What Should You Pack for Hiking on the Appalachian Trail?

If you decide to go on a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, you will live out of a backpack for about six months. Although the A.T. has many resupply points, the gear you pack should be determined by a compromise between having a lot of comfort in your camp at night and having a relatively light backpack to climb elevations and walk safely for several miles during the day. You will also need to consider your budget and buy the most essential gear first. The following list will help you to decide on what should pack for a thru-hike or multi-day hike on the Appalachian Trail.

1. Pack
Your backpack should be light, compact and have a good fit. Aim for a pack that has a capacity ranging between 40 and 65 litres. For a very long distance trek, you will want to get a pack with a simple internal frame rather than one with a lot of bells and whistles. You should also focus on durability and fit. Make sure your pack fits your hips and torso. Two popular brands among thru-hikers on the A.T. are Osprey and ULA.

2. Shelter
It is best to carry a tent or a hammock if you are going on a thru-hike. Don’t rely on the over 250 backcountry shelters available about 8 miles from each other. Shelters on the A.T. are allocated to hikers on a first come, first serve basis. Many people hike on the A.T. so you may arrive at a shelter and discover that it is already fully occupied. Always carry your shelter. Tarpents and Six Moon Designs make very durable, waterproof shelters.

3. Sleeping pad
A good sleeping pad will help you to sleep well and renew your strength for the next day’s hike. You may opt for a closed-cell foam pad or a self-inflating mattress to cushion the ground while you sleep. Choose a pad that weighs about one pound or less with good insulation. Padding should be at least 0.625 inches thick and the length should be 48″ or more. Thermarest and RidgeRest are reputable brands.

4. Sleeping bag
As a thru-hiker, you will experience very low temperatures during your adventure. So you should get a sleeping bag with a 15 to 20 degree temperature range. If you have a waterproof tent that can protect you from rain and early morning dew, you should opt for a sleeping bag made from down material. But if you are sleeping in a tarp tent or ground cloth, use a synthetic sleeping bag. Ideally, your sleeping bag should not be heavier than three pounds.

5. Footwear
Footwear is a very critical item for hikers. You may decide to buy a heavy leather boot, trail runners or both depending on the terrain and the season. Boots provide greater stability at the ankle and protect you against rocks so they will be more suitable for hiking in Pennsylvania where the trail passes through a lot of rocky terrain. Trail runners are lightweight and breathable, they dry faster, and allow you to walk faster and cover more ground in a shorter time. You should purchase a shoe that is half to one and a half sizes larger than your normal size. This will stop your toenail from striking the toe box when you are hiking downhill. It will also accommodate the swelling that occurs in the foot when hiking for long hours.

6. Clothing
On the Appalachian Trail, you only need clothing that will be sufficient for the type of weather conditions you will encounter while hiking. This means that you can make do with just two sets of underwear, two pairs of socks for walking and one pair for camping, one pair of gloves, and underwear bottoms to reduce chaffing. Other clothing items you need to pack include two synthetic short sleeve shirts, down jacket, a rain jacket, rain pants, a cap to reduce the effect of the sun rays on your head and eyes, and a towel for cleaning sweat.

7. Food
Popular foods for hikers include oat, cold cereal, mashed potatoes, nuts, peanut butter, cheese, pasta, rice meals, and granola bars. You can take almost any kind of lightweight packed instant food as long as it does not contain water. But you should try to eat food with sufficient protein, minerals and vitamins to help your body to cope with the pain and strain on the trail. You will need to pack food for about three days and this should not weigh more than 2 pounds. In addition, take a 100 oz. water bottle and a water bag that you can use to carry about 2 to 3 litres of water when necessary.

8. Water purifier
Most of the 250+ shelters on the Appalachian Trail are built near sources of fresh water. But you shouldn’t be presumptuous and take the risks involved in drinking untreated water for granted. Many hikers contact a water borne disease called giardia, so take a good water purifier or a water filter.

9. Hygiene and First aid
Take a new toothbrush and a small tube of paste and floss. A disposable razor will allow you to shave if you don’t want to grow a beard. A small tube of sunscreen will protect you when you have to climb in rocky areas without any shade. Take some lip balm to prevent chapping of the lips and body glide to prevent ass chaffe. To help relieve pain in your knees, take Ibuprofen while a blister fixer will help to heal any blisters that form on your feet.

10. A.T. Guidebook
Take all the A.T. guidebooks along. They will help you to arrange for shelter, camping and replenishing supplies at nearby communities. If you are hiking a section of the A.T. for the first time, you will be better off with a physical map than an electronic one. But the white blaze markers are so well spaced that most thru-hikers do not take maps along.

11. Cookware and Stove
Packing a cooking stove is not absolutely essential. If you are struggling to maintain a very light backpack, you may not fancy the idea of adding the extra weight of a stove. But if you despise cold food and you would prefer a warm oatmeal or mashed potatoes plus some hot tea to keep warm and prevent hypothermia, you should pack a stove and some fuel. On the A.T. you can use an alcohol stove with a windscreen or a canister stove during winter. A 1 litre cooking pot made of aluminum will suffice for most hikers. Don’t forget to take a lighter for camping fire.

12. Electronics
The most important electronic gadget that hikers should take along is a smartphone. It is a very versatile tool and it can serve as a phone, computer, media player, flashlight, camera and GPS tool. If you want to take high quality pictures, you should take a separate digital camera. To charge your smartphone, you should take an external battery pack of about 6000mAh or more because there are so many trees along the A.T. and solar chargers will not work very well due to the shadows cast by the foliage. If you decide to hike in the woods at night, in addition to a flashlight, you should take a headlamp of about 70 lumens.

13. Tools and materials
Hiking poles: Experts recommend that you use trekking poles. These poles can help you absorb the shock when you are walking down hill and reduce the pressure on your knees. They also help you to exercise your arms and when you want to rest at night, they can serve as tent poles in your tarp tent.
Parachute cord: Take at least 25 feet of this cord to hang your laundry, and your food against bears. You may also unravel the cord and use the inner threads in an emergency.
Duct Tape: Wrap about 10 feet around your water bottle. This can be used for many repairs and it could help you reduce the hot spots on your feet.

Use this list to prepare for your hike on the A.T. It is not an exhaustive list of items but it contains most of the items you will need. Remember that if you discover that you have too much weight on your back, you can mail some items back home. You may also consult the ATC website for more items recommended by the official custodians of the trail.