THE BIG THREE
Pack: ULA Ohm 2.0 (28 oz)
Loved this pack. What a gem. I love ULA packs in general. They are not super-ultralight (a la Gossamer Gear), but I think ULA does a superb job at maximizing durability for the weight. Also, wonderful customer service. I used the ULA Circuit on the PCT, which ended up being a little to big and plush for my needs. So I downsized to the Ohm for this thru-hike and it worked out well. I enjoyed the bare-bones frame of the Ohm. Just enough to hold things up, no superfluous padding. (At night, I removed the thin inner padding and used it as extra insulation for my feet.) Not gonna lie, this pack was not comfortable leaving town with 6 days worth of food and 6 liters of water. But would any lightweight pack be comfortable in this situation? No way.
PROS: Durable material, comfortable unless carrying excessive loads, can remove unwanted features (like bladder pocket and “wallet”) to save weight, great customer service.
CONS: No great place to strap a zrest to the outside, one hipbelt pocket zipper broke about 600 miles in, uncomfortable during long food and water hauls.
Shelter: Six Moon Designs Wild Oasis (14 oz)
Note: This is the older version of the Six Moons Designs Deschutes
I had this shelter on the PCT but seldom used it as I cowboy camped most nights. So it was still in great condition for the AZT. On the AZT, I set it up every night. Something about being alone at night is shelter-inducing. My love for this shelter remains, though the infatuation has faded. There are definitely pros and cons.
PROS: lightweight for a sil-nylon shelter. I really like the floorless design.* It saves weight, and a bathtub floor isn’t all that necessary unless you have a deathly fear of creepy crawlies or you are hiking in a place that gets a ton of rain. Other pros: great price, simple and sturdy design, easy and quick to set up, keeps out mosquitos and other flying bugs, can comfortably accommodate 1 medium-sized person + 1 large dog + all gear.
CONS: single-walled design means condensation (and the low-hanging design at both ends means head and feet will almost certainly get wet if there is condensation), inside mists during intense rainstorms, not much vertical space to move around in.
*The floorlessness has only been an issue twice: one night long ago when I was testing the shelter for the PCT, a desert mouse got under the bug net and into the shelter, then couldn’t get out (It was running laps around me until I finally achieved enough consciousness to figure out what was making so much noise and coax it out!), and once when I was camped in a riparian area that was ripe with spiders. Ach. I killed like 10 of those suckers that made it in between my ground tarp and the bug netting.
Sleeping Bag: ZPacks 10 Degree w/ Draft Tube (21.5 oz)
Ok, I really liked this bag a lot but it is not rated to 10 degrees. At least not for a cold sleeper like me. On nights that got below 35 degrees, I was cold. On nights above that temperature range, I have no complaints. Some people seem to think the footbox is too narrow, but I found it to be fine. I have somewhat small feet, though. I move around a lot, so I got the draft tube option over the zipper, which I was really happy with. I didn’t have to worry about whether the zipper was oriented below me or not. This bag is no frillz: 3/4 length zipper, no hood.
PROS: so lightweight, warm above 35 degrees, holds in fart smell.
CONS: cold below 35 degrees, expensive (but certainly not outrageously so for the quality), no hood (but not that big of a deal as long as you have a hat and a hood on your down jacket), holds in fart smell.
BEFORE: I made a couple of changes prior to starting the AZT. I spent some time just before the AZT on the Colorado Trail, and I was really cold. True, the trails are in very different environments, but paranoid old me decided to add some layers. I took a pair of Patagonia Houdini wind shell pants (3 oz) on the AZT and loved them. I didn’t use them too often, but on really cold days, they added a surprising amount of warmth. They were also quite water resistant. I was glad to have them on those cold and blustery days. Instead of a t-shirt, I used a Super Natural long-sleeve base layer shirt (3.5 oz) for sleeping. I really like this brand because they blend wool with synthetic materials. Less itch and less $$. Win-win. Too bad because I think they’re going out of business?
DURING: I only made one significant change during the trail – I sent my stove and pot home. There were so few daylight hours in October and November that I didn’t have time to cook. I would spend all day hiking and then I’d set up camp, usually as it was getting dark. Sometimes after dark. On the PCT, this was when I would usually cook; I was always camped with other people and had this mentality that strength in numbers meant I didn’t have to worry about bears or other wildlife. Alone on the AZT, it was a different story. I just didn’t feel comfortable cooking where I camped. Kind of like don’t shit where you eat, right? Not wanting to screw myself over with a scary bear encounter, I just stopped cooking and, you know, it wasn’t that bad. In fact, I would consider going totally stoveless in the future.
Least favorite piece of gear: SPOT Connect device (4 oz)
I’m not sure what happened. I carried the same SPOT on the PCT and had almost no issues. So many issues on the AZT. The SPOT would continually disconnect from my phone. Some messages displayed as “sent” would be received by only one or two of my contacts instead of everyone. At one point, a “sent” message never reached my mom, and she called the county sheriff. I still have the missing person poster. Not ok!! Finally, with a week left in my trip, the device just quit sending all messages. I didn’t even realize it, because all messages displayed as sent. When I called SPOT customer service, they didn’t even have a record for my device. Their only advice was to generate a work order and have me send in the device. They would look at it…for a fee! I was like, “You don’t understand, I’m going to be in the middle of nowhere tomorrow.” So, my amazing boyfriend overnighted his Delorme InReach and oh my god, what a world of difference. I used it for the rest of the trip and there are so many reasons why the InReach makes SPOT look like a POS, the biggest being that the InReach has two-way communication. Re: peace of mind. If you’re looking for a satellite communication device, DO NOT get a SPOT. Spend the extra $$, suck up the extra ounce, and get a Delorme InReach.
Favorite piece of gear: Montbell Ultralight Down Jacket (8 0z)
I feel like most of my gear did the job well, so picking one thing is hard. The thing that stands out about this jacket is that it has just kept going and going. The energizer jacket. I used it before the PCT, on the PCT, between the two trails, on the AZT, and I still use it almost every day. It’s got a few bits of tenacious tape here and there, and I’m sure it is not as warm as it used to be, but man, the thing is still kicking. I have almost as much sentimentality toward it as I do KeyKey, my childhood stuffed bear.
Stay tuned for other post-AZT musings!