It’s never too late to change your gear. Ambassador “Tenderfoot” alters his lightweight Appalachian Trail gear kit one month in.
“Aches & Pains? I thought it was just walking on the AT?!”
Photos & text by Tyson “Tenderfoot” Perkins
Over 100 miles in, and I already feel like I have 100 years worth of stories. We’ve met more than 100 people, and we have over 100 aches and pains. The trail has taught me more in the last 10 days than I’ve learned in all my research of it over the last couple years. Sure you can figure out who the first person to hike it was, or how many steps it takes to the end. However, it’s almost impossible to learn something like this so in depth without actually being there and living it. A couple days ago when we took our zero day (on my 24th birthday), I answered a few questions for my co-workers at Hyperlite Mountain Gear about my lightweight Appalachian Trail gear kit, what I’ve changed, added and dropped. Here goes…
How’s it going?
When not on the trail I’m an avid climber and aches and pains just come with the gig. The secret about hiking that no one tells you is that when you do it for three to five days in a row, your body begins to molt it’s pedestrian skin and harden like steel. This hurts like hell. Crunchy knees, a shoddy lower back and my Achilles’ tendons snapping like a glow stick with every step. Once I gained my “hiker legs,” which really means I’ve grown accustomed to the pain, I started pushing out the miles. Dulling the roar with Ibuprofen and other earthly remedies, the days got a lot easier and my mind cleared.
What have you seen along the way?
Southern hospitality, cheap motels, a whole lot of bark and moss and the kind of views they put in the movies. In only a hundred and some change miles we’ve accumulated over eight stamps for our AT Passports from different hostels, outfitters, restaurants and brilliant people. At the road crossing known as Neels Gap there is an outfitter, a hostel and a few cabins. After a mildly tough 15-mile day we decided to go in on a cabin with our new friends Craig and ChickenFoot. Best. Decision. Ever. It’s called the Blood Mountain Cabins, and it’s wicked convenient. You can take a million showers, and they even do your laundry for you. We discovered that splitting a room with people definitely pays off. At a hostel, a bed will run a single person around $25. As a couple, Kendra (now known as Lays) and I can get a motel room for $40. So that means for $10 less we are able to lay out and dry all our gear, use a private shower and watch cable TV in our undies.
What have you changed in your lightweight Appalachian Trail gear kit?
We sent some gear home and changed out a couple things, shaving 9.6oz. off our shared weight.
I really rolled the dice on this trip with an important piece of hiking gear. My shoes. The wonderful company known as La Sportiva makes a pair of gnarly trail runners known as the Mutant. This shoe truly is a mutant, and for awhile I thought it was making one of my foot. The shoe comes with a really creative tongue design; it envelopes your ankle in a “cyclone” tongue and tightens off to the side with a neat spot to stow your laces. Under the shoe is dotted with relentlessly sticky lugs that grip to anything I step on. The shoe rides a little high up the ankle to keep out debris, and that’s where I think I hit problems. After a few days on the trail, my Achilles’ tendons were in very poor shape. I was relying heavily on my trekking poles for every step. I cringed anytime I had to put the shoe on. However, once we hit Hiawassee, I went to the Rite Aid and bought a simple insole for the heel of the shoe. This made a world of difference. After a Nero day (this is where you only hike a few miles then go to town) and a light-hiking day, my Achilles were back in action. I’m very glad I did not change out the shoes, because now I’m totally in love with them.
We made a quick change to our galley as well. We were originally using the 2.8-liter Sea to Summit X-pot which is a wonderful product, if you need to feed four to six people. Using it in tandem with our alcohol stove seemed silly with all the wasted space in the pot with only two to three and a half cups of water in it. We decided to switch that out for an Olicamp 1-liter aluminum cook pot. We also sent two Sea to Summit X-bowls home, and we now eating out of our X-mugs.
But, we decided to stick with our Katadyn Hiker Pro water pump in lieu of the lighter gravity filter a friend loaned us. Yes, it’s 11oz, and that is most certainly not ultralight. However, we feel the Katadyn Hiker Pro simplifies our system. We can save time and maximize our energy expenditure. With this pump, we have consistently gotten in and out of refill spots long before other hikers even start the squeeze/gravity process. As one person on the trail I would agree that the lighter options would suffice. With two people however, we save so much weight splitting gear that the extra four to six ounces to simplify something so significantly is worth it.
What has your experience been with your pack and shelter system?
People ask us about our backpacks all the time. We are carrying a 3400 Windrider Pack (Lays) and a 3400 Southwest Pack (me). Their question immediately starts with, “is that a waterproof backpack?” While Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs aren’t 100% waterproof because we don’t seam seal the bottom seams, they are highly water resistant, especially when used with Dyneema® Composite Fabric (formerly Cuben Fiber) Stuff Sacks. People keep telling us they are kicking themselves for buying these heavy backpacks, and also needing to cover them in a pack cover made of basically the same (heavier) material as the bag! You’d be amazed at how much a wet 55-liter bag made out of sil-nylon/polyester weighs after a day of heavy rain. Right before Albert Mountain, North Carolina, we got struck in a thunderstorm. We had our Echo II Ultralight Shelter System already pitched wide and low ready for the impending storm. We retired to bed after goofing off around the fire, and laid down in the insert. Hours later when it began to downpour we sat there, cozy and dry. The next morning, we looked around the campsite after emerging from our shelter dry. We saw not so dry hikers packing up drenched pop up tents into wet stuff sacks, and into their dripping backpacks (with pack covers). In the morning we packed everything up, including the insert, while still under the tarp. Then after donning our rain gear we took down the tarp and took off, our clothing totally dry underneath our rain layers. Our friend Ron-Jon was not so lucky. As he was trying to negotiate the poles on his pop-up style tent, a pool of water fell from his fly and right into his sleeping quarters. The simplicity of our system is proving to be unparalleled. We wouldn’t change a thing.
Learn more about Tenderfoot’s lightweight Appalachian Trail gear in his first blog post, “Ultralight Gear for Appalachian Trail Hikers: 2-Person Planning & Prep.”
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