I have been doing a lot of research online and in books for the last eleven months, and I finally started buying gear. Thank goodness for REI. I bought a membership with them and have already used it well. I'm not so sure they're as happy with me as I am with them, since I've returned multiple things to them that didn't work out in some way. The first purchase and return were a pair of Vasque Breeze boots. I got them too small which I realized as I wore them around my house before I ever took them hiking.
I bought some Vibram Five Finger shoes, which I love and have been using regularly to build up the strength in my feet, ankles and calves during my lunchtime walks. This is because I sprained my ankle badly in Junior High playing basketball and sprained both ankles multiple times since then. I'm not convinced I will wear boots on my hike, so I decided to be proactive and build strength in case I decide to hike in lower shoes. I didn't (and won't) return my toe shoes, but I bought some original weight toe socks to wear with them which made my toes hurt when crammed into the shoes, so I returned the unused pair of socks. I did keep the used pair of toe socks because I read about layering them for hiking to prevent blisters between the toes and I wanted to try that out. I think maybe the toe shoes are just big enough for my bare feet but nothing more.
Then I purchased a lovely four pound backpacking tent on sale, only to return that one when I decided I absolutely need a lighter tent, and I got the boots a size larger and Wright two layer socks instead. I bought a bunch of stuff like underwear, sportsbra, superfeet (green), and gloves and spent more than the tent I returned, so I hope they will forgive me for being a pain.
I spent hours at REI one day, trying on backpacks and getting them fitted (thanks Jackie!). After loading them with about 35 pounds and shopping, I decided on the Gregory Deva 60. I know it's a heavier pack, but I hope to carry about 30 pounds in my pack if I can be smart about this, and when my pack weighs more with winter gear and longer stretches between resupplies where I have to carry more food, I want to be comfortable. Also, I'm trying to keep my overall pack weight low enough that I can carry some things I really want, like camera gear, that will weigh more.
I've decided that I need to lose some weight before I go on my AT hike, around 20-30 pounds. It will be easier for me to lose that weight off my body than out of my gear, though I have been reading too many books by AT hikers and I have been eating like I'm already thru-hiking. That's not really helping. The thing is I know I'll lose the weight when I start my hike, but I also know I'll enjoy my hike much more if I've already lost some of it first, and my joints will thank me.
I want to do day hikes to get in shape for my AT thru-hike, so that's deciding the priority of what I purchase. With that in mind, I've decided to wait to get the tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat and cooking system. I have boots, socks, hiking shorts (I'm going to see about longer pants/leggings), undies, sportsbra, hiking shirts both short and long sleeved, a sleeveless fleece vest, wide brimmed hat, and backpack. My next purchase will be trekking poles, definitely! Today I hiked Angel's Landing in Zion National Park, which is 2.5 miles each way if you do the boulder scramble at the top, which I always do. The heights scare me, though less than they used to, but I love scrambling on rocks. I wore my new boots, which I have been wearing at work and during lunch walks. I'm not sure about them, but I know I haven't broken them in yet. My feet slid around a bit and I think I need thicker socks to wear with them, though I did layer the toe socks with the Wright socks and that worked well. I switched to my Vibram Five Finger shoes to go up the half mile boulder scramble. They worked out great! The boots were okay going uphill but no so much coming down the boulders and all the rest of the downhill. I had some foot pain and hot spots, but no blisters. The last time I hiked it in tennis shoes and got a hot spot by the end, but less foot pain. We'll see.