Zach Davis had never been backpacking before he started thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2011.
“I was working in internet marketing and in a rut, and thought something far out of my comfort zone could be just what the doctor ordered.”
Now, Davis lives and breathes thru-hiking. He wrote Appalachian Trials, a book designed to help thru-hikers prepare for their journey, and runs a website called The Trek, where long-distance backpackers can blog about their experiences and learn from each other.
Davis also created the Badger Sponsorship, where he hooks up worthy thru-hikers with gear for their trek. Last year, Davis gave away more than $10,000 worth of backpacking gear. Here are Davis’ five favorite gear essentials, in his own words.
It’s expensive, but worth every penny. Montbell uses 1000 fill Power Goose Down to pack a lot of warmth for little weight (8.4 ounces). The exterior is thin, so you have to exercise caution—a wayward fire ember or a tent zipper could easily tear through the fabric. But it’s a worthwhile tradeoff for a jacket that has so much insulation but comes in at just half a pound.
It’s not the sexiest recommendation, but the importance of a quality pair of merino wool socks can’t be understated. Not only are Darn Toughs the most durable and comfortable brand of merino socks out there, but they back up their product with a lifetime guarantee. In their own words, “if you wear a hole in them, we will replace them free of charge, for life.”
The main torso panel and the hip belt of this pack can slide several inches before being Velcroed into place, allowing you to dial in the support to your exact torso length and waist. The rain guard allows you to reach the water bottle pockets without taking off the shell.
Mirrorless cameras are the ideal solution for photographers who want all the quality of a DSLR without the weight. The Sony a6000 is mirrorless, with interchangeable lenses and a really fast autofocus. The price is reasonable, given the caliber of capture.
I have a freakishly wide foot. Altra uses a “FootShape Toe Box,” which is unusually wide to allow your toes to splay out naturally. Altra is quietly taking over the thru-hiking world, and for good reason. The newest model, the Lone Peak 3.0, is both comfortable and durable.
There’s a growing trend for thru-hikers to swap their traditional mummy style sleeping bags for a quilt, which are significantly lighter without compromising on warmth. Compressed down insulation under a sleeping hiker is mostly useless. A quilt removes much of the material on the underside, instead clipping together and relying on a sleeping pad to provide insulation for those sleeping on the ground. Enlightened Equipment makes a great quality quilt at a fair price.