AZT thru-hike gear reviews (2014)

In this post I review of some of the gear I used on my 2014 AZT thru-hike.

Field Use: I used this pack for the entire 800-mile thru-hike. No sign of wear on it yet.

Likes: The many features and customizable options, lightweight frame, excellent design, durability and comfort. ULA has great customer service, and their packs are sewn in the USA.

Dislikes: None.

Would I buy this product/brand again? Absolutely. In addition to selling really well designed and comfortable packs that are sewn in the USA, ULA has great customer service. I experienced their customer service after I first received a pack that was missing an ice axe loop. They told me that they would send a replacement pack right away but that I should feel free to use the first pack they sent as much as I liked in the meantime. I received the new pack in a couple of days.

Field Use: I used this tarp on the PCT and the AZT, and it's still in good shape. I noticed it starting to wet out during the one night of rain I had on the AZT, so I recently re-waterproofed it.

Likes: Lightweight (13 oz.), 360 degree rain protection, bug netting skirt around perimeter, pitches with one trekking pole.

Dislikes: On the PCT I replaced the door toggle with a mitten hook, making it easier to strap the door open. I'm still glad I made this mod.

Would I buy this product/brand again? I like one-pole pitch mid tarps, and the Wild Oasis is great. If I had to replace it today, I'd also consider the SMD Deschutes tarp and the mids produced by Mountain Laurel Designs and BearPaw Wilderness Designs.

2 mil Plastic Painter's Tarp for Ground Cloth

Field Use: A single ground cloth survived all of my 48 nights on the AZT, and I only had to patch one small hole with duct tape.
Likes: Lightweight, inexpensive, durable, easy to find in hardware stores. Multiple ground cloths of your desired size and shape can be cut from the tarp.

Dislikes: None.

Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes, it's lighter than Tyvek, more resistant to side tears than polycryo, and cheaper than both.

REI Snow Stake for Cat-Hole Trowel and Tarp Stake

Field Use: Used daily on the AZT.  

Likes: lightweight (1 oz.), inexpensive ($2), sturdy, 9.6" long, multiuse for tarp stake and cat-hole trowel. Works well in hard, rocky, and root-bound soil.

Dislikes: None.

Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes. After using the $2 REI snow stake, it would feel crazy to spend 10 times that amount on some of the cat-hole trowels on the market.

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Field Use: This jacket stayed packed away for most of the hike, but I did use it for a few hours of rain and maybe a half dozen times as a wind jacket.

Likes: Lightweight, inexpensive.

Dislikes: Not durable.

Would I buy this product/brand again? I don't regularly hike in rainy places. If I did, I wouldn't use Frogg Toggs; they're not durable enough for frequent use. In the southwest, a lightweight Frogg Toggs jacket is good to have for unexpected wind and rain.

Field Use: I wore one pair for all 800 miles. No significant wear. 

Likes: Durable, lightweight, quick drying, 50 UPF, large cargo pockets. They offer convertible or solid pant leg versions.

Dislikes: None.

Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes. Still my favorite hiking pants.

UPDATE: Been wearing Prana Zion Stretch hiking pants now that REI Sahara pants have been redesigned and pretty much suck.

Field Use: I wore one shirt for all 800 miles. It got a few snags, but I was in cactus country after all.

Likes: Lightweight, comfortable, quick dry, 50 UPF. I especially like the loose cuffs.

Dislikes: None.

Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes. This is my new favorite hiking shirt.

Field Use: I wore these as sleep clothes and the top as my town shirt.

Likes: Lightweight, breathable, silky feel.

Dislikes: Poor fit. Top and bottom seemed to have a strange cut. Clothes generally fit me fine, but the top was tight under my arms and the bottoms were tight around my claves--and I have pretty skinny calves!

Would I buy this product/brand again? No, the fit was just too strange for me to try PolarMax again.

Field Use: The AZT was rougher than the PCT on these gaiters. My PCT pair looked better after 2,660 than my AZT pair looked after 800 miles. They're not made for bushwhacking through thorny terrain, which I had to do on occasion.

Likes:  Comfortable, lightweight, simple design, fun patterns, surprisingly durable. These are excellent sand and scree gaiters. They're not made for rain, snow, river fording, or rough bushwhacking.

Dislikes: None.

Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes, they're my favorite sand and scree gaiters.

Field Use: Two pairs lasted all 800 miles, but holes did start to form.

Likes: Comfortable, durable, lifetime warranty, made in Vermont.

Dislikes: None.

Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes, these are still my favorite hiking socks.

Field Use: My original pair of Moabs made it through all 800 rocky miles of the AZT, though they were worn by another thru-hiker for the 230 miles north of Flagstaff. (I had a new pair waiting for me in Flagstaff.)
Likes: Durable, breathable, lightweight, offers wide sizes, less expensive than many of the shoes I've seen on the trail.

Dislikes: I've worn Moabs since before my PCT thru-hike, and the only criticism I can muster is that the tread design does not offer the best traction.

Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes, these are still my favorite hiking shoes.

Field Use: I started my hike with a Fancy Feast cat can alcohol stove and my 600 ml. GSI Minimalist pot, both of which I used on the PCT, but I replaced my old aluminum foil windscreen with the LiteTrail Titanium Foil Windscreen. This new windscreen was the perfect size for my stove and pot. Note: I don't cook when I backpack, but I do heat water for rehydrating meals and hot drinks.

Likes: Lightweight, more durable and sturdy than aluminum foil, cools quickly, easy to roll up into cat stove for storage.

Dislikes: if you fold or crumple titanium foil, it won't regain its shape. So far, I've managed to avoid this.

Would I buy this product/brand again? I like LiteTrail products, including their NyloBarrier food bags and pack liners as well as their H-Line cord. When I need to replace my current LiteTrail windscreen, which is still in great shape, I'll probably just buy a sheet of 0.5 titanium foil from titaniumgoat.com and make one for myself. It would be a cheap, fun, and easy project.

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Field Use: I included a QiWiz FireFly UL Titanium Woodstove (no side "flexport") in one of my resupply boxes and started using it midway into the hike. I did use the small pot support cross bars for added stability. Note: I don't cook when I backpack, but I do heat water for rehydrating meals and hot drinks.

Likes: Really fun to use, very lightweight, easy to assemble, packs small and flat, eliminates the need to carry fuel. The raised mesh floor provides ventilation and the solid sides act as a windscreen to help control the flame. I enjoyed the small twig fires and the smell of wood smoke.

Dislikes: None. However, be aware that wood fires do make things sooty.

Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes. This stove is 2.4 oz. (2.0 oz. for the four sides of the stove + 0.3 oz. for the mesh floor + 0.1 oz. for the two pot supports). The plastic storage pouch is an additional 0.3 oz., but you could ditch that and just wrap up the stove pieces in a bandana. It was liberating not having to carry fuel or worry about running out of fuel. This stove was the piece of gear I most enjoyed using on this hike. I really looked forward to using it at the end of the day.

Field Use: I used the Sawyer Mini when water sources were too murky for bleach. Between the Gila River and all the muddy cattle tanks, this was fairly often. I only used drops on the PCT, but I'm glad I brought a filter for the AZT.

Likes: It has a 0.1 micron filter, is much lighter than pump filters, and can be screwed onto a Smartwater bottle.

Dislikes: The back-flush syringe is as large as the filter itself and almost as heavy (The filter is 1.3 oz. before use. The syringe is 1.1 oz.). I don't use bounce boxes, so I carried the syringe. For the AZT, bring the syringe or bounce it; you'll probably want to back-flush.

Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes, it's the lightest, smallest 0.1 micron filter I know of.

Field Use: I used two IL bottles, one 2L bottle, and one 3L bladder. I rarely needed to use the 3L bladder.

Likes: Lightweight, collapsible.

Dislikes: Since they don't have a rigid structure, these bottles won't fill up when submerged under water. I carried a Smartwater bottle for that. I also carried the Smartwater bottle to use with my Sawyer mini filter, which doesn't screw onto the Platypus bottles as well.

Would I buy this product/brand again? These bottles were surprisingly durable in cactus country. Maybe I just got lucky. I'm sure they wouldn't have survived a direct hit from some of the thorns I saw out there.

Field Use: I used this app daily. I wandered off trail a few times, and Gaia made it easy to find it again every time.

Likes: Easy to load maps and GPX files, easy to use, gives location and orientation even while phone is in airplane mode, offers multiple layers and map options, is able to track a new route.

Dislikes: None, though some may prefer an app that tracks more stats.

Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes. I should also thank the Arizona Trail Association for providing the maps and GPX files to load into Gaia GPS.

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