Thursday, April 9, 2015

Arizona Trail Gear

My Arizona Trail gear was similar to what I used on the Pacific Crest Trail last year.  To avoid redundancy, I will only describe my favorite gear for the Arizona Trail and the specific aspects of my clothing system that were well suited for this trip.  Otherwise, just refer to this post on my hammock gear and this post on everything else.

Here is a spreadsheet of my Arizona Trail gear.

Environmental conditions on the Arizona Trail
Temperatures varied substantially over the course of a day and with elevation.  I know it's hard to imagine, but it dropped below freezing several nights (the northbounders we passed said it got into the 20s for them). We woke up with frost-covered tarps a couple times.  Other nights stayed warmer.  I’d often hike for the first hour in my down puffy coat and gloves, with long underwear bottoms or rainpants.  At higher elevations, I’d keep my puffy handy to wear when we stopped at rest breaks.  Do not underestimate how cold it will be on the Arizona Trail!
Wearing all of our warm clothes while hiking during cold mornings. Photo by Jan.
Daytime temperatures swung wildly- from the 30s to the 80s, but we lucked out an it can got much hotter for the hikers that left a few weeks after us.  The sun and heat were intense. Because I am fair-skinned, burn easily, and have a family history of skin cancer, I cover up in loose clothing, carried a sun umbrella, and applied frequent and copious amounts of sunscreen.
Staying covered up and using my umbrella hands-free.  Photo by Jan.
Spines and nasty, sharp, overgrown brush on the trail were a huge factor in clothing choices.  Abrasion-resistant fabrics helped (but didn’t totally prevent) skin from getting scratched and slashed up.
Overgrown trail.
Biting and stinging insects were not much of a problem.  Though I admit I’m a person who is not normally bothered by insects.  Had a few gnats swarming around a couple days, but not enough to put on a headnet.  No mosquitoes.  Lots of bees but I only got one sting and it was because I went near a pothole where water was scarce and I figure the bee was just defending a rare water source.

Rain was more frequent than I’d expected— rained several days in the afternoon, and two nights we got a soaking rain.  This was an unusually wet spring.  Condensation soaked us a few nights when we camped down low.

Personal style
I am a lightweight backpacker with a baseweight of 12 pounds.  I carry a hammock because it allows me to sleep soundly, but I do NOT recommend a hammock on the AZT (see my article here).  I carry a lot of insulation because I get cold easily.

Favorite gear items for the Arizona Trail: Umbrella, Comb, Tweezers, and Sunscreen

Umbrella: Chrome Dome (8 oz)  (see my post for how to rig the umbrella on your pack)

Hands down my favorite piece of gear on the Arizona Trail was my umbrella.  The sun out there is fierce, intense, and relentless.  The umbrella kept me significantly cooler and allowed me to hike during the heat of the day without passing out from heat exhaustion.  At rest breaks, it provided shade when none was available.
Rest break under the shade of umbrellas.
Umbrellas also provided us countless hours of entertainment and/or protected us from mountain lions and other dangers.  The umbrella also kept us dry in the rain.  Who knew it rained in Arizona!?!?  I can’t imagine hiking the Arizona Trail without an umbrella.
I thought Arizona would be sunny all the time.  So, what is this wet stuff falling from the sky?
Comb (plastic, from the hiker box) and tweezers (from my Swiss Army Knife, classic)
A comb removed cactus spines more easily than tweezers, but both were essential on the Arizona Trail.  Jumping cholla and burrs could be brushed off immediately with the comb before they’d work themselves in further.  Using your fingers for spine removal hurt too much--don't even think about it these spines have barbs.   When you’ve got a cholla sticking out of your skin, you want it off RIGHT NOW.  I kept my comb in the hipbelt pocket of my pack for easy and quick access. 
Removing a jumping cholla with my pink comb.
Tweezers extracted problematic spines that would embed in your skin. They also removing a bee sting from my cheek. 

Sunscreen: 3 oz bottle of Neutrogena Ultra sheer dry-touch SPF 70
I tend to be fairly thrifty, but I’ve learned not to skimp when it comes to sunscreen.  This type has a non-offensive odor and goes on thick but doesn’t feel gross.  I carry the 3 oz bottle because I need to apply it every two hours in copious amounts so I don’t burn to a crisp, even under my umbrella and hat.  Do not underestimate the Arizona sun.
If you are fair skinned like me, just suck it up and carry the 3 ounce bottle.
Clothes System

Hiking shirt: Railriders adventure shirt (6.5 oz)
Loved this shirt!  Great abrasion resistance for the brushy, thorny parts of the trail.  It prevented my arms from getting slashed up.  Provided great sun protection, side vents were good for cooling, roomy cut felt comfortable and breezy.  My major complaint with this shirt is that the sleeves are too short.

Hiking skirt: DIY skirt (4.5 oz)
A skirt worked really well for me.  Skirts are cooler, so prevent problems with heat rash.  I also love the versatility of being able to take off or put on long underwear/ rainpants over or under my skirt.  It also makes it very easy to go pee standing up.

Gaiters: DIY tall gaiters (3 oz)
These tall gaiters that I sewed myself were ESSENTIAL for protection from spines and nasty brush.  I can not emphasize how overgrown some parts of the trail were, and how many prickery, pokey plants are out there waiting to attack your flesh.  Having tall gaiters to protect my lower legs allowed me to wear a skirt, which together with the gaiters is a versatile system.  This combination was cool in the heat, and then in the cold I would wear my long underwear under the tall gaiters. 

Fleece Hoodie: Melanzana Micro grid  (9 oz)               
I love the warmth and coziness of sleeping in my fleece hoodie.  The material feels great against my dirty, sweat-encrusted skin.  The front pouch keeps my hands warm.   Some people might get away with sleeping in just long underwear, but I sleep cold so prefer to sleep in my fleece layer.

Long underwear bottoms: Patagonia capilene 4 (5.5 oz)
Wore these every night and hiked in them the first hour or so in the cold. 

Down coat: Montbell UL (7 oz)

Went with my lighter-weight down coat this trip and that worked well.  Wore this for hiking the first hour every day, and used it at rest breaks at higher elevations.  My down coat is an essential part of my sleep system because I use it as a hood with my top quilt.

Down booties: Goosefeet socks (2.8 oz)

Love my down booties!  Keep my feet from freezing at night.  I no longer question the extravagance.  These are an essential part of getting a good nights sleep.

Down hat: Black Rock Down (1 oz)
OK so maybe this was excessive.  But I wore it most nights and mornings, and it sure felt good to not be freezing cold.  This hat provides lots of warmth for just an ounce.  Love the band, and it stays on when I sleep.

Gloves: Surplus Wool Liner Gloves (1.5 oz)
Wore these while packing up and hiking the first hour.

Sun hat: Sunday afternoons sport hat (2.5 oz)

It was sometimes too windy for the umbrella, so the wide-bimmed hat was essential for sun protection..  This one has excellent coverage and ventilation.  The chin strap held the hat on in strong wind.

Sun wristies: DIY fingerless (1 oz)
Essential for sun protection.  Protected my hands from spines, abrasion, and windburn too.

Sunglasses: Oakley Juliet  (1.8 oz)
Wrap around, good quality sunglasses were also essential.  Also helped for wind, dust, and bug protection.

Raincoat and Rainpants: Zpacks Cuben jacket and pants  
Just right for the few times it rained.  Plus wore for extra warmth and while doing laundry.
Raincoat, rainpants, and umbrella--because it does rain on the Arizona Trail.
Trail Shoes: Keen Voyagers and Altra Lone Peaks
I prefer low-cut trail shoes that are highly breathable and NOT gortex.  But I have major problems with finding shoes that fit my huge feet (they are so big I have to wear men’s shoes) and my bunions.

I love/hate both of these shoes.  The keens give me blisters on my pinky toes when I carry more than 5 L of water.  I got a stress fracture last summer while wearing the altras with microspikes, and while I thought my stress fracture had healed completely (hadn’t felt anything in 6 months), wearing the altras again started to aggravate the old stress fracture injury two weeks before I started this hike. 

On the Arizona Trail, I started with the keens but got annoyed with how hot they felt and with my pinky toe blisters.  So after 100 miles I picked up the altras and carried TWO pair of shoes, and alternated during the course of each day.  It felt ridiculous carrying two shoes, but this was the healthiest option because I’ve struggled so much with my feet.
Shoe frustration.
Carrying two shoes for a little while allowed my blisters to heal and my feet felt great in the altras, but I hoped that wearing them only part of the time would not put too much stress on my feet.  Unfortunately, my stress fracture site started feeling weird after a few days of wearing the Altras-  not painful, but I could feel it.  It was so frustrating because the altras feel awesome otherwise and give me no other problems, but I was not gonna mess with that stress fracture.  So for the last 100 miles I wore only the keens.  Since I was carrying less water and doing low miles, I had no foot problems.

For future hikes, I dream of finding trail shoes that give me neither blisters nor stress fractures, and that don’t hurt my bunions.  Is this too much to ask? If anyone has suggestions for me, please comment below...

That's it for the gear talk.  As I said, my hammock gear was reviewed in another post, this post is on everything else, and I talk more about my water system for the Arizona Trail here.  Let me know if you have any questions or comments!

Disclaimer: I am a Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador, and I got the Mariposa pack from them for free.  All other gear was purchased by me.


  1. Good article. Glad you emphasize sun protection. The problem with skin cancers is that they don't show up immediately. If they did, everyone would be covered up all the time like they should be and tanning salons would be nonexistent. Anyway, I have seen more skin cancers in my medical practice than I care to remember, all of which could have been prevented with sun protection. Ok, stepping off my soapbox. There, that's better :^) So, as I was saying good article. And for the record the sleeves in the men's RailRiders Adventure Shirt are also too short. I switched to their Madison River Shirt- heavier, but fits me better. Love the blog...

    1. Thanks for the feedback, SlowBro, and do continue to get on that soapbox when needed! Few hikers think about skin cancer.

      I'll check out other Railriders shirts and see if any of the others have longer sleeves.

  2. Melanzana Micro grid hoodie...oh yes!

    1. Yes--I'm so glad you introduced me to these hoodies! :) So soft, so warm, so fuzzy, and has held up surprisingly well given how much I wear it.

  3. Love the photo of you with both pairs of shoes, definitely a love/hate relationship! Had to wear my boots the other day for a snow hike and they made me so sad as compared to my Altra's so I feel you pain . . . I know how much you'd prefer to wear your Altra's.

    1. OMG doesn't it suck that not all shoes are comfy like the Altras! Maybe more shoes will be made with wide toeboxes and zero drop, and then we'll have more options.

      Thanks for understanding and being patient with me while I went through all the shoe frustrations. Drives me crazy because I spent so much time transitioning very very gradually. But at least I can conclude that there is just something about these shoes that fundamentally doesn't work for my feet in certain circumstances.

  4. Always love your gear entries! Thanks for all the techie info, it feeds my inner nerd :). Have you tried the Oboz Sawtooth shoe? I like the width of the Keen toe box too but they don't work for me on trail. The Oboz has a nice wide toe box, but my heel locks in great, and they have a stiffer sole than the Altras. I feel like I track quite neutrally from plant to push off when I am in them too. I adore them.

    1. Fabulous to get a recommendation for a shoe I haven't tried yet. I was beginning to give up hope. I'll check these out--much appreciated. Definitely looking for a wide toe box, and something stiffer than the altras. Thanks so very much!

  5. Have you tried out the Ahnu sugarpine hiking shoes? They ended up being my favorite shoe on the PCT. I always had heel pain with trail runners, but not with these.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion, Gwynneth! I'll check these out--I'm glad to see there are a few new shoes that I haven't tried out already. Appreciate the comment!