View Full Version : What to Carry? Part 5

SGT Rock
05-02-2006, 06:18
What to Carry: The Basics of Putting Together a Kit for Hiking the Appalachian Trail. Part V – Clothing

By SGT Rock
Last Edited 27 April 2006


Finishing up the list of what to pack with clothing seems like exactly the right way to go. Clothing can be such a personal decision because many people needs when they buy clothing, even hiking clothing. Some hiking clothing is really “hiker fashion” clothing, some hiking clothes are purely functional, and most hiking clothing falls somewhere between the two extremes. The wearer decides what it is that draws them to that item in the first place – function, style, brands, reputation, warrantee, etc. Add to that the fact that there are so many human variations on enduring things such as heat, cold, rain, wind etc. While one person is totally comfortable in shorts and a t-shirt while there is an inch of snow on the ground, another person may bundle up in ever piece of clothing in their pack at 50F. Then people can adapt differently to these conditions while actually on the trail; while one person may find after a week on the trail they need less clothing to stay warm in a given situation, another may need more as their body fat depletes and they loose their personal insulation layer. So given all that possible variation, you will have to experiment yourself and see where you fit in. Read other people’s packing lists and journals to see what works for people, and try to find someone that sounds like they have a similar comfort level when you plan your clothing.

Note. Before I move on, I want to specifically address cotton. I love cotton clothing but only in town when at things like Trail Days. It is comfortable and doesn’t have stink build up like most synthetics. That said, I wouldn’t want to hike in it or carry it as spare clothing in my pack because of how it absorbs and holds water. Cotton towels make great towels at home because they absorb water, but they also dry slowly. Cotton clothing such as t-shirts and blue jeans suffer from the same issues – ever get blue jeans wet and wait for them to dry? Wearing wet cotton clothing while hiking can chafe, they can mildew, and in cold weather can lead to hypothermia. Even keeping a spare set of cotton clothing in your pack for camp and/or town can be a bad idea because of the humidity in the Appalachians. Every time the clothes are exposed to air they will absorb some moisture. After a while you would end up with damp or wet clothing mildewing inside your pack. So to end this, when looking for materials for clothing, you generally want to look for synthetics and wool.

Longstanding advice has been to plan for dressing in layers and I find that this is a good strategy to follow. With layers you can add or subtract what you need to wear based on weather and exertion level in order to stay comfortable. When you start off in the morning at camp and it is cold, you may start off with wind pants, long shirt, and a cap. Under that you would be wearing shorts and a T-Shirt so that as you start walking and your body starts to warm up, you can take off the pants, long sleeve shirt, and cap as if feels comfortable to you. If it starts getting cold, you can add back the layers as needed. This supports the acronym COLD which is used in the military to train anyone on the basics of staying healthy in cold weather:

C – Clean. Keep your clothing clean as possible. Dirty clothing does not breath as well.
O – Overheating. Do not allow yourself to overheat and sweat, you can get cold later and with wet sweaty clothing this could be dangerous.
L – Layers. Use a layering system to regulate body heat.
D – Dry. Keep everything as dry as possible. Staying dry seems to be 50% of the fight at staying warm.

Why address cold and not go into staying cool? Well I will get to staying cool, but hypothermia is one of the big dangers out there for hikers even in the southern Appalachians even in summer. You can become a cold weather casualty as high as 50F, and at altitude these temperatures can happen in any season and most anywhere on the AT. So following a good system, you can prevent hypothermia. Since I believe in the layering system and follow the layering principles, the following section is broken down in a method that supports that philosophy.

9. Rain Gear

How to keep dry? As I mentioned, staying dry can be 50% of the fight in staying warm and comfortable. You rain gear can also be used to help stay warm even when it isn’t raining since it does add an extra layer of insulation and wind protection. Here are some ideas to think about:

• Rain Top. Most everyone will want something to keep your torso and head dry. Some possibilities:

o Poncho. This is the old standby that has served outdoorsmen (and women) for years. It is a cape that usually has a hood and covers down to about the middle of your thighs. A benefit to a poncho is it can serve as your pack cover and a tarp for camp, and ponchos can provide good airflow while hiking when compared to jackets. Also, when you have to stop to eat in the rain, it is nice to simply use your poncho to create a dry space and have a meal. Disadvantages can be things like ponchos getting caught on brush in overgrown trails, getting blown around in the wind, especially when crossing exposed ridges, and long tails which may be annoying while walking.
o Rain Jacket. Another good choice is the rain jacket. A rain jacket has the advantage of being form fitting, so it can keep wind from blowing water in and can also serve as a nice wind breaker when you don’t have rain but do need to block wind. Disadvantages are things like water getting between your back and your pack in the rain and the fact that a jacket can be a lot hotter than other options when the pack straps create pockets of dead air inside the jacket – no fun while walking.
o Rain Hat. Not all jackets or ponchos come with a hood, and even some of the hoods are not adequate enough for some hikers. A rain hat can look like a ball cap or a wide brimmed sun hat, but have a waterproof coating that causes the water to run off. A benefit to a hat is keeping rain off glasses if you wear them.
o Packa. This product combines the form fitting of a rain jacket with the protection of a pack cover – thus eliminating that problem with rain getting between your back and your pack since you wear your backpack under the Packa. Since you pack goes inside the Packa, it also eliminates those pockets of hot air that can be created with a rain jacket.
• Rain mittens or gloves. These hand coverings can be all you need to keep your hands warm in cold wet weather. They can also work with a light set of fleece mittens or gloves to make an effective layering system that is water resistant.
• Waterproof socks. In the day of Gore-Tex clothing, there are boots made with Gore-Tex layers to help keep feet dry. Often people using these sorts of boots find that their feet sweat enough in them to counteract any possible benefit to using Gore-Tex. The issue is this: Gore-Tex still adds another layer of material for sweat to pass through and to hold heat inside the boot. Think of this: Why not wear a Gore-Tex jacket to hike in during sunny, summer hiking? It breaths right? Of course it is a bad idea because you would sweat worse with the jacket than if you just went with a shirt. Now think about what a Gore-Tex layer is doing in your boots when you don’t need it. The solution some folks now use is to carry a set of socks made from a Gore-Tex or similar material that they can put on when it is wet. Then they can remove it and let them dry out at the end of the hiking day. It can also save money when you don’t have to pay extra for boots with the Gore-Tex layer.
• Umbrella. A recent addition too many hiker’s rain gear is a simple collapsible umbrella. The benefit is you can hike in the rain without any extra layers of clothing to make you sweat. The disadvantage is their performance in wind driven rain – in that case you may still want to have some other form of rain protection.
• Rain Bottom. Similar to the rain jacket, you may need protection for your legs. Many hikers limit the rain bottoms to colder months, and will simply let their legs get wet in warmer months. The benefit to keeping your rain pants is a windbreak layer in windy conditions. Some things you can use for rain bottoms:

o Rain pants. These are pants that are made from waterproof or resistant material. A benefit to having rain pants is you have a pair of pants you can wear in town while the rest of your stuff is in the laundry.
o Rain chaps. Some people simply wear a pair of rain leg protection. These are usually more useful if you are wearing a poncho for your rain top since the poncho usually covers to below groin level.
o Rain Skirt. Recently available, this is a simple wrap of waterproof material that will only cover a kilt, skirt, or shorts, while leaving the bare legs exposed. This can be a real benefit when hiking in hot weather since you keep your lower clothing dry without all the heat of covering your entire leg.
Rain gear materials can vary widely. Some items such as ponchos and rain jackets can be made from material that is totally waterproof. Others may be made from materials that attempt to “breath” so that they are more comfortable by letting out hot, sweaty air generated inside the material. These special materials can be fairly expensive (like Gore-Tex) or fairly cheap (like FrogTogg material). Despite the materials, some of these items add ventilation options like pit vents to help with air flow. Expensive rain gear doesn’t necessarily mean it will work any better than the cheap stuff.

10. Extra Clothing – Warm Weather

Extra clothing is something you will have to decide based on personal preference. While some may wear the same clothing in camp, town, and hiking, others may want a spare set of shorts, t-shirt, and sandals to wear in camp. Some folks change socks three times a day, while others don’t do it for days on end. Some ideas:

• Spare socks. Carry at least one set. When your socks get dirty, you can wash them and hang them on your pack while you walk.
• Spare T-shirt. If you carry one, think about having one long sleeve and one short sleeve so you have the option to cover your arms when you need to avoid sun burn or bugs.
• Spare underwear. Some folks will go without – and if that is your thing, more power too you. But occasionally on the trail you may get what is lovingly referred to as “bubble gut” which is a combination of gas and loose stool. One misread on which one you are letting go can end up in dirty drawers. Having a set to protect your pants from smelling like a privy and a spare to change to could be a nice idea. If you are going to go with underwear I recommend micro fiber type material.

11. Clothing in Pack – Cooler Weather

Here is where you start to add a layer of clothing for when you need to stay warm at times, but not always. You would start off hiking in the normal worn clothing layer (see below) and have these items with you for when you need them like in camp or on exposed ridges in the wind. Using this level and rain gear, you can maintain a fairly flexible system without needing lots of clothing in your pack. For me, I add this layer when I am going somewhere and expect weather to be below 60F but will be above freezing. Some ideas:

• Spare socks. Even if you carry some in the group above, another set for wearing in camp may be a good idea since the ones for walking will most likely all be nasty by the time you reach camp and you may want or need something to keep your feet warm. I also like to make these socks a little warmer (thicker) than my lower level pairs.
• Light gloves. A pair of fleece or polypropylene glove liners is a nice addition when the temps dip. Recently there was a study that showed people had a higher perceived comfort level based on how warm their hands were in cold weather – this was shown to be true despite how warm their actual core body temperature actually was.
• Warm hat. A pullover knit cap is another nice thing to add to keep heat in. A lot of heat is lost through your head.
• Warm clothing layer. This can be something like polypropylene underwear or some light fleece. A top and bottom is probably what you need, but some people also like to add an extra top like a fleece vest to whatever they choose.

12. Clothing in Pack – Cold Weather

This is the next layer level, for time when you expect temperatures to go below what your previous level cannot handle. In these cases you may be wearing your previous level when hiking or not, but when you stop, your previous level may not always hack the weather you are going to encounter. For me, I add this layer when I expect temperatures below freezing.

• Spare Socks. Again, at this point I know I am going to want some really warm socks in camp. For this level you could carry thick wool socks or fleece booties.
• Wool or Fleece mittens or gloves. These warm hand coverings may be what make the difference between keeping your hands warm enough to work while making dinner or starving. I like to step up to a mitten at this level myself.
• Balaclava or Neck Gaiter. You may encounter weather that will freeze your nose or make ice crystals in your mustache. To help warm the air you breathe, a balaclava can be an easy way to go. Another strategy is to keep your warm hat from the previous level and add a pullover neck gaiter to create a flexible system that can replicate a balaclava while giving you a few extra ways to use it.
• Insulating clothing. At this point some heavy fleece may be a good idea. Another option I prefer is clothing that uses lofting insulation such as Polarguard 3D or down since it can be lighter and pack smaller than heavy fleece. You may be surprised at how warm you can be with a long sleeve polypro shirt, insulated jacket, and a rain parka.

13. Clothing Worn

I’ve ended my clothing section with the clothing you wear. Maybe it should be the first clothing discussed since your extra clothing has to support what you already wear when starting. But in this case I left it last because I wanted you to think about all that stuff we have already gone through before you go on to what you are going to wear while hiking. You hiking clothing should be comfortable and allow you to stay cool in hot weather. It does not have to be the warm, protective layer – that was already put in your pack for the times you need all that. This is going to be the clothing you might just say “screw it all” and jump into a river or lake, while also having the general acceptance to be seen in public in most restaurants and stores.

• Footwear. This is probably the most important part of this section. Your feet must take you everywhere on the trail, so your footwear needs to provide adequate protection while also ensuring comfort for your feet. You can have so much protection that your feet are sweaty, crammed, and forced to conform to your boots. You can also go so under protected that you endanger your feet – although a few folks have successfully hiked the AT barefoot. But at any rate, you will probably have to replace footwear along the trail whether it is at the heavy extreme or the light extreme – so be ready for the possibility you pick the wrong footwear at the start of your trip. Another thing to consider is the general wisdom (supported by research) that one pound on your feet is equal to five pounds on your back for the amount of effort it takes for the hiker, so heavy boots may not be the optimal way for someone trying to get broke into the trail to actually do it. Some footwear to consider:

o Barefoot. Not personally something I would do, but it has been successful for a few. The benefit to this would be low cost, low maintenance, low weight, and easy to clean. The draw backs – well you can see how cold it could get and how easily you could hurt your feet if they are not ready for this or you are not careful enough while walking.
o Sandals. For centuries people have traveled long distances in sandals. Recently some ultralight hikers have gone to trying sandals in an effort to make their footwear less complicated. What have resulted are some sandals that are built with toe protection, wide straps to prevent chaffing, and tread designs for trail use.
o Running Shoes. Another option is running shoes. They are built for people that can put a lot of stress on their feet by running, and they can hold up to a few months of abuse while being cheaper, dry faster, and much lighter than many hiking boots. A disadvantage can be the tread designed which may not give much traction on muddy trails.
o Trail Runners. These shoes combine the benefits of a running shoe with a slightly more aggressive tread pattern and many times also have a little more “body” to them than a running shoes. This generally makes them slightly heavier than the running shoe.
o Light Boots. These boots are usually low top fabric boots. They give more ankle support than trail runners and running shoes while attempting to give the foot a little more protection and support.
o Medium Boots. Normally higher topped than the light boots, these were the normal standard for hikers for many years. There has been a general trend lately to move to lighter footwear, but many experienced hikers still swear by them.
o Heavy Boots. These monster boots will sometimes outlive the user because they are rugged and built to last (usually). They are suited to mountain climbing and such, but are probably overkill for trail hiking on the AT. Still, some people will use them and be successful.
• Socks. The sock is designed to generally prevent your footwear from scraping the skin off your feet and to cushion the foot from the places in your shoes most likely to cause blisters. Heavier footwear doesn’t always mean you need a heavier sock, but I have found that when I hike in trail runners or running shoes my socks are almost nothing compared with what I use in boots. Sock choice can often be influenced by how your footwear fits in the first place since a boot that has a lot of extra room may cause you to wear thick socks while another with less room may cause you to need thin socks. Some hikers also hike with a liner layer sock under the heavier sock in order to create a lower friction environment around their feet. This is something you will most likely need to experiment with to see where you are comfortable.
• Gaiters. At the top of some hikers’ footwear they add another barrier to keep out sticks, rocks, and dew. Not all hikers like them or use them, and others swear by them.
• Shirt. Well not everyone wears one of these. Some men go topless and some women wear a bathing suit top. But I recommend you have one of some sort of shirt since pack straps can tear up the skin on your shoulders or neck if you don’t have calluses there yet. Something to consider based on your pack fit is whether you want a shirt with a collar to protect your neck from getting chaffed or not. Depending on your skin, you may also want a shirt with long sleeves to prevent sun burn. In places you don’t need it you can always push the sleeves up.
• Underwear. Discussed earlier, not everyone wears it on the trail.
• Shorts. This is the normal wear seen on the trail for most hikers. They can be as light as spandex or runners shorts, or as complicated as cargo shorts with 6 pockets.
• Trousers. Some folks want full leg covering even in summer to protect their legs from insects, thorns, sun, etc. An option is to go for zip-off leg trousers.
• Skirt. Some women like to hike in a skirt rather than pants or shorts because of cooler air flow. I imagine it is easier to use the bathroom in the woods wearing a skirt.
• Kilt. A recent trend in male hikers is to switch to a kilt. The benefits of a kilt are similar to those of a skirt for a woman.
• Hat. You may want a hat to keep the sun and rain off your face. A ball cap makes a good “front porch” for your face, or a wide brimmed hat can even add that same protection for your neck and ears. Some people use those caps that look more like a headband with a visor for better ventilation for their head. Another option is to use a bandanna as a pirate head cover or sweat band. You can use almost any of these hats as a cooler in hot weather by dipping it in a cool mountain stream.

So that wraps up recommendations about clothing. You can spend mega bucks on clothing and not be any more comfortable or happy than they guy that gets all his stuff cheap from Wal-Mart. Remember that hiking clothing is a fashion to some and can drive the price up without adding any better performance or quality.

14. Consumables

I know I said I was going to finish the article on clothing, but this does need to be mentioned. Consumables must be planned for when determining pack weight. But they can be a good weight since it goes down the longer you are out. You may also want to think about how much of a consumable you carry. You don’t need a 12 ounce bottle of insect repellant when you start hiking in March. You won’t see bugs for months, and you won’t need that much bug dope ever in a single stretch of trail. If you can get the same product in a lower amount that fits your re-supply points, then carry enough to get you to the next re-supply, or maybe enough to last you to the second or third re-supply. Other options are to share buying supplies in town with other hikers and then dividing out the amount each of you need. Think of this: often there are stories of hikers starting a thru-hike with a gallon of stove fuel when it is available along the trail by the ounce – think of the wasted space, effort, and energy to pack all that when it isn’t needed!

The big three things that most people count as consumables are food, water, and fuel.

• Food. While not foolproof, a good general rule is to plan for about 2 pounds of food per day. Another good rule is to carry a little extra. So if you are going for 4 days between re-supply, carry 5 days food.
• Water. This was mentioned earlier, but I bring it up again. Water weighs more than one ounce for every fluid ounce you carry. So if you carry a lot of water, you carry a lot of weight. Think of how often you can re-supply with water and determine how much you really need to carry.
• Fuel. It is a good idea to practice with your stove before you hike so you know how too cook on it and how it works in a given situation. When you do this, you can also figure out how much fuel it uses to cook a standard meal, this way you can plan how much fuel is realistic to carry. No need to carry 3 fuel canisters when you only need one every two weeks and you can re-supply every 4 days.


In conclusion, I hope I have covered how to put a packing list together in enough detail for you to plan your own kit and decide what you really need without giving you the idea that you have to follow a certain list or go with a specific set of guidance if you are going to make it on the AT. There are as many ways to do this as there are people on the trail. This isn’t the Army where your NCO tells you what you better have or else…

Remember you are out there to have fun and your gear will enhance that. Also remember that it isn’t you gear that will get you to Kahtadin, it is your will and self motivation. Don’t sweat the packing list so much you loose sight of that fact.

Good luck!

05-11-2007, 13:38
o Rain Skirt. Recently available, this is a simple wrap of waterproof material that will only cover a kilt, skirt, or shorts, while leaving the bare legs exposed. This can be a real benefit when hiking in hot weather since you keep your lower clothing dry without all the heat of covering your entire leg.

Well, having just tested out a rainskirt I have to agree with this advice. I got mine as the husband of one of the initial rain skirt testers (http://www.rainskirts.com/testimonials).

For those looking to buy this item through the website they'll be going on sale later this summer. If you need one now you can at least contact the folks at rain skirts (http://www.rainskirts.com/node/12) to get a coupon for when they do go on sale.

05-12-2007, 14:26
Something you might want to do is mention gaiters in rainwear as an alternative.

Reads real well.

Mad Doktor
04-19-2008, 19:21
I live alone in the woods in a "cabin", down near the Cahaba River in south-central Alabama...no electricity, no city water, no cable tv or natural gas, but I manage quite nicely...I do cheat, tho...I drive into town and get supplies every couple of days...

The advice you have given regarding pack / kit is very similar to what I have, albeit in greater depth since I operate from a fixed location rather than having to pack everything in. The only thing I could add would be that I went to a fabric store and got a LARGE piece of ripstop nylon parachute type material...it came in a 72" roll, and I got 10 feet of material. Cost was ridiculous. But in the end, it was wonderful. I made a cover-all poncho out of it that vaguely resembles a Jedi robe, large enough to cover my pack, and it serves as rain protection AND a significant layer of heating...Granted, south Alabama weather isn't quite the same as the Smokies, but even in the worst windy, rainy winter weather, me and my hand-crafted poncho are quite comfortable.

For what it's worth, before someone commits to thru-hiking, I'd recommend that they take a week and live in their lawn mower shed in the back yard, scrupulously avoiding any use of electricity or the usual utilities...

If you're Jewish, tell them you're practicing for Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles!

An understanding family won't mind. If men in white coats show up, don't fight them. They mean you no harm. ;-)

Cook with your trail cookware. Use the bug juice you intend to carry on the trail. Eat only what you plan to pack in. Wear the same clothes for a few days. Wash your dirty clothes in a coffee can, using the water you just used to wash yourself. Don your pack and go walking for the better part of the day. Pitch your tent, just to get used to the experience. Experiment with a nice long walking staff (1" wooden closet rod available at all major building supply houses) or walking sticks. haha! Become a reclusive hermit like me and live down on the river!

People worry about me, but I live quite comfortably down here on the river. And next year, 09, knock on wood, I plan to thru-hike from Springer to Katahdin...

Ronnie Motrose
04-21-2008, 02:23
One pair of shorts, two pair of socks, two t-shirts, a fleece for the nights you got booze and a pillow for others .......

El Toro '94
06-10-2009, 09:31
I found on my thru-hike in 94 that lycra/spandex/nylon compression shorts worked great, whether worn by themselves, or as underwear. They are very light (about 3 oz), relatively inexpensive ($20/pair), durable (used 4 pair for the entire trip), and most imortant for an out of shape lard butt like myself, prevented the chafing between the insides of my legs that is cripplingly painful to one trying to walk 10-20 miles/day. If I had to put up with chafing, I would have quit by Weser.They also dry very quickly. Don't know about insulating properties though, but if it's that cold, wear a pair of silkweight polypro bottoms underneath and/or windpants on top. I plan to wear them on my upcoming section/thru hike Hope this is helpful. Happy trails!!!!!

01-11-2011, 23:53
I noticed that everyone repeatedly reiterates warnings against cotton, recommending synthetics or wool. I find it odd that not once have I seen a recommendation for hemp or bamboo clothing. Both dry rapidly and wick away moisture and also have antibacterial and antifungal properties (less hike funk). As someone with skin issues, I try to avoid all synthetic fibers. Another benefit of each is that they are both very sustainable materials, something synthetics will never be able to accurately claim. Considering that we all live by LNT rules while on the trail (or should), doesn't it make sense to live that way off the trail as much as possible? I find it disconcerting that the best advice that anyone can come up with for staying dry and comfy on the trail is to poison the environment with synthetic materials (predominantly) made from petroleum products, all of which have devastating effects on the environment while being produced. I sincerely hope that everyone will come to their senses and help protect the natural world we all love and enjoy so that our children can enjoy it as well. Sorry for getting all preachy about it, but when our world is at stake...

10-12-2011, 14:11
Thanks SGT Rock!!!! Your hard work is much appreciated. I now have a 3 page shopping list... haha :D

10-24-2011, 04:21
One pair of shorts, two pair of socks, two t-shirts, a fleece for the nights you got booze and a pillow for others .......
that's a cool decision, Ronnie. The less clothes you take with you, the less time you spend thinking what to wear. that is +1

Don Newcomb
10-24-2011, 05:47
On my most recent hike, a pilot mentioned the pilot's list of useless things (e.g. runway behind you, elevation above you). We started working on the hiker's list of useless things:
1. Food and fuel you carry to a resupply drop
2. Water you carry to the spring
3. Clothing you don't wear
While it is a good idea to carry a little more than you need, just in case, it's also a good idea to consider how likely it is that you will need and item or if a lighter item will satisfy the need.

05-18-2012, 07:24
Exceptional article. Well done!

08-09-2012, 15:16
You go man. I am 71 and starting in March of 2013 and really looking forward to it. I agree with you on the do the practice run - give you a clear understanding of what you might be up against. The best to you.