Saved, Sent, or Swapped: What I Carried on a 6,800-Mile Thru-Hike

Briana DeSanctis

 

I spent a little over two years on my 6,800-mile thru-hike across the United States on the American Discovery Trail (2022-2024). Hiking through varied terrain in all four seasons was something I’d looked forward to for a long time. Some of my gear had to be seasonally switched out; other things stayed for the entire hike. I noticed that some of the gear I began with mimicked what I used in 2015 on my first thru-hike, the Appalachian Trail.  Find out what I carried, what I wore, what got swapped out, and what stayed!

 

Pack

I frivolously purchased a Gregory pack prior to my hike (long story behind this). I consider brands such as Osprey, Gregory, and Deuter "luxury," as their packs are not ultralight, but the trade-off is comfort and ability to carry more weight. One month into my cross-country hike I was forced off trail due to what was either a stress fracture or shin splints. I was out of commission for 20 days while I thought of every way possible to shed pack weight. Mind you, this is West Virginia in February; I was carrying winter gear and didn’t have much leeway. The only adjustment I could fathom was to return the 5-pound Gregory and splurge for a much lighter Hyperlite Mountain Gear. I bought the largest freaking pack they had, the Southwest 70 (from their over-the-phone recommendation), and that pack stayed with me the rest of the trip. It’s a bit of an adjustment from their heavier, "luxury" competitors, but at a cool 39.3 oz, it was worth it.

 

Tent 

Following suit from my AT hike, I chose another Big Agnes; I’d previously used a Fly Creek model but never ceased to feel as though I was “being born” every time I negotiated my way in or out of the end-loading tent. I purchased a Copper Spur 1-person for the ADT. Somewhere in Nebraska I decided it was time for a little more space (and two doors). In addition, my 1-person tent had been ravaged by one too many wind and hail storms to survive much longer. I opted for the 2-person of the same model and was moderately satisfied. It was small enough to set-up in tight places, but big enough to feel like I was in a mansion.

Sleeping Bag

The REI Magma (women’s) 15-degree down bag suited me well for the fall, winter, and spring months. Although it was super cramped while I slept with my filter, battery packs, phone, and Garmin inReach® (plus I’m a side sleeper and this is a total mummy), I traded it out seasonally for the same version in quilt form at a 30-degree rating. When it was colder than expected in any given season, I used a Cocoon silk sleeping bag liner to complement either, keeping me comfortable.

Sleeping Pad

I began hiking the ADT in January 2022 with an inflatable Thermarest Neo-Air pad. In the summertime I would switch to a foam, accordion-style pad. My second winter on trail I carried one of each and was very glad I did. It’s bar none to be insulated from frozen ground. I slept on some cold, hard concrete floors in vault toilet restrooms where this tactic was especially helpful. At some point toward the end I purchased a Pro-Lite Apex model. If you’re careful with it, it should last a while.

Stove

This was another creature comfort from the AT I used. I bought a basic JetBoil for the ADT and switched it out around the time I said to hell with instant coffee. I picked up a lightweight metal mug and reusable filter from Wal-Mart and purchased an MSR stove and pot. I’m not sure what the weight difference was, but I never regretted having good coffee in the morning.

Water Filtration

I carried a Sawyer Squeeze filter for the duration because this is by far my preferred method of obtaining safe drinking water.

Trekking Poles

I have a bad habit of leaving my sticks behind and I’ve done it several times. Ultralight poles are unnecessary because I believe it’s good to work out your arms as well as your legs. I went for months without using my poles at all and sometimes I discarded them entirely. Grand total: Four: 1 pair of Black Diamonds, 3 pairs from Walmart.

 

Shoes

Not only do I have great taste in footwear, but the bunions on my feet have their own zip code. It’s hard to find a shoe with a wide enough toe box, and I began wearing Altras back in 2017 when nothing else was comfortable for me. I walked 6,800 miles across America, 99.9% of which were hiked exclusively in Altras. My preferred model is Lone Peak and I also tried a couple pairs of Olympus. Lone Peaks have a style called All-wthr I wore in the winter which has a thin membrane to help your feet stay dry. These came in handy during the colder months. The answer to everyone’s burning question: I wore out 27 of the 30 pairs I bought.

Jacket

Knowing I’d be hiking through some frigid temperatures, I chose the Outdoor Research Helium Down Hooded Jacket. The reinforced material around the shoulder region held up for hundreds of miles while carrying a pack. The jacket stayed with me the entire hike. Less than 1,000 miles from finishing, a dog got hold of it and ripped an entire shoulder out. I made a very shoddy field repair using Gorilla Tape and synthetic pillow stuffing, and carried it the rest of the way.  

Down Pants

The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer down pants were my favorite article of clothing for cold weather, but I carried these the entire way. They took only light damage but were easy to patch, weighed “nothing,” and in the warmer months doubled as my pillow. The knee-high leg zips allowed me to get in and out of the pants with my shoes on; a huge game-changer.

 

Socks

Although their exchange policy has become more difficult for folks actively thru-hiking, I have worn Darn Tough socks for many years and there were no exceptions on the ADT. I would switch out thickness according to season and terrain. I also picked up a pair of off-brand sleep socks (think: hospital socks, only thicker).

 

Tops

My New Year’s Day start called for a merino wool long-sleeve shirt; I chose one from women-owned company Kari Traa. In the spring, a generic hi-vis synthetic t-shirt which eventually was bleached white by the sun was a smart choice for all the road walking.  My favorite and most practical shirts, however, are 50 SPF Town Shirt sun hoodies. The hood is roomy, the sleeves have thumb-holes, and the colorful, thoughtful designs kept me looking fresh and unique on this trail less-traveled. I was sick with sun poisoning in the desert and I wore the shirts inside out so the white-colored side would reflect as much sun and heat as possible. The hood kept the sun, sand and wind out of my face. Everyone needs a Town Shirt, and they’re made right here in the USA. My most expensive shirt was a gifted Fjallraven wool sweater with reinforced elbow pads. 

Bottoms

I began hiking in generic spandex pants. I took one good fall on the ice that bloodied my knees. While walking, the pants would stick to the forming scabs. Every time I took those spandex off, the scabs got ripped off, too. This process went on for weeks.  I switched to Smartwool merino pants and wore out 6 pairs of them in a very short time before I disconnected from that product. By then I began wearing shorts, from which I would cut out the built-in underwear to reduce chafing.

Keep in mind that the gear and clothing I chose on my hikes will not necessarily work for everyone, and it’s a good idea to test these items a couple times before taking them on a long trip. Do your research- and by that I do not mean asking Facebook. Look at multiple product reviews, compare warmth-to-weight ratio, and consider the climate, season and terrain in which you will be hiking. Most of all, have fun out there and don’t be afraid to learn as you go!

 

 

Briana DeSanctis "Rocky Mountain High" is an avid outdoorswoman with a concentrated love of all things solo. She thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2015 and has since explored many other hikes, paddles and year-round outdoor adventures. Her longest endeavor was completing a solo thru-hike of the 6,800-mile American Discovery Trail- a feat no woman had ever accomplished. A writer and motivational speaker, Briana's mission is to inspire and empower others to live their fullest lives possible and to expand their comfort zones. "Any large goal can be accomplished by taking many small steps. Trust me; I'm living proof." You can follow Briana on Instagram and at brianadesanctis.com

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