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My 2002 Appalachian Trail Gear Reviews

Following are reviews of the gear that I used on my 2002 AT hike. Since I used most of the same gear from last years PCT thru-hike I have only reviewed my newest gear. If you would like reviews on all other gear then you can find it here.

As you'll see below, I only replaced a few pieces of gear since last year's hike, but I consider it a considerable adjustment since two items were major equipment... my backpack and tarptent.

The ULA "P-1" Backpack

Side view.

Angled view.

Side view.

Another rear view.

Those neat waistbelt pouches are so convenient!

Pulling my sleeping bag out the top.

From looking at the photos to the left it's hard to believe that my P-1 backpack weighs only 22 ounces and with all my gear including 5 days of food the total weight rarely exceeds 20 pounds! During last year's PCT thru-hike I used the GoLite Breeze backpack, but that pack didn't have a waist belt which is something that I learned was a thing I personally prefer. So you can only imagine how excited I was when I first laid eyes upon the P-1... and just barely in time for this year's hike.

This great pack starts out with a base weight of just 17 ounces, but with the options I chose it ended up weighing in at about 22 ounces. Those options I chose were a waistbelt with two nice zippered storage pouches, a large oustside mesh pouch on the rear of the pack, and a sternum strap. By the time I'd reached the Great Smoky Mountains I had cut off the sternum strap which I found completely useless when using an ultralight backpack.

After using the GoLite "Breeze" on my '01 PCT thru-hike, in comparison I was a bit overwhelmed by the huge main compartment of the P-1. With the Breeze my base weight was just under 10 pounds so the immediate concern of an obsessive ultralight long-distance hiker like myself was how was I ever going to fill up all that space while maintaining the integrity of my slim 'n trim gear? In answering this question I first took my Swiss Army knife and (gulp!) cut out that beautiful dry-bag style closure collar which I could see absolutely no functional purpose since my ultralight gear was not space consuming and I prefer to trust a plastic trash bag as an inner pack liner when it comes to keeping my gear dry during wet hiking days. It is my belief that keeping a piece of equipment simple while maintaining functionality is what makes it good. Now I had simply one big open main compartment to stuff my gear and food like that on my Breeze so I was a bit happier.

Even after removing the inside extension collar I still had too much space so I experimented with some creative packing techniques to see if I could make it work. The key to the system that feels good is to pack my food bags on the bottom followed by all my other gear, then I switched my Western Mountaineering "Ultralite" sleeping bag from its usual 7" X 15" sil-nylon stuff sak to a larger 8" X 18" size and packed it on top. When I'm packing 5+ days food then the sleeping bag can be compressed to compensate and when I'm down to just a day or two of food then it helps fill in the space a bit. I like to pack my gear in the least amount of space possible since naturally a more compact load rides better on the body, but since the sleeping bag is only about 28 ounces and the only piece of gear allowed to adjust itself to the packing compartment I really can't detect any noticable shifting of my other gear and the packed backpack still feels rigid and tightly snugging up to my body. I could probably eliminate this concern completely if I'd just pack my bulky sleeping pad inside the pack like the directions suggest, but I like having it on the top outside of the pack for quick breaks and naps during a long hiking day and quick accessibility when setting up my tarp during a rain storm... just the way that I like to do it.

On the PCT I learned that I prefer to have a waist belt on my backpack so I used a fannypack in conjunction with my Breeze all the way to Canada which put it in the 21 ounce range. I ordered the very nice waistbelt complete with the two side zippered pockets on my P-1 with a total pack weight of 22 ounces... unless I decide to start slashing again :-) so I consider it only just a few mere ounces more in weight than my adjusted Breeze system and my base weight with the P-1 is still under 10 pounds so that makes it worth a good thru-hike test hands down and thumbs up!

So far, the only other modifications that I've made have been to cut off the excess hipbelt length and to sew up those pesky drainage holes on the lower corners of the spectra "cups" at the base of the two side mesh pockets. I sewed them by hand so any accumulating water should still find its way out just fine. Since I packed my food bags on the bottom of the backpacks main compartment I used these two nicely sized mesh pockets for holding the food that I was constantly eating during a typical 15-hour day of hiking and I didn't want to donate any granola bars to the local squirrels! I do love the slanted top opening of these big side pockets which make it possible for me to reach inside of them without having to slip off one of the shoulder straps... something that I couldn't do with my Breeze. Those huge side pockets could easily handle my two and a half liter Platypus water bag, but I don't haul water during the day so they maily served as a convenient place to store the food that I'd eat during the day's hike.

It is my opinion that the P-1 is an excellent choice for the hiker who wants to shave off some serious weight, but still wants some of the bells 'n whistles that are so hard to abandon from his heavier backpack... a great choice for begining your transition to a lighter load. I'd have to say that the P-1 is about as close to the perfect backpack that I've found so far. If you'd like to visit their website, the P-1 backpack can be found at Ultralight Adventure Equipment

As previously mentioned, I discovered the P-1 only a couple of months before my AT hike so I expressed my concern about receiving the pack in time for the hike to owner Brian Frankle and although their website said that I should allow over a month before delivery, my custom-made pack arrived in mint condition in just over two weeks after my initial order. I believe that customer service is a highlight of ULA since each pack is custom built for each individual hiker, based upon your own unique torso and waist measurements and I was kept in constant contact via email to verify any concerns and a follow up when it was shipped. Expect a personal touch from ULA if you order this pack!

Henry Shire's Tarptent

Front view with the rain beak folded back.
My tarptent tucked snug into a deep forest stealth campsite deep in the Shenandoah's.

The "lines" of the tarptent are well engineered for wind and rain.

Rear view.

Close-up of oval rear side.

Looking out the rear from inside.

Looking out the front from inside. The beak (or eave) is folded back.

During my 2001 Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike I used the original tarptent design (reviewed here) which didn't have overhanging beaks on each end, but this wasn't a serious factor considering that I only ran into about a weeks worth of rain in 109 days of hiking from Mexico to Canada, so that particular tarptent did a good job in the more arid climate of the western states. I knew that I'd definitely want more protection from the elements on the much wetter Appalachian Trail so I felt very fortunate when I received one of the very first new tarptent designs and now being offered by Henry Shires at Tarptent Ultralight Shelters...and luckily I got it less than a week before I'd be on the trail.

I found that the new design had been greatly improved upon with some nice features like the curved catenary ridgeline that would come in handy when set up during windy conditions thus allowing for a more efficent flow of the elements over the fabric during inclement weather. It also came with front and rear beaks which had been an especially important consideration for me when hiking on the Appalachian Trail, where rainy days can often be more of the rule instead of the exception! My hunch was correct because this spring on the trail ended up being exceptionally wet and my tarptent was truely tested over and over again in some pretty hairy thunderstorms... and after 52 days and 1,400 miles I must say that it passed the test. I was using a goose-down sleeping bag as my primary insulation and all I can say is that the tarptent did it's job!

At first I was concerned that the rain would run down the mosquitto netting along the tarptent walls but this was usually not the case. When expecting rain I would just stake the sides of the tarptent flush (or near flush) to the ground and never had any problems. I suppose that the shelter could be engineered with a few more inches of fabric stretching away from the netting, but then you're talking about more weight which is one of the long distance hiker's worst enemies! Personally, I'd rather have less weight on my back during the day and just find creative ways to deal with things like rain run-off. Other compromises for less weight also include learning how to deal with condensation when using a single wall shelter which I discussed on my ohter tarptent review...(see the link to my 2001 gear reviews at top of this page.)

On the other hand, and probably even more important than beaks or curved ridgelines is the ability to select a well drained campsite and preferably in a spot where the mulch of the forest floor is soft and spongy... while trying to stay away from the hard packed campsites, especially if you're expecting rain. As for the wind my tarptent has always performed well but if the wind was up then I'd always stake at least one side flush with the ground facing into the wind. On his website, Henry suggests that the rear of the tent be facing the wind which probably is the better choice for maximum structural integrity, now that I recall how some of those really strong winds sometimes could "bend" the tarptent wall inward a bit. Once again I'd have to say that campsite selection must be an important consideration when using most ultralight equipment because while it is made of very strong alternative fabrics, it is still not canvas or cordura! With this in mind I'd always try to select a spot that had some natural wind protection which meant staying off the ridges and other open areas when heavy wind was expected and instead try to stay more in the valleys... perhaps next to a huge rock or boulder or down in some sort of low spot in the terrain. Just over the down wind side of a ridge can make a good location.

And yes, the new tarptent does a fantastic job of keeping out the bugs and I especially like the way that Henry has "boxed-in" the bug netting around all the edges because the homemade version just hung straight down to the ground. The netting is boxed-in about a foot all the way around the perimeter and I then placed my 2.0 mil plastic groundcloth directly on top of the netting overhang thus producing a good seal of protection from the creepy crawlers! I'd say that it keeps out more than 99.99 percent of the flying insects too!

For future trips there is one small adjustment that I want to make since getting such a nasty virus on this year's hike. I'm now in favor of putting in a floor... something that I thought that I'd never say. Weight is also a concern and after a lot of thought I intend to sew in a small piece of no-seeum netting for the floor then just use my 2.0 mil plastic groundcloth as usual underneath. This set-up probably wouldn't work for many hiker's and I'm sure that a thousand mile walk might produce a few tears in such a delicate material, but that would justify the duct tape I pack! For those of you who immediately blow off the idea for using mosquitto netting as a floor material remember that developing your skill for selecting a well drained campsite is 100 percent more important for staying dry on a rainy night than all of the "bathtub" floors in the world! During the cooler bug-free months I would still much prefer a floorless shelter.

Gear choice is certainly a personal thing but all I can say is that after more than 4,000 miles the tarptent has worked great for me and it is certainly the most perfect shelter that I've found to date. It is so simple, yet so efficent for long distance hiking where less weight and safety cannot be compromised.

Nikon Coolpix 775 Digital Camera

Front view.

Rear view.

Before getting into this particular camera perhaps it would be best to note that this is my first long distance trip that I have used a digital camera. At first I was skeptical but after plenty of research I am now the proud owner of several such cameras made by Nikon and Olympus with no chance of ever going back to 35mm photography. Some say that digital quality still doesn't match that of 35mm and they might be right, but I sure can't see such a lack of quality from the results of my cameras and using my eyes. With digital I can actually afford to learn the art of fine photography in a way that was never before possible since a 24 exposure roll of film plus developing cost from $12.00 to $15.00 in my part of the country. With digital I often shoot over a thousand frames in a single day then simply delete those of unacceptable quality (most of them!) and upload the good ones, then my storage cards are ready to fill up again. This sort of shooting would cost me well over $500.00 per day in film and processing with my 35mm. Digital cameras are a bit more costly up front but with no more film and processing expenses they are certainly more cost effective in the long run, or the short run with the way I shoot! Prices are now begining to drop as seen by my oldest digital camera which cost $600.00 about a year and a half ago, now cost about $450.00. Okay, now with that review.

The Nikon Coolpix 775 was another one of those last minute purchases that I made just before setting foot on the trail. As usual my main concern was weight, a decent zoom and macro lens, and reliability. This camera met all of those concerns and about the only thing that I didn't like was the slow and sluggish time that the camera required to switch between shooting modes or viewing the images on the LCD screen. Those tiny compact flash storage cards are great for the ultralight backpacker and I no longer have to haul all of those 35mm film cannisters with me anymore! Each card will hold over 300 images at the quality resolution I was shooting and I usually only carried the one compact flash card that was in the camera unless it was near full, in which case I'd just pick up another one out of my bounce box which I caught up to about every 10 to 14 days. I also kept an extra rechargeable battery in my bounce box along with a battery charger so when I got to a trail town I'd find an AC outlet to charge up my batteries for the next section of trail. This method worked out extremely well and I can't imagine doing it any other way.

Aquamira 22 oz. water filter bottle

The angle of this picture makes the water bottle look much larger than it actually is.

The filter, bottle, and top.

I came across the Aquamira filter bottle quite by accident. Originally I had been using the Safe Water Anywhere (SWA) filter bottle but with the 2002 hiking season I learned that SWA had designed a new model which now had a self contained pre-filter which allowed for a much easier induced water flow. Unfortunately the drawback of the new design made the filter extremely fragile. My first SWA filter arrived broken, then after calling Cabella's they packed my second filter much better and it arrived unbroken. Well, somewhere out of Pearisburg I dropped the filter and it broke again. I then ordered a replacement which I picked up in Harper's Ferry.... you guessed it, BROKEN!!!

I gave up on the SWA filter and finally picked up the Aquamira filter at the outfitter in Port Clinton for about $20.00 and it was durable enough to take the rigors of a backpacking trip without having to be treated like a carton of eggs in my pack. It never clogged up and the flow was good.

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