Hi Mike,

I am 63 and retired. I have done multiple bicycle tours up to 600 miles around Lake Ontario. Now this boy in and old man’s body wants to hike the Appalachian Trail in the spring of 2016, at 64. Your articles on light backpacking have been valuable in making smart equipment choices. I can use some of my bike gear but the MSR Hubba Hubba tent and MSR WhisperLite stove have to go. I have some questions for you about gear.

I workout six days a week to stay in shape with spin classes and weight classes and plan on five- and 10-mile hikes at local state parks here in NY this summer.

I’m getting used to packing my small Osprey Atmos, and waiting for more gear to arrive.

What is your opinion of alcohol stoves vs. Jetboil?
What is your opinion of Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1 vs. Tarptent Pro?
I tried the L.L. Bean Microlite FS1 (no room to move).
Last, do you have a video on packing?

Thanks for listening.

Williamson, NY

Hi Mike,

Hiking the AT over Franconia Ridge, White Mountains, N.H.

Hiking the AT over Franconia Ridge, White Mountains, N.H.

Congrats on planning an Appalachian Trail thru-hike. I’ve hiked most of the AT in New England (some sections many times, and all over the White Mountains), where I’m from originally, and parts of the trail in the Great Smokies. I’ve met many people who thru-hiked the AT at your age. I wish you a wonderful experience.

Regarding alcohol stoves vs. Jetboil: I’ve rarely used alcohol stoves because they do not produce as much heat as gas stoves, so they take perhaps twice as long, or longer, to boil water, compared to a gas stove like a Jetboil. The traditional advantages of alcohol stoves are that they are quite compact and light and you carry just one fuel bottle and refill it as needed when you resupply, rather than carrying multiple canisters, which is why alcohol stoves have really only been favored by thru-hikers. However, I think Jetboil has changed that equation because its efficiency allows you to carry less weight and bulk in canisters (and you can recycle the canisters by puncturing them with a simple and light tool sold by Jetboil).

I recently reviewed the new Jetboil MiniMo solo cooking system, and cooked 12 one-person meals with just one, 100g fuel canister, and there was a little fuel left after the trip. Given how often you can resupply along the AT, and that time efficiency in camp translates to having more time for hiking and enjoying the trip, I would take something like the MiniMo instead of an alcohol stove. Some people would disagree with me, but I hope my perspective helps inform your decision.

When I’m backpacking ultralight, as you want to do in thru-hiking the AT, I want as light a shelter as circumstances allow. The Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1 is a great tent (I’ve reviewed the Copper Spur UL4 and used the UL2 and UL3 versions), and its advantages include better headroom because of the pole design. But I’d go with the Tarptent ProTrail over it because it’s a solid, adequately roomy tent that’s a pound lighter than the Copper Spur UL1, which will make a big difference on your body over the course of a 2,000-mile hike.


MRS FlyLite

MRS FlyLite

Two more shelters I recommend you look at include one I recently reviewed, the new MSR FlyLite, which weighs one-and-a-half pounds, actually fits two people and is cavernous for one, and pitches using trekking poles; and the Sea to Summit Specialist Solo. (I’ve reviewed the Sea to Summit Escapist Tarp, but that’s for trips where you don’t have to worry about bugs.) Shelters that pitch using trekking poles require a little more futzing, but you get used to dealing with them quickly.

I generally find many one-person tents not very roomy (although both tents you’re considering are exceptions to that rule). But given the mileage you have to average daily and the toll a thru-hike on a rugged trail like the AT takes on the body (and I know it doesn’t get easier with age; I’m 54), I think it’s wise to prioritize minimizing weight over luxuries like a little extra space. Tarptent does a good job of really minimizing weight without compromising too much on space or stability (as long as you pitch it correctly).

Plus, on the AT, you can sometimes sleep in a shelter for a break from your solo tent. Personally, I like having a solo tent for quiet when I’m sleeping, rather than sharing a shelter with several people making night noises.

You mentioned that you have an Osprey Atmos backpack, but if you mean the previous version, you might be interested in my review of the new Osprey men’s Atmos AG 65 and women’s Aura AG 65. You may also want to read this Ask Me post where I answer a reader’s question offering my recommendation for a thru-hiking backpack.

See my video demonstrating how to properly load a backpack.

Feel free to send any other questions. Good luck, please do let me know how it goes for you. Thanks again for following The Big Outside.



Thank you for sharing your wisdom on hiking.


In Ask Me, I share and respond to a reader question. Got a question about hiking, backpacking, gear, or any topic or trip I write about at The Big Outside? Send it to me at mlanza@thebigoutside.com, message me at facebook.com/TheBigOutside, or tweet it to @MichaelALanza. I will answer the ones I can in a post, using only your first name and city, with your permission. I receive a high volume of questions, so I cannot always respond quickly.

I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.

—Michael Lanza

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