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Long-term gear reviews: Product insights after a 100-day Appalachian Trail thru-hike

Intro by Skurka. After his recent 100-day thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, Garrett contacted me with some gear reviews, some about products I have written about previously. I thought his insights were valuable, due to his extensive use and to his unbiased viewpoint, and asked his permission to share them. If you have questions for Garrett, leave a comment.


Review: The North Face HyperAir jacket with Gore-Tex Active

The new Gore-Tex Active with the “permanent beading surface” is easily the most breathable waterproof/breathable fabric that I have used. It was so breathable that I often left it on after the rain stopped. I actually preferred to use it as a thermal layer instead of my fleece. It is 100 percent waterproof and is incapable of wetting out.

The new Gore-Tex Active fabric features a "permanently beading" surface. It does not use a DWR finish, which is the Achilles heel of conventional waterproof/breathable fabrics.

The new Gore-Tex Active fabric features a “permanently beading” surface. It does not use a DWR finish, which is the Achilles heel of conventional waterproof/breathable fabrics.

That being said, if it’s already uncomfortably hot and humid, this jacket will not make things better. It’s very breathable, but it’s no miracle.

The North Face HyperAir GTX Rain Jacket uses a terrible zipper and has no pit zips. The fabric is not breathable enough to replace pit zips. The fabric is durable but has a rubbery feeling that makes it more likely to catch and snag. My jacket looks brand new and has no visible wear after the 100 days on the trail. At 5 ounces, it’s a fully functional rain jacket that feels like a wind shirt.

The North Face HyperAir Rain Jacket, with the new Gore-Tex Active fabric

The North Face HyperAir Rain Jacket, with the new Gore-Tex Active fabric


Long-sleeve polo shirt

I started with a $17 dollar polyester long sleeve polo that I found on Amazon. Its price and weight (at 6 oz) made it more attractive than the Sierra Designs Long-Sleeve Pack Polo. The shirt pilled from hip-belt rubbing after 500 miles.

In Damascus I bought another generic polyester polo shirt from a grocery store. It worked very well for the last 1600 miles and shows almost no wear. Cheap alternatives to the SD polo seem well worth it when you have to compare price. 


Review: MSR FlyLite Tent

The MSR FlyLite Tent is worth a look:

  • 1 lbs 9 oz, including 9 stakes and the rear pole
  • 29 square foot footprint
  • Intergrated floor and bug protection
  • Vertical sidewalls that make it a viable 2-person tent, or a palace for one
The MSR Flylite 2, a single-wall palace for one person

The MSR Flylite 2, a single-wall palace for one person

The wispy 20-denier floor feels like it’s going to tear right out of the box. But the floor never once got damaged in 100 days of use. The silicone and polyurethane fabric coatings must increase durability dramatically.

The tent has issues in the wind if it’s pitched in the wrong direction. And it needs to be pitched perfectly to prevent water from pooling on the canopy when it rains.

The FlyLite has room for two sleeping pads, but it’s tight and a bit short length-wise. With its vertical walls, it feels much roomier than other tents with 32 square feet of floor space.

The FlyLite has room for two sleeping pads, but it’s tight and a bit short length-wise. With its vertical walls, it feels much roomier than other tents with 32 square feet of floor space.


Stakes

The 6-inch MSR Mini Ground Hog Stakes worked just as well in the firm dirt along the Appalachian Trail as 7-inch aluminum Y-stakes. And they weigh less.

The 6-inch MSR Mini Ground Hog Stakes are adequate for the AT's firm soils. And they save weight over normal 7-inch Y-stakes.

The 6-inch MSR Mini Ground Hog Stakes are adequate for the AT’s firm soils. And they save weight over normal 7-inch Y-stakes.


Review: Cascade Mountain Tech trekking poles

My original trekking poles, an inexpensive carbon fiber knockoff pair, broke in just about every way possible by Harpers Ferry, around the halfway point. I bought the Cascade Mountain Tech Quick Lock Trekking Poles and they worked much better, although they did break at the bottom.

I replaced the bottom piece with aluminum shafts from a different pole, and that worked out really well. CMT carbon is not nearly as strong as, say, the carbon shafts on the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Poles.


Review: ZPacks Arc Backpack

If you are mindful about how you use a ZPacks Arc Blast Backpack, it will work very well. Outside of a few minor ascetic issues, my 60L pack looks new. 

After 100 days on the trail, the bottom of my ZPacks Arc Blast looks new, besides the small pine sap stain.

After 100 days on the trail, the bottom of my ZPacks Arc Blast looks new, besides the small pine sap stain.

This backpack was commonly used on the AT. Other owners reported that the carbon fiber frame would break. But if you listened to their explanation of the cause, however, the issue was often user-error.

The ripped mesh in the back panel was my fault. There is rubbing damage behind the hipbelt from wear, but the damage did not affect performance.

The ripped mesh in the back panel was my fault. There is rubbing damage behind the hipbelt from wear, but the damage did not affect performance.


Review: Nike Terra Kiger 3

I went through three pairs of Nike Terra Kiger 3 trail running shoes. On average, each lasted about 750 miles. 

The upper proved very durable for the AT. Small toe-guard separation did occur, but was insignificant.

The upper proved very durable for the AT. Small toe-guard separation did occur, but was insignificant.

The upper is very breathable — when a rain drop falls on my toe box it feels like I’m barefoot.

The sole is covered in sticky rubber, except for one small dime-sized section on the heel. All three of my pairs ripped where there wasn’t rubber and it caused major deconstruction of the heel.

I do not recommend them for any terrain outside of manicured trails due to durability issues. Beyond this matter, the performance of the shoes is excellent.

The black rubber around the perimeter is very durable, and the colored rubber is more sticky. The flaw is the strip of foam between the rubber compounds -- the shoe would fall apart here first.

The black rubber around the perimeter is very durable, and the colored rubber is more sticky. The flaw is the strip of foam between the rubber compounds — the shoe would fall apart here first.

Questions for Garrett? Leave a comment?


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6 Responses to Long-term gear reviews: Product insights after a 100-day Appalachian Trail thru-hike

  1. Shawn K. October 3, 2016 at 10:03 pm #

    Garrett, I have a Zpacks Arc Haul-Zip pack, so I’m interested in the durability issues you attributed to user error. What sorts of things were people doing that damaged their packs?

    • Garrett October 4, 2016 at 1:35 am #

      The main fault I saw was people bending or arcing the frame too much. The backpack is also ultra lite due to less durable fabrics. Therefore, avoiding abrasion against rocks,trees and the ground is key to keeping the pack in good shape. You simply cannot treat the zpacks packs like other commercial packs.

    • FlaDave October 23, 2016 at 6:23 am #

      Also, Garrett’s Arc Blast is made from Cuben Fiber, the Arc Haul is made from slightly more durable Dyneema.

      Cheers

  2. Shawn K. October 4, 2016 at 7:34 am #

    I can see that. I opted for a little heavier fabric on my pack as I knew that heavy water loads were going to happen. Still, jerking it around by a shoulder strap would be a bad idea. I guess the over-arcers were of the mind that if a little arc is good, a lot of arc must be better. For bottom protection, a piece of Tyvek can be strapped in place, or a sit pad.

    • Matt Swider December 15, 2016 at 6:07 pm #

      My experience with the arc is this. Set the arc with the pack empty (as instructed). Load the pack, and the arc mostly disappears. So empty the pack, reset the arc with a vengeance, and maybe the frame breaks. I used my arc blast with no arc and was just fine with it. Ultimately I opted to trade for an arc haul, which is a more durable. I sat on only a couple of rocks on my 10 day hike and put a very small hole in the bottom of the pack. Like Garrett said, treat it very nicely, and no issues. But don’t rub the pack on anything.

  3. Josh Spice October 4, 2016 at 3:11 pm #

    Thanks for all this Garrett and Andrew.
    The jacket – is this permanent beading surface new with Active? I don’t remember that being advertised when it originally came out. I’d like to try a different brand’s version of this jacket, probably with pit zips and one that fits me better than the typical TNF boxy short arm cut. Thanks!

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