We will be hiking sections of the Arizona Trail this year and are excited to share our videos with you. We’ve been busy going through our gear to make sure we have everything we need and purchasing anything that needs replacing. We’re looking forward to hiking someplace warm and hopefully dry.
I thought I would highlight a few pieces of gear I am reusing and what I am bringing in new this time around.
In preparation for hiking the AZT in March, I have made a couple of purchases, or am going to be making a few purchases to have the right gear and some added flexibility.
- Go Pro Hero 12 – One thing I wanted to do is take video on our hikes. Previously, I had used my cell phone to capture some footage, but I was always concerned about dropping it. I also didn’t necessarily want to bring it out in the rain and missed capturing some of the more challenging moments on the trail. I enjoy seeing videos from other hikers and I know my friends appreciate seeing the places we have been. With the Go Pro Hero 12, I am looking forward to getting video and sharing our experiences through another medium.
- Cotopaxi Hip Pack – Having quick access to supplies such as toiletries and Go Pro accessories was a priority for me this trip. After stressing about what the tuckamore would steal from my pack while hiking in Gros Morne National Park this summer, I didn’t want to have as many items tucked in my backpack’s side pockets, such as my toiletries bag. I also don’t want to leave anything of value in my backpack should we decide to go on a day hike and leave the remainder of our gear at our campsite. My only concern will be comfort when wearing the hip pack along with the waist belt of my backpack. I see an update coming in the future.
- Montem Trekking Poles – If you read our Gros Morne National Park trip reports, you would have read how I bent a trekking pole after sinking and falling into a muddy bog. We hunted around for replacement trekking poles for the trip and came across the Montem brand. My brand new white poles have already arrived and the company has sent customer service messages to let us know they will be responsive to any concerns. I think I already like them as a company, so I will be even happier if I like their trekking poles. After the hike, I will need to do a gear review on them.
- Gossamer Bottle Rocket (or Similar) – I am currently trying to track down an accessory for my backpack that will attach a 750ml water bottle to my shoulder strap. I am tired of turning in circles when attempting to slip my water bottle back into the backpack side pocket. I keep running into shipping issues where a $15-30 item will have taxes and shipping costs totaling around $25, bringing the total expense to around $50. That’s more than I want to pay for a little pouch that hangs off of my pack. Stay tuned for whatever I eventually find.
- Pillow – I decided to give a new pillow a try on this trail. When I track down the name of the new pillow, I’ll update this post. While my Trekology pillow was easy to inflate and never leaked on me, there was something about it’s shape and how it always slid off of my mattress throughout the night that I didn’t like. Also, the fabric on my face was not the most comfortable. I’m hoping my new choice of pillow will work better for my sleeping style and maybe will stay in place better.
- Shorts – For the first time, I will be packing shorts. There is no way I would not bring a pair of pants as cold mornings will mean cold legs, but knowing I will be hiking in the desert in hot temperatures during mid-day, I am definitely wearing shorts. I have never done a multi-day hike in shorts as we have always gone to the mountains or to Newfoundland where temperatures really aren’t ideal for those with exposed legs. I’m looking forward to the warmth.
- Saucony Peregrine 11 Trail Runners – The last time I used these was on the Pioneer Footpath, which I found was not the right shoe for Newfoundland and Labrador terrain since I needed the ankle support for the hidden uneven “trails”. I then used my Keen Hikers for our Gros Morne hike and found the ankle support gave me more confidence when stepping on the moss that deceptively made you believe the terrain was soft and even. The trail runners were great for our hike on the Great Divide Trail where the terrain was visible and rocky, so they are making a comeback for the AZT.
- Outdoor Research Puffy – I love my little green puffy. It keeps me warm when I need it most and is light to pack around. I also like to use it as an extension of my pillow when my Trekology pillow decides to go exploring in the middle of the night.
- Therm-a-Rest Neoair Xtherm and Synthetic/Down Hybrid TopQuilt – I run cold and I have found this combination of a sleep system works well for me. While we are going to add sleeping pads for more protection from pokey things on the ground, I am not going to change my sleep system. It kept me warm in Gros Morne and I am confident it will keep me warm on the AZT.
- Durston Drop 40L – While I do want to get a water bottle holder for my shoulder strap, this pack has been great for me now that I know how to adjust all the loaders and waist strap to suit my needs. I have beaten on this pack, dragging it along the rough surface of boulders as I slid down to tossing it into the back of vehicles. It remains in good shape and keeps everything dry. Even though we’ve never had a problem with moisture, we have still always put our clothes and other items in dry sacks. This time we are going with a pack liner and will just stuff everything in there so we don’t leave any spaces unfilled.
- The North Face Pants – I can’t tell you how much I love my North Face pants. These things are comfortable and durable. I have slid down so many surfaces while wearing these things and they are still in great shape. Sure the fabric is getting a little rough and pilly, but they are my favorite piece of clothing. They are definitely coming with us.
While I’m making some gear changes, almost everything is going to remain the same. I think I have my gear pretty dialed in and I like the way it operates. Comfort for me on the trail means using what is familiar and my trusty gear has performed well on our backcountry trips thus far. It is even making me feel almost comfortable enough to consider doing a solo hike. Don’t tell Oliver I said that.
After hiking sections of the Great Divide Trail (The Wildest Thru Hike, or so they say) and the even wilder Gros Morne Traverses, we have seen rough trail conditions and variable weather. We have adapted our kits to cope with wet, with bugs, with sketchy trails (or nonexistent ones), with fluctuations in temperatures from hot sunny days to snow and ice on our tent.
But in choosing the Arizona Trail for our next hike, we are going to be challenged by a completely new set of variables. There will be some items in common, but enough differences to make it worthy to consider.
First, the temperatures will be higher. And drier. The elevation we will be dealing with will be higher also – even the Great Divide Trail does not reach the heights of the American Rockies in terms of elevation above sea level. The highest pass we hiked was Wonder Pass at just shy of 7800 feet. The height of Mica Mountain, our first big climb on the AZT is 8594 feet. Another thing to consider is when we did the GDT our home was at about 2000 feet, so the difference between the trail altitude and our home was not nearly as great as this time, where we live is just 50 feet above sea level. So, while it is possible we may see the remains of the winter on the AZT at certain moments, what we will have to plan for is management of water supplies and protection from the sun, and keeping cool (well, cooler anyway).
The AZT, we have been told, has bears but not like the Grizzlies of the Canadian Rockies. The consensus seems to be one doesn’t even require bear spray or food storage precautions they are so seldom seen. So that will lighten our load in one direction.
Out In Long Pants Shorts Bear Canister/Ursack ThermaRest Z-Lite Foam Pad Bear Spray Extra 1L Water Capacity Mid or Insulation Layer Tent Footprint RainGear GoPro
But we will add weight in another area: our shelter. Many “Cowboy Camp” the AZT but we are going to bring our DurstonGear XMid 2P just in case. However, we have heard that the rocky desert and its abundant poky things will require consideration as well so we are adding weight there. So here’s a nerdy chart for you:
Going from pants to shorts will be interesting for me. I have always done the convertible pants thing, but for this trip I am just going to stick with shorts. Cheryl will probably have some leggings but she runs colder than I do.
Dropping the bear stuff will be a significant weight savings, and I am still processing breaking the cardinal rule of food in the backcountry – no food in your tent! Not sure how I am going to feel about it on trail but it seems that’s what people do on this trail.
The extra water capacity won’t add much weight if empty (Smartwater bottles don’t weigh much) but full that’s an extra 2 lbs. The GoPro is Cheryl’s weight – I take the tent so she carries the camera.
The question of base/midlayers and raingear is interesting to me. I know myself, sporadic storms are better dealt with in a fleece than a rainjacket/pants because I just wind up soaked with sweat in them (I only use rain pants to protect from morning dew and water off foliage). I’d rather be wet and warm in a fleece and dry out quickly than locking in all my own moisture! But, bringing two insulation layers (fleece and puffy) seems redundant with this trail. I’ll never wear them both. A puffy provides insulation on cold mornings and evenings, and wind resistance on windy days. The fleece provides water tolerant warmth but no resistance to wind. I am thinking just the puffy may be the way to go. I’ll have a set of technical base layers with me if it’s REALLY cold but doubt I’ll use them. They could also be used in a pinch if it’s raining, as they will still provide some warmth if wet. But I really don’t see it likely we will experience hours and hours of soaking rain on this hike.
The last thing to discuss is the tent/sleeping changes. I have seen horror stories of air mattresses being punctured in desert conditions. We watched a thru hike video of a couple who used larger egg crate mats as their sit pads, giving more area to recline and relax on during the day, and use under their air mattresses for extra insulation at night. We really like that idea, not so much for the insulation (Cheryl runs an X-Therm and I have a Tensor Alpine) but for protection from possible punctures. We will also bring a footprint for the tent – we have never needed one up to this point – it’s a durable tent! But it has never faced desert, so we will err on the side of caution.
One other tiny thing we will bring along – we like the idea of a cowboy camp, but find it hard to believe creepy crawlies won’t amble over to us at night so we are bringing Dan Durston’s “Stargazer Kit” – it weighs next to nothing and allows us to pitch the inner part of our tent without the fly – best of both worlds!
After our go at the Gros Morne Traverses, we found ourselves a little worn out of rugged, wild, barely-there trails. Especially when said routes cross bogs and other such fun things. We began to talk about our next adventure, and how our current locale has a very long winter (even for Canada). Wouldn’t it be nice to get in an early season hike, before the snow melts? Not on snowshoes! Sorry, I have done a little winter camping, enough to know that ultralight and winter don’t mix well – at least not in Canada!
A unique quality to the military life is the end of fiscal year. At that point our annual leave rolls over to a new year, and all of a sudden we have more. Some people have attempted to “save” their annuals from one year until the end of fiscal, so they can add them to leave days borrowed from the next year to create a mega-trip. It worked out for us to do that this year! So with a big chunk of time available, we began to look for a “fair weather” destination.
We looked at the Pinhoti Trail, the first few hundred miles on the Appalachian Trail, the Florida Trail, Ozark Highlands, the Lone Star, and even the PCT up to San Jacinto. (There were more shorter trails too). But none of them sat quite right. I liked the idea of a desert hike over a forest hike where the leaves haven’t come out yet. So we looked again at the beginnings of the PCT and I also threw out a question on the Arizona Trail subreddit: what’s the best stretch of passages to do if you only have a couple weeks?
The answer was “Vail to Superior”. So we watched some videos. And some more. And it started growing on my hiking partner. Over Christmas break we pulled the trigger on some flights and now we are set! We will be on trail over Easter, enjoying the sunny days of Arizona! This will be our longest trip yet – our previous longest trip was 11 days of hiking on the Great Divide Trail. This one we will be on trail 16-18 days (I built in some flex into our plan, depending on how we are handling the altitude and such). The plan is to cover over 186 miles. Given the choice between this or a standard all-inclusive in Mexico like many friends and family like to do, we much prefer this plan!
But here’s the best part: previously we snapped a lot of pictures, but we never really did video. This time, we have invested in a little videography equipment, and my wonderful partner will get to put to use her long dormant cinematography skills (she used to have a vlog on YouTube a dozen years ago). So keep watch for video once we get on trail!