Ground sheets, sleeping pads, bivy sacs, tarps, tents, stoves, snowshoes and so much more. An American company that does it's best to source and produce its products in the USA. They make good gear with a solid warranty program. And they can make it lightweight as well. What can I say, I like MSR gear, Therm-a-rest pads, and Platypus water containers!
Photo credit: Eriks Perkons
My first serious pack was the Osprey Crescent 75. Before my AT thru hike in 2005, I purchased the Aether 60. It carried my gear for 2,200 miles on the AT, 300 miles on the LT, and over 2,000 miles on the PCT. I've also used it while ridgerunning for the MATC in Maine during the summer of 2010. Oh yeah, and a lot of my 'regular' hikes for the last five years. Most of the straps are cut off, I hardly ever carry the lid (brain), and I've replaced the shoulder straps once. It's a bit heavy (3 lbs), it used to be orange but is now a yellowish tint, and smells unbelievably horrible once it gets wet. But really, you can't beat a pack that has over 5,000 miles of hard use. Outstanding! I've spent more time with this pack than any other piece of gear. This pack is seriously a good friend of mine. That being said, it is now retired in exchange for the lighter Osprey Exos 58 (my second Exos is shown below). I first used the Exos during my 14 day LT hike in 2010 and had a great experience. After removing the lid and cutting a few straps the pack weighs in right around 2 pounds. It is comfortable with loads up to 35 pounds, but is light and compact enough to use as a trail running pack as well! I also own an Aether 70 pack, which is heavier than I typically prefer, but is necessary when guiding group trips. I also use my Aether 70 for extended winter trips that require crampons, ice axe, cold weather gear, snowshoes, etc...
Photo credit: Dave Gantz
Leki Ultralight Trekking Poles
Okay, they're just poles. But they can also open beer bottles, ward of critters, creeps, and spiderwebs, act as stream depth indicators, clear debris off trails, hold up tarp shelters, and act as noisemakers. They work for thousands of miles and when they stop working Leki sends me new parts. Seriously. Every time I've called Leki while on a trip they simply get my name and ask me when and where I will be at a post office again. When I get to that said post office I have new parts waiting for me! Can't beat that! I've tried the poles with shocks, and they are not for me. I go with the lightest weight poles that include the lifetime guarantee/warranty. Even though the carbon poles are lighter, I don't believe they come with the guarantee...
I was raised on the MSR Whisperlite stove. Great stove, but a bit heavy for my needs. While prepping for my AT thru hike in '05, I was introduced to the Jetboil canister stove; I happened to be lucky enough to get one and a gas canister for a total cost of $30. It's not the lightest stove around and fuel canisters are rare in some parts of the country, but when I'm wet and cold it gives me two cups of boiling water in less than 5 minutes of total prep time. To me, its a solid 4 season stove that also performs well at elevations up to 10,000ft (just warm the canister with body heat before use in the cold or at elevation).
Footwear: Shoes not boots
Its a rare occasion to see me wearing boots. In 2004 Straw introduced me to the idea of wearing light shoes that dry quickly rather than hot and heavy waterproof boots. I've never gone back. I hike in trail shoes in all four seasons- all conditions. I even use trail shoes when I strap on my snowshoes (these are waterproof though). In almost any situation when I see hikers in boots, in foul weather, their footwear is not helping them any more than mine. Since my shoes are well ventilated, they dry more quickly after the storm! I prefer trail shoes that provide great stability, pronation control, a tight heel cup, and a roomie toe box (so as to avoid blistering when my feet swell after several hours of constant walking).
I exclusively use wool socks. These socks need to keep their shape without being a tight or thick weave. Wool socks also dry much more quickly than other socks that I have tried. They also last a long time, although (like any other socks) they can get chewed up by friction with rocks and grit. Ankle gaiters help to keep small pebbles and sand out of the shoes.
Be sure to keep your feet and socks as clean and as dry as possible- IT IS IMPORTANT!
Down Sleeping Bags
Photo credit: Dave Gantz
My favorite bag is a 15 degree Marmot Helium down bag that weighs in right around 2 pounds. I've owned it since 2005 and have slept in it well over 250 nights while on trail. In 2009 alone, I slept in it for 118 nights in a row while on the PCT! I'm expecting that this bag will last for a few more years before becoming a 'couch bag'. My newer, warmer bag is a Western Mountaineering Versalite Down bag (pictured). It is rated at 10 degrees and weighs the same as my Marmot bag. I prefer down because it is natural, long lasting, lightweight, and extremely compressible. Yeah so you can't get it wet, or your trip officially ends, and you need to properly care for the material, but if you do it will last you years and years.
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