In case any of you are interested in what I was carrying with me by the end of the trip, here's a list of the contents of my pack with 5 months of active revision.
Pack: Osprey Exos 46*
Bag: R.E.I. 20º (Cold weather)/ L.L. Bean down liner ≈50º(Summer)
Pad: Thermarest Prolite Mattress
Shelter: Hennessy Ultralight Backpacker (warm weather only)
Stove: Homemade soda can alcohol stove*, windscreen & base
Fuel Bottle: MSR 20oz. fuel bottle
Pot (well, cookpot): MSR Alpine Stowaway 1.1L*
Utensils: Snowpeak Titanium spork, GSI pot scraper*, Guyot Squishy Bowl* (Bowl only)
Knife: Cheap no-name 2" folding blade
Toiletries: Swiss Tech fingernail clippers/multi-use tool, contact case, airplane bottle contact solution, toothbrush, travel-sized toothpaste, travel-sized Goldbond, Dr. Bronner's Eucalyptus 2oz liquid soap, eyeglasses and case
Stuffsacks: Granite Gear #6 16L Airbag*, R.E.I. 2L, 3L & 7L stuff sacks
Raingear: Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil pack cover, Sierra Designs Microlight Pants (cold weather only), Sierra Designs Hurricane HP rain coat
Shortsleeve Shirts: Sierra Designs Topo T, Sierra Designs Spectrum T-Lite
Longsleeve Shirt: Patagonia poly/wool quarter zip lightweight T
Pants: REI Sahara Convertible Pants (pantlegs only in cold weather)
Shorts: Asics Core Microfiber Short
Socks: Darn Tough Vermont Microcrew cushion coolmax *, Darn Tough Vermont 1/4 Sock Merino Wool*
Shoes: Solamon XA Pro 3D Ultra breathable*, Superfeet insoles
Headwear: Insect Shield Buff, Columbia Chunky Earflap hat(cold weather only)*
Jacket: super-heavy windstop fleece(cold weather only)*
Gloves: fleece running gloves(cold weather only)*
Thermal Bottoms: Smartwool NTS Midweight bottom(cold weather only)
Underwear: ExOfficio Give-N-Go Boxer Briefs
Guidebook: ALDHA Thru-Hikers' Companion
Writing Materials: Moleskine Large Ruled Notebook, Moleskine Pocket Address Book, letter sized paper, stamped envelopes, Pilot G2 pen
Electronics: iPhone 3GS with charger and headphones, Sony Cybershot DSC-S2100 camera with 8GB memory card and Energizer Ultimate Lithium Batteries
Electronics Cases: SealLine E-Case - small for iPhone, Case Logic Compact Camera Case
Sunglasses: Maui Jim Makaha and case
Water: 2x 1Qt. Gatorade bottles*, Katadyn Micropur MP1 Water Purification Tablets*
Misc: Bic lighter, RYOT KryptoKit tobacco pouch*, Scott TP, Ziploc Double Zipper Smart Zip - Qt & Gallon, heavy duty trash bag as pack liner, Sea to Summit Pack Towel
Dry/Base weight (without food or water):13-16 pounds
Average weight (2 days food, 10oz fuel, 1L water): 20 pounds
Max. Weight (4 days food, 2L water, 20oz fuel): 34 pounds
Weights exclude 1 shirt, 1 pair socks, shoes and running shorts.
*Indicates something that I didn't start with.
And now for some explanations:
-I started with an Osprey Crescent 90, 90Liter pack. This was enourmous so I downsized and never needed any more space. The only complaint I have about the Exos 46 is the fact that it carries weight over 30 pounds very poorly. But, then again, it's not designed to, so I just had to change my resupply to be more frequent.
-The hammock wasn't warm enough once it got below 40º, so I slept exclusively in shelters for the last 500 miles of the trail. Besides that, it was amazing. I highly suggest that anybody who's planning on camping to get one. Advantages: at 1 pound 15oz, it's lighter and smaller than almost any other form of shelter; at $136 it's cheaper than anything else out there; I slept better in the hammock than I do in a bed; There are a number of times where I awoke in a thunderstorm bone-dry, whereas were I on the ground I would have been drenched; set-up and take-down take <5 minutes each.
-The soda can stove (Wiki) was amazing. I started with a MSR Whisperlite, a great stove for more than 1 person, but it weighs in at 1 pound - the soda can weighs 1 oz. You do the math. Disadvantages: difficult to use <30º or >4,000' and in high wind. Advantages: did I mention it only weighs 1oz? and it's fast to set up, use and clean up; the size is pretty great, too - I could fit my spork, bowl, stove, pot scraper, wind screen and lighter all in my 1 L pot with room to spare. Denatured alcohol is easier to find for it than coleman fuel (white gas). Definitely give it a shot if you're the DIY backpacker type.
-The potscraper was the best piece of equipment I bought on the trail. It will revolutionize your mess kit.
-I could have used a much smaller knife and simpler fingernail clippers, I'm sure. The only thing you need a knife for is opening plastic packaging and cutting cheese. Seriously, leave the bear knife at home. And bear mace for that matter, the stuff is ridiculous.
-If you need corrective lenses to see well enough to hike, get Lasik. Contacts are impossible to keep clean and glasses are annoying on a sweaty face and fog up in even the slightest drizzle.
-Gold Bond is amazing.
-I started with a 13L Sea to Summit Dry Sack. It was great, but I realized I didn't need that much protection for my food.
-Darn Tough Vermont make the best socks I've ever worn. And they're unconditionally guaranteed for a lifetime.
-I switched to lighter trail shoes after 441 miles and never looked back. Wearing 1 pound on your feet is the energy-consumption equivalent of carrying 3 on your back. Not only this but the greater the cushioning, the More impact imparted to your joints; this adds up over 2,200 miles. The low-top also reduces the likelihood of ankle/foot injury. By reducing the 'support', you actually strengthen the muscles in your ankles, feet and legs; and in so doing create stronger joints that are more resistant to damage through a rolled ankle or misstep.
-Unless you'll be hiking somewhere exceptionally cold and completely dry, don't get GoreTex shoes. They're so hot that your feet sweat, negating the purpose. And they don't actually keep water out. AND once water is in, the GoreTex actually prevents it from escaping. If you're hiking somewhere super-wet and cold, look into full-leather. Otherwise, the more breathable, the better. My feet actually stayed dryer in my mesh shoes in a heavy rain than they did in my GoreTex boots or shoes.
-If I had to get another guidebook, I'd get AWOL's. Elevation profile, more accurate information and better layout.
-ExOfficio underwear is the shit. I might switch to them for every day life, too. Absolutely no complaints.
-Make certain you use Lithium batteries in your camera. I used the same pair of AAs from Rutland Vermont to Tennessee. 700 photos and lots of viewings.
-I mentioned the type of Ziploc because I've now tried them all, and these are by far the best. The worst are the ones with the sliding zipper.
-I started with a 1L Nalgene, a 3L Camelback and a 1L Platypus. The Nalgene went back early on. Followed by the Platypus, then the Camelback. I found that I almost never needed to carry more than 1L of water at any given time. I would 'camel up'(drink my fill, usually 1/2-1L) where I stopped and then walk out with 1L. Then I'd repeat it as soon as I got to the next good water source.
-I stopped treating my water in Vermont. I then only treated it twice for the remaining 1,700 miles of the hike. Several studies I have read indicate that people who treat their water are actually more likely to contract some sort of gastrointestinal illness on a long-distance hike. The reasons for this are: 1) people who treat their water are much less selective about where they draw it from, therefore increasing the likelihood of utilizing a contaminated source. 2) The chance of incomplete treatment or cross-contamination are high with all forms of treatment. 3) One's body may build a natural tolerance/immunity to some waterborne diseases. I must stress, though, that this is something you need to take full responsibility for and be prepared. I hiked with the medication for Giardia, should I ever contract it. Never did, though.
-Before we ditched the water filter, we used a Sawyer gravity feed filter and were incredibly pleased with its function. The fact that it's a lifetime replacement on the filter is totally sweet.
The biggest pieces of advice I received on the trail:
1) If you don't use it in 10 days, you don't need it - get rid of it
2) There is absolutely nothing you can do to keep your stuff dry. Get over it. Rain gear is not designed to keep you dry, it exists to keep you warm. I went for 6 weeks without wearing my raincoat once, during which time it rained several times. It's like a free shower. Everything in your pack that needs to stay dry should be in: a drybag, ziploc and/or in the heavy duty contractor trash bag that's lining your pack. Oh yeah, you don't need a pack cover; they don't really do much.
That should be about enough for right now. Food soon!