I finished my hike. I will review the aspects of my hike. I'll look at the equipment that I used. What equipment I saw being used. What I'd use if I were to do it again. I'll also review how I resupplied for food & equipment. I'll also review my start dates for my hike. In other words, just about everything.
I started my hike on March 21st, 2013. The previous two years had really mild winters/springs. I felt that this date would have been late enough to avoid really nasty winter weather. I was wrong. Many posters on Whiteblaze.net recommended starting in April. The likelihood of severe winter weather would be lessened and you'd be able to carry less stuff (clothing, lighter sleeping bag, etc) in your park. If I were to do the hike again, I'd start 2 - 4 weeks later (in April).
On almost all of my food resupplies, my wife mailed me a food box. Usually every 3 - 5 days between resupply. Almost all of the packages went through the USPS (flat-rate boxes). Sometimes, these packages went to Post Offices. Sometimes, to hostels, motels, or businesses. On one occasion, I bought food at a grocery store for my resupply.
Overall, this system worked okay. I never missed a package. There were a couple of SNAFU's along the way that were minor: reached a PO on Sunday & having to spend a night that hadn't been planned; the PO not giving one business my package (fortunately, the PO was open & I was able to retrieve it). I often completed my hiking segment sooner that projected which meant I didn't need all the food that was in the package. So, some of my food ended up in a hiker box. Sometimes, I grew tired of the food that my wife sent me. I think that would have happened regardless. Trail food gets old after a while. Some types of foods didn't carry well on the trail. For example, cheese & crackers quickly crumbled in my food bag. Peanut butter & crackers retained its shape & lasted longer.
If I were to do it again, I'd probably use the same style of resupply but mail more of the packages to businesses rather than to the PO.
I used AquaMira for my water treatment. This system uses two small bottles of solution (weight = 3 oz full) and a flat fill cap (on top of one of the bottle caps). You'd put 7 drops of Solution A & 7 drops of Solution B in the fill cap. Wait 5 minutes. Pour this solution in a Liter/Quart of water. Wait 15 minutes & your water was potable.
Of all the water treatment systems I saw on the trail, AquaMira & the Sawyer Squeeze water filter were the most commonly used systems. The Sawyer Squeeze system used a platypus-style water bag with a filter screwed onto its top. The water bag is 'squeezed' to force the water through the filter and into a 'clean water' bottle or container. The bag was the weak link of this system. Many hikers experienced bag failures. Particularly with the 1st generation bags. The 2nd generation bags seemed to hold up better. The system also mated with standard 1 liter water bottles you'd buy at the grocery store (narrow mouth bottles; i.e. Smart Water, Ozarka, etc).
I also saw people using 'standard' water filters. I saw a few Steri-pens being used (ultra-violet lights that purified water with its light). I even saw a few people using bleach (2 drops per liter).
I might be tempted to use the Sawyer Squeeze system the next time. If I did, I'd have to make sure the filter didn't freeze. Like the other filters, freezing could degrade its effectiveness. Maybe even to the point that it would be essentially useless for purifying water.
Sleeping pad: I used a Thermarest X-Lite inflatable sleeping pad (20 X 72 X 2.5"). This pad was not self-inflating. You had to inflate the pad by mouth or other means. I later added an inflating stuff sack to lessen the amount of moisture that was introduced into the pad.
This type of sleeping pad (by Thermarest & similar types by other manufacturers) seemed to be the most common on the trail. Others used self-inflating sleeping pads. Some used closed-cell foam pads like Z-lite and Ridge Rest pads.
My experience with the X-lite pad was all positive. Never developed a leak. Kept me warm on some very cold nights. I'd highly recommend this pad and would take it again on a long hike.
Sleeping bag: I used three different down bags on my hike. I used a 15-degree Marmot Helium bag at the beginning. It was just warm enough for the cold beginning. I later switched to a 35-degree Western Mountaineering HighLite sleeping bag. This was my summer bag. In Hanover, NH, I switched to a slightly warmer bag: Western Mountaineering Ultralight sleeping bag.
No major qualms with my choices. In warmer weather, the down got a little damp and clumpy. If I were to do it again, I'd consider switching to a synthetic bag when it got warm.
I saw a variety of sleeping bags - down & synthetic - used on the hike. Down seemed more prevalent in the beginning. I saw more synthetic bags in the heat.
Pillow: I used the Cocoon Hyperlight pillow. It weighed 2.4 oz and was very comfortable. My first pillow went flat on my & I had to replace it in Daleville, VA. The second pillow lasted the rest of the trip. I'd carry the same pillow if I were to do it again. Other hikers used stuff sacks with clothing as pillows. Some had a dedicated pillow as I did.
Shelter: I used a Z-packs Hexamid Solo-Plus tent at the beginning of my hike. This is a cubin-fiber tent. Very light. Very expensive. It weighed around 1-lb. The floor to the tent was mesh. The bathtub ground sheet was also cubin-fiber that was clipped to the tents interior. This added another 3.5 oz. The tent required the use of one hiking pole for support. The tent used ten tent stakes to completely guy out the tent.
I normally stayed in shelters during the hike. Occasionally, I'd use this tent. I was rained on a couple of times. I stayed dry. Then, I had a nasty rain storm that I endured in this tent. Thunder & lightning. Strong winds. I was getting wet inside the tent from water being blown in through the mesh borders. During a lull in the storm, I bailed out and went to the shelter nearby (I set up the tent to avoid the bugs that evening). The next morning, my tent had blown down to the ground.
This episode on Vermont worried me about future nasty storms on the trail. I decided to purchase a free-standing single-person tent in Manchester Center, VT at an Eastern Mountain Sports store. I bought their store brand Velocity-1 tent. It was obviously much heavier than my Z-packs tent. But, it was much more storm worthy. It could also be set up in a shelter to keep bugs at bay (which I did on several occasions).
I saw a variety of shelters being used on the trail. There were a variety of cottage industry tents (Tarp Tent, Six Moon Designs, etc) represented. The same could be said about tents. The brand of tent that I saw the most, however, was Big Agnes. I saw quite a few Fly Creek UL tents (1 & 2-person variety) as well as their Copper Spur (1 & 2-person variety) tents. The Fly Creek tents were slightly lighter than the Copper Spur tents. But, the Copper Spur tents were true, free-standing tents and used a side entry door rather than Fly Creek's front entry door.
I also saw a fair share of backpacking hammocks on the trail. This really intrigued me. Warbonnet Black Bird hammocks were very common. So were Hennesy hammocks. As long as you have trees, you could throw up your hammock. I'd be tempted to try this if I were to hike the AT again. If not, I'd probably get a Big Agnes Copper Spur 1.
Cooking system: I used an alcohol stove I bought from Zelph's stoves (Fancee Feast). Overall, I was reasonably satisfied with its performance. When I was hungry, I wished I had a different system that was faster. Patience is not a virtue that I have.
There were a variety of alcohol stoves that I saw on the trail. I saw plenty of canister stoves as well: Pocket Rocket, Snow Peak, Jet Boil, etc. I only saw two, white gas stoves on the entire trail.
If I had it to do again, I'd probably take a canister stove. I'm not sure if I'd take a Snow Peak stove or a Jet Boil.
Cooking pot: I used an Evernew 0.9L titanium pot. It worked well. I'd carry it again if I didn't carry the Jet Boil system. I also used a pot cozy to help retain heat in the pot. This allowed me to use less fuel and use the heat of the water to continue to 'cook' my food. I'd use this system as well in any future long hike.
To be continued...
Almost there, just around the corner.