I very recently posted on Instagram a photograph of the final two gear items I purchased and included in my gear for my attempt at a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. The items were “Mirco-Spikes” and a Sea-to-Summit “Reactor” sleeping bag liner.
These items may be necessary to combat winter weather conditions that I may experience in the first 4 or 5 weeks of my hike – in the mountains of Georgia and particularly through the Great Smoky Mountains. In fact, a listener of the podcast sent Mighty Blue this photograph of an area just north of the Smokies:
The MICROspikes, obviously, makes traction more possible in snow and especially in icy conditions. The sleeping bag liner provides up to an additional 20 degrees of warmth so my 15-degree bag should keep me warm to a few degrees below zero.
There is a lot of talk about hikers leaving in February (or January). (The “talk” is, to quote Mighty Blue, that they are crazy heading out in the “freeezing” weather.) My decision was very conscious. I had a number of reasons. I wanted to beat the early spring “bubble” of thru-hikers. I wanted to enjoy the beauty of winter (and hopefully snow) in the mountains. There are no bears or snakes or insects in the early months. And, its easier to hike in the cold than the warm.
To make winter hiking and camping tolerable, a thru-hiker should (read: must) bring some additional items of gear and clothing. I call this my “winter supplement.” We did a whole podcast episode on the topic.
The items I selected to “supplement” my typical or non-winter conditions gear are as follows:
- Sleeping bag liner
- Thermal base layers (Patagonia Nano-Air)
- REI Kimtah Rain Pants
- Big Agnes Third Degree closed cell sleeping pad
- REI Alpine Gaiters
- REI Polartec gloves
- REI Polartec balaclava
- REI Minimalist (eVent) mitten shells
- Emergency “space” blanket
At some level my hiking shoes – Oboz Tamaracks (low – waterproof) are motivated by the possibility of winter weather. The shoe is more substantial than trail runners. It is waterproof, which also helps with warm, particularly because it will shield some wind from passing through. I may switch to a lighter, non-waterproof model later in the hike.
With reference too the list, the gloves, mitten and balaclava should be obvious. I can probably lose them when I get to Virginia (about 5 weeks). I will switch to lighter gaiters at that time as well. The MICROspikes will likely go even sooner. I may also switch to an inflatable sleeping pad for increased comfort. The pad shown here (the Big Agnes “Third Degree”) is especially useful in cold weather because it will better block the cold rising from the ground. I will also probably send home one or more of the base layers.
Rain pants may be more important for warmth than water protection. As the weather warms, I am likely to swap out the pants for a rain “kilt” or skirt – a much lighter form of protection from rain. Even the rain jacket has a “weight penalty.” The one I am taking at the start is longer and more substantial, but heavier. When I get over Mt. Rogers in Virginia I will switch to a jacket that is almost 10 ounces lighter.
The liner provides some great sleeping options. I will swap out to a lighter sleeping bag (rated to 45 degrees), but retaining the liner will compensate for some unexpected colder nights – and, in summer time, the liner may be a sufficient sleep system by itself.
If anyone would like to see this “winter supplement” spread on GearGrams, click here. You will see that this supplemental list of gear adds almost 5 pounds of weight to my pack. Thus, being able to shed most of it after 4 or 5 weeks is material.
Last modified: February 1, 2018