AZT Post-Hike Gear Review

Going into the AZT thru-hike I managed to get all of my gear together beforehand, obviously, and a lot of it worked out really well. Some things didn’t quite work. And I changed up a few minor things along the way (if you want to see more details about my gear prep read this post AZT -4: Gear Prep).

I’ve assembled an official AZT gear list of all the items I carried – it only includes the gear that I finished with, not stuff I ditched or only had for a short time. Also I recently discovered lighterpack.com for keeping track of gear lists and have to say it’s really amazing and convenient.

So how did the gear work out? Let me tell you…


The AZT-specific items I added:

Reflective umbrella. I’m very happy I had this at the beginning as my pale PNW skin got accustomed to the constant sun. I realized I didn’t have much sunscreen at the start and so this was my sun protection. Without it I would have been burnt to a crisp. The umbrella provided much needed shelter from the rain in a few storms also. I loved having it hiking up the Grand Canyon in the afternoon. Hiking out of Superior I was glad I had it on a particularly blazing day. That said, I found that I only used it a handful of times – and it weighs 8 oz which is heavy, so good riddance. Once I felt that I had gotten used to the sun and there wasn’t any rain in the forecast – in Oracle – I sent it home. Overall: I’m glad I had it, but also glad I ditched it. Would I carry it again? If I was getting used to a harsh sunny environment or there is rain in the forecast – yes.

Tiny black light. I definitely used this to illuminate a scorpion and it was very cool! I never did use it for safety reasons personally, just entertainment, because my tent fully zipped up and scorpions could never crawl in. I did give one to Oklahoma, whose tent zipper was broken and he couldn’t zip up, and he was very happy to have it. Overall: very happy I brought these! One weighs 0.25 oz, which is well worth the entertainment and safety. Would I bring again? In AZ – yes!

– Panty hose prefilter. I carried this to filter algae goop out of the water prior to filtering. I think I used it once. Mostly it made filtering painfully slow. But at the same time it weighs less than 0.1 oz, hardly breaking the back. Overall: I barely noticed I had it, and mostly forgot that I did. Would I bring again? Maybe if I could find a more loosely woven pantyhose piece that would filter faster.

– Backup Aquamira. I never had to use my backup water treatment, and for that I am grateful. The Sawyer squeeze was great and fast, I never froze my filter, so I didn’t have to use the backup. Overall: a great safety net to have. Would I carry again? Definitely.

– Extra water bottles/bladders. I carried enough bottles and bladders for an 8L capacity, which is a ton. Specifically I could carry 4L dirty and 4L clean. I never carried more than 6L at a time, but I did at different points carry either 4L dirty or 4L clean, so I definitely made use of these bottles/bladders. At a few points I thought about ditching one of the 64oz capacity “dirty” bladders, but since each weighed only 1 oz each, I decided to keep both for safety. Overall: glad I had all the water containers. Would I carry again? On a trail where water sources are sparse or unknown, yes.

Garmin InReach Mini. I tracked my progress every 30 minutes while on-trail, every 4-hours at night, and every 10 minutes to 4 hours while in town depending on the situation. I was able to send messages to Jared when I didn’t have cell service. And I had the peace of mind that if I got into trouble, I could push the SOS button and help would be on the way. However, the downside was that this little guy sucked way more battery than expected/advertised – but I have a suspicion that I have a faulty beacon because I have literally tried everything to increase battery life. Overall: very happy that I brought this! I should have carried a backup battery from the start or exchanged it for a new one to save the hassle of figuring out battery power on the trail. Would I carry again? Yes, definitely. Especially if hiking solo. And even if not solo, the map tracking feature is really fun, too.

Pepper spray mace keychain. While I never used it, I’m very happy I had it. It gave me such peace of mind, especially on “Day 0” when I caught the sketchiest-hitch-ever with the biggest-creep-ever. I had it on hand whenever I hitched, whenever I encountered unknown hikers or strangers on the trail, and when sleeping nowhere near any other hikers. In fact, after hearing a story from Phantom about her encounter with sleezy hunters, I decided to up the ante and carry a full-on 11 oz can of bear spray. Heavy, but worth the weight for the peace of mind and safety. Overall: I’m very happy I had both the mace and the bear spray. Would I carry again: hell yeah!


Gear I added to my pack while hiking the AZT

Bear spray. (see above paragraph)

– A sit pad. I cut up a foam sleeping pad for a sit pad. The sit pad weighed 1.1 oz – which is hardly anything – and protected my butt against the cold ground while I ate dinner or sat near ants or scorpions. It cushioned my knees while I kneeled to rummage in my tent. Overall: happy about my new piece of gear! Carry again: yes, definitely!

Anker backup battery. Once my phone battery and Garmin InReach batteries began to run super low, and my solar charger failed to get enough juice (it only works when in solid sunlight, shade from a single tree will turn it on and off) I had to get something more powerful and more consistent. Jared so wonderfully ordered this battery for me and had it sent to Tusayan. It weighs just over 8 oz and costs just over $35 – reasonably priced with a good weight to power ratio. It provided enough power to charge my phone multiple times in addition to charging the InReach several times – plus my headlamp, although that didn’t need a ton of charging. I used it conservatively but found that I never used it up and always had plenty of power left whenever I got to town. Heads up: it needs around 8 hours to fully charge, so plan ahead. Overall: I loved it. Carry again: most definitely.

– Water scooper. After watching fellow hikers use a scooper, I made one for myself. It seems to be an essential tool for 9 out of 10 water sources. Unless it’s a rushing stream, a scooper is needed to fill a small-mouth water bag. I cut the bottom off a gatorade bottle and would use it to scoop water into the Sawyer water bags prior to filtering. Very, very useful. I could have changed my entire setup and used a bladder/pouch that could more easily be filled in a small pond or puddle, but I never had a problem with the Sawyer bags so kept them and picked up the scooper. Overall: essential and great. Carry again: yes!

– Vertigo pills. Well after getting a silly and frustrating bout of vertigo, I carried an anti-nausea and anti-motion sickness medication. After a few days I had no more need for the pills, but continued to carry them just in case. Overall: a good safety precaution. Carry again: probably not. Fingers crossed I’m past the vertigo…

– Advil PM. I had trouble sleeping several to many nights and picked Advil PM up to help me get more sound sleep. The ever-shortening days meant less daylight and with that came more dark hours spent in the tent, which I think meant more restless sleep. Plus the uncomfortable ground and less-than-stellar pillow led to interrupted sleep, too. Sometimes anxiety would keep me up as well. Given the conditions, I would sometimes take a single Advil PM to help with sleep. (Btw the active ingredient is the same ingredient in Benadryl.) Overall: helpful! I don’t think I’d take such sleeping meds in “real life” but found that on the trail it was useful. Take again? if I anticipated uneasy or restless sleep, probably yeah.

– Sharpie. I picked up a black sharpie on my way to the trail. I used it for writing on bottles of cached water that had my name written on them, cached by trail angels. Once I had my fill of the water and there was some left to share, I would write “Public” on the gallon – typical AZT protocol. Overall: I used it a few times. Take again? Only if I’m in a cached-water situation.


Gear ditched from my pack

Solar charger. The solar charger just didn’t work as fast as needed or as consistently as needed. I found it to be useful on the PCT. The rechargable by the sun part is cool. It just doesn’t work as well as I’d like it to. I sent this home in Tusayan. Overall: glad I ditched it. Carry again? I doubt it.

Collapsible Sea-to-Summit mug. I brought this as a “luxury item” thinking it would be luxurious to drink coffee while my breakfast rehydrated or hot chocolate while my dinner rehydrated. But then I decided to stick to the ol’ ziplock bag rehydration of meals (in a freezer bag) and realized I could just drink my coffee or hot chocolate straight outta the pot. Goodbye 2.7 oz. I sent this home in Flagstaff. Overall: glad I ditched it. Carry again? On a shorter backpacking trip, yes. On a longer thru-hike, nah.

Sports bra, pair of underwear, stuff sack, etc. While shaking down my gear in Flagstaff I got serious about ditching those extra non-imperative things. I was totally fine cutting a bra and pair of underwear – the single sports bra and 2 pairs of underwear were all I really needed. I also ditched an extra stuff sack which I can’t even remember what I used for anyway… Then I shaved few more grams from other places – e.g., I cut off the corners of my bandana, trimmed down my sit pad, and cut out some tags and labels, etc. Overall: happy to trim the excess grams.


Gear I changed on the hike

Sleeping pad. Unfortunately my sleeping pad was changed out of necessity. My Thermarest NeoAir XLite popped the night before I hit the trail while I slept on a gravel pad in an RV park. I picked up a thin foam pad (Thermarest Ridgerest) at the outfitter in Kenab, UT, thinking I’d try to make do, but if I hated it I would pick up another Neo-Air in Flagstaff. Well I immediately hated it and picked up an inflatable pad as soon as I could find one – which turned out to be the Thermarest Trekker which was at the store at the south rim of the Grand Canyon. I cut off a chunk of the Ridgerest for a sit-pad then gave the rest of the pad to another backpacker in Mather Campground. The Trekker is a bit heavier than the Neo-Air and has a slightly lower R value, but I was happy to have 2.5 inches of mattress under me once again. In Flagstaff I trimmed down the pad to be a little shorter than my body length in order to shave off some ounces (bringing the pad down to 13.1 oz instead of 1 lb+). While still a few ounces heavier than I would have liked, the Trekker held up really well. I believe it’s also a made of slightly tougher material than the Neo-Air, was reassuring when setting up camp near cacti, on rocks, or atop pinecones. Overall: I’m happy with the trekker. I think Thermarest will repair my NeoAir if I’m unable, which will mean a backup sleeping pad. And it was a few $ less than the NeoAir too. Carry again? If I can get the NeoAir fixed, I’ll carry it (it’s lighter and longer), but in the meantime, the Trekker is a good option.

Pillow. While ordering a new headlamp from LiteSmith (because I thought the one I had was broken but later realized I was mistaken), I also ordered a super cheap $2.60, super lightweight 1 oz inflatable pillow. I ditched my old “heavy” airplane pillow (like the kind they sometimes give you on the plane) which weight at least a few ounces more while in Tucson and subbed for this uber ultralight one. While happy enough considering the weight and price, I kinda missed my old lump of cotton. Overall: happy I switched to something lighter, but it’s not the perfect pillow for me as a side sleeper. I’ll continue to search for the perfect camp pillow. Carry again? Yes, until I find a better inflatable pillow.

Normal socks swapped for toe socks. I started using normal hiking Darn Tough socks which led to annoying and neverending blisters on my toes. I was finally able to track down Injinji toe sock liners at SummitHut in Tucson. I would put a thin hiking sock over top the liner, and voila, instant blister protection (the socks rub each other and reduce toe to toe friction). These socks were more comfortable than I imagined, and it meant I didn’t have to tape my toes in order to prevent blisters (not only was it time consuming to apply, but the tape would inevitably slip and slide off). Overall: very happy with my new toe-sock-liner + thin wool sock combo. Wear again? Yes, definitely. Especially on long (multi-day) trips to avoid those blisters.

Shoes after 500 miles. Train runners typically last 500 miles, give or take. More if you don’t mind wearing a shoe that’s breaking down. The upper material can get holes and tears, the outsole will wear out and the tread will disappear, and the internal structure will break down – sometimes leading to shin splints or plantar fasciitis. I decided not to risk it, and after 500 ish miles I swapped my Altra Lone Peak 3.0’s for Altra Lone Peak 3.5’s. I went with the 3.5’s because they were on sale (the 4.0’s are out now) and I couldn’t find the 3.0’s in my size. I found that the 3.0’s were slightly bigger and fit a little better, but the 3.5’s were fine enough and my feet were happy. I really wanted the Hoka Speedgoats to work for me, but they didn’t feel that great on my feet – hence sticking with the Altras. Overall: Altra Lone Peaks are good shoes that fit my feet. Wear again? Yes! I’m quite happy with these shoes.

Baseball hat. In Tucson I tried to swap out my baseball cap for a sun hat, thinking that the neck protection would be better. I quickly discovered that the neck coverage also meant less air flow and I quickly overheated. I picked up a new baseball cap at the Mt Lemmon gift shop and was happy. Overall: I learned the lesson of if the hat aint broke, don’t fix it. I really wanted the sun hat to work for me, but ultimately I ended up sticking with an old, trusty, tried and true baseball hat for the remainder of the hike. Wear again? Definitely! I have another sun hat at home that I’d like to try (it doesn’t have a neck flap) but we’ll see how it goes…

Backflushing Method – from Sawyer plunger to cleaning coupling. I didn’t even know that the cleaning coupling existed until I found on in the hiker box in Flagstaff at Melody and Tim’s. What a game changer! The plunger is big and bulk and single use. The cleaning coupling is light, compact, and can be used while filtering and while cleaning. Overall: great! love it! Carry again? Definitely.

Gloves. I lost my thin fleece gloves as I was hiking into Flagstaff. When in town I picked up new gloves at REI – splurging on the fancy and relatively expensive Salomon Fast Wing Winter Glove. These gloves are great – they have a windproof flap that goes over the gloved fingers, turning it into a mitten. At last, temperature regulation in gloves. Overall: very happy with these gloves! Wear again? Absolutely.

Nyofume pack liner. While ordering other things from LiteSmith, I thought I’d try this cheap ($2.50) and lightweight (<1 oz) pack liner. I was using a trash compactor bag, but not everything could fit inside, just the most important stuff. I wanted a bag I could fit everything in my pack inside. Luckily, it wasn’t rainy after swapping out my pack liner in Tucson, so I never had to use it, but I look forward to trying it in the future. Overall: happy with the bag. Carry again? most definitely.

Pee Pot. (WARNING: You’re about to read an overshare. If you don’t want to know about pee, skip to the next paragraph). So I hate – often refuse – to leave my tent in the middle of the night to pee especially if I’m solo. But the problem is, I usually have to pee every night at least once. Especially after drinking a big ol’ mug of hot chocolate. I’ve heard of men carrying gatorade bottles or women peeing in ziplock bags (extreme ultralight!) to avoid confronting the cold, dark unknown at night. I refuse to pee in a ziplock bag (just think of the possible puncture danger!). Instead I was carrying a ziplock twist loc container with screw-top lid which I would just set out in my tent vestibule at night. Upon recommendation, I switched to the Uribag (I think the name says it all: the latest in geriatric/thru-hiker technology!) which is much more compact and even more spill-proof than the Ziploc container. Bonus: they make a male and female version so you too (no matter your gender) can have a compact and leak-free pee pot. Overall: quite happy with it! Carry again: of course!


Gear I’d like to change in the future

Tent. I carried the Big Agnes Fly Creek 2-person tent. (I did not carry my new hammock – it just did not work without trees!) This tent is the 2014 model and weighs nearly 3 pounds, which is “heavy” for a thru-hiking tent. At the same time, it’s a good tent and I haven’t yet been able to justify spending another $200-$550 on another tent. Yet. The Fly Creek has held up really well over thousands of miles, it’s spacious, and the muted green color means it’s easy to blend into the forest incognito style. If I do end up changing up my solo tent in the future, I would go for a fully enclosed tent (not a tarp). These are my top picks for a solo fully enclosed tent:

  • Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape + Serenity Net Tent. The combo would weigh 21 oz and also double as my raingear. Six Moon Designs gear is reasonably priced and the tarp/poncho plus net tent costs $208 (currently on sale)! A steal! And it can be set up as just the mesh or just the tarp. Well made gear from a family run business. Downside: the two pieces might be complex to set up? But not a bad option.
  • Z-packs Plexamid Tent. This fully enclosed single wall tent weighs a mere 14.8 oz! Unbelievable. However, it costs $549, which is not cheap. And it’s made of Dyneema Composites (formerly known as Cuben Fiber) which is extremely light but not very durable or abrasion resistant – which means that a tent like this is designed to only last about the length of a thru-hike. A spendy option from a good cottage manufacturer but just think of the weight savings…
  • Gossamer Gear The One. This single wall fully enclosed tent weighs in at 21.6 oz for $239 (currently on sale). About the same weight as the Six Moon Designs tarp+nettent and not much more expensive, also from a good cottage gear company.

Tent stakes. I carry the 6.5 inch ultralight titanium shepherds hook stakes. They’re very light, but are starting to bend. They are a bit flimsy in hard ground. A better option – and something I’ll likely switch to in the future – are the MSR Groundhog tent stakes. They weigh about same, around 0.3 oz each, but the MSR stakes are much stronger.

Trekking poles. I’m currently carrying a Black Diamond flick-lock style trekking pole (similar to these) that I picked up on sale on steepandcheap.com in 2013. They are my least favorite color – purple (I find it maddening that “jewel tones” are the only color options for women. Don’t even get me started…). But more importantly the poles are wearing out. I realized too late that the tips are replaceable…and now one is just a nub of plastic which I put a cap over. So they need replacing eventually. I don’t need a “women’s specific” trekking pole, but I suppose I’d like a lightweight pole designed for short people with adjustable height, flick-lock preferable. Black diamond makes an Alpine Carbon Cork Women’s trekking pole (cork allegedly feels better in the hand) for the steep price of $170. But Montem Life makes these ultralight carbon poles for only $80. Perhaps my next trekking purchase.

Sleep top. I carried and wore the Patagonia Capilene 4 (no longer made) which is a very warm baselayer and weighs 7.25 oz. If I had planned better I could have swapped it out for a lighter not-quite-as-warm shirt during the warmer AZT stretches. In the future I probably will carry and sleep in my Icebreaker 200 baselayer top which weighs 4.7 oz.


It’s not a completely exhaustive review of my gear, just exhausting 🙂 If anyone has any other gear-specific questions, feel free to leave a comment below.

As always, see my Instagram pics

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AZT Post-Hike Thoughts: Climate and Weather

Well, I just so happened to hike the AZT during the wettest October on record! Normally it’s quite dry, but not this season. So as you might imagine, that meant more rain and moisture than usual! Most days were dry, but there were a few rainy days, thunderstorms, and snow events. When I started my hike at the end of September, there was one fire closure I had to contend with (which is probably a much more typical occurrence during a “normal” dry rain year). Once I got south of the Grand Canyon, Hurricane Rita hit – which meant several days of rain and thunderstorms. In my first 30 days on trail, there were 7 or more rain events and 2 snow events. After that, I don’t think I encountered any more rain for the latter 22 days. The 2 “snowstorms” hit at night – the first time there was ~1″ of snow on my tent at 8346 ft and north of Flagstaff, the second time there was 3-4″ of snow on my tent at 7664 ft and south of Mormon Lake.

Temperatures along the trail were generally warm during the day and cool at night, and also very sunshine dependent – your average desert environment. My hike spanned late September through mid-November. Lows at night across the entire trail generally ranged from mid-20’s at night to 50’s at night, and averaged in the 40’s probably. There were a few cooler nights north of the Mogollon Rim (for me around Flagstaff and Mormon Lake) and later in the season (early-mid November) in the mountains (south of Tucson for me). Warmer nights were typical of lower elevations – e.g., in the bottom of the Grand Canyon and the section around the Gila River. Days ranged from 60’s to 80’s for the most part. The warmest temps that I experienced were in the bottom of the Grand Canyon, around Roosevelt Lake, and around the Gila River.

What went well for me with gear and decision making regarding weather: 1) Having rain gear was essential. I had a rain jacket and water resistant (not fully waterproof) rain pants. 2) My silver umbrella was useful both during rain and in the sun (especially when I was out of sunscreen). 3) It was great to have a pair of hiking pants as an additional layer during the snowy days south of Mormon Lake. 4) My 20 degree Feathered Friends bag (in conjunction with my thin down jacket and other warm layers like a Patagonia capilene 4 top, very warm wool socks, hat and gloves) was warm and cozy for 51 out of 52 nights. 5) On very cold nights I made sure to have a handwarmer to put in the bottom of my sleeping bag for warmth. 6) On very cold nights, drinking something warm, eating chocolate, and “battening down the hatches” on my tent (decreasing wind gap between tent and fly) helped keep me warm.

What I would have done different for gear and decision making regarding weather: 1) After ditching my hiking pants in Superior, I kind of wished I had them on a few occasions, but was mostly fine without them. 2) I wish I had been more alert to low and cold camp spots – I wasn’t always hyper vigilant about avoiding such cold spots and as a result was very cold one or two times. 3) I wished I had some handwarmers with me on cold nights in southern Arizona.

 

The Best Camp Coffee: A Taste Test

A good cup o’ joe on the trail is hard to come by. Especially if you’re going lightweight or ultralight. No fancy backcountry french presses or aeropressed coffees here. We’re talking good old instant coffee grounds. Fast, easy, and lightweight.

We assembled a savvy crack squad of Seattle-based coffee taste testers to blindly assess the aroma, flavor, and overall drinkability of 6 major instant camp coffees: Cafe Bustelo Instant EspressoFolgers, Mount Hagen, Nescafe Tasters Choice, Starbucks Via – Columbia, and Starbucks Via – Pike Place Roast. We confirmed some assumptions but also uncovered other unexpected results. Our findings may surprise you…

The assessment also includes a cost-analysis in order to determine if this camp coffee is a “Bang-for-your-Buck”. The Bang-for-your-Buck (or BPB) is determined by dividing the Walmart, Target, or Amazon cost per packet (in cents) by the drinkability score. An average BPB would be around 1, a good BPB above 1, and a bad BPB below 1.

In order of worst to best, here are the findings and rankings of 5 major camp coffees (rated x out of 100).

6. Folgers Classic Roast Instant Coffee Crystals – 41.25/100

Coming in last place, with a score of 41.25/100 is Folgers.

Aroma notes include: hot chocolate, dish water, burnt, “smells like Folgers”, none, coffee, coffee/nutty, and weak/burnt.

Flavor notes include: gross but finished sweet, bitter, medium roast, slight coffee & almost non-existent, tastes like gas station coffee but that’s still coffee, and burnt/dirt/dry.

Drinkability comments include: nope, is this more than water?, balanced and weak, and good smell…yeah, no. Drinkability scores ranged from 20 to 60 with an average of 41.25

Cost analysis: Folgers costs $1.09 for 7 packets, or $0.16 per packet. Bang for your buck? Folgers BPB rating: 2.58.

5. Starbucks Via Instant Medium Roast Coffee: Columbia – 45/100

Coming in second to last place, with a score of 45/100 is Starbucks Via Columbia.

Aroma notes include: pee, sour smoke, dark roast, bacon, burnt dark, bacon food, smoke, and bitter.

Flavor notes include: burnt, dark, bitter, dark & robust, bitter/watery/sweet, bacon, kitty-litter, and bitter.

Drinkability comments include: gross, bacon, pretty good/would drink, strong & flavorful, and lacks taste. Drinkability scores ranged from 20 to 80 with an average of 45.

Cost analysis: Starbucks Columbian Roast is listed for $6.29 for 8 packets, or $0.79 per packet. Bang for your buck? Starbucks Columbian Roast BPB rating: 0.57.

4. Starbucks Via Instant Medium Roast: Pike Place Roast – 50/100

In the middle of the pack, with a score of 50/100 is Starbucks Via Pike Place Roast.

Aroma notes include: also pee, sweet/round/nutty, burnt, yo dis via, coffee, caramel-y but bad, and nutty.

Flavor notes include: sharp taste, bitter, neutral & slightly bitter, nutty & smokey, burnt, bitter/a bit sour, and burnt.

Drinkability comments include: bland, balanced weird flavor, good, basic, and no thanks. Drinkability scores ranged from 20 to 80 with an average of 50.

Cost analysis: Starbucks Pike Place Roast is listed for $6.29 for 8 packets, or $0.79 per packet. Bang for your buck? Starbucks Pike Place Roast BPB rating: 0.63.

3. Nescafe Tasters Choice House Blend – 52.5/100

Second best, with a score of 52.5/100 is Nescafe Tasters Choice House Blend.

Aroma notes include: burnt/chocolate, chocolatey with fruity notes, fruity & nutty, light/nutty/cocoa, mild/bland/non-existent, good/real coffee, bitter, and acid/bitter.

Flavor notes include: bitter but finishes ok, weak coffee/flat water, bland/not too bitter/mild, smokey & chocolatey, watery, dry tree bark, and weak.

Drinkability comments include: not bad it would be better with milk, probably the most that tastes like coffee, not bad would add more grounds for a full flavored cup, not good, and harsh. Drinkability scores ranged from 20 to 100 with an average of 52.5.

Cost analysis: Nescafe Tasters Choice is listed for $1.09 for 6 packets, or $0.18 per packet. Bang for your buck? Nescafe Tasters Choice BPB rating: 2.92.

2. Cafe Bustelo Instant Espresso – 65.6/100

Second best, with a score of 65.6/100 is Nescafe Tasters Choice House Blend.

Aroma notes include: roasty, nutty, smells like coffee, slightly sweet and roasty.

Flavor notes include: good, especially nice finish, mild, pleasing coffee, not bitter.

Drinkability comments include: Tasty! Good. Drinkability scores ranged from 60 to 70.

Cost analysis: Cafe Bustelo is listed for $7.99 for 6 packets, or $1.33 per packet. Bang for your buck? Cafe Bustelo BPB rating: 0.49.

The winner!

1. Mount Hagen Organic Fairtrade Instant Coffee – 75/100

Clobbering the other coffees and coming in first, delicious place with a lead exceeding 25%, with a score of 75/100 is Mount Hagen.

Aroma notes include: pleasing chocolate, it’s fine, sweet caramel, good coffee, smokey & cocoa, medium/nutty, vanilla/nutty, and weak coffee.

Flavor notes include: decent & smooth, smooth, smooth, sweet chocolate, not very bitter/mild/roasty, weak, light & fruity, and smooth.

Drinkability comments include: best so far, good!/best, basic but ok for camping, and I would drink this. Drinkability scores ranged from 30 to 95 with an average of 75.

Cost analysis: Mount Hagen costs $13.48 for 25 packets, or $0.54 per packet. Bang for your buck? Mount Hagen BPB rating: 1.39.

Bang-for-your-Buck Rankings:

Worst to Best. The bigger the number, the better Bang-for-your-Buck

0.49 – Cafe Bustelo
0.57 – Starbucks Via Columbian Roast
0.63 – Starbucks Via Pike Place Roast
1.39 – Mount Hagen Organic
2.58 – Folgers
2.92 – Nescafe Tasters Choice

So, which coffee should you buy?

If cost is no issue, buy Mount Hagen. Duh. It’s tasty.

If cost is the most important factor, buy Nescafe Tasters Choice. It has a decent flavor and is a good deal.

Update: If your conscience is important (or the earth or children or women, etc) then don’t buy Nestle/Nescafe Tasters Choice. Pollution with my coffee just doesn’t taste all that good…

The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Music…an AZT Brain Jukebox

Have you ever been hiking and had some random song pop into your head for no reason whatsoever? Then had that song stuck in your head for hours or even days? Now imagine that 50 times over and you’ll get close to what my headspace was like on my 50+ day long Arizona Trail thru-hike.

Random songs popped into my head while walking across Arizona. Some songs were good, some bad, and some ugly. I turned that list of songs into a playlist and – without shame or remorse – here it is:

GOOGLE PLAY PLAYLIST

If you don’t have Google Play, here is a listing of the songs:

  1. Golden Brown, The Stranglers
  2. Blackbird (Remastered), The Beatles
  3. Here Comes the Sun (Remastered, The Beatles
  4. Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, Burl Ives
  5. I Believe, Blessid Union of Souls
  6. Peaceful Easy Feeling (2013 Remaster), Eagles
  7. Mercedes Benz, Janis Joplin
  8. Purple Pills, D12
  9. Sunshine on My Shoulders, John Denver
  10. The Sign (Remastered), Ace of Base
  11. The Man Comes Around, Johnny Cash
  12. The Gambler, Kenny Rogers
  13. Take It Easy, Eagles
  14. You Spin Me Round (Like A Record), Dead or Alive
  15. Once In A Lifetime, Talking Heads
  16. Shake It Out, Florence + The Machine
  17. Islands In The Stream, Dolly Parton
  18. Forever Young, Rod Stewart
  19. Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard, Paul Simon
  20. Hallelujah, Jeff Buckley
  21. Pretty Fly (For A White Guy), The Offspring
  22. I Wanna Be Sedated (Remastered Version), Ramones
  23. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (Remastered Version), The Beatles
  24. Mama Said, The Shirelles
  25. This Kiss, Faith Hill
  26. Love Story, Taylor Swift
  27. Baby Got Back, Sir Mix-A-Lot
  28. School’s Out, Alice Cooper
  29. Shoop, Salt-N-Pepa
  30. Danger Zone, Kenny Loggins
  31. Take A Chance On Me, ABBA

AZT Post-Hike Thoughts: General Impressions

I’ve been off the trail for nearly a week! Yet somehow it feels like much longer! I have at last finished unpacking, washing all my gear and water bottles and sleeping pad. I backflushed and stored my filter. I washed my down bag and my pack. I’m settling into normal life once again.

I’m glad I hiked the AZT! Arizona is a beautiful state with nice people. A varied landscape with a varied climate. I met nice folks to hike with along the way, too. I enjoyed the scenery as well as pushing my body and my comfort zone. The trail is just under 800 miles, which feels like a good distance. It’s not quite my longest hike (Jared and I hiked 1,100 miles of southern PCT in 2014) but it is my longest complete though-hike.

The climate was definitely varied: sun, rain, wind, snow, highs in the 80’s, lows in the 20’s. Some folks that I encountered went into the hike expecting a warm desert thru-hike and were ill-prepared for cold and rain (I will say, it was definitely colder and wetter than usual). The elevation of the AZT is generally pretty high – ranging from ~1700 ft at it’s lowest to 9000+ ft at it’s highest which is kind of wild if you think about it. I’ll post more detailed climate/weather feedback soon.

The terrain was about as expected: easier in the north, more challenging in the south. Some portions are a little harder than the PCT but some are easier, so I would say that in my experience, the overall difficulty is probably on par with the PCT. Again, I’ll post a more detailed review of the trail and terrain in the near future.

Water sources were abundant! An atypical year for sure though. Wayy more water than usual was flowing. My longest carry was probably 25 miles and up to 5-6L. Keep your eyes peeled for a more detailed water review soon.

People were generally pretty great. I hiked with lots of other great section and thru-hikers: Marie and George, Mary and Dan, David, Tarek and Andrea, and Oklahoma. There are awesome trail angels out there – like Melody and Tim in Flagstaff. And of course the Kofrons in Tucson were more than accommodating and helpful! There’s unfortunately the occasional bad apple – like the gross creep I hitched a ride with in Hurricane Utah or the ornery hiker I encountered south of Patagonia. I’ll go into more detail in another post.

My resupply was pretty successful, albeit with a few hiccups. Trail towns were as I expected – some had good food, some had shitty food, but generally there weren’t many surprises. More thorough breakdown in a future post.

My gear worked pretty well! There were a few things that failed, a few things I loved, and a few things I would change in the future, but overall it was a success. I’ll break it down in a more detailed post soon.

Trail towns were a mixed bag. Some towns were awesome (like Patagonia), some decent (like Superior), and some pretty lame (like Roosevelt Lake). I’ll go into more depth in a future blurb, coming soon.

Navigation was easy! The Guthook AZT app was superb.

My fitness level was pretty good! I may change up a few things for a future hike, but overall I felt I was well prepared.

I do have to say, SOBO is the way to go! I am very happy I chose to hike the trail southbound. When folks thru-hike the trail in Spring, they NOBO, but in the Fall everyone SOBOs. It was nice to “ease” into the trail by hiking on relatively flat and easy terrain in northern AZ. By the time I hit most of the mountains in southern AZ I was in great shape and my feet were ready to handle the hardship. The flat sections in northern AZ – with the exception of the Grand Canyon – are relatively boring, too. Things start to get interesting between Mormon Lake and Pine. It was nice to be rewarded with good views at the end of the hike. Some of the best and expansive views are from the Huachucas in the southern-most 50 miles. Also, my favorite trail town was Patagonia – so it was nice to “save the best for last”.

All-in-all, a great experience! I’m happy I did it.

Home After Hiking the AZT. And Donations

Monday, November 19
Camp elevation: At home in my bed

(PS if you’re following my blog and haven’t read the AZT summary posts on my Patreon page, see them HERE. It a more quick, easy, digestible synopsis of my trail experience.)

I finished the trail a mere 3 days ago, but the AZT already feels very far, far away. I spent almost 2 months crossing the state of Arizona on foot. Then a 3-hour flight on the 17th whisked me the 1,500 miles through the air to Seattle. Now I’m at home on lil’ old Vashon Island.

I commemorated my return home with good Seattle pizza and beer (at last – pizza! Good pizza evaded me in too many trail towns). And I’ve have already eaten nearly a dozen fresh eggs and have consumed way too much good coffee.

The climate here is relatively humid and cold. Water, cedar trees, dense forest, soil and indoor living have replaced the dry, sandy, cactus, agave, outside life.

Trail time is a bit like a time-warp. Time passes slowly yet quickly. In the blink of an eye I’m back home and yet it almost feels like no time has passed.

I’m trying to stay active post-trail. I wont exactly be hiking 20 miles a day, but I plan to walk, run, and lift weights to keep active. Once my back is feeling better that is. My dang lower back is all messed up from one silly day of fast hiking. Argh. My level of fitness definitely increased while I was on the trail – I lost a few inches around my waist but stayed the same weight, gaining muscle and losing some fat. I don’t think I’ll keep up my trail fitness level, but am aiming to do my best. After all, gotta keep up those endorphins from crashing down too quickly.

The biggest visible reminder of my time on the AZT is my tan line! There’s a sharp line from my socks, shorts, and t-shirt. Like a farmer’s tan but – I like to think -better.

The vertigo is and has been gone for a while. Nearly forgotten. The last little spells of dizziness happened south of the town of Pine, and I’ve been feeling fine ever since. Thank goodness.

I have already applied to the AZTA for my post-trail completion award. Upon finishing most long-distance trails, you can typically send away for a patch. Not on the AZT. No, on the Arizona Trail, you get a belt buckle. A belt buckle! Can’t wait.

Thanksgiving is quickly approaching and I’m looking forward to the food (every hikers dream! In fact, my favorite trail meal is “Thanksgiving-On-The-Trail”, aka. “T-day”) and the friends. I’m excited for the friends and festivities. It’s great to be at home with Jared. And with semi-roommates and friends Michelle and Nate. And Pork Pie and Loki, the best cats ever. Loki tried to pretend to snub me upon my return, but gave up pretty quickly. Both cats have been their cuddly, meowy, ridiculous selves.

My plan was to make a donation to the AZTA after getting enough Patreon supporters. I didn’t get quite enough to meet my quota for a 10% donation, and obvi not quite enough for a 100% donation, but regardless I decided to give 50% of the Patreon support to a few different organizations. 25% has been donated to the AZTA for trail maintenance (actually toward the replacement of a janky, rickety cattle gate with a new, sleek AZT gate). Another 25% has been donated to No Mas Muertes, the group that seeks to end the deaths of undocumented immigrants crossing the desert regions near the United States-Mexico border.

The AZT has been a good adventure, but I’m glad to be home. Holiday season feels like a good time to get home and cozy. I plan to keep the blog posts coming. And hopefully the adventures, too. Thanks for reading about my AZT hike!

AZT Day 52: Mexico, The End, So Long Arizona Trail

Friday, November 16
Miles: 11.7 + 1.8 bonus miles
Starting/ending: 778.0/788.7
Camp elevation: A bed in Tucson

It’s my last day on trail. I wake up at 5:15 to the sound of David and Oklahoma talking and packing. Again, it’s warmer than expected and I’m grateful for it. Coffee, ramen, and pack for the last time. I get on trail at 6:30 after David and before Oklahoma.

There are beautiful views in all directions from this Huachuca ridge. Sobo is the way to go. I’m happy to save these lovely views for last. I’m slow this morning. My back is still nagging me. I walk along the ridge. Some ups and downs. Sunlight eventually. More ups. Up to Bathtub Spring and I fill up with 2L. It’s cold in the shade. Up. Past a section hiker, a guy originally from Vermont.

Up to the high point around 9000 feet, just below Miller Peak, where I find David having just summited. Down we go. David accepts a trail name – Ice Man! Because he froze his water filter once, maybe twice, and he killed his stove along the way. We go at a slow to average pace. Oklahoma catches up and passes us. David takes a bathroom break. A helicopter buzzes by. I chuckle because they’re probably catching Ice Man digging a cathole.

My back feels better on the downhill. I speed up. The sun is warm. Morning is in full swing. My snacks are light. Ice Man catches up, then we catch up to Oklahoma at Montezuma Pass at 10:30 where there is a parking lot, bathrooms, and picnic tables. We’ll tag the monument from here, then return for our ride at 2. But we’re ahead of schedule so we relax, snack, and soak up the sun. I stash my pack and assemble a bindle to bring to the monument – embracing the full hobo style. Damien – an Australian thru-biker shows up. Not permitted to ride to the monument, he’ll walk, too.

We all take off together after 11, chatting and hiking quickly. It’s 1.8 miles down to the monument. At last! We’re there. It’s somewhat anticlimactic. We take pictures, eat celebratory sponch (a Mexican snack cake), cross the border “fence” for better lighting and pictures from the Mexican side. We did it! AZT success!

Then we turn around and hike back up the 1.8 mile hill to Montezuma Pass. Another thru-hiker, Cruise, passes us along the way. We plan to squeeze Damien and Cruise into our 2pm shuttle if room allows. Back to the pass, an hour to kill. Relax. I eat a Snickers. Clouds make the air chilly. At 2, Ken, our shuttle driver, shows up up. There’s room for 1 more, but not for a bike, so Cruise piles in along with Oklahoma, Ice Man, and me, while Damien pedals off.

Into the SUV and away we go! Cruise is a talker. The pavement whizzes by. A Walmart stop. Oklahoma fails to find the Rubbermaid bin which he seeks, but I pick up snacks – Gatorade, pineapple, twix, peanut m&m’s, and Taki’s. We stop by a hotel and I bid farewell to Cruise, Ice Man, and Oklahoma. Onward to Oro Valley for me. To Ann and Kris’ at 5:15! Inside I catch up with Ann, have a beer. Kris gets home and we chat before dinner – chicken soup and cheese crisps. I celebrate my victory with a Pueblo Vida beer. An email from my mom says congratulations and Charlie says mission accomplished Shower. Laundry. We watch the news then hit the hay at 9pm. A real bed indoors! I talk to Jared.

I’m no longer a dirty thru-hiker, but have already been transformed into a semi-clean real person. 52 days on the trail. AZT complete! As Charlie said, mission accomplished. Sleep.