Putting Together Your Packing List For Your Section or Thru-Hike

Congratulations on making the decision (or at least making the decision to ‘make a decision’) to get out on the Appalachian Trail! I hope this post will reach those in the beginning stages of planning their first multi-day hike on the Appalachian Trail (or any similar trail). Although I am a section hiker, and a slow one at that, the base gear that is carried is essentially the same whether you are planning for a thru-hike, a LASH (long-ass section hike), or just a night or two out on the trail.

Each hiker ultimately tailors her/his pack to meet their needs and desires, but when it comes to having gear that you can trust to protect you in most elements, and are overwhelmed by how many ounces each item weighs, and are starting to wake in the middle of the night because you want to take nail clippers but feel as though it will set you over the edge, let me help you put your mind back at rest 🙂

Below is how I pack with confidence. I will give you my complete base packing list, along with my “extras/comforts” for you to use as a tool to help you compare and plan out your own packing list.

The Base Gear Is The Same For Everyone!

  1. You need shelter.
  2. You need something to sleep in.
  3. You need something to cook with/in.
  4. You need a safe hydration system.
  5. You need something to carry it all in.

Cool! Everyone talks about weight and ounces – how do I know what I really need?

It does appear overwhelming on the surface, but I promise it won’t be after the first multi-day hike. So to get you from HERE to START DATE, I have listed the exact items I (and nearly every multi-day hiker) use for my base gear, plus I added in food, water, clothes, toiletries/hygiene, necessities and my own comfort items that I carry on my section hikes. Hopefully, this will put things like ‘weight’ into perspective, and reduce some of that pre-trip anxiety 🙂 I remember how it was to not be able to sleep months before the ‘start date’!

MY BASE PACKING LIST:                    

  • SHELTER: tent, rain-fly, footprint, stakes, frame, 2 headlamps.

I use a Big Agnes Ultra-Light Copper Spur (2p), which includes the rain-fly, stakes and frame. The footprint that goes with this tent is sold separately. I have one hiking headlamp from REI and I buy $1 LED headlamps from Walmart for the tent. Total weight is around 2.5lbs

I think the 2 person is more than enough room if you are hiking with 2 people and/or a dog but if you are solo, a one-person tent is adequate.

  • SLEEP SYSTEM: sleeping bag, sleeping pad, liner (if needed).

I use the Marmot Helium 15 degree goose down bag and the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad. Total weight is around 2.22 lbs.

I recommend getting a synthetic down instead of goose down to avoid worrying about if your sleeping bag gets wet. I hate my sleeping pad (it’s loud and scoots out from under me), but it does protect well from the cold ground. When you are searching for a sleeping pad, look for the R-value to be over 3 (mine is 5). The higher the R-value, the better it protects against cold. I don’t use a liner, but I bring PJ’s.

  • COOKWARE:  Cup, 1.8L pot w/lid, spork, portable stove, gas canister, lighter, food bag (or canister), para-cord.

I have the GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Dualist (I initially bought all my gear for 2, but it turned out to be just me), a Toaks cup, Toaks spork, REI mini rocket stove, Sea to Summit 13L dry food bag, 50 feet of para-cord, Walmart gas canister. All weigh together near 2 lbs.

The Pinnacle Dualist is not needed for one hiker. It is ridiculously expensive. Just get a lightweight pot to boil water in (use a lid) and a lightweight cup from REI or your local outfitters. Walmart has the same models/weight for fraction of costs. Tip: Don’t cook your meals in your pot, just boil the water in it and pour it into your pre-packaged meals in a freezer bag. This way you don’t have to clean your pot and you aren’t throwing food out where a bear might smell it for the next hiker.

Thru-hikers typically carry food for 4-5 days at a time, otherwise, it gets too heavy, so a 13-ish Liter bag is a good size to get for your hanging food bag. I use one, but I am considering a bear canister this season or Ursak, depending on weight/space adjustments.

  • HYDRATION SYSTEM: Sawyer Mini filtration, iodine tablets **USE IODINE TABLETS FOR EMERGENCY ONLY- NOT FOR EVERY DAY USE**, 2L or 3L bladder or Smart Water bottles (I take both).

I started with the Sawyer Mini filter – it was great to screw onto the Smart Water bottles while on the go, and easy to store, switched to a filtration gravity bag but it clogged too easily, tried the droplets (couldn’t get past the taste) and have circled back around to ole’ faithful. It takes the same amount of time to filter your water whether you set up a fast filtering gravity system, squeeze out a Sawyer Mini, or wait for the droplets to activate. I saw an alarmingly amount of hikers using the iodine tablets for daily use… folks — it clearly says on the package NOT FOR EVERYDAY USE and their website says it is dangerous to the body to use daily. These are for emergency backup, like if everything dries up and all you can find is some water that’s been standing still for days and has mosquito eggs everywhere. There’s lots of info out there on avoiding the poo-plague and what a filter system does vs when to use iodine tablets… Read them. Each morning I start the day with 4L (9lbs) of water, sometimes less if I know there is a reliable water source within the first couple of miles.

Because I hike so slowly, I need to carry more than 2L of water between shelters/water sources. I’ve run out before and it is frightening. It’s not fair to ask other hikers to share their water, as it puts them at risk too. So I carry 2 or 3 liters in a bladder in my pack plus one or two water bottles, depending on the distance I have for the day. Sometimes I just carry 4 1L bottles and skip the bladder. Don’t fear the weight. You quickly drop it as you drink your water while you hike. Either way, take one or two empty smart water bottles to gather water for filtering later.

  • 2 HIKING POLES.

I promise promise promise PROMISE you need them. It’s one thing to hike downhill and use them for balance, but it’s another to hike downhill with 30lbs on your back. Your knees need them. Icy/wet/rocky days need them. Narrow paths need them. That snake needs them.

I use $60 Mountain Smith twist hiking poles. When I can afford them, I’ll upgrade, but I’ve gotten well over 150 miles from the ones I have now.

MY LIST OF EXTRAS: (weight is estimated)

  1. HYGIENE: wet wipes, toothbrush&paste, camp soap & hand sanitizer, P-Style, 2 large ziplock bags for trash. – 2 LBS
  2. FIRST AID: 5 bandaids, 2 alcohol wipes, moleskin, chaffing cream, tampons/pads (if needed), nail clippers, snakebite kit, personal meds, IBUPROFIN!!! acid/reflux pills. – up to 2 LBS
  3. FOOD: 4 breakfasts, 4 midday snacks, 4 dinners, 2 ziplock bags for trash. – 10-12 LBS
  4. CLOTHES: (this list includes what you will also wear while hiking) puffy jacket, fleece jacket, rain jacket, 3 socks, 3 undies (i do wear cotton), pajamas, camp shoes, synthetic/wool base layer top, synthetic/wool base layer bottoms, 2 water-whisking shirts, hiking pants, 1 extra pair of shorts. You need something to cover your head at night when asleep in cold months. I don’t weigh my clothes, because I am taking them regardless 🙂
  5. COMFORT: otc sleep meds, kindle, earphones, phone cords for charging (if a hostel is on the trip), fire starting cubes, knee brace, blow up camp pillow, chap-stick, GoPro or camera, knife, mini air horn, AWOL A.T. map book, rain cover for backpack, giant trash bag to line the inside of my backpack with. Pee rag, 2 bandannas (one is for drying myself or inside of tent if needed), neck gaiter.

In the cold season I wear a neck gaiter for warmth, then a bandanna over that because noses run in the cold. The neck gaiter later doubles as head warmer whilst in your sleeping bag.

That list sounds heavy!

It does. But if done well, even on a budget, you will stay within a nice range of 30-33lbs including your food and water. Did you just gasp? Don’t let that number scare you! I know you keep hearing numbers like 23lbs and 18lbs even, but those numbers don’t normally include water and food. 30-33lbs is a very good range of weight to be in on day one of your hike, with your food and water, packed.

Here’s a big tip: Every day you will eat around 1-2lbs of food (or more), so that means each day your pack lightens until you re-stock. Plus, you may start the day with 3L of water but again, as you drink your pack will lighten throughout the day.  Your map should tell you where to find water along the trail.

The Big Picture:

This list is based on carrying enough food for 4 days. 

                                                       Goal Weight                        Don’t Exceed

SHELTER2.5 – 4 LBS(max) 4LBS
SLEEP SYSTEM2.5 – 5 LBS(max) 5LBS
COOKWARE2 LBS2 LBS
HYDRATION6 – 11 LBS (water weight)(max) 11LBS
HYGIENE1.5 LBS2 LBS
FIRST AID1 LBS2 LBS
FOOD10 LBS14 LBS
CLOTHES3 LBS4 LBS
COMFORT2- 4 LBS(max) 4 LBS
If you can stay in the low range of each category you should be around 16lbs as your base weight and 33.5 – 37 lbs taking your first step onto the trail.  Many people get it all put together under 30LBS… 
I hope this helps you as you begin to put together your gear for your hike.  These are the items I take.  My pack size is 50L (Osprey), so I pack for up to 4 days at a time.  I have found that thru hikers tend to pack for that amount too as carrying much more becomes too heavy.  

There are lots of ways to cut weight – for instance, my hiking partner carries a tiny device that holds her books and music which is much smaller and weighs less than my big ole heavy kindle. A one-person tent is less weight than a two-person tent. Dehydrate your meals.

Spend your best money on your backpack, your tent, and your sleeping bag. Try to keep your tent and sleeping bag each in the 2.5lb range (and under) and it will make things even easier. Don’t panic if you have really heavy gear, just adjust the weight in your comfort items or your clothing. REI now rents gear, which may be helpful.

Always remember, there are no wrong ways to do things. As long as it works for you, it’s good! 

Grandma Gatewood (the first female to do the AT) was 67 when she hiked the entire AT solo, in a pair of Keds, a shower curtain for shelter, and a sack to carry it in. SIXTY-SEVEN!!!! She didn’t even tell her family she was going.

HELPFUL VIDEOS

Here are some of my favorite videos that helped me get started. The best advice I ever got was to find some YouTubers who are currently out there or made videos in the past and see what they do and bring.

Packing list/Shakedown: This guy hiked the PCT, but I used his list to help me prepare my own gear list when I did my first hike on the A.T., which was a section hike from Springer Mountain. https://youtu.be/BxA0ztIRTwA

Dealing with bear fears:  Flat Broke Outside is one of my favorite hikers to watch.  If you like just the facts without the fluff you will love him!  He’s got great tips on making your own tent, bears, weather, anything you can think of!  https://youtu.be/PqrLn6BSmfw  Also follow him on FB: https://www.facebook.com/Flatbrokeoutside-176295672733321/  He’s super personable, and answers questions even if silly. 🙂

Hygiene:  If you haven’t already heard of Homemade Wanderlust, here is my favorite video from her regarding hygiene.  She’s grown tremendously with her videos, but I love her original videos from when she was first getting started:  https://youtu.be/nk4LvFs2xAI

This is one of my favorite videos a father/son put together about their thru-hike.  I just thought it was humorous and I cried at the end ….https://youtu.be/-Ly8NFcW7_0

 

I’d love to hear what works for you, below! As always, stay stinky!!

 

 

 

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