At some point the thrill of "thru hiking the Appalachian Trail" wears off, and you are just living in the mountains. Might as well have the right stuff.
So this is everything that I carried on the Appalachian Trail. It worked for me. It's definitely worth it to do your research and get the correct gear because you will be miserable out there with the wrong stuff. If I were to hike the AT again, this is what I would take. Different people prefer different things, but I think this is a good list. Nothing crazy expensive, but everything did its job.
Great pack. Perfect size. I recommend this size because it made me pack smarter, and it really kept my weight down. My body thanked my every time I was climbing a mountain. It is a very light pack but withstood the beating of the trail. Only very minor rips in the mesh on the outside of the pack. It is very comfortable with thick padding on the shoulder straps and hip belt. The back is comfortable and gives plenty of room between your body and the pack to allow for airflow and keep you cool as possible.
Very happy with my shelter decision. Very lightweight tent. One trekking pole and six stakes required to setup. There is a bit of practice required before becoming really good at setting this tent up. Once I became comfortable with the setup, I could set it up in minutes and felt comfortable and dry in the biggest storms. What I experimented with before figuring out the best setup for my tent was trekking pole height, how far out to stake down the lines, and tension on each stake for best ventilation and water drainage. It only took a few nights to figure out the best configuration for me. The one piece design is very convenient, and the tent dries quickly. Very durable. No major tears, only the tiniest of pinprick holes barely visible in a couple spots. Not big enough to let any water or bugs in. Probably from ash landing on it from fires. Surprisingly roomy as well.
Sleeping set up - Spring/Fall
I have no complaints about my sleeping bag decision at all. The Kelty kept me warm and comfortable whenever I used it. I went with down as opposed to synthetic. Synthetic's only real advantage is that it will keep you dry when it gets wet, but with a dry compression sack (shown below) it is easy to keep your bag dry on the A.T. This sleeping bag was warm, comfortable, and compact. I would recommend that everyone use a sleeping bag liner. I used a pretty average liner that I got a good deal on, but it did the job. The liner adds a little warmth and protects your sleeping bag from your own gross, sweaty, oily body. It also was used as a bag to carry laundry in while in town and washed with the dirty clothes. The sleeping pad worked great as well. It was comfortable and durable. I never worried about it getting punctured. It was light and compact enough. There are lighter and smaller sleeping pads, but not in the self inflating, cushion feeling style of the Therm-a-Rest Prolite series. Lighter pads usually feel more like air mattresses and are noisy. I guess it's a personal preference, but I was very happy with my choice.
Sleeping set up - Summer
Sleeping bag: None
Blanket: Small, cheap fleece blanket from Goodwill
Sleeping bag liner: Alps Mountaineering mummy bag liner
Sleeping pad: Therm-a-Rest Prolite 4
The other thing to discuss when talking sleeping bags on the A.T. is when to send it home. Many hikers send their bags home in the summer months to save weight and volume in their packs. I sent my bag home on May 21 in Marion, Virginia. That was on the earlier end, and I spent many nights too cold to do anything but snack in my tent all night long. I'll tell you that it was hard to regret that decision when I was running up the mountains because my pack felt so light. If I had to do it again, I would send my sleeping bag home at the same time, but also immediately buy a small fleece blanket at a thrift store to add to my sleeping bag liner instead of waiting another week to do so. There will still be some cold nights, but it will just make you want to get up and start hiking earlier. I switched back to my cold sleeping set up in Glencliff, New Hampshire, on August 16 just before entering The Whites. It was still plenty warm, but I wouldn't risk entering The Whites without a sleeping bag.
I love Keen shoes. They are wide, comfortable, and require almost no break in time at all. They are very durable and keep your feet dry. I started with some Targhee II's that I had for a year or two before I hit the AT. Those lasted 700 miles, but I could tell when they were wearing down because my feet started to get blisters, rashes, and swell. They were a little heavy too, and this didn't help my feet. In Daleville, Virginia, I went to buy new shoes. I was thinking about going with trail runners like Salomon XA Pro's, but when trying on shoes, my feet were so swollen and wide that I couldn't fit into anything but Keen's! The guy who worked there said, "Well they've gotten you this far..." Very true. So I got a second pair of Keen Targhee II's. This time I got the low tops to save a little weight and to be cooler in the summer months. It was a great decision. Others went through many more shoes during their thru hike. I should have made it with just two pairs on Keen Targhee II's, but I accidentally threw my second pair in a river in Maine with just 100 miles to go to Katahdin. So I hiked the rest of the trail in very worn Starter sneakers, and I was actually very impressed how they performed. So much so that I went to Wal-mart after the trail and bought a brand new pair for $15.
It only took me three days to realize I needed new trekking poles. When thru hiking you will have trekking poles in your hand for 8 hours a day. Don't skimp on quality here. I thought I would be fine with cheap poles I got for a good deal. Nope. Black Diamond poles are awesome. The flick lock is so much better than the twist lock. I had the foam material handle as opposed to the cork handle. Both very good. Very lightweight and durable. I have yet to have any problem with them at over 2,200 miles. And I still use them now. Well one of them. I lost one in that same damn river in Maine that took my boots. Learning how to properly hold and use trekking poles was super helpful. It definitely saved my knees and joints. I wouldn't hike without them.
Cooking Set up
My cooking set up was super light and super cheap. What else do you want? I had no problems with it throughout the entire AT. I usually cooked once a day. The GSI cook set was great. The pot was the perfect size. It was big enough to cook anything I wanted and it fit the rest of my cooking gear inside. It was durable. I cooked on my stove 99% of the time, but I cooked on the fire a couple of times. The edges of the lid might have slightly melted in a few places but it still did the job.
I liked having the denatured alcohol stove. Denatured alcohol was always easy to find all along the trail. Carrying denatured alcohol as opposed to fuel canisters is convenient. I always knew exactly how much fuel I had left and I didn't have to carry extra fuel canisters with me. It is a simple system that can never break on you. Making it along with the windscreen and pot cozy was simple enough if you can watch YouTube. The purpose of the pot cozy was to be a little oven for the food to continue to cook in after it comes off the alcohol stove. Here is how to cook with the pot cozy.
I was very happy with my system. It took more time from start to eating dinner, but the cost, weight, volume, and simplicity outweighed that minor difficulty. I attached some of the links I used.
Water Filter set up
Water Filter: Sawyer Mini
Dirty water container: 2L Platypus Platy Bottle
Clean water container: One 1L Smartwater bottle and one 700mL Smartwater bottle
The Sawyer Mini is great. I used the same filter to filter all my water on the trail and did not get sick once. There was some not so great looking water too. I used the Platypus to get water from the source, screwed the Sawyer right onto the bag, and squeezed water through the filter into my clean Smartwater bottles which I used to carry water while I hiked. I went through two Platypus bags during my thru hike. The water bag that comes with the Sawyer is not very durable. Don't waste you time, get the Platypus. I replaced my Smartwater bottles about once a month. I used Smartwater bottles because they are light, cheap, durable, and have a tall, skinny shape that packs easily. Also, the sports top that comes on the water bottle is the perfect fit for back flushing the Sawyer filter. Sometimes that top is hard to find, save the top when you get one. This way you don't have to carry the back flushing tool that the filter comes with. Saving weight!
It rains a lot on the trail. I rain cover is necessary unless you have a waterproof backpack. The Sea to Summit pack cover worked great. It was light and compact. It never ripped. It kept my pack dry. Easy trails.
The compression dry sack is a must for sleeping bags, especially down. Sea to Summit has a good one.
For food I started with a Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Sack - 8L. It got a small rip in the side one night while hanging in a tree. Maybe it was too small, and I was stuffing it really full. Maybe it was just windy and got caught in a branch. I don't know. I patched it with duct tape and kept using it for clothes the rest of the trip. It held up great. After it ripped I got an Osprey Dry Sack and it lasted the rest of the trip. More room. No rips. You probably need at least 12L of room for food.
When hiking the AT, rain jackets are more for keeping you warm than for keeping you dry. The southern end of the trail can get cold. That rain jacket it vital for keeping out the cold wind. During the summer I sent my rain jacket home. It rained a lot, but I just hiked on. It was hot and the rain felt good most of the time. A rain jacket is just going to make you sweat like crazy in the summer anyway. I got my rain jacket back with my sleeping bag just before The Whites because it can be windy and cold up there. All that being said, the Marmot PreCip was a good choice. It was light and compact. You can get a more expensive Gore-Tex lined rain jacket, but I think it is probably unnecessary.
Mid or Insulating layer
I went with a fleece mid layer over a synthetic or down. I think fleece is the most comfortable, especially when you use it as your pillow. It kept me warm under an outer layer, but was so breathable that I could wear it by itself when it was warmer and be comfortable at camp. Just recently the zipper started coming apart at the very bottom of the jacket. It will still zip up, but it will come apart from the bottom if you put some tension on it. It's usually not a big deal. Overall I think it withstood the abuse I put it through very well, and I would recommend it to everyone. I usually just wash it and let it air dry, and it has stayed it great condition. I still use it all the time.
Small piece of square foam I cut out from a sleeping pad like this
This was really the only piece of equipment that I added to my pack during my hike. I was so happy I did. It was so nice to have. I used it everyday. Totally worth the extra tiny amount of weight. I used it all the time for sitting on everything and that little piece of cushion between me and rocks, dirt, mud, moss, logs, wood, concrete, grass was so nice to have. I strongly recommend.
This headlamp is very light and very small, both good things. It works great around camp for setting up or taking down camp in the dark. Good for making your way out of your tent for peeing in the middle of the night. The only negative I can say about this headlamp is that it wasn't very bright. I didn't even really notice this until we did some night hiking. As far as night hiking goes, I wouldn't recommend doing post-sunset hiking, but I would definitely recommend doing pre-dawn hiking. The AT is pretty easy to follow so the brightness of the headlamp wasn't a huge deal. If you plan to be doing lots of night hiking or night hiking in an area that is not so well marked I would spend the weight and volume for a bigger brighter headlamp, but I was happy with this little guy.
I think I have mentioned that it rains on the trail. I used my phone for a camera and an iPod so I wanted to have it out all the time. The Lifeproof case made that possible. I kept it on the outside of my pack through rain, hail, river crossings, freezing temperatures, and beautiful sunny days. The case got beat up but the phone inside stayed in pristine condition. With this case I could take pictures underwater, listen to music in shower, or drop it without worry. It is a great case. And it is not huge either! It's actually pretty slim. I'll probably get it for everyone of my phones from now on.
This is the best guidebook. Simple as that. It is not perfect. No guidebook can be. And AWOL was cursed at several times while hiking up a hill that did not look too difficult in the book. But in the grand scheme of things, it is amazing how accurate this guidebook is over the entire 2,200 miles of the AT. Other guidebooks are good and will work just fine, but I think AWOL displays the information the best.
- The North Face zip off hiking pants - Good in the south when it was cold, but the belt buckle broke.
- Speedo short swim trunks with liner cut out - Switched to these in Daleville, Virginia. Better for summer because they are lighter, smaller, cooler, dry off faster, and show off the legs. I recommend. Stuck with them the rest of the trail.
- Synthetic long sleeve top baselayer - An inexpensive baselayer (I think Weatherproof is the brand). It worked fine.
- Long underwear bottom baselayer - Another inexpensive baselayer (Champion brand). 88% polyester, 12% wool.
- Neck Gaiter - Sent this home pretty quickly. Good idea but I didn't use it often enough to justify carrying it.
- Beanie - Carried it the entire trail.
- 2 pairs of hiking socks - Started with Smartwool and switched to Darn Tough. Both performed about the same, but Darn Tough's warranty in unbeatable. Anytime you get a hole in the sock, walk into an outfitter along the trail and most of them will let you trade the socks out right there and then at no charge. Awesome!
- 1 pair of camp socks - A pair of comfortable, warm wool socks that I kept just for clean camp socks.
- 2 synthetic T-shirts - I used The North Face flashdry shirts. One for hiking, one for camp and town.
- 2 pairs of synthetic underwear - ExOfficio. Yes get these. They are great. I use them all the time now. Two is all you need. Seriously.
- Town/sleeping shorts - Patagonia Men's Baggies Naturals. Light and compact. It was nice to have clean shorts for camp.
- Bandana - Keeps the sweat out of your eyes and the sun off of your head.
- Camp shoes - I used old school Adidas style flip flops. I would go with Crocs next time even though they look dumb, they do the best job as camp shoes and for river crossings.
Other Camp Gear
- Camp towel - I started with a camp towel but quickly ditched it in favor of a simple bandana.
- Bandana - Cleaning and drying.
- Cord - For bear bagging, fixing things, tying things down, and generally good to have.
- Knife - Classic SD small Swiss Army Knife. You don't need anything big. It is mostly used for cutting cheese. Honestly.
- Carabiners - Just a couple small inexpensive ones for simple things.
- A BIC lighter - One lighter lasted the whole time.
- A few feet of duct tape - duct tape is good for everything. Wrap it around the lighter.
- Aquamira tablets - I never used them, but it's a good emergency back up plan.
- Journal - Rite in the Rain. A good option if you want to keep a journal. I recommend journaling even though it can get tiring because reading back on those entries, I can feel exactly how I felt back on the trail. It's cool.
- Sunglasses - BluBlockers. Nice to have. I mostly used them in towns. Plenty of trees and shade on the trail.
Toiletries and First Aid
- Small bottle of Dr Bronner's Soap - Peppermint is the best. Especially if you are forced to brush your teeth with it at some point.
- Travel toothbrush
- Travel toothpaste
- Gold Bond - Makes you feel better in so many ways.
- Toilet paper - Don't run out.
- Nail clippers
- Moleskin - Definitely nice to have when you need it.
- Tylenol Cold Medicine
- Bandages of difference sizes
- Insect repellent - 100% deet works great but smells terrible and sticks with you. Pick your poison.
- iPhone 6 - Phone, camera, and iPod. I kept it in airplane mode most of the time, and it rarely died before I could get to a place to charge it. I didn't find that a portable charger was necessary.
- iPhone charger
- Deck of cards - Extra weight, I know, but who doesn't like playing cards.
- Ziploc bags - Carry a lot of them. They come in handy all the time.