5 Surprising Gear Choices that Made My Thru-Hike Easier

Abby Evans
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Whether you’re out in the woods for a day hike or for a six month thru-hike, your gear can make your experience pleasurable or absolutely miserable. For my Appalachian Trail thru-hike, there were a few pieces of gear I was surprised to find were pivotal to the success of my journey … and no they weren’t the Big 3 (pack, shelter and sleep system) like you might think, but rather smaller items that more than carried their weight.  

Rawlogy Cork Roller Ball & Resistance Band

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The most important piece of gear you have on any hike is your body. It’s best to take care of it fastidiously — if you don’t, you might have to get off trail due to an injury. I carried a cork roller ball and a stretch band with me the entire hike in order to stay on top of a physical therapy routine I maintained before I had started hiking. 

I was in intensive physical therapy for weeks due to a hip injury from an ultramarathon, and had to lay in bed for three months. I was paranoid when I started my thru-hike that my hip injury would prevent me from continuing, so I continued the same physical therapy exercises throughout. 

Before a thru-hike, if you have a recurring injury, it could be helpful to ask a physical therapist about exercises to help it. Starting my routine of exercises before I started hiking made it easier for me to continue them during the hike. 

I also rolled out my feet with my cork roller ball every morning and evening to alleviate plantar fasciitis. I strongly believe that if I did not continue to do my hip stretches and roll out my feet with the cork roller ball that I would not have been able to complete this thru-hike.

Fanny Pack

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My fanny pack was an absolute monster. It was able to fit my phone, headphones, charging brick, cork roller ball, resistance band, a Clif bar and two candy bars. I wore this fanny pack every day when hiking. 

It made it significantly more convenient to eat while walking. I didn’t have to stop and pull my food bag out of my pack every time I got hungry; I could just reach into my fanny pack and fish around for a Clif bar. 

It also kept my cork roller ball/resistance band accessible so that I would be more willing to roll out and do PT exercises when I was tired. Sometimes, the added effort of searching around for them in my pack was too much for me to be motivated — so just having them accessible in the fanny pack was very helpful.

Short Sleeve Town Shirt

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My Town Shirt made a big difference on my thru-hike. Sometimes my pack straps would chafe in the heat, but I still wouldn’t want to wear a shirt because it was too hot. Instead, I would slip on my Town Shirt and leave it unbuttoned for better airflow. It was the perfect intermediate layer. When I was too cold for a tank top, I would throw on my Town Shirt and a hat and I’d be warm while I hiked — even in temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit (not to mention the wind chill.) 

Wearing a Town Shirt also helped with being recognized as a thru-hiker. This can be beneficial for hitching into town and connecting with other hikers. As soon as I saw another person in Jolly Gear or a Town Shirt, I knew they were a hiker and most likely someone I could befriend.

Culo Clean Bidet

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My Culo Clean Bidet changed the way I look at toilet paper. As long as there’s enough water around (which was almost the entire AT) there was no need to bring toilet paper. My butt felt cleaner when I hiked and I didn’t have to worry about packing out used TP or my toilet paper getting wet. 

The CuloClean Bidet is a lightweight piece of gear that resembles a water bottle cork. It fits in the hip belt pocket of my pack. Using a bidet adheres better to Leave No Trace guidelines; you can rest assured your butt isn’t contributing to the hordes of toilet paper blooming alongside the trail.

Darn Tough Socks

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Different feet need different kinds of socks. Some people love Darn Tough Socks, whereas others swear by toe socks to keep blisters at bay. I wore Darn Toughs during my thru-hike. They were the only brand of socks I used. I hiked more than half the trail in a singular pair of Darn Toughs until they developed a hole. Ironically, they developed a hole in Vermont — the state they are created in. 

Darn Tough has an amazing exchange policy. Not all outfitters participate in it — but the ones that do are very helpful. If you go to an outfitter along trail, bring your sock that has a hole in it and show it to the salesperson, they will exchange your holey Darn Tough with another pair of socks — for free! In my opinion, that’s worth $26 for a pair of socks. 

I also never developed blisters from these socks. They kept my feet warm, cozy and cushioned throughout my hike. I sometimes even used the pair I slept in as mittens for my hands (or sad sock puppets if I got lonely.)

I would advise testing out your socks for a long day hike, about ten miles or more, or even better multiple long day hikes and camping trips, before a long distance backpacking trip. You’ll figure out which ones give you blisters in no time!


Parting Thoughts

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Sometimes the gear that helps you the most isn’t what you expect. Usually in hindsight, it seems obvious. Oh, duh, of course I should pick really awesome socks to hike 2,000 miles in. My feet are important for doing that.

The gear that helped me the most is gear that helped me feel the least discomfort. As long as you find ways to take care of your body on a long distance hike, it will continue to take care of you and allow you to see and do some really amazing things.

Abby Evans, or S.W. Fireball Queen of the Salamanders, enjoys thru-hiking, jumping in mud puddles and catching salamanders. When they're not doing these three things, they love to write about their on-foot adventures. They recently finished the Appalachian Trail and they're looking forward to the Pacific Crest Trail next summer!

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