A planned thru-hike turned into a section hike. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. There are always things beyond your control whether it’s Mother Nature, or family or even injury. They get their say too. So here’s a review of gear that I used for 700 miles on the Continental Divide Trail in 2015.
ZPacks™ Arc Blast Backpack 52L (18 oz.)
Pros: Zpacks has impeccable customer service! Lightweight. Rigid support. Can put weight on hips instead of shoulders. Can request design preferences. I love orange. More frame support, thicker straps than previous models. But still lightweight enough that you’ll break the top quick release buckle if you try to strap on snow shoes. Will use it for my AT 2016 thru-hike.
Cons: Pricey. Cuben fiber is a fiber (duh!) so after time it starts to fray. People who are rough on their gear see a lot more wear from this pack than I ever have.
ZPacks™ 900 Fill Power Down Sleeping Bag (1 lb. 11 oz.)
0F, wide, long, with draft tube
Pros: Zpacks has impeccable customer service! They were willing to work with me and make a 0F bag because I am such a cold sleeper (no thyroid). So warm, puffy, fluffy, a dream come true. No hood but I would sleep with my hooded down jacket which was the perfect combo. It’s easier to toss and turn when the hood is attached to you rather than your bag. I toss and turn a lot so I’m really glad I got the draft tube. I could stick my hand under the draft tube and feel how much cold it was holding out. At 27 ounces, this 0F bag is unbeatable! And it’s going to last me years and years.
Cons: Expensive (but worth the investment).
ZPacks™ Solplex Tent (1 lb. 3 oz.)
Pros: Zpacks has impeccable customer service! Lightweight. Solid, bomb-proof shelter with bath tub floor and side entrance. Spacious. Can leave storm door (vestibule) open in light rain. Can set it up in the rain and the inside stays dry. After about 35 nights of use it still looks brand new.
Cons: Expensive. Large footprint. Can be challenging to set up. Many of my hiking habits have developed out of laziness so at the end of the day, I just didn’t have the energy/patience to set up this tent. I’m hopeful that this tent will someday have poles like the Duplex!! When I would toss and turn (slightly sit up) at night, I would hit my head on the tent wall. So if it was wet with saturation, then my head would get wet too. Storm doors don’t completely cross. I used my umbrella to cover the gap.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir® XTherm™ (16.5 oz.)
Pros: My first time with a full length air mattress and it was sooo comfortable. Many times on the CDT I was camped on uneven ground or tufts of grass. This pad made it so I didn’t feel the lumps. High R-value at 5.7 which is exactly what this cold sleeper needed. The Xtherm + Gossamer Gear 1/8″ pad + Zpacks 0F down bag = warm while camping on snow! More warmth per gram than any other air mattress.
Cons: I would get lightheaded because it takes a lot of air to fill it. A little noisy. Pricey.
Ghost Whisperer™ Down Hooded Jacket (8.5 oz.)
Pros: Love this jacket! Will definitely be going with me on my next thru-hike. Paired perfectly with my hoodless sleeping bag for warm cozy nights. It’s easier to toss and turn when the hood is attached to you rather than your bag.
Cons: Pricey. Women’s jacket does not fit around my hips.
GooseFeet Down Socks (3.4 oz.)
Pros: Lightweight. Super warm. Lots of colors and temperature ratings to choose from. I’m the queen of cold feet and these down booties were incredible. My feet are the hardest part of my body to keep warm after a long day of hiking. I wore them in my sleeping bag and sitting around camp having dinner with fellow hikers. I love these booties so much that I wear them at home too.
Cons: Hikers will want to take your picture!
Outdoor Research Helium ii Rain Jacket (6.3 oz.)
Pros: Lightweight. Easy to layer. Combine with umbrella for total and sweat-free protection.
Cons: Pricey. No pockets or pit zips and not intended for cold/heavy rain. This jacket is so lightweight that if you don’t have it well anchored to your pack, it will blow away in high winds.
The Mouse Works Animal Hat (1.8 oz.)
Pros: Warm. Cute. Fun. And who doesn’t want to wear fun clothes? When it was really cold, I would wear this hat under my hooded ghost whisperer. Solar-powered company with personal customer service!
Cons: Almost too warm and hikers will want to take your picture.
MSR Explore Snowshoes (4 lbs.)
Pros: Solid. Tough metal teeth on bottom. Plastic quick release across top of foot and heal. Televators great for going uphill.
Cons: Pricey for the few days of wear. Tightened bindings create painful pressure points during hillside traverses (probably true for all snowshoes though). Heavy when loaded on pack. Utter joy when taking these off!
Outdoor Research Expedition Crocodile Gaiters (12 oz.)
Pros: I loved these gaiters, especially the red. They make you feel invincible. Thick plastic instep strap goes under shoes that I didn’t even feel, even on roads. Thick goretex material keeps all wetness out and legs warm. Front metal hook secures tightly to shoe lace. Uber thick, strong velcro. The next time I’m headed into deep, snowy conditions I’ll have these with me.
Cons: Pricey. Can definitely find similar quality for less $$.
New Trent 12,000 mAh Battery (9.6 oz.)
**NewTrent no longer makes batteries and this item is probably not easy to find at all online.
Pros: Cheap. I’ve been using this over the last year on various trips and I’ve never had a problem. Was always more battery than I needed during the first 700 miles of the CDT. Shuts off when done recharging phone. Good weight to mAh ratio
Cons: Can take a full 24hrs to recharge a completely drained battery.
Guthook CDT Guide
A MUST HAVE for navigation! Easy to use as long as you remember to turn on your location/gps on your phone. Can purchase each state separately so that’s nice if you’re doing a section.
Garmin eTrex 30 (5 oz.)
Pros: When you need a bailout route and your maps don’t go far enough, your gps just might save you.
Cons: Tricky to load maps and way points. Not easy to operate device. Annoying to use after the ease of a smartphone. The color of a rock (make sure to attach to your pack)!
Sandisk mp3 player (1 oz.)
After having two different sandisk mp3 players die in 700 miles, I’ve officially switched to an iPod. Although I don’t listen to music much, it’s nice to have if you need a pick-me-up.
I didn’t review everything so here’s a link to my CDT gear lists. Please shoot me a message if you have questions about something I didn’t review.
2 thoughts on “A CDT Section Hiker Gear Review”
What is the ideal time to leave for a nobo CDT thru hike and are snow shoes necessary?
Hi T-coZee! NoBo departure would depend on the lingering winter conditions but ideally late April/early May. I left April 25 but then it snowed more in the month of May than all of winter. Snowshoes are slow going so hopefully you’d be able avoid using them. I imagine in a normal year snowshoes would not be needed.