Great Western Loop: Gear Review
Updated: Jul 20, 2022
Before looking at my actual gear, there´s a sth. i´d like to mention:
For most hikers weight seems to be the driving factor, when it comes to gear. Weight is certainly crucial and a major factor for my success on the GWL. Less weight increases comfort on trail dramatically, especially when hiking such long days and it reduces the risk of injury or falls.
I expected that i would have to replace most items after several months onf trail, but almost every item lasted for the entire duration of 222 days and 10,000+km. After answering that question, one can focus on weight. That´s why i don´t like the emphasis on the term "ultralight", it neglects a major aspect that is crucial for staying safe in the wilderness.
Personally, i don´t consider myself an "ultralight hiker". In my eyes it´s all about the right "balance" of functionality (incl. safety), comfort and weight. Choosing the right gear is a very individual decision and one has to find the gear that works for himself. That´s why i carried a reasonably heavy sleeping mat. The benefit of getting good sleep was far more beneficial to me, than saving a few more gramm on a lighter sleeping mat.
Overall, i´m extremely happy with the gear i used.
I expected that i would have to replace most items after several months on trail, but almost every item lasted for the entire duration of 222 days and 10,000+km.
My gear list on lighterpack:
Big 3: Backpack, Tent, Sleeping System
Backpack: Huckepacks Phoenix Lite (557g) Great backpack, produced by a small company in my hometown Cologne, Germany. The total volume of the pack is roughly 50l, the main compartment holds about 30l. In the very first week of my hike, some rodents chewed the hipbelt off, which was really annoying. I never fixed it and still felt comfortable just carrying the pack on my shoulders. It´s a very simple pack, similar to the HMG Windrider. I had to do some smaller repairs throughout the hike, especially the outer mesh suffered from bushwhacking through thorns on the Grand Enchantement Trail. In Colorado i overloaded the pack with all the additional winter gear and hiking long stretches, but the pack still felt comfortable on my shoulders and didn´t fail on me. At the very end of my hike, the shoulder straps started to tear off and needed some repairs. They´re now pretty much broken and won´t last long anymore, but i´m still very happy with how long the pack lasted. I´d definitely take it again.
Tent: Tarptent Notch LI (596g) On my PCT (US) and TeAraroa (New Zealand) i used the predecessor of the Tarptent Notch LI and was quite happy with the tent. It´s small, it´s lightweight, but it´s still a real tent that provides some shelter and privacy. It is incredibly easy and fast to pitch or break down, which i liked a lot. The tent performed great, even in severe storms. As tent stakes i used the MSR groundhog mini. The same stakes that i bought for my PCT thruhike in 2018. The groundhog mini is arguably the best tent stake on the market.
Sleeping mat: Therm-a-Rest XTherm (557g) In 2018 i started with Therm-a-Rest´s Z-Lite and quickly learned that i needed a proper sleeping mat to get enough rest. I´m also a very cold sleeper and needed more isolation, especially on snow-covered terrain in Colorado. The Therm-a-Rest XTherm comes with a high RV-value, isn´t as noisy as the NeoAir and very comfortable. I never used a footprint and still had no issues with punctures. The mat is certainly very heavy compared to other options on the market, but here i chose comfort over weight, as sleep was crucial to recover from very long hiking days.
Quilt: Enlightened Equipment Revelation, 10°F (561g) I used the standard quilt with a foot box. In combination with my sleeping mat, i felt warm and toasty in almost every night. Temperatures sometimes dropped down to 10°F. I do prefer this quilt over most sleeping bags, but condensation sometimes caused some problems. The quilt doesn´t have smaller, individual compartments for the down feathers. When the down feathers get slightly wet from condensation, they clump on the sides of the quilt on don´t provide much warmth. That´s something to keep in mind. I washed the quilt several times in a regular laundromat and never had problems to get it properly dry again, in a standard dryer. Next time i´d probably chose a quilt which is just a little bit longer, so that it´s easier to pull it over my head in really cold nights.
Shoes and Trekking Poles Over the course of 6,000+ miles i used a total of 8 pairs of shoes. Most of the time i hiked in the Merrell Moab 2 Vent. 2 times i tried to use reasonably cheap shoes from a local Walmart, but that never paid off. Those shoes lasted only for a few days or weeks and so i went back to ordering "proper" trailrunners via REI.
Shoes: Merrell Moab 2 Vent (4x) A shoe that is slightly heavier and more sturdy than the famous Altra Lone Peak. Especially on some rugged terrain on the Grand Enchantement Trail, as well as the mountains in Colorado i really liked that shoe. It provided good traction and protection and lasted usually for more than 700+miles. I used a total of 4 pairs of Merrell´s Moab 2 Vent.
Shoes: Altra Lone Peak 5.0 (2x) Altra Lone Peaks are probably the most famous shoe on trail. Lightweight and well designed. On all of my previous hikes i had used that shoe. In Ashland, Oregon i switched from the Merrell Moab 2 Vent to the Altra Lone Peak, when it was clear that i would have to take the detour along the California coastline. Here, i wanted to have a lighter shoe that performed better on roads. I didn´t switch back until the end of the hike and was suprised that my first pair of Altra Lone Peaks lasted for about 1,000miles.
Trekking Poles: Steinwood Carbon & Black Diamond Trail I started my adventure with the Steinwood Carbon trekking pole. A lightweight trekking pole that i had used on the Te Araroa trail in New Zealand. Definitely a good trekking pole, but one unfortunately broke while hiking. I replaced them with the Black Diamond Trail trekking pole and i wouldn´t go back. The Black Diamond Trail pole is a solid aluminum pole that performed great as my tent frame even in stormy nights. As a trekking pole i´m impressed with the quality of the tips. Previous trekking poles, like those from Steinwood or Leki usually had some issues with their tips after hiking thousands of miles. That´s a problem for me, as my tent rests on those tips and when they´re broken, my tent isn´t stable anymore. The tips of the Black Diamond Trail trekking pole looks picture-perfect and brand new, even after using that pole for some 5,000miles.
Clothing: (only noteworthy items)
Puffy and Fleece: Arcteryx Cerium and Kuiu Peloton 97 Due to the early start in Colorado, i carried a puffy and a lightweight fleece. Most of the time the puffy just worked as my pillow, but i still wouldn´t go on any hike that includes high-mountain sections without that kind of jacket. Certainly not a cheap jacket, but one that performed great. It kept me warm at night, but was usually to warm to wear while hiking. The Kuiu Peloton 97 was the perfect addition to my puffy. The fleece is quite thin and lightweight and perfect for hiking on almost every day. The fleece kept me warm in Colorado, but also provided some sun protection in the scorching heat of Arizona. The fleece comes with a hood, which was a major improvement from the fleece i used on previous hikes. An outstanding piece of clothing, that just feels great.
Rain gear: Outdoor Research Helium 2 & no name rain pants Fortunately i didn´t have a lot of rainy days on trail, but when it rained, it rained cats and dogs. The OR Helium 2 performed "ok", but not necessarily great. I did get quite wet on a few days, but have to admit that it rained for 10-12 hours straight. I assume that most lightweight rain jackets would have failed here. As a wind breaker and additional layer in Colorado (in combination with the Kuiu Peloton 97) the jacket did it´s job pretty well. In addition to the rain jacket, i also used some no name rain paints. These were the only longsleeve pants i had and i liked them for river crossings, or hiking through the snow covered mountains of Colorado. Lightweight rain pants provide a lot of warmth while hiking, or even at night and were a good complement to my hiking shorts.
Waterproof socks: Seal Skinz Buying waterproof socks, was one of the best decisions on trail. In the snow covered mountains of Colorado and Wyoming, it was impossible to keep my shoes and socks dry, but those waterproof socks kept my feet warm and cozy for a long time. This was a major improvement to my level of comfort, compared to crossing the Sierra in 2018. The socks also performed well just as regular hiking socks, but didn´t last as long as my Darn Tough socks. Fun side note: When water can´t get into the socks, blood can´t get out and so i was quite suprised to see completely blood soaked socks in Wyoming.
(Yepp, that´s blood. The buckle of my snow shoe caused some friction that lead to a bloody cut)
Buff Headband One of my favourite gear items is most certainly the buff, because of its versatility. I used the buff to cover my face in icy winds, rain, smoke and the desert heat, or as a COVID-face mask. I also used it to wipe things off, or to wash myself. It would also make for a good bandage in case of emergency.
Ice Axe: Camp Corsa Ice Axe A great tool, that i had used while crossing the Sierra Nevada in May 2018. This time i had shipped my winter gear to Chama, NM where i picked it up. I don´t know the exact measurements of the ice axe i used, but it was a little bit to short for me. A proper ice axe should cover the diagonal length from the top of your shoulder to your hip and be long enough to use while hiking. I also used a leash so that i wouldn´t lose the ice axe while holding it. That ice axe might have saved my life 2 times, or at least prevented severe injuries, when i slipped off some steep and icy slopes in Colorado. Unfortunately, i lost my ice axe, when i got washed away by a river in Wyoming.
Snow shoes: MSR Evo Trail Without any experience in hiking with snow shoes, i decided to try the MSR Evo Trail, which was reasonably cheap, small and lightweight and widely available. The shoe helped me a lot in Colorado. When me and two other hikers left Chama, NM it didn´t take long until they couldn´t keep up with me, wearing no snow-shoes. This is especially interesting, as i met them a few days later in Pagosa Springs, CO, where i learned that they had to bail out of the mountains, due to the snow, while i made it through without major problems. The shoes performed extremely well on some steep slopes and provided awesome traction. Closer to the end of May, early June the snow shoes became less helpful. The snow got too soft and i was postholing even with my snow shoes. I oftentimes had to stop, to dig my feet and snowshoes out of the snow, which was extremely annoying and strenuous. This also lead to more friction and caused cuts on my feet from the snow shoes buckle, which lead to bloody feet.
Micro spikes: No name In addition to my snow shoes, i also carried micro spikes, that i still had from my PCT thruhike. This made a lot of sense, as i oftentimes had to cross icy and rocky terrain, where the snow shoes were just too big and clumsy.
Water filter: Katadyn BeFree & Sawyer Squeeze For most of my hike i used the Katadyn BeFree filter. I just prefer the handling of that filter over the Sawyer Squeeze. Especially in the very beginning, the Katadyn BeFree is much faster, which makes filtering almost enjoyable. Unfortunately, the Katadyn BeFree doesn´t last as long, as there´s no way to backflush it. The flter has become popular and is now widely available. In the early beginning of my hike, however, i used the Sawyer Squeeze. I expected quite dirty water sources in Arizona and New Mexico, which would require a lot of backflushing and so i considered the Sawyer Squeeze as the better option. This was less of a concern in the mountains of Colorda,y Wyoming and Washington, where water sources were in general much better. Both filters are great.
Powerbank: Anker 10,000mah The Anker 10,000mah enabled me to charge my smartphone 2-3 times and allowed me to hike stretches of up to 7 or 8 days, with limited use. On shorter sections the powerbank allowed me to watch a little bit of Netflix in camp, or listen to an audiobook on trail. Recharging my battiers, was actually the single most important reasons for staying in town, which cost a lot of time. Carrying more mah might save time. Also interesting to note is that the use of certain apps, had a significant impact on my battery power. On the Grand Enchantement Trail and all other cross-country sections that i had to plan by myself, i used the GAIA App, which used more than twice the battery power of the Guthooks App (now FarOut).