When I first started planning my hike I thought I might be able to get by with only a tarp, sleep in shelters, and not bring a tent. The more I read however, the more I realized that shelters would be full, the weather could be really bad, I might have to stop between shelters and sleep anywhere I could, and if it turned cold, I would be much warmer in my tent than in a breezy shelter.
As I researched tents, the one that kept getting my attention was a Nomad Long from Wanderlust. Wanderlust was basically a one-man company selling online, through the discussion group AT-L. Kurt, the inventor, had created one of the very first tent designs to use your trekking poles as tent poles, in an ultralight backpacking tent. It used aluminum arrow shafts (yes, from a bow and arrow) as spreaders at the ends to form a modified diamond shape. There was a mesh door and a door flap to keep out the weather, which could be held up to create a safe place to cook outside of the tent as well. Velcro replaced zippers, and the single-wall design was light and yet waterproof. A tyvek tarp was custom-cut to fit the floor shape and to protect the floor from punctures.
I ordered the tent.
Unfortunately, I ordered it too late to start with it for my hike!
I started out carrying a Sierra Design Clip Flashlight. This tent was acceptable, but relatively heavy. I used it for the first two months or so, and was able to swap it for my Nomad Long at Harpers Ferry. Kurt shipped the tent to me on the trail, and I sent the Clip Flashlight home. David (Spotted Bear) would carry the Clip Flashlight for the 5 weeks he joined me that summer.
Wanderlust no longer appears to be in the tent business, but there are many designs on the market that appear to be very similar to the tent that Kurt designed. I've included images and links to some of them below, available from Amazon. I have not used any of these, but they do appear to be well made and reasonable substitutes for my beloved Nomad Long.
I know people have hiked the trail without tents, or with only tarps, or hammocks, and of course you need to hike your own hike. I would never propose to tell you that one method is right and everything else is wrong. I can say that I would not take a trip like this without a tent that I could set up anywhere, that used my trekking poles to limit the weight, and would provide me with a safe place to cook, dry place to sleep and a comfortable place to escape the bugs!
This Skyscape Scout design from Six Moons weighs 34oz and is a double-wall tent. It takes 5 stakes, which is two more than my Nomad, but it does appear to be very functional. They also have a 24oz Trekker version that looks to be the same tent, only lighter. I do like the lighter design, though it's nearly double the price. The 24oz Lunar Solo looks very interesting as well.