The article below is a follow-up to last year’s most popular post, The Thru Hiker’s Gear List. In a nutshell, it’s a compilation of gear recommendations from 11 of the most accomplished and experienced long distance hikers in the United States; with a token Aussie thrown in for good measure.
With a cumulative total of over 300,000 hiking miles (482,803 km) between them, the group consists of seven men and five women ranging in age from 28 to 65. Though the chronological spectrum may be sizeable, all 12 backpack in a lightweight or ultra-lightweight fashion, and share an unconditional love of heading out into the wilderness, irrespective of the season or environment.
I’d like to thank all of the contributors for their images and recommendations, and hope that the article provides a useful resource for aspiring thru-hikers, looking for trail tested gear recommendations from folks that have walked the walk for many a year.
Note: For more information on the contributing hikers, click on the names and check out their websites and/or social media pages.
The Usual Suspects
- Amanda “Not a Chance” Timeoni – One of the most contagiously enthusiastic hikers you will ever meet. Over the past decade this Punky Brewster look-alike has hiked the PCT four times, the Lowest to Highest twice, Canada’s Great Divide Trail, and completed multiple routes in America’s southwest including the Grand Enchantment Trail, Northern New Mexico Loop and the Sky Islands Traverse. Whether it be mountains or desert, cross country or trail, the girl simply loves to hike.
- Liz “Snorkel” Thomas: Snorkel is the backcountry equivalent of James Brown – the hardest working woman in the hiking business. Author, public speaker, trail ambassador, urban rambler extraordinaire, and serial hiker of America’s long distance trails. And what makes her long list of accomplishments even more impressive is that she has done it all with a wooden leg; as anyone who has gone out drinking with her will attest.
- Heather “Anish” Anderson: This speedy lady is synonymous with America’s Triple Crown Trails. Having previously set records on both the Pacific Crest and Appalachian Trails, at the time of writing (April, 2018) she is currently attempting to become the first woman to hike all three in a calendar year.
- Renee “She-Ra” Patrick – The “Princess of Power” is a Triple crowner, cross-country skier, packrafter nonpareil, ambassador for the Continental Divide Trail and Coordinator for the Oregon Desert Trail.
- Nancy “Why Not” Huber: After competing in ironman triathlons for many years, the indefatigable Nancy turned to thru-hiking in her late 50’s and proceeded to complete the triple crown, along with many other challenging routes around the US and abroad (e.g. Sierra High Route, Wind River High Route, Pyrenees High Route).
- John “John Z” Zahorian: Co-owner of Pa’lante Packs, vlogger, podcaster and triple crowner. At the age of 28, John is the youngest contributor to this article. I met him during his first thru-hike (the PCT) in 2012. If memory serves, it was mid-morning and he was napping under a tree by a water source. These days he takes far fewer siestas and hikes much longer hours.
- Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva: The Desert King. Over the past decade DM has arguably logged more backcountry miles in America’s arid regions than anyone (e.g. Vagabond Loop, Great Basin Traverse, Sky Islands Traverse, to name just a few). Last year I had the pleasure of his company while hiking the length of Bolivia’s Cordillera Real, and at the time of writing (April, 2018), he is making his way north from Mexico to Canada via the obscure 2500 mile Desert Trail.
- Brett “Blisterfree” Tucker: Founder of some of America’s most challenging backcountry hiking routes such as the Grand Enchantment Trail, Lowest to Highest, Sky Islands Traverse and the Northern New Mexico Loop. Reportedly descended from Siberian immigrants, Tucker is famously reclusive, and only agreed to be part of this article in exchange for a case of Mamont Vodka.
- Andrew Skurka: Since the mid-2000’s, Skurka has pioneered multiple long distance hiking routes in North America including the Sea-to-Sea Route, Great Western Loop and the Alaska Yukon Expedition. He is a sought after guide, public speaker, and is the author of “The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide“, one of the most comprehensive and insightful books on backpacking gear and skills ever written.
- Paul “Mags” Magnanti – I haven’t met too many people more passionate or knowledgable about the outdoors than Paul Magnanti. Irrespective of the distance, season or environment, Mags simply loves exploring the wilds on foot or by skis. He is the co-author of the Quick & Dirty Hiking Guide series, and runs one of the most respected hiking websites on the net, Pmags.com.
- Justin “Trauma” Lichter: Trauma is one of the most accomplished hikers in history. Notable among his many different achievements are winter thru hikes of the AT and PCT, along with long distance routes in Africa, Scandinavia, New Zealand and Mexico’s Copper Canyon region. He is also the author of mulitiple books on long distance hiking, including Trail Tested and Ultralight Survival Kit.
- Cam “Swami” Honan: See the About section of the website for details.
Ok. Enough with the intros. Here are the thru-hiking gear suggestions of all 11 hikers, along with some tips and recommendations from yours truly:
Swami’s Tips: Heavy backpacks are designed to carry heavy loads. Unless you are in training for a post-thru hike career as a porter in Nepal, go with a pack that weighs less than three pounds (1.36 kg) and has a carrying capacity of no more than 65 liters. That should be sufficient to get both you and your gear from Mexico to Canada or Georgia to Maine. Anything more than that is overkill; no matter how great it may feel while walking around the aisles of your local outfitter.
- Not a Chance – Pa’lante Simple Pack, Mountain Laurel Designs Burn
- Snorkel – Gossamer Gear Kumo
- Anish – Gossamer Gear Gorilla, Gossamer Gear Mariposa
- She-Ra – Six Moons Designs Fusion 50
- Why Not – ZPacks Arc Blast 52L
- John Z: Pa’lante Packs V2
- Trauma: Granite Gear Crown (No frame sheet & Mountain Laurel Designs hip belt pockets)
- Skurka: Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40/60
- Dirtmonger – Gossamer Gear Kumo, Gossamer Gear Gorilla
- Mags: ULA CDT, ULA Catalyst
- Blisterfree: DIY Ray-way style backpack
- Swami: Mountain Laurel Designs Burn, HMG Southwest Pack 2400
- Bonus Recommendations: Osprey Exos 58, Granite Gear Blaze AC 60, HMG Windrider 3400, Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet, ULA Ohm
Swami’s Tip: Three things to look for when choosing your thru-hiking home: 1. Lightweight (no more than 3 lbs / 1.36 kg); 2. Storm worthy, and; 3. Meets your individual needs in regards to comfort. Four to six months is a long time to go backpacking, and about a third of that time will be spent in or under your shelter.
- Not a Chance: Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Poncho Tarp
- Snorkel: Mountain Laurel Designs Solomid, Hennessy Hammock Hyperlite (w. Mountain Laurel Designs Hammock Hexagon Tarp)
- Anish: Gossamer Gear The One or Gossamer Gear The Two (with partner)
- She-Ra: Six Moons Designs Deschutes Cuben Fiber
- Why Not: ZPacks Solplex
- John Z: DIY Tarp “Catenary cut A-Frame with one side more open than the other” (Ed’s Note: It looks a bit like the Zpacks Hexamid and the Leaning Tower of Pisa had a cuben fiber baby)
- Trauma: Mountain Laurel Designs Patrol Shelter, Mountain Laurel Designs Solomid
- Skurka: Sierra Designs High Route Tent (crappy conditions), Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock w. Edge Tarp (Appalachians), Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp & Borah Gear Side Bivy (benign conditions)
- Dirtmonger: Yama Mountain Gear Cirriform 1P
- Mags: Six Moon Designs Wild Oasis, ZPacks 8.5×10 Cuben Tarp
- Blisterfree: Zpacks Duplex
- Swami: Mountain Laurel Designs ProPoncho Tarp, Mountain Laurel Designs Solomid XL, Tarptent ProTrail and HMG Square Tarp // Combine tarps with either Mountain Laurel Designs Superlight Bivy or Katabatic Bristlecone Bivy
- One Person – Tarptent Notch, Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL 1, MSR Hubba, REI Quarter Dome 1, Six Moons Lunar Solo, Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape
- Two Person – Tarptent Double Rainbow, Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL 2, Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid, Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 2, Gossamer Gear Twinn Tarp
Sleeping Bag / Quilt
Swami’s Tip: If you are going to splash out big bikkies for one item in your backpacking kit, sleeping bags (or quilts) are a good choice. Trust me on this one. When you are are freezing your you-know-what’s off at 10,000 ft in the Rockies or High Sierra during a June snow storm, you will be very glad you spent the extra $100-$200 on a top quality bag. In regards to options, if you choose to go with feather down, look for something that has at least 800 fill power and doesn’t weigh more than 2.5 lbs (1.13 kg).
- Not a Chance: Katabatic Flex 22
- Snorkel: Katabatic Palisade, Katabatic Sawatch
- Anish: Montbell Down Hugger 900 #2, Montbell Down Hugger 800 #0 (Winter)
- She-Ra: Western Mountaineering Ultralite
- Why Not: Zpacks Quilt 5°F, Zpacks Quilt 20°F
- John Z: Katabatic Palisade
- Trauma: Montbell Down Hugger 900 #2
- Skurka: Sierra Designs Cloud 35
- Dirtmonger: Katabatic Palisade, Katabatic Sawatch
- Blisterfree: Marmot Plasma 30
- Mags: Feathered Friends Hummingbird, Jacks R’Better Sierra Sniveller
- Swami: Katabatic Gear Palisade, Katabatic Gear Sawatch
- Down Bags – Feathered Friends Hummingbird Nano 20, Western Mountaineering Summerlite, Marmot Helium 15, Western Mountaineering Alpinlite
- Synthetic Quilts– Mountain Laurel Designs Spirit Quilt 28°/ 38°/ 48°, Enlightened Equipment APEX Quilts
Swami’s Tip: When it comes to choosing a sleeping mat, the key is to know what level of comfort you require in order to obtain a good night’s rest. Everyone is different; just because hiker X can sleep like the dead on a wafer-thin foamie, doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be able to do the same. In short, if you are one of those people that can sleep anywhere on anything, save some cash (and ounces) and opt for a closed cell foam mat. If you happen to be nearer the other end of the “sleeping comfort” spectrum (which most folks seem to be), then you will probably require an inflatable model in order to obtain a good night’s sleep.
- Not a Chance: Gossamer Gear Nightlight Torso
- Snorkel: Therm-a-rest NeoAir (Sml), Gossamer Gear Nightlite Torso
- Anish: Gossamer Gear Nightlight Torso, Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Pad / Klymit Inertia X-Lite
- She-Ra: Therm-a-rest RidgeRest, Therm-a-rest NeoAir (sml), Gossamer Gear AirBeam (no longer made)
- Why Not: Therm-a-rest NeoAir XLite Women’s
- John Z: Thin foamie / forest duff or Therm-a-rest Neoair
- Trauma: Therm-a-rest Prolite (sml), Therm-a-rest XTherm
- Skurka: Therm-a-rest Neoair
- Dirtmonger: Gossamer Nightlight Torso, Therm-a-rest XTherm
- Brett Tucker: Therm-a-rest NeoAir (regular)
- Mags: Therm-a-rest Neoair (sml), Blue Foam Pad
- Swami: Therm-a-rest Neoair (sml), Therm-a-rest Z Lite, Therm-a-rest RidgeRest, Therm-a-rest NeoAir XTherm
Swami’s Tips: Due to the discrepancy in individual cases (i.e. foot types, pack and body weights, medical histories, etc.) giving specific thru-hiking footwear recommendations is never an easy proposition. Here are three general tips:
1: Buy your shoes a size too big. Your feet WILL swell.
2: Of all the items in your backpacking kit, new footwear is the one that you shouldn’t buy sight unseen online. No matter how many hikers recommend you a certain shoe, until you try it on in person, you won’t know whether or not it suits you.
3: Avoid footwear with waterproof liners, which cut down on a shoe’s breathability. This can cause your feet to sweat excessively which can in turn lead to blisters.
- Not a Chance: Altra Lone Peak
- Snorkel: Altra Lone Peak
- Anish: Altra Lone Peak
- She-Ra: Oboz Emerald Peak, Oboz Luna
- Why Not: Altra Lone Peak, Merrell All Out Blaze
- John Z: New Balance MT10V4
- Trauma: Vasque Pendulum II
- Skurka: La Sportiva Bushido
- Dirtmonger: Altra Olympus
- Blisterfree: Salomon XA Pro
- Mags: Brooks Cascadia, Altra Superior
- Swami: Brooks Cascadia, La Sportiva Wildcat
Swami’s Tips: Personally speaking, when temps are regularly below freezing I carry a stove. Otherwise I go sans cooking. If you are hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, be sure to check on fire restrictions before departure (i.e. During high fire danger periods alcohol stoves may be banned). If you are interested in trying stoveless backpacking, here is a brief overview of the hows, whys and wherefores.
- Not a Chance: Stoveless
- Snorkel: Stoveless or Trail Designs Caldera Keg F
- Anish: Stoveless or GVP Esbit Stove
- She-Ra: Toaks Titanium Backpacking Wood Burning Stove
- Why Not: Stoveless or MSR Micro Rocket
- John Z: Stoveless
- Trauma: Stoveless or Trail Designs Caldera Cone
- Skurka: Stoveless or Trail Designs Sidewinder with Kojin stove
- Dirtmonger: Stoveless
- Blisterfree: Olicamp Kinetic Ultra Titanium stove or alcohol stove
- Mags: Stoveless, Pepsi can stove, MSR Simmerlite (no longer made)
- Swami: Stoveless or Toaks Titanium Siphon Alcohol Stove
Swami’s Tips: All methods of water treatment have pros and cons. Filters can clog, batteries can fail and chemicals can take up to 4 hours to be effective against cryptosporidium. That said, every year multiple thru hikers have their journey either derailed or at least negatively affected by water borne diseases. While I personally believe that most of the sources on the triple crown trails are fine to drink as is, there are definitely some that aren’t. In short, carry some form of water treatment and if in doubt, treat.
Note: Good hygiene habits are of equal, or even more importance than water purification when it comes to avoiding intestinal disorders. More hikers get the trotskies from sharing food or not cleaning their hands properly, than they do from failing to purify their H2O.
- Not a Chance: Sawyer Squeeze
- Snorkel: Sawyer Mini Water Filter
- Anish: Sawyer All-in-one
- She-Ra: Sawyer Mini Water Filter, Sawyer Squeeze
- Why Not: Sawyer Squeeze
- John Z: None or Sawyer Squeeze
- Trauma: Aquamira or SteriPen Ultra
- Skurka: Aquamira
- Dirtmonger: Bleach
- Blisterfree: Aquamira
- Mags: Aquamira
- Swami: Aquamira
- Bonus Recommendations: SteriPEN Adventurer Opti
Swami’s Tips: Regular season hikes of the PCT and CDT are generally a little drier and colder than the AT. Therefore, I’d suggest carrying a lightweight down jacket for the former two hikes, and a synthetic insulation layer/s for the latter.
- Not a Chance: Montbell Superior Down Parka
- Snorkel: Montbell Superior Down Parka, Montbell Thermawrap Parka
- Anish: Montbell Thermawrap Jacket
- She-Ra: Montbell Alpine Light Down Parka
- Why Not: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer
- John Z: Melanzana Micro Grid Hoodie
- Trauma: Montbell Plasma 1000 Jacket, Montbell Plasma 1000 Alpine Parka, Montbell UL Thermawrap Parka
- Skurka: Montbell Superior Down Parka, REI Quarter-Zip Fleece (no longer made)
- Dirtmonger: Montbell Superior Down Parka, Patagonia R1 Hoody
- Blisterfree: Montbell UL Down Inner Half Sleeve Jacket
- Mags: Montbell Superior Down Parka, Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody, Montbell Frostline (winter)
- Swami: Montbell Superior Down Parka, Patagonia R1 Hoody, Monbell Chameece Inner Jacket, Montbell UL Therawrap Parka, Montbell Thermawrap Vest.
- Bonus Recommendations: Western Mountaineering Flash Jacket, Feathered Friends Helios Jacket (winter), Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket, Western Mountaineering Flight Jacket
Swami’s Tips: No garment is completely waterproof given extended exposure to inclement conditions. Working on the principle that damp is better than soaked and being comfortable rather than dry is the priority, I generally look for rain jackets with the following features:
a. A good DWR (durable water repellant) finish
b. Relatively lightweight (below 10 oz)
c. Quick drying
d. Pit zips for ventilation
e. Adjustable wrist cuffs
f. Adjustable hood with a stiff brim.
- *Not a Chance: DriDucks Ultralite Rain Jacket
- *Snorkel: Montbell Torrent Flier
- Anish: Montbell Versalite
- *She-Ra: Outdoor Research Helium 2
- *Why Not: ZPacks Vertice
- *John Z: Dri Ducks Ultralite Rain Jacket
- Trauma: Montbell Versalite, Montbell Torrent Flier, MLD Pro Poncho (cuben)
- Skurka: Columbia OutDry Extreme
- *Dirtmonger: Montbell Torrent Flier
- Blisterfree: DriDucks Ultralite Rain Jacket
- Mags: DriDucks Ultralite Rain Jacket
- *Swami: MLD Pro Poncho (cuben), Montbell Peak Shell, DriDucks Ultralite Rain Jacket, Montbell Torrent Flier
- Bonus Recommendations: Consider taking an umbrella. For a weight penalty of between 4 and 8 oz, they offer a great combination of shade, ventilation and rain protection. Not so good when it’s blowy. I put an asterisk beside the hikers that regularly carry an umbrella with them on long hikes. Recommended models include: Montbell UL Trekking Umbrella, Montbell Sun Block Umbrella, Gossamer Gear Liteflex Hiking and the Euroschirm Swing Liteflex.
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