Things that worked
Aarn Featherlite Freedom Body Pack
This was a game changer to me. I was able to hike the entirety of the hike without load on my shoulders and without pain. This bag carried the weight effortlessly and I hiked like a Homo Sapien with an erect back. I wrote a detailed review of this body pack as well.
Tarptent Double Rainbow Li
I was a bit nervous about this change. I got the tent _after_ my shakedown hike to Ten Lakes. I made two changes after the shakedown hike. This one worked out and the other failed disastrously. I was able to setup this 27 oz two person tent (that I shared with my hiking brother, Durgi) comfortably. We were able to set it up on all kinds of terrain and in rain rather quickly. I wrote a detailed review of this tent as well.
Aarn suggested we look at PacerPoles. I liked what I saw and the interactions with Heather were fantastic, so I bought them for my practice hikes. I liked them a lot that I used them on the JMT.
I had no shoulder fatigue even for long ascent and descents.
It is almost impossible to use the poles wrongly with pacer poles.
It has a learning curve and Heather gives us a homework before you head out on the trail, so doing that homework is worth it.
I always remembered to keep my crown erect and walked upright, which Aarn backpacks help you with as well.
The only con is that the plastic material does not absorb sweat like cork does, so I wore UV gloves a lot. I did feel my bottom portion of hand tiring and hurting a tad bit after a really long day downhill and I wrote to Heather about it. She mentioned that I am most likely holding the poles too tightly, something to watch out for. Nonetheless, this is an improvement over the Black Diamond Carbon Cork.
Nikon Z50 and 16-50 VR
This 1.5 lb kit of Nikon Z50 and 16-50 lens performed marvelously on the trail. You have good light from 5:30am to 8:30pm and the lens was adequately fast enough to hand hold. The photos showed the results. The dynamic range is phenomenal, auto focus is fantastic, all round great camera.
USB-C battery pack
This Anker USB-C battery pack charged from 1 bar to 4 bars at MTR’s slow charging system. That was amazing. You should get a USB-C fast charging battery pack. Do not get a micro USB battery pack. That does not charge fast enough at MTR.
I moved away from my Garmin Forerunner 935 and bought an Apple Watch 6, once I realized the battery life of Apple Watch is pretty good. I was able to extract 13 hours of life with GPS enabled on the Apple Watch, if I turned on the airplane mode and theater mode, which turns off the display.
The Apple Watch worked almost flawlessly on most days. It failed miserably on day 1 where it did not track location data (I don’t know why), but recovered on other days. I was able to borrow day 1 data from a friend’s Apple Watch and build this re-live video for the entire hike.
The live heart rate was very useful as well. I found the HR monitor of the Apple Watch to be accurate and gave me a good pulse on how I was doing. It warned us that our blood oxygen level was low (93%), but also said “measured at high altitude”. Turns out blood oxygen level is indeed very low up in the mountains.
The MSR Windburner is the best $150 I have spent on backpacking equipment. I have used it for over 30 nights now on the trails and almost on every long day hike I go out now. The fuel efficiency of this stove is unparalleled. We were able to use one 16 oz canister for all 5 of us for nearly 8 days. We discarded it at MTR when it still had some fuel left in it. Unbelievable.
Zamberlan Vioz GTX
Well, almost, a part of it failed, but it was not related to the boot. I rolled my ankle on Day 5, trying to outrun a thunderstorm. I was getting off a 3 foot drop and someone called my name and I took my eyes off the trail. I did not use my hiking poles and rolled my right ankle completely. Any other boot or shoe would have meant that my hike was over, but my Zamberlan Vioz GTX kept me going with some pain.
Things that did not work
SuperFeet ME3D Insoles
During one of the early shakedown hikes, I developed a blister. One of the things I tried to reduce it was to order these custom 3D printed SuperFeet insoles from my neighborhood shoe store. I didn’t get them in time for my ten lakes shakedown hike, but I wore those insoles daily for a month for 2-3 miles day with my walking shoes and boot, but I did not test them with a fully loaded backpack uphill.
My toes started to hurt on day 1 and it got to be excruciating pain. I struggled with the pain the first few days and almost dropped out of the trail. Thankfully, I debugged it to the insole, hiked without the insole for a day to make sure that was the case and out of sheer frustration, I was able to cut the arch support out and use it without the support for rest of the hike. I tried to get out to Mammoth Lakes to buy new insoles but I didn’t have the time.
I regretted purchasing this insole.
Nemo Tensor Deluxe Insulated
I have used the Nemo Tensor Deluxe Insulated air mattress for over 300 miles now, but it sprung a slow leak (I tested it before I left, it only leaks if I sleep on it) which became worse each day.
We tried to waterboard it (air pads are buoyant) in Squaw lake to find a leak. After an hour, we found one and patched it. It reduced the amount of leak, but didn’t stop it. This left me with two sleepless nights and I had minor accidents on a couple of days due to lack of sleep. This almost made me quit the trail at MTR, but thankfully, one of the group had a spare thermarest foam pad that saved me and allowed me to complete the hike.
It has gone to Nemo for warranty repair now.