What to Carry: The Basics of Putting Together a Kit for Hiking the Appalachian Trail; Part I - Overview
By SGT Rock
Last Edited 18 Oct 2005
It is often asked by hikers just starting out: What gear is needed to hike the Appalachian Trail? That question is as complicated as asking what sort of car is needed to drive on the interstate. The answer isnt always easy and that can sometimes annoy new hikers who want easy answers. But there are some basic ideas of what one would most likely need on the Appalachian Trail for a short hike, long distance hike, or even possibly a thru-hike. In this article I attempt to make a basic list and give the new hiker a basic guide of what to carry.
Now, as you start to read this, remember that everyone has a style, and not everyone even knows what that is yet. What I try and describe here is the basics and some basic concepts. You may find you disagree with some of the items on the list and want something different, something added, or think something I have included is not needed. Your style and experience may also change over time and you may end up changing your gear as you go along this is perfectly normal.
Another thing: forget the idea of BEST. Another common question is What is the best X and change X to mean pack, boots, tent, sleeping bag, water filter, stove, or whatever else you might think of. BEST is so subjective that it defies a common answer. While one hiker may think that the Gregory Shasta backpack is the best, another may feel that the Mountainsmith Ghost is far superior. The key is to evaluate the gear based on your needs for weather, experience, and comfort level.
And lastly before I move on: remember that your gear doesnt get you where you are going; your attitude and skill does. You may hear you have to have X if you are going to be successful, well usually that isnt true. Hikers have made it using burlap sacks, shower curtains, and tennis shoes. You dont need the latest gadget, widget, or convince to make it to Katahdin or whatever your destination may be.
There has been a movement for years to lighter and simpler gear. There is a reason for this: you have to carry everything. That may seem like an obvious statement, but it is something many novice hikers fail to fully comprehend until they are a couple of miles up the trail and hit the first 1000 climb. Weight always matters! People can handle a great deal of weight provided they have the conditioning and guts to make it. But if you plan to carry a 100 pound pack so you can have every convenience and safety gadget known to man thinking it will make you comfortable or safe, you may actually doom yourself to a more miserable hike.
Evaluate everything for weight as a general rule. If you are looking at a stove that weighs one pound and can find a stove that weighs half as much, you may want to look into that lighter stove. But in saying that, you should also remember that there are times when you reach a point based on the weather, your experience level, the trail you plan to walk, and the conditioning level you have at the beginning of your hike that may make the arctic fleece a better option than the long sleeve wicking shirt that weighs 1/4th as much. When you have a question about the comparative value about a couple of items, ask it on www.WhiteBlaze.net and see what some other hikers have found. That is what makes the internet so invaluable.
Sometimes the most important piece of gear in hiking can be a good set of postal scales. You can get fairly inexpensive scales that read down to the the tenth of an ounce or in grams. Weigh ever piece of gear you plan to carry and compare it to other gear. Sometimes you might even want to take your scales into the outfitters to weigh items and compare them before buying. Once you have the weights, use a spreadsheet to track the weights (example spreadsheet for hiking) or if you don't have spreadsheet software then download this program which is designed to do the same thing: http://www.chrisibbeson.com/pages/Ge...alculator.html
Price is not often a good way to judge the reliability, quality, or utility of a gear item. There are gear companies out there that make their real money off of selling high priced equipment to people that have the disposable income to afford it - I guess they see high priced camping gear as fashion or they feel they can make some sort of brand name statement in campsites. Gear should normally be evaluated based on its usefulness, reputation with other hikers, warranty, and where you can find a good deal. If you spend $300 on a tent, remember it will get wear and tear, and may even get trashed and then it is possible no one will honor the warranty. This could be a big problem if you are out for a long time as in Thru-hiking. A $100 dollar tent may make you just as comfortable and allow you to spend that extra money somewhere else.
There are many good sources on the internet to find used gear, like in the WhiteBlaze used gear forum. And there are places like www.campmor.com, www.rei.com/outlet, and www.sierratradingpost.com that have sales on gear all the time. Other good places to watch are Goodwill and the Salvation Army where people sometimes unload perfectly good used gear. Your local outfitter most likely has a bargain rack, a sale room, or cheap stuff bin where last years gear is being cleared out for the newer stuff and this gear is usually a great deal because gear manufacturers often come out with something new every year just like clothing manufacturers come out with fashion: but the old stuff is just as good.
And finally, watch stores like Target and Wal-Mart. Often they have things like clothing that are just as good as the higher priced logo t-shirts and fleece without all the extra price. These stores are also know for creative gear: gear that is used for something other than its intended purpose like a grease pot which weighs next to nothing and makes a great, cheap cooking pot.
Dont be afraid to make your own stuff. Homemade gear can be as good as or better than the manufactured stuff. Kits and plans about for things like stoves, clothing, packs, pots, lights, sleeping bags, and just about any other piece of gear you can think of are out there. There is even a homemade gear forum on WhiteBlaze
Making you own gear can save money and weight (leave off the fancy bells and whistles) while giving you a sense of ownership over your gear more than just buying it can. If you make something, you will also have an intimate knowledge of how it is constructed and works in case you ever have to repair it on the trail.
Needs and Wants
There are things you really need, like food water, and warmth to make your hike successful and survivable. Then there are the things that you need like a compass, map, and a way to stop bleeding that you may never need to use on a hike, but are invaluable when things go wrong. The kinds of items should be planned for first when deciding what you need. After those items, equipment get into degrees of needs and wants.
It is easy for someone to start by trying to figure out what they need everyday at home and try to find a suitable substitute for the trail. It would be easy to add a pillow, a plate, fork, deck of cards, alarm clock, wash basin, coffee grinder, radio, cell phone, extra pants for town, extra fuel for 30 days (just in case) The list could go on forever. Sometimes people feel their wants are more important than their actual needs and end up justifying what is really a want into what they feel is a need.
Before you start down that road, think of a couple of things: The more I carry, the more I enjoy camping; the less I carry, the more I enjoy hiking. So with that in mind, are you going camping or hiking?
Well what do I really mean by that? Well if you plan to walk 5 miles or maybe even drive to a campsite and set up, then you very well may spend a lot of time in camp and may want something to do that is entertainment while you are in camp. You may also find that you dont mind the weight of an iron frying pan and whole potatoes for 10 days because you will have time for cooking and enjoying the process of cooking and cleaning. But if you are planning on backpacking for some distance, you may find that you carry so much that it slows you down; that you spend a lot of time walking to make the miles because you move slower and take more rest breaks, and that you are too tired to fool with all that mess anyway when you get to camp you would rather just flop down and pass out in your smelly nasty hiking clothing after a couple of snickers and some cold water!
So before you add the kitchen sink, my recommendation would be to start by packing the least amount of stuff you think you need and then do a shake down hike. If you make it without the things you thought you needed, well then you didnt need them. And if you found you needed them and worked around it with the stuff you had on hand, then maybe it wasnt really a need after all. And the final thought on that if you took something and never used (except your safety items) then maybe you should stop carrying it.
An Example List
Enough pontificating; you will eventually get on the trail and figure out what I have been trying to say anyway. So lets make a basic packing list and then break down into a discussion of that. Note that this list is not the Ultra-light hiking type list, but a fairly accurate list that a hiker may want to carry. You can add to or take away as you need. In some places very light gear is listed, in others the choices are not the lightest just like in real life. In places I tried not to put in actual weights or names of gear so this would not end up in a shopping list to go to the outfitters with. You need to take this list (or something like it) and use it to plan how to fill each item.
Also, one last thought, this should not be a competition to see if you can beat this weight or other people's weight. This is a guide in how to build a list. Use it as just that.
1. Pack Group:
1 Backpack XX brand ......36 ounces
1 Pack liner Trash compactor bag 2 ounces
1 Sil-Nylon stuff sack .......1.3 ounces
Total ..............39.3 ounces
2. Shelter Group:
1 Tarp/Tent XX brand. .... .30 ounces
6 aluminum stakes ....... .3 ounces
Total ........... ..33.0 ounces
3. Sleeping Group:
1 Down bag, 20F rating XX Brand....32 ounces
1 stuff sack sil-nylon ...... 1.3 ounces
1 closed cell foam pad ..... 10 ounces
Total ............43.3 ounces
4. Kitchen Group:
1 Fuel bottle ............. 1 ounce
1 alcohol stove ............ 1 ounce
1 titanium pot ............ .4.1 ounces
1 lighter ................0.6 ounces
1 water bottle used Gatorade bottle 1.7 ounces
1 platypus bladder 3L .........1.5 ounces
1 bottle iodine/1 Vitamin C ....... .2 ounces
1 sil-nylon stuff sack food bag .... 1.3 ounces
1 plastic spoon ........... .0.3 ounces
1 bandanna ..............1 ounce
1 length cord 50 ...........2.5 ounces
Total ............... ..17.0 ounces
5. Hygiene Group:
1 small pack towel ......... ..1 ounce
1 bottle hand cleaner 1 ounce ...1.3 ounces
1 small zip lock .............0.3 ounces
1 partial roll toilet paper ........2 ounces
1 small child toothbrush ...... ..0.5 ounces
1 small tube tooth paste .... ...0.7 ounces
Total ............... 5.8 ounces
6. Navigation Group:
1 map (average weight) ....... ..2.9 ounces
1 compass .............0.5 ounces
1 trail guide (pages of the section)... ..3 ounces
1 small light.. . ...............1.8 ounces
1 small bundle of paper ......... .. .3 ounces
1 pen ................. ..0.5 ounce
Total ................12.7 ounces
7. Repair/First Aid Group:
1 Repair kit ............. 2 ounces
1 small roll of duct tape ....... 3 ounces
1 First Aid kit ............ 2 ounces
1 set spare lithium batteries .... .0.5 ounces
1 emergency fire starter pack .....0.5 ounces
Total ................8 ounces
8. Luxury items:
1 MP3 player with FM radio ... .1.7 ounces
1 camera .......... 5.4 ounces
1 extra data card ..... 0.1 ounces
Total .............7.2 ounces
9. Rain Gear:
1 rain jacket ........ .11.5 ounce
1 pair rain pants ....... .6 ounces
1 pair rain mittens ..... ..1.2 ounces
Total ............18.7 ounces
10. Clothing In Pack, Warm Weather:
1 spare pair socks ......1 ounce
1 spare shirt ....... ..5 ounces
1 spare pair underwear ... .1.6 ounces
Total ............ 7.6 ounces
11. Clothing In Pack, Cool Weather:
1 long sleeve top .... ..9.5 ounces
1 pair long pants .......8.3 ounces
1 fleece hat .........2.4 ounces
1 pair fleece gloves .... ..1 ounce
1 pair warm socks ...... 2.6 ounces
Total .......... .23.8 ounces
12. Clothing In Pack, Colder Weather:
1 insulated jacket .....9.7 ounces
1 pair insulated pants .. ..8.5 ounces
1 pair heavy wool socks . ..3.3 ounces
1 pair mittens ........1.9 ounces
1 neck gaiter .........2.1 ounces
1 pair GoreTex socks ... ..3.5 ounces
Total ......... 29.0 ounces
13. Clothing Worn, and Items Carried:
1 pair trail runners ......... .32.4 ounces
1 pair socks .............1 ounce
1 t-shirt ..... ........ 5 ounces
1 pair underwear ........... .1.6 ounces
1 pair light running shorts ............3.7 ounces
1 ball cap .............2.5 ounces
1 backpacker wallet with ID and cash 2.7 ounces
1 small pocket knife ........1.7 ounces
1 watch ............... 1.3 ounces
1 pair trekking poles with rubber tips. 18 ounces
Total ............. .69.9 ounces (4.4 pounds)
2 ounce fuel per day x 5 days @ .82 ounces per fluid ounce ..8.2 ounces
32 ounces water @ 1.04 ounces per fluid ounce ..... 33.3 ounces
32 ounces food per day x 5 days .......... 160 ounces
Total ...................... . ..201.5 ounces
1. Pack Group ........... ..39.3 ounces
2. Shelter Group .......... ..33.0 ounces
3. Sleeping Group ...................43.3 ounces
4. Kitchen Group ............ .17.0 ounces
5. Hygiene Group ..................5.8 ounces
6. Navigation Group ......... ..12.7 ounces
7. First Aid Repair Group ....... ...8.0 ounces
8. Luxury Items . ...........7.2 ounces
9. Rain Gear ..................18.7 ounces
10. Clothing in Pack Warm Weather ..7.6 ounces
Total Dry pack Weight (Warm Weather)...192.6 ounces (12 pounds) + 201.5 ounces (consumables) = 24.6 pounds.
11. Clothing in Pack Cool Weather 23.8 ounces
Total Dry pack Weight (Cool Weather)...216.4 ounces (13.5 pounds) + 201.5 ounces (consumables) = 26.1 pounds.
12. Clothing in Pack Colder Weather .. 29. 0 ounces
Total Dry pack Weight (Colder Weather)...245.4 ounces (15.3 pounds) + 201.5 ounces (consumables) = 27.9 pounds.
Again, this is just an example list of what items you may want to carry. You may add to or take away from the list as you see fit for your comfort level, style, and the weather you are going into.
Next I will go into the pack by section. I find it easier if I think about my gear in groups. Each group has a purpose and intent.