“There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” – Sir Rannulph Fiennes
As previously mentioned, compiling my AT thru-hike gear and clothing has been a magnificent obsession. Facing 6 months in the wilderness in all types of weather, I must carefully and deliberately choose what I wear and carry on my back. The consequences of poor choices include hunger, hypothermia, injury, chronic discomfort, and possibly quitting the trail. Given the many times I’ve already been asked, “What’s in the backpack?” I thought I’d go ahead and answer that.
There are many different philosophies and variables to consider when deciding on backpacking clothes and gear. There are those on a tight budget, whose main consideration is cost. They will sometimes sacrifice quality or functionality in search of the good deal and saving money. They also tend to pride themselves on homemade, old school solutions, like using an old dog food can as a cooking stove, or tree branches as hiking poles. For other hikers, the main consideration is weight, and they will invest in usually more expensive ultra-light gear. They may also go without a stove or sleeping pad, or cut a toothbrush in half, in order to travel as light as possible. Every fraction of an ounce counts and the lighter the load, the more likely you are to make it to the other end. Just as the cost cutters might boast on how little they spent, the ultra-lighters might boast about how little their pack weighs. At the other extreme, there are those who over-pack with too many luxury items or duplicate items. Some falsely assume that what works on a weekend camping trip with the family will work on a 2200-mile journey. Many of them end up sending stuff home or quitting altogether.
My approach was to get mostly high quality, lightweight gear, but to bring enough of it for a little more comfort and functionality than what a pure minimalist would have. Yes, I could have gone lighter and I could have gone cheaper. But if I fail, I don’t want it to be because I had insufficient or crappy gear. Here, then, is a breakdown, along with some insights on my rationale. I’ve gone into some detail for the benefit of those who may plan a hike and because I appreciated previous thru-hikers who did the same.
The Big Three
Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2, with footprint – 34.4 ounces; ultra light, 3-season, freestanding, double wall tent. Technically a 2-person tent, but better suited for a solo hiker + gear (especially a 6’ 2” hiker). Sets up quickly and kept me dry overnight in a recent torrential downpour. Ideally, the vestibule would be a tad larger, especially when entering/exiting the tent in the rain. I prefer the privacy and quiet of a tent to a shelter unless rough weather dictates otherwise. Also, while I find hammocks a tad more comfortable, I still prefer the privacy, weather protection, and ability to spread out gear and clothing in a tent.
ULA Circuit Backpack with pack cover – 41 ounces; 4200 cubic inches (68 liters) in total volume; lightweight, durable, very comfortable. Love the large side and belt pockets. In fact, I love everything about this pack. Designed by a successful thru-hiker and he clearly put a lot of thought into every ounce of it.
Western Mountaineering Alpinlite – 33 ounces; 20-degree, 850-fill down sleeping bag; roomy, breathable, and compressible. The most expensive and comfortable piece of outdoor gear I’ve ever owned. The days may be brutal, but I should be warm and comfortable at night.
Other Gear & Stuff
Sea to Summit Reactor Thermolite Mummy Bag Liner – polyester, insulated sleeping bag liner will add up to 15 degrees of warmth to my sleeping bag and help keep it clean. It can also be used on its own as a warm weather sleeping bag.
Therma-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Sleeping Pad – inflatable, soft, warm, and comfortable. Only complaint is that it’s noisy when you move on it. The upside: when people hear “noises” in my tent I can blame it on the sleeping pad.
Leki Corklight Trekking Poles – adjustable, sturdy; anti-shock system; comfortable cork handles. Can be used to spear trout.
Duct Tape – Tim DeBoef, a friend of mine, once told me that success in life is mostly a result of “duct tape and prayer”. I believe him. I’ll have a few feet worth wrapped around my trekking poles.
Black Diamond Spot Headlamp – lightweight, very bright, dimmable, multiple modes. Bring on the night hiking! A gift from my friend, John Walsh. Thanks, John!
Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter – light, compact, easy to use.
Platypus Water Bladder (2 Liter) – water reservoir, primarily for use in camp.
Potable Aqua Chlorine Dioxide Water Purification Tablets – Plan B in case water filter fails. Plan C involves an airdrop from a Charleston C-17.
MSR Pocket Rocket with MSR IsoPro fuel – simple, compact, and lightweight canister stove. Boils a liter of water in less than 4 minutes.
Fire Starters – Bic lighter, 24 matches in waterproof case, and a UST Mini-Flint Sparker. May be overkill, but I like having multiple ways of making fire that don’t involve rubbing sticks together.
Snowpeak Trek 900 Titanium Cookset – set includes a 30 fl. oz. titanium pot, a small titanium fry pan and a nylon mesh storage sack; fry pan doubles as a pot lid. Store stove and fuel inside it. Only complaint is that the pot lid/fry pan doesn’t fit securely on the pot.
Snowpeak Titanium Cup – a man has got to have his coffee.
Snowpeak Titanium Spork – for eating; can also be used as a shank to kill wolverines.
Classic SD Swiss Army Knife – I resisted the urge to buy a big, cool, unnecessary hunting knife. This small, 7-function, lightweight knife has all that I’ll need, including scissors. I can also use it to skin the wolverine that I shank with my spork.
Rechargeable Stun Gun Flashlight – Backup light source. Also, mess with me and I’ll put 1 million volts of pure electricity through your veins. (Or, if used incorrectly, through my own veins…which might reverse my sterilization procedure.)
Glasses and sunglasses (both prescription) – can hike without them, but prefer the 20/20 vision with them…and not falling off a mountain. Will also bring some contact lenses and solution, although I suspect I will prefer the glasses or going with nothing.
Triple-A Batteries – extra for headlamp and flashlight.
Shammy – multi-use towel…clean pots, wipe off tent, dry tears, etc.
AWOL’s Guide to the AT, by David Miller – full of useful information on shelters, elevations, towns, water sources, etc. I have this in hard copy and another guide downloaded on my phone.
Pen w/ small pen light – for note-taking, writing in shelter journals, and writing sentimental heartfelt letters to my wife.
50’ Utility Cord + Small Stuffsack + Carabiner – used together, with a rock, to hang food bag (OPSAK Barrier Bag inside Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil 20L Drysack,) on a high enough tree branch so bears won’t get it.
Trash Compactor Bag – lines the backpack, providing an extra layer of water protection.
Gold Bond Extra Strength Medicated Body Lotion – this gets its own entry because I fear chafing more than I fear bears. This is a result of psychological trauma from literally chafing my nipples off during the 2007 Marine Corps Marathon. At the finish line, a young Marine handed me a medal and two Band-Aids. Fortunately, they regenerated like salamander legs. By that, I mean both processes involve regeneration…not that salamander legs grew where my nipples once were. I’ll move on.
Toiletries – small toothbrush and toothpaste, wet wipes, sanitizer, earplugs, toenail clippers, Chap Stick w/ SPF. In lieu of toilet paper, I’ll be using wet wipes in conjunction with sage leaves and pinecones, a technique recommended by my friend Larry Alexander. He said I must learn this technique on my own, preferably in a quiet, wooded area far from camp, while listening to Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. As for rookies prone to select the wrong type of pinecone, well, that’s where the medicated Gold Bond comes in.
First-Aid & Medicine – Band-Aids, gauze pads, sterile bandage, moleskin, blister pads, athletic tape, Neosporin, DEET Insect Repellent, razor blade, needle (to pop blisters), tweezers (tic removal), Vitamin I (Ibuprofen), Tums, Imodium, antihistamine, sting and bite pad, acetaminophen, and Nexium (to be taken in Pennsylvania during the Half Gallon Ice Cream Challenge at Pine Grove Furnace General Store).
Clothing & Shoes (worn or placed inside REI 15L Drysack)
Columbia Zero Rules Short Sleeve Shirt – super-cooling tech tee, polyester wicking fabric, UPF 30 sun protection, antimicrobial treatment.
ExOfficio Triflex Hybrid Long Sleeve Shirt – durable, comfortable, quick drying.
Patagonia Capilene 2 Lightweight Crew Top & Capilene 2 Lightweight Bottoms – quick drying, highly breathable, moisture-wicking polyester; synthetic base layer top & bottom; 20-UPF sun protection. Ideally, these will remain dry and used at camp/as pajamas. Could also be used as an added layer of insulation in extremely cold weather.
Patagonia G1 III Zip Off Pants – tough, lightweight, nylon-taslan pants with zip-off legs; durable water repellent finish and 50+ UPF sun protection.
Northface Paramount II Cargo Shorts – abrasion-resistant midweight nylon; large cargo pockets with secure Velcro closures.
Marmot Essence Rain Jacket – waterproof, breathable; attached hood, integrated cooling vents; chest pocket. Good in rain and wind; wear alone or in combination with any of the above shirts, depending on conditions.
Northface Venture Full-Zip Rain Pants – waterproof, breathable, full-zip pants. Good in rain and wind; wear alone or in combination with any of the above shorts/pants, depending on conditions.
Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer – ultralight (2.1 ounces) nylon insulating jacket; wind and water-resistant.
Darn Tough Vermont Men’s Merino Wool Socks (2 pair) – Comfortable, well cushioned, moisture wicking.
REI Smartwool Merino Wool Sock Liners (2 pairs) – soft, silky merino wool blended with stretch nylon for durability and a good fit; helps prevent blistering.
Smartwool Hunting Heavy Crew Socks (1 pair) – Warm, comfortable, cushioned. Mainly for use at camp. Can also be worn as mittens on particularly cold days.
ExOfficio Underwear (2 pair) – soft, durable, breathable, moisture wicking; 1 for hiking; 1 for camp. Or keep both in backpack.
REI Smartwool Balaclava – soft, snuggly, pure merino wool. Keep the head/face warm while hiking or at camp. It makes me look like a cross between a stealth ninja warrior and a dry erase marker.
REI Buff – helps keep sweat off face and prevent sunburn.
Outdoor Research Versaliner Gloves – Breathable, 100-weight fleece insulating liner and removable waterproof ripstop fabric shell. The zippered back-of-hand shell-storage pocket doubles as a heat pack pocket when conditions turn unexpectedly icy.
Oboz Sawtooth Mid Hiking Boots – lightweight, waterproof, comfortable out of the box. These boots have served me well hiking, on mission trips, Habitat projects, etc. Provide some extra ankle protection in the early GA/NC Mountains. Will wear these for the first 1/4 to 1/3 of the hike.
Salomon XA Pro 3D Trail-Running Shoes – will switch to these for the second 1/4 to 1/3 of the trail. Synthetic mesh uppers/lining, EVA midsole, rubber outsole. Comfortable, durable, quick drying. These things are beasts. May go with a new pair of these for the last portion of the trail or may go back to the Sawtooths.
Spenco PolySorb Walker/Runner Insoles – probably unnecessary, given the quality Sawtooth insoles. But thought I’d give them a try. Increases shock absorption and helps prevent blisters.
Crocs – lightweight camp shoes. Important to make a fashion statement at Laundromats.
Under Armour Fishhook Cap – helps prevent sunburn and keep rain off eyeglasses.
Coghlans Mosquito Head Net – worn over ball cap in heavy bug traffic areas. Can also be used to strain pasta noodles.
Chums Surfshorts Wallet – lightweight, durable ripstop nylon.
Food and Water
1-Liter Smartwater Bottles – durable, fit nicely in backpack side pockets, easily replaceable. I’ll typically start with 2 full ones, although I could adjust that depending on the projected distance/reliability of the next water source.
Food – although a bit more expensive, I will re-supply food in the towns I come to, rather than send multiple mailings to post offices along the way. I like not being tied to a post office schedule, i.e., needing to hike 25 miles in the rain today to get to the post office before it closes for the weekend. I also like the flexibility of buying whatever type of food I’m hungry for in that town, versus the Ramon noodles in a package I sent 2 months ago. Thus, I’ll pay a bit more for food, but that’s offset some by not having the cost of mailing multiple packages. Having said that, I may have Lil Jan mail me just a few food packages (with love notes) at locations which are notoriously expensive or lacking in food options.
Loksak Garbage Bag – to pack out garbage.
iPhone 6 w/ charger – use as phone & camera; read i-Books, listen to music, takes notes, blog, etc. I also have the 2016 AT Thru-Hikers Companion downloaded on it.
Mophie 3X Powerstation – external battery, 2.4 amp, 6000mAh; provides 3 full charges for the iPhone.
Yurbuds Ironman Earphones – because not everyone wants to hear my playlist.
Casio ProTrek Titanium Solar Watch – among other functions, has a compass, altimeter, thermometer, & barometer. And check this out…it will also tell you what time it is. Mind blown.
So there you have it! All that checks in at 21 lbs. of base weight, and another 7-12 lbs. of food and water depending on how far to the next resupply town. I don’t believe this constitutes the “best gear” or the “right gear” for anyone else…it’s just what I think will work best for me. If I’m wrong, I’ll adapt and adjust along the way.
Only 44 days til launch!
Questions for Miss Walsh’s/Mrs. Wilkinson’s and Mr. Reeve’s 5th/6th Grade Classes:
- What do you think is the most important item on the list? What is the least important? Why?
- If you had to hike the Appalachian Trail with only 10 things on this list, which ten would you choose? Why?
- Why is it important to not bring too much stuff with you while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail? What are the possible consequences of over-packing?
- If you were hiking the AT and could bring one luxury item with you, just for fun, what would it be?
- Why do you think they call your tent, backpack, and sleeping bag the “Big Three”?
- Some experts say that for long-distance hiking, the “Big Three” should weigh no more than 3 lbs. each, or 9 lbs. total. How much do Big Steve’s Big Three weigh?
- Research the pros and cons of having a down sleeping bag versus a synthetic sleeping bag.
- If you could regenerate any part of your body with the body part of an insect, which body part and which insect would you choose? Why?
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