First, your feet. The path is so rough that you are going to get some blisters. If you go through the Gila, it will take any callouses or blisters off. Doesn’t really matter what shoe you wear. Get as good a fit as you can. Do not wear waterproof shoes! You can easily get blisters again after the Gila because of the forced long stretches without water. And the Gila is going to eat up the lining of your shoes with sand!
Next is the wind, dryness, sand and dirt. The locals here in Reserve say it’s the windiest spring in memory. I think we had one calm evening. Your throat and nose get dried out nearly instantaneously. Sometimes by morning you can barely moisten your mouth.
We all had hacking coughs early each morning when the throats tried to clear out for food and water. I had some kind of allergy (Juniper?) that caused continuous sinus drainage. Both the cough and drainage had about cleared up by Reserve. But one guy is leaving the trail because he cannot breathe through his nose.
The wind created another problem. My tarp was like a big sail in a strong gale. I could hardly orient it in the wind, let alone set it up. Forget the standard procedure of 2 rear stakes then the from center pole, etc. I often had to stake all four corners before I could even try putting a pole up. And most places the stakes wouldn’t hold. You had to use rocks at most tie-out points.
Once the tarp was up, it was good for nothing but a little piece of mind and as a noise maker. . It sprinkled maybe 5 minutes at night my whole trip. And it sure didn’t stop the dry, dusty wind from blowing in your face all night.
Bottom line here is take a tent that provides some protection from the wind. But carry one that is easy to set up in the wind and uses minimal tie-outs. You will probably cowboy camp, but you might get surprised by rain.
Another thought on tenting is that there are thorns and thorny plants everywhere. I constantly worried about my air mattress even though I used a cuben ground sheet under my bivy which itself has a cuben bathtub bottom. My ground sheet was penetrated. Just sitting down for a rest stop, the thorns can pierce your hands.
Now to clothing. You are walking through a desert and a brushy river bottom. Maybe you don’t worry about future melanoma, and want to look youthful and cool. A lot of people wore shorts and short sleeves. I never saw anybody with shorts that didn’t have lots of scratches and cuts. Most people coming out of the Gila had removed the lower part of their zippered pants legs or just wore shorts. The scratches and chapping were extensive. Some folks looked like they had lizard skin. We put our pants legs back on for the last day in the Gila river crossings and it felt wonderful. If it’s too cold out, that could be different.
If you have exposed skin, unless you are dark skinned already, it is going to burn. Prepare with sunscreen and lip balm.
Overall, compared to the CDT, the AT was a walk in the park. Don’t under-estimate this trail. Prepare for dry water locations that had water in past years. The Bear Creek waypoints include water locations, but most are from prior years and too many are from south-bounders after the rainy season. The CDT water report is kind of reliable but only maybe 25% will be recent. You need to update that report in every town and talk to everyone about it.
One hiker was repeating from last year and thought he knew what to expect. He hiked the whole day before NM 12 without water!
Finally, don’t presume that the trail you are walking that was the CDT a few minutes back still is. Check your map/GPS at junctions and as often as possible elsewhere.