PLAYIN’ FAVORITES ON THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL–GEAR THAT MADE THE MILES GO BY
Words and Photos from Abby Evans
During my Appalachian Trail thru hike, there were several sections that made me seriously debate why it was exactly that I was voluntarily choosing to do it. The rocks in Pennsylvania that tore through my shoes. The mosquitos in New York that left me with thirty bug bites every night. The neverending mud in Vermont. The incessant rain in Maine. There were a few items that helped me keep my sanity.
Hyperlite Stuff Sacks
A constant fear of mine in Maine–and anytime it rained consistently for more than three days in a row–was my gear getting wet. I quickly realized that once your gear is wet on the Appalachian Trail, it stays wet for a long time. Whenever it rained, I was paranoid. Wet gear means it cannot keep you nearly as warm as dry gear can. Hyperlite Stuff Sacks reassured me that my gear would stay dry, even through weeks of non-stop moisture. Dry sleep clothes and a cozy sleeping bag are two of the nicest luxuries after your third day of hiking through downpours. I didn’t expect something as simple as a stuff sack to be a game-changer, but it was for my peace of mind.
I would’ve been in a world of pain if it weren’t for Vaseline and Body Glide. During mid-summer on trail, temperatures reached as high as 90 degrees Fahrenheit–with 100 percent humidity. It was hell. My entire body was soaked in sweat, and as soon as I stopped, it would dry and turn into chafe. My armpits were chafing, my thighs were chafing–even my butt was chafing. I literally would not be able to walk properly because of the chafe. I started applying Body Glide and Vaseline everywhere before getting out of camp in the mornings, which helped tremendously. I would have to reapply every few hours during hot days, but at least I wasn’t in as much pain and could walk.
Cork Roller Ball
I developed an intense case of plantar fasciitis on trail. Plantar Fasciitis involves tissue in the foot becoming inflamed due to walking long distances, carrying heavy loads, wearing improper footwear, and walking on uneven ground. Thru hiking is basically a recipe for it. The best method of prevention and recovery is physical therapy, which is where my cork roller ball came in handy. Sometimes, a lacrosse ball or tennis ball is used to roll out your feet and relieve pain from plantar fasciitis, but I didn’t want to carry the weight of either, so a cork roller ball came in handy! I used the cork ball so much it developed an ovular shape.
I would roll out my feet every morning before I started hiking and every afternoon before going to bed. This helped relieve foot pain in the mornings and evenings (so I could actually get some sleep.) I think if I didn’t have this cork roller ball, my feet would’ve been much stiffer and in more pain, and it could’ve led to injury.
For the first half of my hike, I was too paranoid about battery usage to wear Bluetooth headphones. I was worried that the battery would run out too often and I’d have to use my portable charging brick so much that I wouldn’t be able to use it for my phone. Eventually, my headphones became waterlogged and no longer worked. (For a while, I tried to convince myself it was a cool new distorted way of listening to music. It did not last long.) Eventually, I picked up a cheap pair of Bluetooth headphones from Walmart. Now, I didn’t rip my headphones out of my ears every time I reached into my fanny pack or dropped my phone on the ground.
I didn’t expect to listen to music as much as I did on my hike, but some days, I simply could not motivate myself without it. It distracted me from how exhausted I was, entertained me when I was bored in the green tunnel, complimented the natural beauty around me, gave me something to dance and be silly to, and allowed me to keep going through sore pains in the mornings. If I didn’t have music to jam out to, my hike would’ve been a lot less fun. It also comforted me when I had to camp alone, which could sometimes stress me out. Or, when I’d be in a dicey situation, like pouring rain in 40-degree temperatures, it distracted me from my internal panic that I would become hypothermic. It allowed me to set up my tent and get into dry clothes while still remaining (mostly) calm.
Headphones allowed me to tune into the music I loved without disturbing other people. A huge pet peeve of mine (and I’m sure other hikers) is when people blast their music out loud. When you plug in a couple earbuds, you’re not disturbing other people or the nature around you with the Macerana on repeat. Music kept me company regardless of the mood I was in — and without my headphones, it wouldn’t have been possible.
A bug net single-handedly kept me from going insane. During the season I hiked through New York, I could not stand still for more than thirty seconds without being attacked by mosquitos. I would lose self-control at camp and scratch my legs until they would bleed. The worst part would be the sound of bugs buzzing around my ears, getting into my eyes, biting my face and the backs of my ears. The bug net allowed me to have some sanity and kept my head safe from bugs. Somehow, the rest of my body being bitten was not as terrible as long as my head was safe. It made me feel like I had my own little bug-free bubble until I could get to camp at the end of the day and dive into my tent. It was lightweight, effective and helped me keep my cool against an endless onslaught of little vampires.
These were the pieces of gear that made the biggest difference for me on my thru hike. If you’re experiencing similar conditions, they might work for you, too! Each of these gear items did not seem that important or relevant when off-trail–but when you’re in a hoard of mosquitos, immobile due to chafe, or just unmotivated, they made a huge difference. Long-distance hiking is a matter of finding gear that makes your situation slightly less uncomfortable. Backpacking will always have some degree of discomfort, but that’s what makes us grow and find the best gear that suits us.