Whenever I tell someone I’m planning to hike the Appalachian Trail, one of the most common questions I get asked is, “How do you pack for that?” Below I’m going to share my main pieces of gear. I’ll link to my full gear list along with the weights and prices of each item. Gear is ALWAYS subject to change while hiking, as you’ll find alternatives to different pieces, some items will break or wear out, and some will just be so heavy you’ll leave them in a hiker box to just dump the weight.
There are a few different approaches to gear. The trend gaining popularity now is the ultralight movement. This is gear that weighs little but still performs its intended task. Often, ultralight gear is more expensive, as it uses different materials for its construction. For example, a tent you get at Walmart will probably weigh 6-8 pounds while the comparable tent I’m taking on my thru-hike weighs just 2 (which is still too heavy!).
An extreme ultralight backpacker’s base weight (weight of pack minus consumables like water, food, and fuel) will be around 10 pounds or less. A regular ultralighter will come generally in between 10-20 pounds while an average budget backpacker (like myself) will sit between 20-30 pounds.
I am personally not an ultralight backpacker for a few reasons, but cost is easily at the top. Many ultralight backpackers also ditch pieces of gear altogether, like a camp stove, and opt to only eat cold meals. These sacrifices aren’t worth it to me, as I’d like at least one warm meal at the end of a long day of hiking.
I won’t be listing everything on this list but will hit the major pieces. You can view my gear list on this site in its entirety: https://lighterpack.com/r/d0etpf
The “big 3” pieces of gear most asked about are pack, tent, and sleeping system.
For my backpack, I’ve chosen to carry the Osprey Volt 60. I like this pack a lot, as it’s a good size, has a lot of nice features of pockets and straps, and adjusts well to my frame.
Separately, I grabbed a Sea-to-Summit pack cover to help repel rain while I’m hiking.
My tent will be Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 as well as the corresponding footprint. The tent is very light but still is large enough to comfortably sleep two people. I plan to have my pack next to me in the tent to keep it dry and safe from curious critters. It also has a large vestibule where I can leave my muddy shoes so they don’t get my tent dirty but also don’t get rained on all night.
A sleeping bag is a bit difficult to choose for the AT. Temps can easily hit 0 degrees in the Georgia mountains when you first start and top 100 degrees over the summer. Often hikers purchase a summer and a winter bag or buy a slightly warm summer bag and buy a thermal liner for the winter portion. I’ve grabbed the Kelty Tuck 20* as my only bag. I’m hoping to sleep clothed and be warm enough through colder months, but if necessary, I will purchase a liner on trail.
Now on to minor parts of gear. I am often asked if I’ll be carrying a gun while on trail. My answer is a resounding NO! There is absolutely no reason to carry a gun on the trail. Sure there are bears, but it is incredibly rare to have a physical encounter if you pay attention. People also assume there are weirdos out on trail waiting in the woods to murder unsuspecting thru-hikers, which again isn’t true. There have been murders on trail, but I can find many more and much more current ones within a few miles of my own home, so I again am not worried.
I will be carrying a knife, specifically the Gerber Paraframe. Many bring knives for “protection,” but 99.9% of the time they use them to cut cheese and summer sausage.
This will be my first trip with any kind of trekking-pole or walking stick. I opted to bring these with for a few reasons: 1) They pull up to 50 percent of the strain away from your knees when hiking; 2) They can give much better balance and traction while hiking downhill or in mud/snow; and 3) They can prevent some nasty falls.
Water is fairly plentiful on the trail, but it is still advised to carry a fair amount on your person. Filtering is a major, well-warranted concern for water. Even though springs look crystal clear and are running quickly doesn’t mean they are free from waterborne diseases. Giardia is incredibly common among preventable hiker ailments. I’ve opted to carry the Platypus GravityWorks system. It comes with a reservoir for clean water, filters out essentially everything I need to worry about, and has the added benefit of filtering via gravity instead of my pumping water by hand.
Lastly, for cooking I’ll be carrying the MSR PocketRocket 2 stove. It is incredibly tiny and screws directly on top of fuel canister. The stove also stores inside my cook pot with my other cooking supplies to save space.
There are many odds and ends that are also in my pack, but most are things you’re probably already familiar with. My cell phone (iPhone 6) is one example along with its charging cords and a battery pack to recharge it on trail. I will happily add or explain in more detail any pieces omitted or otherwise if readers wish.