Thru-Hiking Gear for the Appalachian Trail

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By Josh Rewis, (Virginia Beach Staff)

Hello there, aspiring thru-hiker! Congratulations on making it this far in your journey. If you’re at the point of compiling a gear list, you have made it further than most who entertain the idea of hiking all 2189.2 miles of the Appalachian Trail. By this point you have caught yourself fantasizing about your picture on top of Mount Katahdin several times. You have beaten self-doubt back into its ugly corner as your eyes lost focus while tracing the AT’s meandering line across maps. You have most certainly been feeding your obsession a steady diet of videos and blog entries about the experiences of other hikers who have completed the journey.


You have squarely entered the territory of LET’S DO THIS THANG. Which begs the question: “How do I do this thang?” Simple. Walk, eat, and sleep.

I know you didn’t come here to read useless motivational platitudes. Rest assured that this blog post isn’t about blowing sunshine up your water filter; it is about gear AND telling you the truth — we all know what the man said about truth and freedom. The truth, in this case, is that the trail really is that simple if you own the one special thing that all successful thru-hikers own: Stubbornness. Real, irrational, neurotic stubbornness. The kind of stubbornness that pushes your legs through miles of ankle-deep mud and clouds of mosquitoes while battling atomic levels of chaffing during those long, humid summer days just so you can pass out in a musty, rat infested shelter and wake up in the morning with a smile on your face because you get to do it again and again and again and again.

Remember that as your anxiety levels climb while searching for the “right” kind of gear. No gear in the world–save for Marty McFly’s hoverboard–can eliminate the psychological exhaustion of hiking nonstop for months on end. It can help, though. An optimal mixture of lightweight, properly fitting gear will give you one less thing to worry about and will decrease your likelihood of injury.

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As you read through my gear list, keep in mind that the items below worked for me and, as you will discover during your hike, often changed due to weather, malfunction, availability, and mood. Think of this as a reference point rather than a directive.

Acquiring gear is a real milestone and a huge step in the right direction. Hopefully this list will help you get closer to accomplishing your dream of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. Good luck!

 

Pack/Pack Cover:

-Osprey Aether 70
-Sil-Nylon Pack Cover

 

Tent:

-Double-walled tent weighing less than three pounds

-GOPC offers two options that fit this category:

-MSR Hubba NX Solo
-Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2
-Nemo Hornet 1P

 

Sleeping Bag:

15-20 degree down mummy-style sleeping bag

-I prefer down because of its superior compressibility and higher warmth-to-weight ratio. GOPC offers the Western Mountaineering AlpinLite 20.

 

Sleeping Pad:

-Therm-A-Rest RidgeRest Classic
(More reliable. Can also be used as a seat on rocks or wet ground)

Klymit Inertia X-Frame

-Provided much more comfort. Switched to RidgeRest after X-Frame developed leaks.

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Clothing:

Baselayer:

Synthetic Baselayer Top and Bottom

-GOPC offers the Patagonia Capilene Bottoms and Tops

-Compression Boxer Brief (3 pairs)
-Sleeveless Shirt
-Short Sleeve Shirt

-Merino wool Hiking Socks (2-3 pairs)

 

Midlayer:

-Arc’teryx Thorium AR Down Jacket
Running Shorts
-Columbia PFG Convertible Pants

 

Rain Shell:

-GOPC offers the Patagonia Torrentshell, The North Face Venture Jacket, Outdoor Research Revel Jacket, Arc’teryx Beta SL Jacket


Footwear:

-Vasque Breeze 2.0 GTX boots
(Gave me 1200 miles of excellent support. Switched to Salomons because low breathability and slow drying time caused foot issues).

-Salomon XA Pro 3D
(Excellent support, breathability, durability. Held up for last 1000 miles to Katahdin).

Camp / Town Shoes

-Superfeet GREEN Insole

 

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Dry Bags:

-Sea to Summit Lightweight Dry Sack 13L (sleeping bag)
-Sea to Summit Lightweight Dry Sack 20L (food bag)
-Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Nano Dry Sack 8L (clothes)

Cooking Kit:

titanium 750ml pot

-Snow Peak titanium spork

-Soda can alcohol stove
(Alcohol stoves were in the minority on the AT. Most thru-hikers used efficient canister fuel stoves like the Snow Peak LiteMax titanium stove, MSR PocketRocket, MSR Windboiler, and the JetBoil).

-Custom pot stand made from hardware cloth

-Windscreen made from tinfoil

 

Water System:

-CamelBak 100oz reservoir

-Camelbak 1L bottle


Water Purification:
-Sawyer MINI water filter

-Aquamira Chlorine Dioxide Water Treatment Drops

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Hygiene/First Aid:

-Toothbrush
-Toothpaste

-Floss
(Doubles as thread to repair gear)

-Needle
-Lip Balm
-KT Tape
(When used properly it can help slow the progress of injury)

-Duct Tape
-Wrap strips around trekking poles
-Moleskin
-SOL Survival Medic Kit

 

Guidebook:

-The A.T. Guide by David “AWOL” Miller

 

Miscellaneous Items:

-Bic Lighter
-Cap
-Wool glove liners
-Bandana

-Trekking Poles
(Not essential but nice to have while crossing slick logs, rocks and mud)

-Phone
-Used more as a camera than means of communication.
-Portable Power Bank
-50ft Paracord

-Insect repellent
(Deet for the ticks and mosquitoes. Some used picaridin with success.)

-Pocket Knife
-Plastic S-biner (2)
-Head Lamp
-Extra set of batteries for headlamp

-MSR Packtowl Medium
(Better than using your dry set of clothes to dry yourself off)

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Nonessential Luxury Items: I included these items because of their ability to improve morale while “trapped” in the backcountry. These items won’t save your life, but they will give you something to look forward to once hiking becomes unbearably monotonous.

 

-Bring a book

It’s worth its weight. I suggest selecting books with no connection to hiking the Appalachian Trail. There will be plenty of times you will look forward to escaping the wilderness through the pages of a book. I saw other hikers using E-readers as well.

 

-Keep a Journal

Make yourself write an entry every night. You will be glad you did one day.

 

-A deck of cards, frisbee, didgeridoo, ukulele, football, your magic deck

It doesn’t matter what you bring. If it provides entertainment, keeps you occupied, and you don’t mind shouldering the weight, bring it.

 

-Music/Headphones

Walking everyday for hours at a time gets pretty boring. Music adds tempo and variety to your hike.

 

-Polarized sunglasses

Rarely used. However, there were times when the sun was unbearable.

 

-A trinket from home

Some folks attached flags from their alma mater or home state/country to their packs. Others jammed stuffed animals into the outer pockets of their packs as co-pilots.


-Snakeskin, bird feathers as ornaments

The longer you hike, the more you become aware of your new identity as a filthy thru-hiker. Most of your life is spent walking through the wilderness with everything you own on your back. Why not use some of those natural gifts like bird feathers to add a little character to your getup?

 

-$50-75 cash

You should always have something to offer to those fine people who give you a ride to town. Plus, you never know when the next supply store’s credit card machine is going to go down.

 

Advice:

 

-Keep an open mind

What does that even mean? If there will ever be a time to withhold all judgement, push aside all prejudices, and trash old habits, this will be it. This may be the only time you are part of a small, dedicated community all moving in the same direction with one common goal. Embrace it! Embrace being a weird, smelly thru-hiker.

 

-It’s about the smiles, not the miles

At some point during your thru-hike you will realize you hate hiking. It will probably come after ripping off multiple 20+ mile days. During the process you will skip beautiful trailside vistas and waterfalls. You will leave your “slow” friends behind. You will skip a chance to camp on that hillside with a beautiful sunset just to squeeze out 3 more miles. Miles may get you the picture on Katahdin, but smiles get you the wonderful memories that will follow you for years. Don’t be afraid to slow down.

 

-Hike your own hike

You will hear this from start to finish. Never forget that this thru-hike is your journey. Don’t feel obligated to travel with a group or stop in a town because your hiking partner wants to spend a night in a hostel. “Trail breakups” are inevitable. You will outhike good people, good people will outhike you, and new good people will always be around. Just embrace being absolutely free for once in your life.

 

-Do Right

It’s a simple phrase but so difficult to follow. Keep it in mind when you want to throw plastic in the fire to “shed weight” or stealth camp in a forbidden area because “it’s just me this one time.” By choosing to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail you sign up to represent a small, yet highly popular community. Represent the community well by being respectful to the land and the other folks using it.

 

-Check for ticks

Once it starts warming up in Virginia, start checking for ticks. Check your arms as you walk and your legs when you take a break. Scan your body before you go to sleep.

 

-Go to Trail Days in Damascus, VA

-Record addresses of significant places like hostels you enjoyed, trail angel homes, and hiker-friendly businesses. They enjoy hearing from their hikers.

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