 2 lbs). 2. It takes a LOT of fuel (and time) to get a good charge on my iPhone. Rethinking my decision, I bought a Whisperlite™ Universal, but then returned it because it was still too heavy (about 12 oz). I now have a MicroRocket™, weighing in at 2.6 ounces. It’s quick and small. You won’t believe how all of those ounces add up!
- 10 Hiking Pants – Since I’ve always hiked, I’ve already owned good hiking pants. However, over the years, I chunked up, so I ended up giving them away as hand-me-downs. I lost the weight and needed pants again, so I bought 3 more pair. Well guess what? I gained weight again (thank you medication withdrawal) and needed a larger size. So, I ordered two more pair in a larger size, but just my luck, when they came in they were too short. I ended up returning them to get a not-little-people size. I figure that when I lose weight on the trail, I can revert to the smaller size. Pant choice is one of those flip-flop decisions as I’m now realizing that I probably will only bring one pair of hiking pants with me, because I’m overburdened with clothes.
- Water Receptacles – I started off with an Antidote® Reservoir (100 fl.oz.), but then when got frustrated with it’s ‘floppiness’ I bought an Osprey Hydraulics™ Reservoir (100 fl.oz.). As I started running into thru-hikers on the A.T. this year, they all said that 100 ounces of water is way too much to carry (weighing in at a hefty 6 lbs just in water alone). In addition to that, I found that as I was hiking, I was never sure of how much water I had left. I’ve opted for a Nalgene Wide-Mouth Loop-Top Water Bottle (32 fl.oz.) and a Platypus plusBottle (1-Liter). Two liters is more than enough water for a day (this is the A.T. and not the P.C.T.), I can see exactly how much water I have, and can easily transfer water to my cookpot.
- Stuff sacks and dry sacks – I’ve packed, re-packed, and reconfigured my pack so many times that’s I’ve gone through pretty much every size stuff sack/dry sack they make. Luckily REI has an awesome return policy.
- First-Aid / Survival ‘Kit’ -The first kit I bought was enough to serve an army (it was close to 2 lbs.). I’ve stripped it down to the what I think are the essentials and it still weighs almost a pound! (Emergency Blanket, Matches, FireSteel® Scout 2.0 fire starter tool, Duct Tape, Salt Packet, 4 Antiseptic Pads, 10 Antibiotic Ointment, 4 – 1″ x 3″ Bandages, 4 – 3/8″ x 1 1/2″ Bandages, 2″ x 3″ Elastic Patch Bandage, 3″ x 3″ Sterile Pad, 1 – 4″ Adhesive Strips, Compass, Poncho, Signal Mirror, 10′ Snare Wire, 2 Razor Blades, Moleskin, Needle, Spool of Thread, 2 Safety Pins, 30′ Fishing Line, 2 Fish Hooks, 2 Sinkers, 7″ x 10″ Waterproof Pouch, 35′ Nylon Cord, Reusable 8″ x 12″ PVC Pouch, Wound Closure Tape, Clotting Sponge)
- 4 Knives – I’m a female (in case you haven’t noticed) and hiking solo on the A.T. In addition to feeling compelled to carry a weapon, a knife is a must-have in the wilderness. With that being said, what do I do? I buy the biggest, baddest knife I could find, which was the United Cutlery Bush Master Survival Knife. I almost peed myself laughing when I opened it up. I swear it was the same knife used in the Rambo movie. It was big, it was bad, and it weight almost 2 pounds! I didn’t pay much attention to the specs when I purchased it, I guess. It got sent back.
- Then I opted for the Schrade SCHF10 Drop-Point Full Tang Fixed Blade. It’s an awesome survival knife (when not carrying 40 lbs on your back), but I needed to dump weight, so I dumped the knife (I still have it). I also ordered a Wicked Hand Saw, because you never know when you’re going to have to cut down some trees on the A.T. Needless to say, I returned that too. What I have now is a Benchmade 551 Griptilian Serrated Locking Knife, a much more manageable 3.75 ounces and much more compact (4.62 inches closed).
- Bear Spray – There will be bears, right? And they will be big, right? Yep. So I ordered 9 ounces of bear repelling fog. Well, I’m now taking my chances and opting to prevent an encounter rather than fend off a bear at close range (you will hear me jingling all the way). The spray weighed in at around 11 ounces, so it will not be coming with me, but my Coghlan’s Bear Bell with Magnetic Silencer will (1.2 ounces).
- Power Supplies – I will be carrying my iPhone with me, which unfortunately, runs on electricity. Since there are no power outlets on the trail (however, I recall seeing one picture of an outlet in a shelter), I determined that I need a renewable power source. Enter the K-Tor Pocket Socket 2 120 Volt 10 Watt Hand Crank Generator. Although this item sounds cool, it’s totally impractical. Charging your phone with this baby is like using one of those stupid arm cycle things at your local jumbo-gym. No, thank you!
- I bought two batteries to hold all of the energy I was going to generate with my wood stove and pocket socket (smirk). I will only be taking one with me. I did finally end up getting something that was pretty efficient in charging my phone though…a solar charger (Suntactics sCharger-5 Portable Solar Charger). I field tested it and it takes no energy from me other than hauling it (a reasonable 8 oz) and setting it up.
I can’t even begin to count all the little gadgets, thingies, and ‘essentials that became non-essential’. The things that sound so good when you read the ‘features’ and you think, “that will be awesome on the trail”, but turn out to be not-so-awesome. In the end, it mostly comes down to weight and what you are willing to carry. All I have to say is REI has an awesome return policy!
In addition to these dilemmas, I have ten thousand questions: Where should I send mail drops? Should I send mail drops? What to send in the mail drops? Where will I resupply? How will I get into town? What will I eat on a daily basis? How will I ration my food? How stinky will I get? How can I remain human? Will I go crazy? (yeah, I’ve heard all the crazy jokes already. Enough.) How? Where? When? What? ???????
I’m going to have to just suck it up, make my final gear choices, and hope for the best. What’s the worst that can happen, right?