Long Term Reviews: Arizona Trail Gear 2019

Our backpacking backpack writer Mike Unger in the Grand Canyon on the Arizona Trail. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz.

Our backpacking backpack writer Mike Unger in the Grand Canyon on the Arizona Trail. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz.

Treeline Review staff thru hiked the Arizona trail

Here we share our long term gear evaluations

The Arizona National Scenic Trail (AZT) runs 800 miles from Mexico to Utah through the Santa Catalina Mountains, Mogollon Rim, San Francisco Peaks, and Grand Canyon. In April and May, Treeline Review staff thru hiked the entire trail with recommended gear from our review guides. We wanted to test the gear’s long-term durability with 6 weeks of daily use.

We saw rain, snow, and plenty of sun. Temperatures ranged from below freezing to over 90 degrees. Dust and wind was an almost daily occurrence. And the trail tread was rockier than just about any other trail we’ve hiked.

Our verdicts? See below.

If you’re looking for general backpacking or thru-hiking gear, check out our Best Backpacking Backpack guide, Best Backpacking Tents guide, and Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads stories.

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SHelter

Six Moon Designs Haven

Read why→

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Sleeping Pad

Sea to Summit Ultralight

Read why→

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GPS Watch

Garmin Instinct GPS Watch

Read why→

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Backpacking Pack

Katabatic Onni Liteskin 50L

Read why→


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Hiking Shoes

Altra Lone Peak 4.0

Read why→

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Hiking Socks

Darn Tough Quarter Hiker

Read why→

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Water Filter

Sawyer Squeeze Filter

Read why→

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Trekking poles

Black Diamond Trail Ergo

Read why→


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Satellite Messenger

Garmin inReach Mini

Read why→

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Wireless Headphones

Aftershokz Trekz Air

Read why→

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External Battery

Anker Powercore Redux

Read why→

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Iphone for Hiking

iPhone XR Smartphone

Read why→


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Hiking Pants

Patagonia Quandary Pants

Read why→

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Rain Jacket

Frog Toggs Rain Jacket

Read why→

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Sun Hat

OR Sun Runner Hat

Read why→

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Sun Shirt

Patagonia Sun Stretch

Read why→


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Puffy Jackets

Patagonia MicroPuff Jacket

Read why→

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Cooking Stove

Soto MicroRegulator

Read why→

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Cooking Pot

Evernew Titanium Pot

Read why→

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Sun Umbrella

Six Moon Designs Silver Shadow

Read why→

 

The Six Moon Designs Haven NetTent after a night of heavy rain on the Arizona Trail. Not a drop of water to be seen. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz.

The Six Moon Designs Haven NetTent after a night of heavy rain on the Arizona Trail. Not a drop of water to be seen. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz.

Shelter: Six Moon Designs Haven Tarp with Haven NetTent


The short story: we were extremely impressed with this tarp/inner net tent combo.


The long story:

This is a 2-person shelter that is actually big enough for 2 people (one of whom is a 6’1'“ male). The Haven Tarp is bigger than the inner net tent such that there is a big enough space between the two that you don’t have to worry about your feet hitting the end of the tent and getting wet. This feature alone made us a believer. We were so tired of 2-person tents where you had to constantly worry about hitting the end with your sleeping bag.


The Haven Tarp can be pitched alone when you’re not worried about bugs. The Haven NetTent can be pitched alone when you’re not worried about rain. The two can be pitched together, making a double wall tent so you don’t have to worry about condensation. It’s a win-win-win.


We used our trekking poles as tent poles and the Haven uses tips up design into small protective sleeves. We were skeptical of the tips up design at first, but now we’re converts. The biggest reason: you don’t have to worry about your tips sinking into the ground. With tips down, the tips often will slowly sink as more force is applied, requiring re-adjustment. This was an endless source of frustration with other tents.


The Haven is a cinch to set up, one of the easiest we’ve used. It’s very forgiving and easy to adjust if needed. The NetTent hangs from the tarp so that you can set up the tarp first. This is key if it's raining...set up the tarp first and keep the inner net dry. Or, if you know you want to use both the tarp and inner net together, you can leave the inner net attached to the tarp for a super fast and easy set up.


The Haven did extremely well in the wind. We had quite a few windy nights and it stayed taut and stable. Also, we never had wind in our faces as we slept.


We had one night of heavy rain on the Arizona Trail where it rained all night long. In the morning we woke to a bone dry interior. No small puddles, no leaks, no interior condensation. Beautiful.


The top peak of the Haven is slightly off center, putting the maximum headroom right where you need it when sitting up. We didn't fully appreciate how smart this is until we experienced it for ourselves.


We tested the Haven in the silnylon verison for the Arizona Trail. However, we liked this tarp so much that we’re going to buy the more expensive Dyneema Composite Fabric (aka DCF, previously known as cuben fiber) version when it's available and test that as well.


To stake the tarp we used the MSR Groundhog tent stakes and we didn’t regret that decision. The Arizona desert has extremely hard and rocky soil in places and we never hesitated to pound those stakes with full force.


If you’re looking for more information about backpacking tents, check out our Best Backpacking Tents guide.

 

Buy the Six Moon Designs Haven Tarp

 

The Katabatic Onni 50 L in Liteskin fabric. Photo courtesy Mike Unger.

The Katabatic Onni 50 L in Liteskin fabric. Photo courtesy Mike Unger.

Backpack: Katabatic Gear Onni 50L in Liteskin Fabric and Katabatic Gear Onni 65L in V40 Fabric


The Katabatic Onni 50L in Liteskin fabric is currently our Upgrade Pick in our Best Backpacking Backpacks story. The Liteskin fabric was much tougher than we were expecting. We had no punctures during our Arizona Trail hike, despite the prickly desert foliage (and we did not baby it). The pack shows no signs of wear on the bottom (or anywhere else). It was large enough to carry 5 liters of water and 5 days of food. And when the stars misaligned and we had to carry both 5 days of food and 5 liters of water, it carried the weight beautifully. The load lifter straps did exactly what they were supposed to do. The side pockets are big enough to carry 2 liters of water in each.


As for the V40 version , we have one word: bombproof. Not only did we not baby this pack, we beat the heck out of it. We sat on it, crammed it full of stuff, and went through horrendous bushwhacks. Including the Arizona Trail, this pack now has 2,600 miles on it with no discernible signs of wear anywhere. The outer mesh pocket has no holes, despite cramming it full of stuff every single day and going through desert bushwhacks. Like we said, bombproof.


Both packs have a ventilated framesheet, and both our testers agree that ventilation was fantastic. The back breathes really well and never felt hot or sticky. Katabatic hit the sweet spot on the shoulder strap and hip belt padding: not too much, not too little, but just right. We're also both fans of the magnetic top closure - so much better than Velcro.



For more on backpacking backpacks, check out our Best Backpacking Backpack guide.

 

Buy the Katabatic Onni Backpack in Liteskin

 

Sleeping System:

Therm-a-rest Z-Lite Pad

Therm-a-rest ProLite pad

Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Pad

Katabatic Gear Palisade Quilt


Mike has struggled with inflatable pads popping and was tired of waking up in the middle of the night on the cold hard ground. He was even more concerned that an inflatable pad would pop in the desert, what with the prickly desert cacti and all. So, he started out on the Arizona Trail with our Foam Pad Pick from our Best Sleeping Pads guide, the Therm-a-Rest ZLite Sol pad. Unfortunately, it wasn’t comfortable enough for him. So to add more comfort, part way through the hike, he bought an XS Therm-a-Rest ProLite (only 36” long) from Amazon (yes, they ship to General Delivery post office addresses now). He used this on top of the ZLite and the 36” length provided extra cushioning where he needed it – under the shoulders and hips. He slept like a baby after that. The total weight of his 2-pad system was 19 ounces with a total R-value of 5.0 (2.6 for the ZLite Sol plus 2.4 for the ProLite).


His two-pad system has other advantages besides great sleep. Using a foam pad underneath an inflatable pad drastically reduces the chances that your inflatable pad will pop (his ProLite never popped). Having a foam pad also gives you a sense of relief that you’ll still have something to use if your inflatable pops in the middle of the night. And finally, a full length foam pad is also great for breaks – much better than just a sit pad. You can completely sprawl and stretch out while gravity filters your water. I think he may be on to something with this 2-pad system.


I was excited to test a new sleeping pad for me – the Sea to Summit Women's Ultralight Insulated pad. The good: with an R-value of 3.8, it was definitely warm enough even on below-freezing nights. It was fairly easy to inflate and deflate, using a single valve for both. The fabric is quiet and didn’t bother me while turning over during the night. Thanks to the cellular design I never rolled off my pad.


The bad: I’m a side sleeper and my hip bottomed out which caused some pain during the night. I was disappointed by this. And it popped after only 7 nights on trail. I’m not exactly sure how this happened. It’s possible that the needle from my sewing kit nicked it in my pack. In any case, I was able to patch it and it was fine for the rest of the trip. If I could do it over, I would carry the Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Pad - 1/8" as a protective base layer and then use a light, short inflatable pad on top of the foam pad for comfort (perhaps something lighter than the ProLite). See the discussion above for the advantages of a 2-pad system.


For more on sleeping pads, check out our Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads story.


The Katabatic Gear Palisade 30 F sleeping quilt. Photo courtesy Mike Unger.

The Katabatic Gear Palisade 30 F sleeping quilt. Photo courtesy Mike Unger.

Both our Mike and I used our lightweight Katabatic Gear Palisade 30° F sleeping quilts on this hike. These aren't new for us - we've both had them since 2014 over thousands of miles. They still have great loft and have lost no down. We wash them at a laundromat according to manufacturer instructions after every long hike with Nikwax Down Wash. They have no cold spots. The Palisade is rated to 30° F but we've both had them down to 12° F in a freak storm. It was a long night, but we weren't shivering. In short, we are both huge fans of the Palisade. We'll have more details in our upcoming guide to sleeping quilts.


 

Buy the Sea to Summit women’s Ultralight Pad

Buy the Therm-a-rest zlite sol sleeping pad

Buy the Sea to Summit Ultralight Pad

Buy the Thermarest Prolite Sleeping Pad

buy the gossamer gear thinlight foam pad

Buy the Katabatic gear Palisade Quilt

 

After 800 miles on the Arizona Trail, the tips of the Black Diamond Trail Ergo cork hiking poles still look new. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz.

After 800 miles on the Arizona Trail, the tips of the Black Diamond Trail Ergo cork hiking poles still look new. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz.

Trekking Poles: Black Diamond Trail Ergo and Leki Jannu


Mike used the Black Diamond Trail Ergo on the Arizona Trail. Overall, he is very happy with them. He relies heavily on his poles and needs strong, sturdy hiking poles. The tips on the BD Erog seem very durable. After 800 miles of tough rocky terrain they still look good. He also reports that the angled cork grips are comfortable and easy to hold with wet or sweaty hands. He likes the foam grip extensions although there wasn’t enough technical snow to really test this feature. The flick locks performed well – the poles never collapsed under heavy weight and are easy to shorten when you get to town.


I used my Leki Jannu poles which I’ve had since 2014. These poles have thousands of miles on them. I did break one on the Appalachian Trail, but a Leki dealer replaced the broken section on the spot. They have a tendency to shorten with pressure, but this is easily solved by tightening the locking mechanism. The poles are light enough that my arms are not tired at the end of the day (and I use them all day long). The plastic grips can be too cold in the morning to hold without gloves on, so if your hands tend to be cold, you may want to look for a pole with cork grips.


For more information on hiking poles, check out our Best Hiking Poles story.


 

Buy the Black Diamond Trail Ergo

Buy the Leki Jannu

 

Compare the Altra Lone Peak 3.0 (left), Altra Lone Peak 3.5 (middle), and Altra Lone Peak 4.0 (right) after they’ve hiked the same miles, on the same trail, on the same days. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz.

Compare the Altra Lone Peak 3.0 (left), Altra Lone Peak 3.5 (middle), and Altra Lone Peak 4.0 (right) after they’ve hiked the same miles, on the same trail, on the same days. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz.

Hiking Shoes

Altra Lone Peak 3.5(men's and women's)

Altra Lone Peak 4.0(men's and women's)


Mike started the AZT with Altra Lone Peak 3.5s and I started with Altra Lone Peak 4.0s. We both suffered significant foot fatigue due to the extremely rocky terrain. Neither of us had experienced pain like this since our first thru hike. In fact, every hiker we met on the AZT complained of foot pain and fatigue, so I can’t blame the shoes entirely for this.


After 460 miles, the midsoles in both our shoes were like pancakes. We both had enough and got new shoes. Unfortunately the pain didn’t get any better with the new shoes. So, 100 miles later we both bought Columbia Enduro Soles out of desperation, which made a huge difference. The trail also got better (think soft pine needles rather than rocks and compacted soil).


The soles of the Altra Lone Peak 3.0 (top), Altra Lone Peak 3.5 (middle), and Altra Lone Peak 4.0 (bottom). Each has the same number of miles over the same period of time on the same trail. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz.

The soles of the Altra Lone Peak 3.0 (top), Altra Lone Peak 3.5 (middle), and Altra Lone Peak 4.0 (bottom). Each has the same number of miles over the same period of time on the same trail. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz.

But I was impressed with the tread on the 4.0s – even after 460 miles of tough terrain, there was still decent tread left. The soles were grippy and I felt stable on the rocky terrain. I had no stress points on the mesh uppers whatsoever. You might want to try before you buy - the 4.0s felt slightly smaller than the 3.5s and I had to size up a half size for my next pair.


The tread on Mike’s 3.5s did not hold up as well as the 4.0s. You can also see in the photo that the toe cap on his 3.5s was pulling away from the body of the shoe. I didn’t have that problem with the 4.0s.



For more on hiking shoes, check out our Best Hiking Shoes guide comparing the top 10 most popular pairs of hiking shoes .

 

Buy the Altra Lone Peak 4.0 - Men’s

Buy the Altra Lone Peak 4.0 - Women’s

 

The Garmin inReach Mini ready to start Tracking mode. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz.

The Garmin inReach Mini ready to start Tracking mode. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz.

Personal Locator Beacon and Satellite Messenger: Garmin InReach Mini


For the Arizona Trail, we carried the Garmin inReach Mini, our Overall Pick for in our Best Personal Locator Beacon and Emergency Satellite Device guide.


We previously used our Upgrade Pick from that guide, the Garmin inReach Explorer+ for thousands of miles of backpacking. However, we wanted to test the battery life of Garmin inReach Mini because it is about half the weight of the Explorer+. Our verdict: the Mini battery life is noticeably worse than the Explorer+.


Garmin reports a battery life of 90 versus 100 hours for the Mini and Explorer+, respectively, at 10-minute tracking with 100% clear view of sky. Our experience was not that good. Twice we had to charge the Mini in the field, whereas we've never had to do that with the Explorer+. Is the weight and size trade off worth it? I would still say yes - it is cheaper, lighter, and smaller. And we also carry a backup battery pack to keep all of our devices charged.


For more on Personal Locator Beacons and Two-Way Emergency Satellite Messengers, check out our guide comparing the six most popular models.


 

Buy the Garmin inReach Mini

 

The Garmin Instinct GPS watch can track data and stats on day hikes, workouts, and even long distance hikes…or so we are testing! Here the watch shows the climb out of the Grand Canyon. Photo courtesy Mike Unger.

The Garmin Instinct GPS watch can track data and stats on day hikes, workouts, and even long distance hikes…or so we are testing! Here the watch shows the climb out of the Grand Canyon. Photo courtesy Mike Unger.

Hiking Watch with GPS, Altimeter, Barometer, and Compass:

Garmin Instinct and Suunto Core


On the Arizona Trail, Mike wore the Garmin Instinct GPS watch, our top pick in our Best Altimeter, Barometer, and Compass (ABC) GPS Watch story. I wore Treeline's top pick for non-GPS Altimeter, Barometer, and Compass watch, the Suunto Core.


This was Mike's first big hike with the Garmin Instinct and overall he was impressed. The data that the watch produces is impressive and really interesting: heart rate, calories, mileage, min/max temperature, elevation gain/loss, speed, just to name a few. For more accurate temperature data he also carried the Garmin Tempe which was easy to set up and paired easily with the watch.


Since we were out for an extended period of time, Mike used the Instinct in Garmin's UltraTrac mode, which "is a GPS setting that records track points and sensor data less frequently. Enabling the UltraTrac feature increases battery life but decreases the quality of recorded activities." Mike found that UltraTrac mode did not provide accurate enough readings to make it worthwhile. He ended up not using the GPS mode at all for most of the hike. However, the Instinct peformed great using GPS mode when battery life was not a concern.


I wore my trusty Suunto Core, which already has thousands of miles on it. As usual, it performed great on this hike. I had to recalibrate the alititude daily, but it was usually fairly close. I carried a spare battery and I'm glad I did - the battery was getting low and I had to replace it in the field (which seems to happen on every hike). I love the elevation log feature - I keep track of daily elevation gain/loss (although some days I don't want to know!). I do wish the watch face was a little smaller; I find it a little annyoing on my wrist.



To read our comparison of the most popular four models of GPS watches, read our Guide to the Best Altimeter, Barometer, and Compass and GPS Watch Guide.

 

Buy the Garmin Instinct GPS Watch

Buy the Suunto Core Watch

 

We both give a big thumbs up to the Aftershokz Trekz Air headphones. They work by not covering your eardrums, meaning you can still hear that rattlesnake, car approaching, or your hiking partner calling for help. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz.

We both give a big thumbs up to the Aftershokz Trekz Air headphones. They work by not covering your eardrums, meaning you can still hear that rattlesnake, car approaching, or your hiking partner calling for help. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz.

Wireless Headphones: Aftershokz Trekz Air


Like many thru-hikers, Mike and I both like listening to music and podcasts while hiking road walks or to keep morale up in the late afternoon. We both carried a pair of Aftershokz Trekz Air, which is our Best Headphones for Situational Awareness in our Best Wireless Earbuds story.


The reason why we chose to more thoroughly test the Aftershokz Trekz Air on the Arizona Trail because that is a backpacking trip that really requires being situational aware. The trail is open to mountain bikes, so it’s important to be able to hear a bike coming in different directions. Wildlife like rattlesnakes and even mountain lions call the Arizona Trail home, so we want to be able to hear when other animals are nearby. The Aftershokz Trekz Air wireless headphones work without blocking your ear drums, so you can still hear other sounds that are happening around you.


Both Mike and I agree that the Trekz Air headphones are a keeper. We both wore them while sweating profusely (it was Arizona, after all) and in the rain (yes it rains in Arizona). The rain and sweat had no effect on them. The sound quality was shockingly good but I could still everything around me, even faint sounds like twigs snapping or footsteps behind me. In some ways I had to get used to this situational awareness feature because my brain was only used to hearing one set of sounds at a time. They are easy to control with buttons on the side and an easy way to skip to the next song. And they're discreet - other hikers probably weren't even aware that we had them on. You can stop and have a conversation without having to remove them.


The battery life is as advertised: around 6 hours. Now, we don't listen for 6 hours a day, but if you do, this could be a problem. We also wish they had a quick charge feature, like our ugrade pick in our Best Wireless Earbuds story, the Jaybird Tarah Pro (where 5 minutes of charging gives you 2 hours of playback time).


The good battery news is that re-charging them takes very little power. We carried a battery power bank, and keeping the Trekz Air fully charged barely had an effect on the power level.


Read our comparison of the 8 most popular wireless earbuds in our Best Wireless Earbuds story.

 

Aftershokz Trekz Air Wireless Earbuds

 

The iPhone has quickly become a useful gear item that most long distance hikers bring for taking photos, journaling, entertainment, and navigating on their adventures. Here it is shown with the Guthook AZT app. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz

The iPhone has quickly become a useful gear item that most long distance hikers bring for taking photos, journaling, entertainment, and navigating on their adventures. Here it is shown with the Guthook AZT app. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz

iPhone for Photos and Navigation: iPhone XR


I brought a brand new iPhone XR right before leaving for the Arizona Trail, the Overall Pick in our Best iPhone for Outdoorspeople story. And I have nothing but good things to say about it.


First, I paid $50 extra to upgrade the storage to 128 GB and I'm glad I did. I loaded it with all of the topo maps on Gaia for the AZT, all of the Guthook maps and photos for the AZT, podcasts, audio books, music, and my own personal photos. I didn't come close to filling it up. In fact, I'm only at 28% of capacity. (Note that loading all the maps for a hike is a huge advantage. WiFi is still pretty bad in many of the small towns along the trail and downloading maps with bad WiFi can be horribly frustrating.)


Second, the battery is a beast. It's a BEAST. On many of the sections between towns I never had to recharge it. Granted, I used it on airplane mode and turned the screen brightness all the way down, but I used it for navigation, as a camera, and to listen to books/podcasts/music. Occasionally I would check for cell service and download emails and news updates. Given all that, it lasted for up to 4 days. I'm still kind of astonished by this.


Third, Face ID is a huge improvement over fingerprint ID. It works if I'm wearing glasses, sunglasses, or a hat. It works in the dark. And it is so much more convenient than fingerprint ID, which often didn't work when my fingers swelled durng hiking.


The XR screen is big, bright, and gorgeous. Having used it for navigation, I now think that a big screen is worth the extra weight.


Finally, the camera takes excellent, high quality photos. My only regret it that portrait mode doesn't work if there is no human face in the photo. Mike has an iPhone X, and its portrait mode works with inanimate objects. I'm not sure why Apple made this change, but it's a bummer.



For more on what phone features you should look for if you’re using your phone for a camera and navigation, read our Best iPhone for Outdoorspeople story.

 

IPhone XR

 
 

Hikers take every opportunity to charge their phones and external battery packs.

External Battery Powerbank:

Anker PowerCore 10000 Redux


On the Arizona Trail we carried the Anker PowerCore 10000 Redux powerbank for daily charges on our:


iPhone XR (for photos and GPS navigation)

Garmin inReach Mini (two way satellite transmitter)

Garmin Instinct GPS Watch (for GPS navigation, compass, altimeter, and barometer)

Aftershokz Trekz Air wireless earbuds (for listening to music and podcasts)


After 800 miles here's what we found:

• It's extremely compact. Size matters when space in your pack is limited, and it's incredibly small for how much charge it holds.

• It has trickle charge capability. You can switch to a low power mode for charging Bluetooth devices without risk of overcharging.

• It has more than enough battery capacity. We never ran it all the way down, even after 5 days on trail and charging all of our devices shown above.

• It takes a long time to charge in town. This isn't a problem if you have a hotel room, but it can be an issue if you're going in and out of town on the same day with limited charging time.


 

Anker PowerCore 10000 Redux

 

This sock was used for roughly 400 miles on the Arizona Trail. There is one small spot that shows wear, underneath the ball of the foot. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz

This sock was used for roughly 400 miles on the Arizona Trail. There is one small spot that shows wear, underneath the ball of the foot. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz

Hiking Socks and Gaiters:

Darn Tough Socks and Dirty Girl Gaiters


800 miles, 2 pairs of socks.


On the Arizona Trail, Mike wore the Darn Tough Hiker Quarter (men's and women's) and I wore the Darn Tough Hiker Microcrew (men's and women's). And I can honestly say, after 800 miles neither only one sock shows a small wear spot. See the photo above. I'm impressed, especially considering how rocky and dusty the Arizona Trail is. There were very few opportunities to rinse the dust out of the socks because water sources were scarce and precious.


The Darn Tough socks breathe really well and dry keep my feet from getting too sweaty. At breaks I would take off my shoes and socks and the socks were always dry by the time it was time to start hiking again.


In addtion, Mike and I both wore Dirty Girl gaiters on the Arizona Trail to keep out tiny rocks and twigs. They also prolong the life of your socks by keeping dirt from the bottom of your socks. The only hard part is deciding on a pattern - they have so many fantastic options!


 

Buy Darn Tough Hiking Socks-Men’s

Buy Darn Tough Hiking Socks-Women’s

 

A detail we liked on the Patagonia Sun Stretch shirt - the sunglass wipe. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz

A detail we liked on the Patagonia Sun Stretch shirt - the sunglass wipe. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz

Hiking Clothing for the Arizona Trail

Hiking Pants: Patagonia Quandary Pants and Patagonia Fall River Comfort Stretch Pants


On the Arizona Trail, we both decided to wear pants. After a dark and cold winter in Washington state, we thought our legs wouldn't be up to the intense Arizona sun. Mike wore the Patagonia Quandary Pants:

• He likes that they dry quickly and didn't get sticky or clammy with sweat.

• The pockets are functional and secure

• He got one snag on a cactus but the hole never got any bigger.

• The internal adjustable waist band tie system wasn't sufficient. Part way through the hike he realized that he needed a belt. The adjustable waistband was too cumbersome to work properly.


I wore the Patagonia Fall River Comfort Stretch Pants. I had finally grown tired of the deficiencies in my Prana pants, so I thought I'd try something new. My Prana pants had a low waist which required constant frustrating readjustment under my hip belt, especially if I had to bend down to pick something up. Even though Patagonia sells these as fishing pants, with the Fall River pants, I found what I was looking for:

• Real pockets. Most women's pants do not have functional pockets. The Fall River pants have 2 on-seam deep side pockets and one secure pocket on the right thigh. The secure pocket is large enough to fit my iPhone XR.

• Stretch. The Fall River pants are made with 12% spandex which provides incredible freedom of movement.

• Comfortable waist band. The Fall River pants have a substantial elastic waistband with a drawstring cord. The waistband came high enough up my waist such that they didn't conflict with my pack hip belt. I had no chafing and they stayed secure all day long. I can't tell you how happy this made me.

• Quick dry, 50+ UPF fabric. They never stuck to my skin when sweaty.

• Loose and baggy. When you're in the desert, look to what desert dwellers wear - loose clothing. This allows for more airflow and a cooling effect.


The Fall River Pants have a few other nice details (it's all in the details):

• A pleat at the ankle kept me from tripping on my own pants (this actually happened with the Prana pants).

• DWR (durable water repellent) finish helps water slough off and speeds drying time.


Hiking Shirt: Patagonia Sun Stretch Shirt


We both wore the Patagonia Sun Stretch Shirt shirt on the Arizona Trail (and were a little too matchy-matchy for my liking!). Again, Patagonia sells this as a fishing shirt, but we found it was perfect for hiking in the desert:


• Long sleeves

• Quick dry, stretchy fabric

• UPF protection

• Relaxed fit

• Long hem in the back so it doesn't interfere with the hip belt.


A couple other nice features sold us on this shirt:

• Functional chest pockets, one of which is secured with a zipper (we kept sunglasses in one pocket and lemonade drink mixes in the other)

• Sunglass wipe panel on the inside front


 

Buy the Patagonia Quandary Pants (Men’s)

Buy the Patagonia Fall River Pants (Women’s)

Buy the Patagonia Sun STretch Shirt (Women’s)

Buy the Patagonia Sun Stretch Shirt (Men’s)

 

The Patagonia Houdini wind shirt really is like magic - seen here stuffed into its own pocket. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz

The Patagonia Houdini wind shirt really is like magic - seen here stuffed into its own pocket. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz

Rain Jackets and Rain Pants


We’re testing new gear items for an update of our Best Rain Jackets guide and an upcoming guide on the Best Rain Pants. For rain jackets, I carried the Frog Toggs jacket, a favorite budget pick for rain gear. Mike carried the lightweight Goretex three-layer Montbell Torrent Flier. For rain pants Mike brought the Montbell Versalite Pants and I used the Zpacks DCF Rain Kilt.


Even though it rained on us on the Arizona Trail, we hever actually put on our rain gear. Our umbrella was sufficient to keep us dry. However, I did use my rain kilt on one very cold morning to provide some warmth, which it did very well.


 

Windshirt / Wind Jacket


We think a windshirt is one of the most important layers a backpacker can carry. Both Mike and I carried the Patagonia Houdini Windshirt (men's) and (women's) on the Arizona Trail. It's hard to find any faults with this jacket:


• 3.4 ounces

• DWR finish

• Adjustable hood with a single pull

• Half elastic wrist cuffs keep the sleeves in place when you pull them up

• Chest pocket that doubles as a stuff sack

• Drawcord waist band to keep out the wind


This is one of our favorite pieces of gear!

 

Patagonia Houdini Women’s

Patagonia Houdini Men’s


We couldn’t resist taking a photo in the town of Patagonia, Arizona, wearing our Patagonia Micro Puff jacket. Photo courtesy Mike Unger

We couldn’t resist taking a photo in the town of Patagonia, Arizona, wearing our Patagonia Micro Puff jacket. Photo courtesy Mike Unger

Puffy Jackets and Cold Weather Clothing


For an upcoming Best Puffy Jackets story, I tested the Patagonia Micro Puff Insulated jacket and Mike tested the Montbell EX Light Down Anorak jacket. It was surprisingly cold on the AZT and we used these jackets more than we thought we would.


According to Patagonia, the Micro Puff jacket has the highest warmth to weight ratio of any jacket they've ever made. No doubt, it kept me incredibly warm. What I liked:

• Seamless shoulders allows for incredible freedom of movement

• Hand warmer pockets

• Interior pockets

• Long torso length meant it did not bunch up under my hip belt

• Quilted construction

• Synthetic fill meant I didn't have to worry about getting it wet


Mike was equally impressed with the Montbell EX Light Down Anorak jacket. It also has an incredible warmth to weight ratio and enough fill to keep him warm.


To supplement the warmth of these jackets, Mike used the Melanzana Micro Grid Beanie and I carried the Montbell Chameece Cap with ear warmers. I found that the Chameese cap tended to pop off during the night as I slept.


Mike kept his beanie in place on really cold nights with a Buff over the top of the beanie. He needed the head protection because he sleeps in a quilt and doesn't have much hair to keep his head warm. Bonus: the Buff can double as sun and neck protection.


 

Patagonia Micropuff Jacket -Men’s

Patagonia Micropuff Jacket- Women’s


Mike wearing his Sunday Afternoons Wahoo Cap on the Arizona Trail. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz

Mike wearing his Sunday Afternoons Wahoo Cap on the Arizona Trail. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz

Sunhat and Other Sun Protection for Hiking


When hiking across Arizona, we knew that sun protection would be especially important. We’re testing two sunhats for our upcoming Best Sun Protection Gear guide.


Mike started out using a simple running baseball cap with a bandana underneath for sun protection. He quickly realized the problems with this set up and switched to the Sunday Afternoons Wahoo Cap. The Wahoo cap is much better for sun protection because it was hard for him to get good coverage of neck and sides of face with the bandana. He spent a lot of time adjusting the bandana but still got random sun burn spots. In high sun exposure area, the Wahoo cap, despite the awkward looks, is necessary. The Wahoo cap also has a strap under the chin which is very helpful in windy environments, such as hiking down Grand Canyon where the wind is dusty and can easily pull your hat/bandana off with a single wind gust.


Mike's one criticsm of the Wahoo Cap is that it looks a little dorky. Luckily, I told him, we're not out there hiking to be fashion models!


I wore the Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap. This convertible hat can be worn as a ballcap with an attachable sun skirt that goes around the outside to protect the neck and side of your face. I really like that I can wear it as a baseball cap in town without the sun skirt - it's really like 2 hats in 1. My only criticism is that it's not the best looking hat. Luckily, Mike told me, we're not hiking to be fashion models!


To protect my hands from the desert sun, I wore the Outdoor Research Activeice Chroma Sun Gloves. They also protect the palms of my hands from getting blisters from my hiking poles. In fact, I wore through the palms completely on one hand. For me, sun gloves are essential in the desert and these did not disappoint.


 

Outdoor Research Sun Runner Hat

Sunday Afternoons Wahoo Cap

 

Naomi using a sun umbrella on a road walk on the Arizona Trail. Photo courtesy Mke Unger

Naomi using a sun umbrella on a road walk on the Arizona Trail. Photo courtesy Mke Unger

Sun Umbrellas: Gossamer Gear Liteflex Hiking Umbrella and

Six Moon Designs Silver Shadow Carbon Ultralight Umbrella


My sun umbrella has become my favorite piece of desert hiking gear. I struggle in the heat, and keeping the sun off of me makes a world of difference. When I'm using the umbrella, I can also take off my hat which means I stay even cooler. We met several local Arizona hiking guides who had never seen a mylar chrome umbrella and were ready to buy one after talking with us. I also managed to attach my umbrella to my pack for a hands free experience. When it rained, I used it as a regular umbrella and didn't have to use my rain jacket. Like I said, my favorite piece of desert hiking gear.


We like the Gossamer Gear Liteflex Hiking Umbrella, which comes in extended widths for extra protection and claims to reduce temperatures by 15 degrees. We also like the Six Moon Designs Silver Shadow Carbon Ultralight Umbrella, which is lighter in weight and slightly more expensive.


 

Gossamer Gear LiteFlex Umbrella

Six Moon Designs Silver Shadow Umbrella

 

A creative way to use gravity to filter water when there are no trees around. Photo courtesy Mike Unger

A creative way to use gravity to filter water when there are no trees around. Photo courtesy Mike Unger

Water Filter and Water Storage: Sawyer Squeeze and Cnoc Outdoors Vecto 2L Water Containers


Mike and I each carried a Sawyer Squeeze, the Overall Pick in our Best Water Filter guide. On the Arizona Trail we used it exclusively as a gravity system by connecting two Cnoc Outdoors Vecto 2L Water Containers (one for dirty water and the other for clean water) with a Sawyer coupler. We hung the entire set up using Nite Ize gear ties (12” length) to attach it to just about about anything: a tree branch, hiking poles, or a fence post.


We couldn't have been happier with this set up.


First of all, gravity did all the work. No squeezing water from one container to another. We could relax and have a snack while our water filtered.


Second, even as the filter slowed down because of the dirty AZT water, we hardly noticed. It just took a little longer to filter but required no extra effort from us.


The Cnoc Outdoors Vecto 2L Water Containers are incredibly easy to fill thanks to the large opening on the end. No scooping and filling required.


 

Sawyer Squeeze Filter

Cnoc Vecto 2L Water container

 

Soto Microregulator stove on the Arizona Trail. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz

Soto Microregulator stove on the Arizona Trail. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz

Backpacking Stove: Soto Micro Regulator


On the Arizona Trail, Mike and I used the Soto Micro Regulator stove, which is an earlier version of the Soto WindMaster, our Upgrade Pick in our Best Backpacking Stoves story.


The Soto Micro Regulator stove is lightweight, efficient, and more windproof than any of the backpacking stoves we considered. It’s becoming harder to find as Soto promotes the WindMaster. We used it every day on the trail, sometimes multiple times a day, for coffee and dinner. Boil time is extremely fast and peforms well in the wind. It's a workhorse of a stove and highly recommended.


We compared the 11 most popular backpacking stoves in our Best Backpacking Stoves. Check it out for more information about backpacking stoves.




Soto MicroRegulator Backpacking Stove

 

You can see here that the lid no longer fits the Evernew Titanium pot. The pot is slightly warped, likely from shoving it in my pack. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz

You can see here that the lid no longer fits the Evernew Titanium pot. The pot is slightly warped, likely from shoving it in my pack. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz

Cook Pot


For the Arizona Trail, we used the Evernew Titanium UL Pot that is our runner up in our Best Cookpot Guide. We liked the insulated handles - both on the pot and on the lid. And it was large enough to cook 2 boxes of mac & cheese at once


However, the pot has warped over time, most likely a result of cramming it into my pack and/or stuffing it with the stove and fuel canister. This means that the lid no longer fits perfectly and needs finesse to get it just right. Like most ultralight gear, this pot needs to be babied and I failed it.



To learn more about cooking pots for backpacking, check out our Best Cookpot Guide.

 

Evernew Titanium Cook Pot

 

The Wander Woman Gear waterproof wipe attached to a pack. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz

The Wander Woman Gear waterproof wipe attached to a pack. Photo courtesy Naomi Hudetz

First Aid and Potty Trowel


Here's a brief summary of our favorite first aid items:


• The Wander Woman Gear Waterproof Wipe is an amazing Leave No Trace solution for women on the trail. I love the retractable leash, which makes the whole process so much faster and easier! Who has time to take their pack off?

TheTentLab The Deuce #2 UL Backcountry Trowel is a keeper. It was tough enough for the rock hard Arizona soil but is featherweight.

Trail Toes Anti-Friction Cream saved Mike from chafing and both of us from blisters. It also kept my feet from drying out - something I wasn't expecting but happens in the desert. I can't recommend this highly enough.

Leukotape sports tape does wonders for hot spots, and it stays in place for dayyyyyssss.