The Thru Hiker’s Gear List – Vol. 2

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.

Gear for the Cordillera Real Traverse and Altiplano Route | Bolivia, 2017.

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.

Not a Chance on Canada’s Great Divide Trail, 2016 (photo courtesy of asthetrailturns.com)

  • 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.

(L to R) Anish and Snorkel | ALDHA West, 2013 (Photo courtesy of eathomas.com).

  • 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).

Why Not and her ZPack Arc Blast | Pyrenees High Route, 2017 (photo courtesy of nancyhikes.com)

  • 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. 

Dirtmonger heading up to yet another 5000 m (16,404 ft) plus pass on the Cordillera Real Traverse | Bolivia, 2017.

  • 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.

Andrew Skurka | Wind River Range, WY (photo courtesy of andrewskurka.com)

  • Paul “Mags” MagnantiI 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.

(L to R) Trauma & Swami kicking back in the village of Urique during the Copper Canyon Traverse | Mexico, 2013.

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:

Backpack

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. 

Girls

Not a Chance with the Pa’lante Simple Pack (photo courtesy of asthetrailturns.com).

Guys

Justin “Trauma” Lichter with a prototype of the Granite Gear Crown | Copper Canyon Traverse, Mexico, 2013.

Yours truly crossing the world’s largest salt flat, the Salar de Uyuni, during the 400 mile long Altiplano Route with the HMG Southwest 2400 | Bolivia, 2017 (long overdue trip report still to come).

Shelter

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. 

Girls

Gossamer Gear “The One” | Oregon Desert Trail, 2017 (Photo courtesy of Anish).

Guys

Bonus Recommendations:

MLD Solomid XL | Five Lakes Route, Sajama National Park, Bolivia, 2017.

Yama Mountain Gear Cirriform 1P / Vagabond Loop, Colorado Plateau, 2013 (photo courtesy of Dirtmonger).

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). 

Girls

Renee “SheRa” Kirkpatrick and her beloved Western Mountaineering Ultralite bag. (photo courtesy of sherahikes.wordpress.com).

Guys

Bonus Recommendations:

John Z and the Katabatic Palisade (photo courtesy of Neemor’s World)

Sleeping Mat

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.

Girls

Guys

Therm-a-rest Ridgerest bonus feature – Can be used to go over waterfalls | Taracuera Canyon, Copper Canyon Region, Mexico, 1999.

Therm-a-rest Neoair bonus feature – you can use it to paddle across lakes and slow moving watercourses | Davey river, Southwest Tasmania Traverse, 2016.

Footwear

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. 

Girls

Snorkel checking out the view in her Altra Lone Peaks | Olympic Peninsula, WA (photo courtesy of eathomas.com)

Guys

Stove

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.

Guys

No dehydrated / freeze dried stuff for this guy / Long-time stoveless backpacker, Paul “Mags” Magnanti (photo courtesy of pmags.com)

Water Purification

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. 

Guys

Andrew Skurka filling up in Big Bend National Park (Photo courtesy of andrewskurka.com)

Insulation Layer

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.

Guys

(L to R) Swami & Dirtmonger decked out in Patagonia R1 Hoodies on a chilly, windswept 5200m (17,060 ft) pass | Cordillera Real Traverse, 2017.

Outer Layer

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.

Guys

(L to R) Trauma and Pepper at Forester Pass during their winter thru-hike of the PCT (Montbell Torrent Flier jackets).

DisclosureThis post contains some affiliate links, which means The Hiking Life receives a small commission if you purchase an item after clicking on one of the links. This comes at no additional cost to the reader, and helps to support the website in its continuing goal to create quality content for backpackers and hikers. 


Comments

The Thru Hiker’s Gear List – Vol. 2 — 13 Comments

  1. Shoes need to replaced most often. A bunch of years ago I found a good price on NB 800 series trail runners. I bought half a dozen pair. They continue to fit. However, I read recently that these kind of shoes actually wear out whether you wear them or not – something about the chemical decomposition of the inner sole or a reason close to that. I haven’t noticed it, but now I probably will because I read about it.

    • The “buying in bulk when you find a shoe that fits just right” strategy is a pretty good one. Shoe companies are constantly tinkering with models, and the results aren’t always positive. Brooks Cascadia comes to mind; though the 12th incarnation seems like it’s an improvement over some of their recent editions. Looking back, I would have bought a bunch of Montrail Hardrock and Sabino Trail models before they went the way of the dodo.

      Cheers,

      Cam

  2. Great article. Cool to see this group of passionate and experienced hikers all brought together in one place.

    I’d add the Borah Gear down jacket as a good option, and the Befree water filter.

    Cam – you’re doing Australia proud. Keep up the good work.

  3. Thanks for the tips – great article. About to walk the 1000km Bibbulmun Track in Western Australia. With your bonus 2p shelters you mention the TarpTent Double Rainbow. For Australia (especially Tasmania) really need double walls. What do you think about TarpTent Bowfin 2 or any others you might think would suit?

    • Hey Andy,

      I think the Bowfin 1 & 2 are very good options for folks that don’t use trekking poles. Double entrance, relatively light, and Henry Shires’ workmanship is second to none when it comes to shelters.

      Personally I’ve used single wall shelters for the last decade or so in Australia. Occasionally I’ll combine the floorless models (e.g. MLD Solomid XL) with a lightweight bivy.

      Best of luck on the Bibbulmun.

      Cheers,

      Cam

  4. Interesting that the women prefer to filter water and the men go for chemicals. I wonder if women are more sensitive to the taste or smell of the chemicals? Interesting too about the almost unanimous choice of footwear for women; I may have to try the Altras! I always struggle with the footwear issue more than any other piece of gear. Black toenails, sloughing skin, blisters if I wear anything heavier than mids (I don’t any longer!). Sore Achilles, aching arch, cold feet, the list is endless. I’ve spent literally a thousand dollars on hiking footwear in the last ten years, trying to find something that works. This could be it. It’s a nice idea to buy shoes in person, but where I live there aren’t enough shops or choices; online is it. At least the pairs that don’t work for me go to a homeless shelter, not a total waste.

    This list is very helpful! Thanks for sharing it.

    • Shoes are a tough one, though Altras do seem to be the model of choice for a lot of female thru-hikers. They have a roomy toe box, zero drop, and according to some friends (both women and men) that are long-time Altra users, the durability issues that they were known for seem to have improved (at least somewhat). Personally speaking, I had a pair of Lone Peaks a few years back and they started coming apart after less than 100 miles. I might try them again in the future, but I suspect that they are a shoe that is best suited for on-trail hiking, rather than extended stretches in technical, off-trail terrain.

      Cheers,

      Cam

  5. Hi, thank you to introduce us to these other emeritus hikers as well girls as boys, especially girls, that you had the chance to meet on the trails. I have two comments. Hiking on frequented and maintained trails (with trails angels) may be enable carrying some type of gear and lighter. Finally it might be interesting to know the dates of these lists, the material evolving so quickly. Cheers

    • You seem to be a little off base with your comments: 1.”Emeritus” implies retired, and all of the hikers in the article are very much still active; 2. Yes, hiking on well frequented/maintained paths is easier and often enables you to travel lighter. However, if you do some research, you might find that people such as Andrew, Justin, Ryan and myself have completed many off-trail routes over the years in remote and challenging wilderness areas around the planet; 3. All of the gear recommendations are for 2018. As mentioned, the article is a follow-up to last year’s compilation of thru-hiking gear recommendations.

      Cheers,

      Cam

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