What to leave home/preparation for a thru-hike
By A-Train 4 Feb 2005
Thought I'd compile a list of ideas that would be helpful to future thru-hikers planning to leave soon for their journey. This is advice that I would have found useful in making last-minute decisions as what to buy and what to bring. This is intended to help decrease pack weight and shy away from superflous items that you most likely won't use on a daily basis. It's also meant as a way for you, the hikers to save money sending things home that you could just as easily leave home. Lastly, It may save you money from having to buy some things in the first place.
Disclaimer: This is based on my own experience on the trail as well as witnessing others sending many similar items home and lugging the same things and wondering why on earth they had them in the first place. I can guarantee there will be folks who will disagree with almost every item I deem uncessary. I'm not claiming this is the right way, or that since I don't need it, YOU won't need it. It's simply a suggestion, you can take it for what it's worth. If this benefits one person I'll be happy.
Pack Towel-This was something that everyone had, sometimes 2 or 3 of them. Sure they could be handy, but why not just carry a bandana. It's lighter and can be used a million and a half different ways. I cleaned my glasses, tied it around my head, wiped condensation off my tent walls, and washed my face with it. It's multi-purpose. Most likely a hostel or motel will have towels. If not you can get creative. A pack towel is not a necessity.
Tent/Seal seam and boot water proofing- You simply don't need these items often enough to warrant carrying them in a pack for 6 months. When you need them you can split a bottle with other hikers, or find leftover in a hiker box. No need to lug it up the trail.
Soaps and toiletries-All you really need is a SMALL bottle (like an oz or two) of all purpose or Doctor Bronners biodegradable soap. This can be used to wash you and your pots. No need for special "human" soap. Likewise carrying toiletries like deoderant and shampoo are not necessary. You're gonna stink and the only time to get clean is in town. They have what you need.
Trowel-I carried the orange shovel for 700 miles before realizing I didn't really need it. Most shelters have a privy. If you can excercise any sort of self control, you usually can time your business around lunch or dinner or breakfast at a shelter. I hardly ever needed to dig. Use a trekking pole, use a boot heal, use your finger. The only section without privies is Erwin to Damascus, so maybe you can pick a trowel up in Erwin if this scares you.
A groundcloth- I'm sure the masses will want to stone me for this, but I saw absolutely no reason to carry an extra piece of material under my tent. If the tent was going to get wet due to a storm or a poor setup, a piece of material would do little to keep the floor dry. All it seemed to be was another layer of material that didn't do a whole lot. Experiment before leaving with this one.
Gaitors-Backpacker magazine and the likes like to embed the idea that to be truly hardcore and rugged, we most have these very expensive hot covers on our legs to protect us against all the perils of the woods. Not so. In reality they do very little for you other than make you look goofy or rough, depending on who you talk to. If you haven't bought them, save your money for xtra cheezburgers.
Mitten Covers- I bought these and never really needed them. Regular fleece gloves are great to keep you warm at night but generally you generate enough heat while hiking that i never needed these, maybe once or twice at most. You can always put your hands in your pockets or use ziplock bags
XTRA food and clothing-this is generally the source of peoples riciculous 80 lb loads when they leave Springer. You can get more food 30 miles up the trail, even 20 if you run into trouble. Don't start out with 10-15 lbs of food. It just doesn't make sense. Likewise, be prepared for the mountain weather, but there is no need to set off with 4 t-shirts, 3 pairs of underwear and "Town clothes". Your gonna smell, just wear the same thing everyday. Trust me, no one cares.
A book-I love reading on the trail but realize for many people they are too tired to sit down and attack a novel after a long days walking. You can always pick one up along the way if you are so inclined.
Radio/Music player-most hikers seemed to not have a need for one until virginia when the days started to get long and motivation decreased. If you can't live a day without, bring it to springer, but realize you may be wrapped up in adjusting to trail and meeting folks the first few weeks. Trust me, you won't be bored if you leave in march or april.
Camp Cup-lots of folks had cups or spent much too much on titanium mugs. Thats why we have water bottles. They double as mugs too. Cups don't pack well and take up space. If you are a devoted coffee drinker, this might be a staple for you, though.
Sunglasses/Sun screen-This ain't the desert or the PCT. There is good tree cover and it's not called the Long Green Tunnel for nothing. Almost everyone ended up sending their spiffy specs home. If you need a pair, go with somehting cheap. Most likely you'll smash them or leave them in a shelter.
Bug Spray-Sorry if this sounds dumb but you won't need this till later on. Buy some in Kent Ct.
Sox-3 pairs is perfect. 1 for warm camp wear and 2 to alternate while hiking. Anymore than this seems overkill
Xtra pants-Go with one pair. Decide what you like better: rain pants or convertible/cool hiking pants. They esentially do the same thing which is cover your legs. Both are NOT water proof. Most thru-hikers seemed to deem rainpants obsolete by the warmer weather (especially after their wicking ability had died) and I tend to agree. Go with a real cheap pair (10 bucks) or use those fancy convertible pants. I had a pair that were quite expensive and the zipper broke on me. Not good. Shorts and tights always works good and is versatile.
Guidebook-you don't need the state guidebooks unless you are really interested in every turn and twist the trail takes. A handbook and data info and maps will be all you need.
Don't over do it on the journal. I use loose small paper and pen. Some people had elaborate notebooks which were heavy.
Water holders/Bottles-You will be inclined to fill your canisters so avoid those humongous platypus sacks or 3-4 nalgenes. All you need is 2 1-liter bottles and something to keep camp water in (a small collapsible bag). I saw people leaving springer with like 20 lbs of water, no exageration.
First Aid-this is personal of course, and I'm not trying to get anyone killed here, but don't overkill here. Use your common sense. Most likely if the injury is real bad you're gonna need to get off trail. A couple band-aids, antibiotic oinment, some tape to wrap blisters and ibuprofen does me good.
poles/sticks: I'm a HUGE proponent of these and I do own expensive Lekis. You don't need the fanciest though. Ski poles work well and the cheaper brands often performed as good as the expensive ones. They're great for your knees but don't get sucked into the marketing scheme, if you don't want to.
Cell Phone- This is highly debated, but most likely its just gonna add weight to your pack and you won't find service. If you wanna pay money to carry a rock in your pack, go crazy, but know the overwhelming majority of folks sent these home.
As I mentioned, you may find that one or more of these are necessary for you to enjoy your hiking trip. If you want to lug it, go for it! This is only a sugestion as how to trim pack weight and save some money and time. Each person generally has a comfort item and any of these may be what you can't live without. Good luck to all