View Full Version : Planning a thru-hike

08-06-2007, 00:01
This information was obtained from the now closed Trailplace.com. All credits for these articles go to Dan (Wingfoot) Bruce.

THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL, by its very length, is a challenge that stirs the imagination of every person who enjoys hiking. The possibility of hiking it from one end to the other has obviously fired your sense of adventure, or else you wouldn't be reading this section. That being the case, welcome to the world of A.T. thru-hiking. Be assured, you are entering a community of men and women with a long and proud hiking tradition.

The Appalachian Trail was completed from Georgia to Maine in 1937. Once linked, hiking the whole thing from end to end became an immediate challenge. In those early years, veteran and novice hikers alike dreamed of being the first to do the Trail in one continuous journey, and a few made admirable attempts, but no one was able to go the distance. For more than a decade thereafter, such a trip was considered by most to be an impossible feat, too rugged and demanding for any individual.

Then, in 1948, Earl Shaffer of Pennsylvania accomplished the impossible. He hiked the entire Appalachian Trail in a remarkably swift 124 days, or "four months and four hours" as he put it. His thru-hike was a marvelous personal achievement ... in hiking terms the equivalent of Lindbergh's first solo flight across the Atlantic, and, like the Lindbergh flight, Earl's hike blazed the way for other hardy souls to follow in his footsteps. Starting with a few hikers a year in the 1950s and 1960s, the parade of thru-hikers swelled to hundreds a year in the 1970s, a trend that has continued to the present. Since 1948, more than 35,000 people have set out to hike the entire A.T. in one journey. Today, almost 3,000 people each year attempt a thru-hike, with about one in ten of them making it all the way. I am pleased to be counted among those who have hiked every mile of the Trail on a thru-hike, thus achieving "2,000 Miler" status.

Of course, no one is born knowing the details of thru-hiking, and I was no exception. My lack of experience was apparent in 1980 on my first overnight backpacking trip, which was, in hindsight, the proverbial comedy of errors. Nevertheless, I enjoyed that trip immensely and, sometime during that initial hike, the idea of one day exploring the Appalachian Trail from end to end grabbed hold of my imagination. Over the next few years, the dream grew into an obsession, so in early 1984, unable to resist the lure of the Trail any longer, I started making preparations to do a thru-hike the following summer.

Ten months later, when my plans were complete ... and admittedly with far more bravado than confidence ... I shouldered my pack on April 23, 1985, and departed from Georgia's Springer Mountain to begin my northward adventure. The odyssey that unfolded as I headed up the Trail was the most exciting and challenging experience of my life. I will never forget the feeling of satisfaction when, five months later, I climbed to Baxter Peak atop Katahdin in Maine to complete my trek. Since that first hike, I have hiked the entire A.T. six more times, observing and interacting with more than 10,000 fellow thru-hikers along the way. Using the knowledge and perspective gained on my hikes and by observing others, I have had the additional pleasure of helping thousands plan their own end-to-end hikes.

This section is, in large part, a compilation of the basic material shared with the many soon-to-be thru-hikers who have sought my advice over the past twenty or so years. It isn't intended to be exhaustive, but you will find herein virtually everything important that you need to consider as you begin planning your thru-hike. It shows you how to organize your planning, and systematically discusses equipment, footwear, clothing, food and supplies, scheduling, maildrops, budgeting, and other topics pertinent to an end-to-end hike. Though it does not contain any "secrets" that will guarantee the success of your venture (guess what? ... there aren't any!), it does acquaint you with a full range of planning options reflecting the things that have worked well for many recent thru-hikers and should work well for you.

Keep in mind, though, that a thru-hike is a very personal experience, so this section intentionally does not tell you what specific choices to make as you do your planning. It gives you basic planning information you will need for understanding your range of options, respects your ability to choose what is best for you from the options available, and thus leaves all decision-making to you. By picking and choosing from the information and broad range of advice given here and available elsewhere, you should be able to plan a thru-hike tailored to your specific hiking style, preferences, and goals.

Deciding to Thru-hike
The decision to attempt a thru-hike is one that requires you to commit a significant portion of your time and resources for many months. It is very important that you understand what will be required for doing an end-to-end hike before you make that commitment, and it is equally important that you feel confident about the likelihood of completing a thru-hike before you begin your planning.

Consider the statistics. Several thousand people decide to hike the A.T. from end to end each year, and nine out of ten of them will have dropped out before the year is over. The primary reason so many of these adventurers fall short is that their decision to thru-hike was made impulsively, without considering the requirements for doing a 2,168-mile multi-month outdoor trip. All too often, even against their better judgement, they go ahead anyway. Then, at some point along the way, they find what they knew or should have known when they started ... they do not have enough time, money, or some other ingredient necessary for finishing their journey. That is when they become dropouts instead of 2,000 Milers.

Chances are you have already decided to attempt a thru-hike, or perhaps you are still trying to decide. Either way, you owe it to yourself to take a few minutes to review your decision, so that you will not knowingly start a journey you cannot finish. Using the discussion paragraphs that follow as minimum criteria, take a realistic look at your situation and ask yourself if you think you have the basic requirements needed for doing an end-to-end hike.

Time: You will need at least five months to complete a thru-hike, assuming you have average hiking ability (average meaning you can maintain a pace of about 12-15 miles per day once you get into shape). If you can take six months, your hike will be even more enjoyable, because you will not have to push yourself to stay on schedule and will be able to take more rest days in towns. Four months is not enough time, unless you are an exceptionally strong hiker and want to do nothing but hike long miles day after day, foregoing much of the hiker social scene. Most thru-hikers take 160-195 days to complete their hikes. End-to-end hikes of this duration require steady hiking but allow ample time for smelling the roses as well.

Money: You will need a minimum of $2,200 (about a dollar a mile) for a "normal" thru-hike, assuming you have already purchased all of your equipment and perhaps some of your food, and not taking into account your travel expenses to and from the Trailheads. For that amount, you can do a very fine hike if you don't go overboard on "town" time. If you choose to do a Spartan trip with few overnight town stops and social amenities, you can budget a bit more modestly. If you elect to visit many towns, stay in motels rather than hostels, and eat often at restaurants, your expenses will be considerably greater. Most first-time thru-hikers end up spending more than the amount recommended above, usually because they choose to take more time off in towns and have bigger appetites than anticipated.

Health: You will need to be in good health to do a thru-hike, but health should not be confused with youth and athletic ability. People of all adult ages, and many folks with only modest athletic abilities, have hiked the entire Trail quite successfully and with no major problems. You will need to be in reasonably good physical condition before you begin your hike, but, here again, you do not need to be a trained athlete as long as you do not overdo it at the beginning. As for disease and disability, some otherwise healthy folks with such conditions as diabetes, epilepsy, and recent heart-bypass operations have made it all the way in good shape, so do not let such conditions automatically rule you out.

Experience: You should not let lack of previous hiking experience by itself be the deciding factor in your decision to do an end-to-end hike. A surprising number of novices do quite well on a thru-hike without ever having hiked a step on the A.T. or any other trail. Your instincts, adaptability, and prehike planning will be as important as experience. Nevertheless, common sense says that the more hiking experience you have the better your chances of having a successful thru-hike. If you can, take several practice hikes before you make your final decision to attempt a thru-hike. At least one practice hike should be for four days and nights. If you can handle a four-day trip, you can probably manage a thru-hike.

Desire: You should have an almost overwhelming desire to do a thru-hike or likely you will not be able to repeatedly muster the tenacity and fortitude to keep hiking when the going gets rough, which it will on many occasions. A thru-hike is not an easy trip. Continuous hiking wears on you day after day and pushes you to your physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual limits. One of the truest things I have ever said about thru-hiking is as follows: "If thru-hiking the A. T. is not the most important goal in your life, at least while you are doing it, then you will be better off giving your time and attention to whatever is more important instead." If you have overwhelming desire, you have the single most important element for doing a thru-hike.

Motives: Your principal motive for wanting to thru-hike should be to enjoy nature and live in simplicity and harmony with it. The A.T. was created for that express purpose—to allow men and women to get away from the complexities of modern life and seek fellowship with the wilderness. Secondary motives will undoubtedly include your quest for adventure and longing for camaraderie with others who share your love of the outdoors. If your reason for wanting to do a thru-hike is to gain personal attention and fame, to lead a crusade or fund-raising effort for your pet cause (no matter how worthy), or to engage in competitive activities or record-setting attempts designed to prove you are somehow better than your fellow thru-hikers, you would do better to find another venue.

If, after consideration, you are satisfied that you have or will have the ingredients necessary to attempt a thru-hike, you are ready to begin making your plans. If you do not feel you can handle a thru-hike, but still want to hike the whole A.T., you might consider doing it in sections over a period of time. Section-hiking is an alternative to thru-hiking that has proven attractive to many people over the years.

How to Begin Planning
Planning a 2,168-mile hike can be a lot of fun, but, now that you have actually decided to attempt a thru-hike, you are probably beginning to sense that planning it will also involve a fair amount of mental labor and decision making. At first, you may feel somewhat bewildered by the seeming complexity of all the details, and may even feel that planning your hike will always be an enigmatic undertaking, one requiring numerous decisions (or even worse, guesses!) about things that are all too unclear.

If it is any comfort, most past thru-hikers report feeling the same way. I, too, was overwhelmed as I began planning my first thru-hike. After several weeks of worrying about everything all at once and getting next to nothing accomplished, it dawned on me that I must do my planning in the same manner I would do my thru-hike ... that is, in segments, taking one step at a time. (duh!) Using my newly found insight, I set about to bring my planning under control and develop a simple step-by-step approach to planning that would get me to the Trailhead fully prepared to do an end-to-end hike.

The first thing I did to simplify my planning was to break it down into its component parts. I started by asking myself the obvious questions: What equipment will I need? What will I eat? Where will I obtain food? How will I cook my food? Where will I sleep? How many miles should I hike each day? and so on, writing down the questions as I went along. In the early stages, I still reverted to my initial state of near-panic from time to time, wondering if planning would ever make any sense. As I continued to ask common-sense questions, however, and began grouping together the questions that related to each other, everything started to come into focus.

Fairly quickly the logical parts of planning a thru-hike began to emerge from the mass, and I began to get a clear view of which parts needed to be planned first, so that I could go on to the next. So, I started planning the parts one by one. Soon I found that each part had questions of its own and discovered, as I continued to plan, that the remainder of my planning involved finding answers to these intrinsic questions. To do so, I usually had to go through a simple four-step procedure with each question, as follows:

Define the question (how? where? what?)
Identify the range of possible answers.
Decide on the specific answer that best suited my needs.
Take whatever action my decision required once it was made.It was that simple. For example, to answer the question about what items of equipment I would need to buy for my hike, I had to make a list of every piece of gear I thought would be necessary for a thru-hike, inventory the gear I already owned, and then compare the two. The comparison showed me that I didn't have and thus needed, among other things, a backpacking stove, but that raised another question: Which type of stove should I buy? Once this new question was defined, I began the process all over again, gathering information about backpacking stoves and my cooking requirements until I had enough data to make a wise decision. Then, I made my decision, bought a new stove, and moved on to finding answers to other questions until my planning was complete.

The application of this simple procedure varied slightly from question to question, but the basic step-by-step process was repeated over and over again as I made my plans. By using the simple planning procedures just outlined, I was able to plan my first thru-hike (and all of my subsequent A.T. hikes) efficiently and with the assurance that I was making all necessary preparations for doing an end-to-end hike. This section will help you do the same.

Using This Section
Planning your thru-hike will be a process of dividing everything into its component parts, examining the planning options presented by each part, choosing which options best suit the way you want to do your hike, and then recording your choices on paper so that you can retrieve the information for later use when assembling everything in the weeks prior to starting your hike.

This section simplifies the planning process for you in several ways. Your overall planning has already been divided into its component parts, with each part indicated by one of this section's numbered planning chapters. Indexes contain ready-reference information about climate and weather, calorie ratings for commonly used trail foods, and a glossary of commonly used Trail terms.

The planning chapters are the key to using this section. Each covers basic information for planning one major segment of your hike, and you can begin using most chapters individually, without reference to the others. In practice, you will find yourself working on several chapters simultaneously, and some of the information will begin to overlap and mesh as your final plans come together. The order in which you begin using the chapters is up to you. Six chapters ... Guidebooks and Maps, Gear and Equipment, Boots and Footwear, Clothing and Rainwear, Food and Supplies, and Health and Hygiene ... involve plans that require actions (buying gear, choosing footwear, etc.) well before you begin your hike. You may want to start working on the things in these chapters first. The remaining chapters ... Schedule - Maildrops, Budget and Finances, and Miscellaneous Topics ... involve plans that will come to fruition mainly after you begin your hike, so you may want to briefly delay working on the things in these chapters until you feel you have those in the first group under control. When you have worked your way through all nine chapters, your planning will be complete.

Using a Planning Notebook
Each chapter will require you to gather information and make decisions about things you will use and do on your hike. Systematically recording these planning details and decisions as you go along is important, so that they can be easily retrieved when you are in the final weeks of preparation and "all hell seems to be breaking loose". You will need the information to later assemble equipment, food, maildrop contents, and other physical components for use on the Trail. In addition, you may gather a lot of supplemental information (equipment brochures, comparative food prices at various stores, transportation prices and schedules, etc) that will help you make wise planning decisions. A good way to keep all of this information organized and handy is to use a planning notebook, which is simply a standard three-ring binder with eight tabbed dividers, arranged and used as follows:

Label the eight tabs, one each for Gear and Equipment, Clothing and Footwear, Food and Supplies, Hiking Schedule, Maildrops, Lodging, Budget and Finances, and Miscellaneous (or you may choose other labels more suitable to your own plans).

On the first page of each section, have a page for recording questions about the things in that section. You will often think of a question about one aspect of your planning while busy planning another, so you should form the habit of writing down your questions as soon as they arise (and before you forget them) and filing them behind the appropriate tabbed divider for later attention.

File all of the information you gather behind the appropriate tabbed divider for easy future reference and recall. You will collect a lot of information from books, the internet, and other thru-hikers you meet, plus all of the stuff put out by companies and others who want to sell you something. The volume can overwhelm you if you don't keep it at least loosely organized into categories.

Place a sheet of paper labeled "Things to Do" in the front of your planning notebook and form the habit of immediately listing anything that needs to be done as soon as you think of it, no matter how obvious or mundane, then cross each item out as you do them.

Observe that all vital information needed for preparing and doing a thru-hike can be contained on a relatively few pages in your planning notebook. The information will be concise and easy to retrieve. By using a planning notebook, as outlined above, you will accomplish your planning more efficiently. Even more important, you will complete your planning with the assurance that you have considered all of the important things and made all necessary preparations for doing your thru-hike.

As you begin planning, try to remember ...
First ... Your goal as you plan your thru-hike is not to discover the "ordained way" of doing a thru-hike and then conform your plans to it. Of the more than 6,000 people who have attempted a thru-hike and have completed all or most of the Trail, no two have done it in exactly the same manner, so there is no "magic formula" that will ensure the success of your hike. Do not waste time trying to find such a formula. Most thru-hiking decisions are personal (Does this pair of boots fit my feet? Does this pack ride comfortably on my back? Is my pack too heavy for me? What kind of food do I want to eat day after day? and so on). Profit from the advice of others (including the advice and other information given in this website), but make your own decisions. In the final analysis, you are the best judge of what is right for you, so have confidence in your own ability to figure things out correctly. It's your hike!

Second ... Do not get bogged down by trying to cope with planning two-thousand miles of hiking in one chunk. That approach will only lead to confusion. Think about it. You will not be thru-hiking for six uninterrupted months, never leaving the woods. Instead, you will be hiking about a week in the woods on average, staying a day or so in town to refresh and resupply, hiking another week in the woods, staying another day in town, and so on all the way to the end. Think of your thru-hike as essentially a one-week hike repeated over and over, which is what it is from a logistical standpoint. Keep looking at the parts and take things step by step. That's the best way to do your planning, and that's the same way you will get to Katahdin (or Springer) once you begin your hike!

As you prepare for your adventure in the months to come, I am confident that you will discover what many others before you, including me, have found: Planning a thru-hike is a most rewarding experience, in its own special way almost as exhilarating as doing the hike itself.

Guidebooks and Maps
Thru-hikers carry a variety of publications about the A.T. with them on their hikes. Several of the more popular publications ... books and maps intended primarily for on-Trail use ... will be needed for doing planning before your hike as well. Specifically, they will be used when you start drafting your hiking schedule and picking your resupply points. It is advised that you get the basic thru-hiker publications you plan to use on your as soon as possible, so that you will become familiar with how you will use them on the Trail as you do your planning at home.

Note that the guides written specifically for thru-hikers (e.g., The Thru-hiker's Handbook) are updated annually late in the year and thus are not usually available until January or February of the year in which they are intended to be used, so this means that you will have to get the guide for the current year (i.e., the year before the year of your thru-hike) to begin your planning. The information in the current-year guide, though it will probably be out of date in some minor ways toward the end of the year (something that you will also notice on your hike), will be accurate enough for your planning purposes. Once the guide for "your year" is available, you will need to get that edition for carrying with you on the Trail during your thru-hike. The guide you use for planning can then be left with your "support crew" back home as a ready reference once you are on the Trail, so it's not a waste of money by any means.

Gear and Equipment
Quite a few thru-hikers start their hikes with too much equipment or equipment that is excessively heavy, and they immediately regret it. The smart ones quickly learn that a lightweight pack makes them a happy hiker and send unnecessary items home. An unfortunate few are forced to totally reequip in mid-hike, which is both time consuming and very expensive. Both inconveniences can be avoided by choosing your equipment wisely and starting your hike with only the equipment you need to function efficiently on the Trail. You will need equipment designed for three-season use (spring, summer, autumn) unless you are beginning or ending your hike very early or late in the year. Everest-style expedition gear is usually too complicated, cumbersome, and heavy for use on a thru-hike, as is gear intended primarily for car camping. When choosing items for your hike, stick with gear designed specifically for backpacking.

As for quality, the equipment for doing a thru-hike is not radically different from that used for two-day or three-day hikes. The major difference is that weight and durability are more important. You will have to carry everything on your back for many days and many miles over many mountains, so the lighter weight the better. However, the gear you choose must also be durable enough to stand the rigors of a six-month journey in ever-changing conditions, and that sometimes means selecting something besides the lightest weight gear on the market. Price is also another major consideration for most thru-hikers. Up to a point, you do get what you pay for, but, if your budget is tight, know that many, many thru-hikes have been done successfully and enjoyably with modestly priced gear.

Choosing Equipment
The first step in choosing the equipment to use on your thru- hike is to make a list of every item you think you will need for your hike. If this is all new to you, a listing of essential items needed to begin an A.T. thru-hike, based on a survey of many past thru-hikers to find what they have retained in their packs a few weeks after they have begun their hikes and had time to send unnecessary items home, is included below to help you. Notice that items on this list are grouped by function (a backpack for carrying gear, a tent and groundsheet for shelter, a sleeping bag and pad for sleeping, and so on), and you should similarly plan your equipment list based on how you expect to function on the Trail. Once you have a list of equipment that satisfies you from the standpoint of function, compare the items on your list with the equipment you have on hand. This will tell you which equipment items you need to research and buy. As you research new gear, make a habit of checking and recording the weight of each item. You should also accurately weigh old gear that you plan to use, to help monitor total pack weight as equipment is being selected.

If you do not think you will use an item every day, with the exception of safety items (first-aid kit, rainwear, etc.) and a luxury item or two (paperback, Walkman, etc.), resist the urge to add it to your equipment list unless you know from experience that you will need it. You can always have those "favorite extras" sent to you later, when you have been on the Trail long enough to judge if they are really worth the additional weight. Also resist the urge to rush out and buy new gear without doing some consumer research. If time permits, shop around. Write or call for catalogues from manufacturers and distributors (see the links section of this website for their websites). Visit the outfitters in your area, study their product lines, and get the opinions of their sales personnel (ask if any have thru-hiked). Consider the comments about gear in this section and this website's forums, which, by the way, are not intended as a substitute for your own consumer research. Gather as much information as you can and use it to revise and refine your equipment list until you arrive at a combination of gear on paper that you think will meet your specific needs, including total pack weight, before you begin to purchase any new equipment for your hike.

If you already have gear in good condition, and it has been working well for you on previous hiking excursions, consider using it on your hike. Do not buy new equipment just to be fashionable on the Trail. Some thru-hikers make much ado about having the very latest gear, but most do not. If you have access to a sewing machine, you can even make some of your simpler gear, such as stuff sacks. Mail-order catalogues and some local outfitters sell coated-nylon cloth by the yard (or you can salvage usable cloth from worn-out items, such as raincovers), and a range of accessories is available. Homemade stoves have been popular in the past few years. Besides being a lot of fun to make, homemade gear will be exactly what you need, and you will often save money.

Buying Equipment
Chances are you will want to purchase new gear for your hike, just to be on the safe side. In selecting the individual pieces of equipment for a thru-hike, you will have to evaluate and balance many features, especially weight, durability, and price, realizing that few products are superior in all three categories. Of the three, weight may at first seem the most important for a thru-hike. However, note that total pack weight is the critical weight, not necessarily the weight of any single item by itself, so you have some leeway in selecting individual pieces of gear. You can go extra-light with some pieces if you want to go heavier with others, for instance. As for money, put your spending emphasis on the major items: boots, backpack, tent, sleeping bag, and stove. Keep in mind that most name-brand equipment items designed for long-distance use are suitable for a thru-hike (none are absolutely perfect), so pick good gear, but do not waste valuable planning time nitpicking over your choice of brands. There is no "best brand", and, always keep in mind, it will not be the label on your gear that will get you from Georgia to Maine or vice versa.

You will have four main sources for obtaining gear: mail-order catalogues, your local retail outfitters, the internet, and equipment manufacturers. The mail-order catalogues offer a large variety and may be slightly less expensive, even after you pay shipping charges, but you will sometimes have to wait a few weeks for delivery. You will also be dealing with a stranger over the telephone or by mail. Internet purchases will be evn more impersonal that using a catalogue. Your local retail outfitter will usually (but not always) have less inventory than the mail-order catalogues or the internet outfitter websites, but you can see the equipment firsthand and make sure that it is exactly what you need before you buy. You also have the advantage of dealing face to face with a person, usually one who knows backpacking, and this personal service can be invaluable if you are new to backpacking or later have an equipment problem that requires warranty replacement on the Trail. Several manufacturers sell direct to the public, especially if they specialize in one category or item of gear, so, in some cases, you may be able to buy direct.

Since even the best equipment can fail during a thru-hike, ask your equipment source about warranty procedures if you later have an equipment defect develop during your hike. Do this before you buy. Avoid products that require you to send them back to the manufacturer for inspection before warranty action is taken. During your hike, you cannot hang around a Trail town for a week or two waiting for a replacement. Once you have purchased a major item of gear, verify by calling and write down the customer-service number for that item and take it with you on your hike (note that space for recording warranty numbers for major gear items is provided in the back of The Thru-hiker's Handbook).

Back-up Equipment
As you assemble the equipment for your trip, you will undoubtedly end up buying new gear to replace older items you have on hand. These older items become useful back-up equipment you can send for if needed during your hike. The best way to handle this is to pack all back-up items in paper or plastic bags, one item per bag, and number them. Next, make a list of the numbers and corresponding bagged items. Take the list with you on your hike and leave the numbered gear items with the person who will be sending it to you. When you must call from the Trail for a backup item, ask for it by number. This method does not require your helper back home to be an equipment expert and virtually eliminates surprises at the post office.

Loading Your Pack
Once you have all equipment items (and clothing) for your hike on hand, load your pack to see how everything fits together. Follow the weight-distribution instructions supplied by the pack manufacturer. Make sure the pack is balanced from side to side. This is very important. For instance, do not place a tent on one side unless you balance it with equal weight on the other side. Try to have everything packed inside your pack or inside a nylon stuff sack strapped securely to the pack. Have a specific place for everything, making sure that you have easy access to emergency items (first-aid kit, knife, flashlight, rainwear, etc.). With your pack fully loaded, check to make sure that it rides comfortably, and, if not, make adjustments until it does. Finally, verify that your raincover is large enough to fit over and protect your fully-loaded pack.

The Big Question: How much pack weight?
How much is the most your loaded pack should weigh when you begin your thru-hike? There is no set answer to this question. Only your back can answer what is a comfortable load for you. The average range seen on the Trail is 20-30 pounds without food, perhaps a little heavier if you are young and/or strong or carrying a lot of cold-weather gear. Total pack weight with your largest food load (figure about two pounds of food per day and no more than 15 miles per day between resupply points to estimate your food load), fuel, and water should never exceed one-third of your body weight. Small hikers, those weighing less than 110 pounds or so, will have to plan extra carefully to stay within this percentage, but should do so. If you are sharing equipment with a companion, the total weight of shared items can be proportioned (not halved) between you according to your body weights and relative strengths. Later in your hike, after you get into Trail shape, you will find that you can carry additional weight without strain, but not at the beginning.

In recent years, what is known as "ultralight backpacking" has gained popularity among A.T. thru-hikers, and it is not uncommon to hear about thru-hikers beginning their hike with a 12-pound pack. This is fine if you know what you are doing in the outdoors. Most dedicated ultralighters are folks who have thousands of miles of hiking in various terrains and climates and the knowledge base that comes with that kind of hiking experience, so they know where they can cut corners and reduce weight safely. They also achieve such low pack weights by carrying only a few days of food (remember, there is essentially no way to get below two pounds of food weight per day unless you plan to live on cooking oil!), thus requiring them to hike high mileages to get to resupply points or leave the Trail often to resupply. Make sure this is the way you want to do your thru-hike before commiting to this philosophy. Most beginner or novice backpackers do not. Check into the ultralight techniques, but try everything on practice hikes before your thru-hike. Most first-time thru-hikers will find it better to think in terms of lightweight backpacking as a goal rather than ultralighting.

Essential Gear
The discussion sections that follow give general information about each equipment category considered essential for doing a thru-hike and, at the end, a few "optional essentials" are listed as well. These are the items that thru-hikers have generally found are needed for functioning day after day in all conditions.

Backpacks come in many sizes and shapes, but the first choice you must make for your hike is whether to use an internal-frame or external-frame pack. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages, so the right type for you will depend on which combination of features you prefer. Both types are used for thru-hiking, and, though the internal-frame packs are more frequently seen, either type of backpack will do just fine on the A.T.

Internal-frame packs: Thru-hikers who use internals claim that they are more stable and feel more secure while hiking since they ride close to the body, and most hikers agree that the narrower construction gives better freedom of movement to the upper body in steep or rough terrain. Internals are easy to handle when traveling by vehicle, but, on top-loading-only models, more inconvenient than externals to use during rest breaks and in crowded shelters since everything is carried in one large top-loading compartment, meaning you have to practically unload the contents to get to whatever it is you need. This is especially true with sleeping gear, normally carried in the bottom on most internal models, although most models now have a separate sleeping-bag compartment with zippered access. Many newer models now offer zippered access to main compartments, thus allowing you to easily retrieve gear from almost any location in the pack without unloading everything, and most models offer permanent or add-on outside pockets for carrying frequently used items. Since internal-frame packs hug the back and retain body heat, many thru-hikers have found this to be a source of discomfort in hot weather. Several manufacturers offer optional ventilated backpads to minimize overheating (some offer this feature as standard equipment), and you should probably buy one of these special backpads for summer use if available on your model.

External-frame packs: Thru-hikers who use externals claim they are easy to load and balance, and feel that they offer more hiking stability because they more firmly hold the pack weight in the correct position over your center of gravity. They can efficiently transfer most of the pack weight to the hip area through the frame, thus substantially reducing upper-body fatigue by relieving strap pressure and weight on the shoulders. Externals come in both top-loading and panel-loading models (some models offer a combination of the two styles) and are available with either flexible or rigid frames. They are convenient to use in shelters (simply hang them on a nail or prop them in a corner and use the compartments and pockets as you would a chest of drawers), but can be awkward to handle when getting in and out of vehicles or tents with small openings. Many thru-hikers like the models that have pack bags with plenty of outside pockets, giving easy access to gear while hiking and while functioning in camp. Another feature liked by thru-hikers is the detachability of pack bags, straps, and belts from the frame, allowing machine washing when these items begin to reek from hundreds of miles of sweat. Just about everyone agrees that externals are cooler in hot weather because the frame holds the pack bag away from the torso and allows air to circulate on the back.

With both internals and externals, fit is crucial on a thru-hike. Most thru-hikers who change backpacks in mid-hike do so, not because there is anything wrong with the pack design, but because their pack does not fit them properly. If you are using an internal-frame pack, make sure that it is sized to your torso and that the internal supports (if any) will mold to fit the contour of your back. If using an external-frame pack, make sure that the frame is the proper length for your height and is adjusted to your torso. Several manufacturers offer backpacks proportioned for the female anatomy (shorter frame, slightly wider in the hip area, etc.), although most women thru-hikers use the same models as men and do so without problems if fitted properly. With either type, make sure the waist belt can be drawn tight and can be tightened more later, after you have lost your excess body fat. Most external-frame packs are offered with a choice of several belt sizes, usually ranging from 26 inches to 34 inches. Many outfitters display only the larger sizes, so you may have to request a smaller belt. You may even want to consider buying a belt slightly smaller than your prehike waist measurement, especially if you are overweight, or consider buying two belts so that you can send for the smaller one later. Internal-frame packs often have the belt sewn to the pack bag, which does not allow you to change belts, so be extra careful that the pack you choose has a belt that will fit the “skinny” you later in your hike. Some internal-frame models now offer changeable belts in several sizes.

Pack volume: As for the pack volume required, that will depend on the bulkiness of your equipment, the amount of food you plan to carry between resupply stops, and the type of pack you choose. Everything is carried inside an internal-frame pack, whereas major items (sleeping bag, tent, etc.) are usually strapped outside the pack bag on externals. Consequently, you will need a larger volume internal-frame than external-frame pack for the same amount of gear. Also, keep in mind that the pack volume you will need for the majority of your hike (during the warmer months when you will not be carrying bulky cold-weather clothing and larger daily food requirements) will be less than you need when you start your hike, so do not overestimate the volume you will need. It is easier to strap extra items on the outside of your pack at the beginning than it is to carry a half-empty pack later. Most thru-hikers who use an external-frame pack look for a volume between 3,800 and 5,500 cubic inches, and those using internals usually look for a pack that has between 4,500 and 5,500 cubic inches of carrying capacity.

A separate pack raincover is a necessity since no pack is waterproof on the A.T. in a driving rain, no matter what claims are made by the manufacturer. Be sure your raincover is large enough to fit over and around your fully-loaded pack (including your largest food load), and verify that the raincover has some system for fastening it securely to the pack in case of strong winds, which can strip away a raincover in an instant.

The A.T. has an extensive shelter system, with shelters usually spaced less than a moderate hiking-day's distance apart, but you should still carry a tent ... or at least a tarp ... for use in the event a shelter is full on a stormy night (a definite possibility for northbounders starting in March or April) or in case of an emergency. You will also find a tent useful for protection from insects on occasion, and having your own shelter will give you the freedom to camp between Trail shelters when you wish to make additional miles or have some solitude. The type of tent used by thru-hikers varies widely. A few use small bivy tents, accepting the limitations of space and figuring that they and/or their gear will possibly get wet a time or two. Others use large expedition models, often with many bells and whistles, and they stay dry and have plenty of space in camp but suffer from the additional weight while hiking. Most thru-hikers choose something in between that provides good protection from the elements and sufficient space for them and their gear at an acceptable weight.

Both free-standing and staked tents work equally well on a thru-hike, though a free-standing tent can be more easily moved to another spot if you discover your first tent site is less than ideal (hidden rocks and roots, bad slope, etc.). A free-standing tent is also easier to keep clean, because you can simply pick it up by the poles and shake out the dirt, and is easier to dry when wet. Most backpacking tents have a separate rain fly made of coated-nylon fabric, and these usually require some staking even on free-standing models. When choosing a tent, try to keep the weight below five pounds for one person, below three or four pounds per person if sharing (remember, these are maximum weights, and you can usually do much better without spending and arm and a leg if you do some research). Make sure your tent has adequate ventilation, which, for a three-season tent, is usually proportional to the amount of no-see-um netting. Check to see that it has enough room for you and any companion to sit up comfortably and pack gear inside during a driving rain. Finally, verify that it is easy to set up in the dark (practice this before you start your hike), and consider that you may be setting up camp in blowing rain or wind on several occasions during your hike. Whichever type tent you use, make sure you seal the seams in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. Also, check the stuff sack. Trying to put a wet tent into a too-tight-fitting stuff sack can be very annoying, so you may want to substitute a slightly larger one.

Tarpaulin: A tarpaulin (or tarp) offers a lightweight and inexpensive alternative to carrying a tent, and more and more thru-hikers are opting for this kind of portable shelter. The main advantages are, as said before, low weight and low cost. A reasonably passable tarp can be made from a simple piece of plastic sheeting, for instance. The main disadvantage of a tarp is lack of bug and critter protection, since it has no floor or netting (and by the time you add those things to a tarp, you might as well opt for a lightweight tent). If you plan to carry a tarp instead of a tent, be sure to experiment with setting it up in a variety of ways and conditions before you head for the Trail. Pitching a tarp is not an art that is best learned in an emergency. Also, be sure to include extra cord, since your ability to set up your tarp effectively in really bad weather or difficult terrain often depends on having enough cord!

Sleeping Bag
The problem with selecting a sleeping bag to use on an end-to-end A.T. hike is that the weather is usually cold on each end of your trip and hot and humid in the middle part. The best solution is to have two sleeping bags and carry the bag appropriate for the type of weather you anticipate having. A good combination is to have a cold-weather bag rated somewhere between 0-25°F., the low temperature being determined by how early you start or how late you end your thru-hike (check the climate chart for various Trail locations, see link to your left), and a summer bag rated between 30-55°F. If you are limited to one bag, choose the bag for cold weather. You can always use it unzipped as a blanket or sleep on top on those hot, humid summertime nights.

Most thru-hikers use a mummy bag or modified-mummy bag to save weight. Try to stay under four pounds for a cold-weather bag, under two or three pounds for a summer bag. Features that have proven important to thru-hikers are compressibility (How small does it pack?), roominess (Does it feel like a straight jacket?), and ventilation (How well does it breath and does the liner material feel clammy?). Other points you will want to consider are the area around the head opening (Can it be easily adjusted from inside the bag?), the zipper (Is it easy to operate from both inside and outside the bag?), and the draft tube that covers the zipper (Is it sufficient to stop drafts?). Bags come in regular and long lengths. If you are buying a new bag, do not purchase a long model if you do not need the extra length, which also means extra weight.

Of course, no sleeping bag generates warmth of its own but insulates by holding the warmth you generate close to your body. Both down and synthetic bags insulate well and are equally suitable for use on a thru-hike. Some points to consider when choosing which to use are discussed below:

Down bags: These bags will weigh less for a given temperature rating and give superior insulation per pound of weight, but down bags will cost more and be harder to wash on the Trail. Down is also useless as insulation when it gets wet, but this is not a problem on the A.T. unless you are careless, and many down bags come with a water-resistant or waterproof shell that deters moisture. Down bags with 550-fill-power down offer good loft; 650-fill-power (or greater) down is the fluffiest and warmest you can buy.

Synthetic bags: These bags will usually cost less, take more punishment, and be easier to wash and dry in Trail towns, but they are slightly heavier and bulkier for a given temperature rating compared to down. They are also stiffer than down bags, and thus do not wrap around the body as readily, although newer models with the latest synthetic materials come close to the feel of down bags. Most brand-name synthetic bags use quality fill materials suitable for a thru-hike.

Whichever type bag you choose, synthetic or down, plan to carry it enclosed in a heavy-duty plastic garbage bag, which is thne carried inside a protective nylon stuff sack, the idea being to always have a dry sleeping bag to slip into in an emergency. If you sleep on your stomach most of the time, be sure to get a bag that is long enough when you stretch out, and good luck in very cold weather when you have to fully cinch the head opening to stay warm. (When is somebody going to offer a winter bag that is designed for stomach-sleepers?) If you and a companion intend to zip bags together, make sure you have the right combination so that the zippers mate.

Sleeping Pad
A pad under you while you sleep is a necessity, not only for cushioning but to insulate you from cold and dampness. Even in warm weather, this is important. Two types of pads are seen on the Trail. The closed-cell (meaning it will not absorb water) foam pad is lightweight and inexpensive. The self-inflating pad (Therm•A•Rest brand is used almost exclusively on the A.T.) is more expensive and slightly heavier, but it packs smaller and is considered more comfortable and durable by most thru-hikers. Unless you are a heavyweight, the 1-inch-thick self-inflating pad is more than sufficient and weighs considerably less than the 1.5-inch-thick model. Weight can also be saved by using a 3/4-length pad, but many thru-hikers appreciate a full-length pad because it cushions the upper body as well as their often sore ankles and feet. If you sleep on your stomach, the longer pad will cushion your ankles and elbows., which can get sore fast when resting against hard shelter floors. Both closed-cell foam and self-inflating pads should be carried in a protective nylon sack. Hint: Special lightweight slings are available that will convert a self-inflating pad to a fairly comfortable camp chair (but it adds weight, so the comfort isn't free!).

A groundcloth should be carried for use under your tent, to prevent clamminess and protect the tent floor from dirt and abrasion. It can be made of inexpensive plastic sheeting, which will eventually puncture and may need to be replaced periodically. In rainy weather, this item will often stay wet and dirty, so quite a few hikers carry a second groundcloth as well, often a small nylon tarp or space blanket, to use under their sleeping gear in shelters, the floors of which can be very muddy from the residue left by wet hiker boots. If you have a second groundcloth, it can be used inside your tent to prevent wearing away the waterproof coating on the tent floor.

Few thru-hikers depend on campfires for cooking. If you have ever tried to start a fire with wet wood in pouring rain, or arrived in camp dead-tired and hungry after dark, you understand why they carry a stove. It's also the correct thing to do from an environmental standpoint. Many types of stoves are available, and your choice will be determined by your cooking requirements. If you plan to do a lot of cooking, you will need to look for high heat output and good fuel economy. You will also need a stove that simmers well. If you plan to only boil water once or twice a day, almost any type of stove will do. In either case, your stove should be easy to set up and should have good stability with your largest pot. Eating spilled food off the ground is no fun. When considering a stove for your hike, you will have three main fuel choices to consider, butane, alcohol, and Coleman-type white-gas, but stoves using other fuels, such as solid fuel tablets, have also appeared and been used successfully on the A.T. in recent years:

Butane stoves: Butane stoves burn clean, are easy to start and restart (they need no priming), and are generally lightweight, but have greatly decreased efficiency at higher altitudes and may be hard to start in very cold weather (butane/propane mixes solve the latter problem somewhat). Butane fuel canisters are relatively expensive, though, and hard or impossible to find in many Trail towns along the A.T. Mailing them in maildrop packages may be against postal regulations, depending on the type of fuel you use (some fuel cannisters may be ground shipped if properly marked). Because of the uncertainty of fuel sources, few thru-hikers rely on butane stoves for their end-to-end hikes.

White-gas stoves: White-gas (the generic name for Coleman-type fuel) stoves often burn a little dirty and are usually heavier than butane stoves, but they put out a lot of heat and are the most fuel-efficient. Most models need priming to start and restart, a very minor inconvenience once you get the hang of it. Many white-gas stoves are designed to burn a variety of other petroleum-based fuels, most notably kerosene. This is a useful feature in other hiking areas, such as out West or overseas, but no real advantage on a thru-hike because of the ready availability of Coleman-type fuel, which can be purchased in most Trail towns by the pint (a fill-up costs about $1; locations are listed in The Thru-hiker's Handbook). A slight majority of thru-hikers use some type of white-gas stove for their hike.

Alcohol stoves: Alcohol stoves, either manufacted or more often homemade, appear frequently on the A.T. among thru-hikers They have the advantage of simplicity (no moving parts) and quietness, and need no priming. They also burn fairly clean, without producing sooty pots and pans, and most of the "store-bought" models have superior stability. The newer models are almost as fuel-efficient as white-gas stoves, and some homemade enthusiasts have reported similar boil times. Denatured alcohol for these stoves can be obtained at most hardware stores along the Trail, and any automotive-parts store carries "dry gas" (pure methanol with coloring) by the pint. Shellac thinner is usually pure methanol and may also be used. European thru-hikers should note that methylated spirits is called "denatured alcohol" in the U.S. Here's a fuel-efficiency hint for alcohol-stove users: In hot weather, add a little water to your alcohol fuel to reduce the high burning temperature and prolong fuel use.

Wood-burning stoves: Wood-burning stoves are sometimes used by thru-hikers. These backpacking stoves have the advantage of requiring you to carry no fuel, since you use wood scraps and charred wood found along the Trail and in fire pits (some thru-hikers have even used their burnable garbage as fuel). They put out a lot of heat, and also put out smoke (but no more than a small campfire, and a feature which is often welcome on a buggy night). Pots and pans stay sooty, so you will need a bag for carrying your cooking gear. Users of these stoves should also carry a small Ziploc-type bag of dry kindling or fire-starter for "priming" during rainy periods, when dry starter wood is sometimes difficult to find.

Fuel-tablet stoves: Small stoves that use solid fuel tablets have been popular among thru-hikers in recent years. The tabs are expensive and often impossible to find in Trail towns, but the stove and fuel are light weight compared to most other backpacking stoves. If you like to cook large or more complicated meals, do not consider these stoves. These stoves are generally for folks who only want to have a little hot water one or twice a day and do minimum on-Trail cooking.

Whichever stove you choose, cook with it at home (outside, of course ... and never cook inside your tent during your hike!), to make sure it works and to test its fuel consumption per meal. This will give you some idea of the size fuel bottle you will need on your hike, or the number of fuel tablets, or whatever. Most thru-hikers take a one-quart fuel bottle if they cook a lot, a one-pint bottle if they cook less. Use only plastic or metal containers designed specifically for carrying fuel, since other types may corrode and leak in your pack and damage your other gear. Note that alcohol requires an anodized aluminum bottle. A pour spout makes refilling your stove easier, safer, and less wasteful.

The pots and pans used by thru-hikers show more personality than any other equipment category. Some hikers use clever nesting sets made especially for backpacking. Others assemble odds and ends from their kitchen at home. Either way is fine. The important thing is to have enough cooking volume for your largest meal without having any unnecessary weight. If cooking for one person, you will need at least a one-quart pot and lid. A one-pint pot will also prove useful, but no lid is needed for the smaller pot. If sharing meals with a partner, larger cooking vessels will be needed. You can experiment at home, using kitchen utensils to cook a few "Trail meals", to determine the size pots you will need before you purchase a cookset. Include a nonstick frying pan if you want to cook edible pancakes or stir-fry. Good breads (and even complete meals) are possible with a BakePacker. Several funnel-shaped contraptions now on the market allow you to make excellent brewed coffee. A drinking cup with liquid-measurement scale is handy, especially if you are using freeze-dried foods which require exact water quantities for proper reconstitution. Some type of scouring pad should be carried in your cookset, because you will no doubt scorch a meal now and then. Hint: Carry an 8-inch-square piece of plastic mesh, the kind used to bag fruit or onions, which weighs nothing, drys quickly, and does not retain food particles that develop foul smells.

A spoon and Swiss-Army-type knife are the only utensils carried by most thru-hikers. Some add a fork if they include a frying pan in their cookset. More exotic Trail cooks carry miniature backpacking spatulas and whisks. Many thru-hikers recommend that you stay away from plastic utensils, which can melt and bend into interesting but unusable shapes while cooking or become brittle and break in cold temperatures. However, if you do choose to use lightweight plastic utensils, carry spares. See knife discussion below.

Butane Lighter
A butane lighter is easier to use and more dependable than matches, although it is wise to have a stash of preferably waterproof matches stored in your cookset (in a plastic bag) as a back-up fire-starter in case your lighter malfunctions. Hint: Buy only clear-plastic lighters, so that you can always see how much fuel you have left. Also, note that you can still sometimes start a petroleum-fuel or alcohol stove with the spark from a lighter, even if the fuel is spent.

Water Bottles and Bag
The amount of water you carry while hiking will depend on your metabolism and the heat and humidity along the Trail as the year progresses. Some hikers drink large quantities of water. Others seem to drink hardly any water as they hike along and only small quantities during breaks. If you do not know your water requirement from past hiking experience, start your hike with two water bottles, one each of the one-quart and one-pint sizes (wide-mouth types are easier to use with drink mixes; the Nalgene brand is used almost exclusively by thru-hikers). This should be enough volume to hold you between water sources. A water bag, with plastic bladder and on-off spout, is the best way to avoid extra trips to shelter water sources, some of which, at the end of a long hiking day, are located a seemingly never-ending distance from the shelter. A water bag can also be used to carry water in your pack for several miles if you wish to camp away from a convenient water source. Plastic soft-drink bottles picked up in town can be used to temporarily increase your water-carrying capacity while hiking through water-scarce sections if you feel the need during your hike.

Water Purifier
Water is fairly abundant on the Trail (glance through this website's Online Guidebook mileage tables and see how often water sources are mentioned). Each day you will usually pass half a dozen or more springs or streams suitable for use as water sources, except in some water-scarce sections. In practice, most thru-hikers eventually tend to drink from these springs, and from streams flowing from protected watersheds, without purifying. This is a calculated risk on their part, since none of the open water sources along the Trail are guaranteed safe, even those at shelters. To be absolutely safe, the accepted advice is that you should boil or treat all water used for drinking, cooking, and cleaning, including that used for bathing and brushing teeth. Boiling is impractical as a purification method for the average thru-hiker, however, because of the large amount of fuel and cooling time required. That leaves treating, which means using chemical purifiers or filters.

Chemical purifiers: Chemical purifiers usually use chlorine ... some hikers use household bleach ... or iodine to kill organisms. Most of the more popular brands (Potable Aqua and PolarPure) use iodine, either in tablet or saturated-liquid form. They are fairly easy to use and very inexpensive per gallon purified. Some hikers do not like the "medicine taste" of chemical purifiers (there are products available that reduce the iodine taste), and none are recommended for use day after day.

Filters: Filters with pumps are used by most thru-hikers for purifying their water. The prices and weights of these devices vary greatly, as do the filtering characteristics and ease of use. Some models remove not only organisms but chemical impurities as well. Make sure that any filter you consider removes the giardia lamblia cyst. Also pay attention to the volume of water that can be filtered before a replacement filter is needed, keeping in mind that the manufacturer's figures are probably based on tests that use water with less sediment than that found on the A.T., and check the ease of cleaning both filter and pump. In practice, thru-hikers who depend on filters do not use them every day. They normally use them about one day of every three or four days they spend on the Trail, filtering about 4-6 quarts of water per day when they filter.

Maintenance Kits
The numerous small items needed on a thru-hike can be divided by function into kits. Components of each kit are best stored together in a stuff sack or Ziploc-type plastic bag for easy retrieval from your pack. You will need a first-aid kit, a grooming kit, and a toilet kit at the minimum. You may also want to have a miscellaneous/repair kit for storing those odds and ends that are necessary to keep your equipment functioning on the Trail, and a sewing kit is a must for doing on-the-spot repairs. Components carried by thru-hikers are listed below (although you may not need every item listed).

First-aid kit: aspirin or equivalent, antibiotic ointment, fungicide, powder (for chafing), antacid tablets, lip balm, a few Band-aids (for cuts, not blisters), roll of 1-inch-wide gauze, 2x2-inch sterile pads, large sterile pad, surgical tape, 2-inch-wide Ace bandage, and moleskin or equivalent. Optional items include allergy pills, cortisone cream, sunscreen, eye drops, toothache medicine, diarrhea medicine, Second Skin, scissors, tweezers, and snakebite kit. Many thru-hikers carry insect repellent, made from natural or man-made ingredients, with those containing DEET being the most frequently seen. Some also carry Avon Skin-So-Soft bath oil, which seems to repel no-see-ums.

Grooming kit: toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, biodegradable soap, comb or brush, and nail clippers. Optional items include deodorant, razor, mirror, wash cloth, and towel. The synthetic-chamois pack towel is considered a useful item by many thru-hikers.

Toilet kit: toilet paper and matches or lighter (all in plastic bag). Optional items include a plastic trowel for digging cat holes (most thru-hikers just use their boot heels) and feminine hygiene items.

Miscellaneous/repair kit: spare parts for pack and stove, Therm•A•Rest repair kit, extra flashlight bulbs and batteries, boot glue, and boot waterproofing.

Sewing kit: large-eye needles, top-stitching thread, and a thimble. Optional items include regular threads (wrapped around a piece of cardboard to save weight) to match the colors of your clothing, and regular darning needles.

A knife is needed only for food preparation and gear maintenance, so these uses should determine the type of knife you select for your trip. Most thru-hikers choose a Swiss Army knife (or equivalent) with a variety of specialized blades and gizmos. You will need a good cutting blade and a can opener for food preparation, and a screwdriver and auger for doing maintenance on boots and pack. Some hikers swear by the scissors feature, and others are just as convinced that the corkscrew is a necessity. A few thru-hikers carry models which could probably be used to perform an appendectomy, but the extra weight of these impressive but useless gadgets is unjustifiable. Keep your knife simple and lightweight.

Light Source
You will use a flashlight very little during most of your hike (it doesn't get dark until about 9:30 p.m. in midsummer), but your life may depend on it in an emergency, so choose a good one. The types most often used on the A.T. are waterproof and built to take abuse. A spare bulb and an extra set of batteries, which can be the ones in your radio if it uses the same size batteries, should be standard accessories. You should consider attaching your flashlight to a loop of cord, so that it can be hung around your neck when you leave a shelter to "visit the woods" during the night, minimizing the chances of dropping it and leaving your hands free to do more important things. If you are the type that arrives late in camp, you may want to consider using a headlamp instead of a hand-held flashlight, so your hands can be free to prepare supper and lay out gear after dark. In recent years, LED flashlights and headlamps, which weigh almost nothing and have very bright light output, have replaced the AA-battery and bulb flashlights that were standard for so many years. The LED models are generally more expensive, though. Many thru-hikers have also substituted the LED headlamps for the traditional candle lantern for reading, because the weight is substantially less. So is the ambiance.

Compass and Whistle
You will probably never have to use either your compass or whistle for emergency purposes. Nevertheless, you should carry both with you at all times in the woods. The compass you choose can be basic but should be rugged and dependable. Equally important, you should know how to use it. If your compass does not come with instructions, check your library for a book or video on navigation, or check the internet. The whistle can be the inexpensive kind made of plastic. The reason for carrying a whistle is to allow you to call for help with a minimum of effort. You can blow a whistle a lot longer than you can yell, and it makes noise that carries farther. Three short blasts signal distress, two indicate response.

Rope and Cord
Rope is not necessary on a thru-hike, but you will need lightweight nylon parachute-type cord (about the same diameter as your boot laces) for hanging your food bag and as a clothes line, and for pitching your tarp if that is your portable shelter choice. A 50-foot length should be more than sufficient, unless you are using a tarp for shelter. Melt the ends of the cord with a butane lighter or match to keep your cord from unraveling. Emergency boot laces can be cut from this cord as needed.

Quite a bit of information must be carried along on an A.T. thru-hike. The specifics will vary, but many thru-hikers carry a Data Book, Handbook, Guidebooks, maps, journal, address book, copy of their hiking schedule, postcards, nature guides or finders, and a pen or two. You should keep all of these items in a large Ziploc-type bag and/or a zippered nylon pouch for quick reference and for protection from the elements. You will also find it very useful to have all of this data, plus your wallet, together in one pouch when you are going to the post office, making telephone calls, and doing other chores in Trail towns.

Sitting Pad (optional)
A sitting pad is useful when you take a break or stop for lunch, especially after you lose your body fat and it is bone against rock every time you sit down, or in wet weather when the ground is saturated. A sitting pad can be made by cutting a 12-inch by 14-inch section from an old closed-cell foam pad. Therm•A•Rest offers a self-inflating sitting pad, made to pack compactly like their larger self-inflating sleeping pads.

Radio/Cassette Player/MP3, etc. (optional)
Many thru-hikers consider these items out of place in the woods, but just as many would not be without them. If you do decide to carry one or both, limit your listening to earphones. You will be able to receive FM-stereo stations everywhere on the Trail (except Wesser, North Carolina). In addition to its entertainment value, a radio is a useful source of accurate emergency weather information. As for listening while hiking, keep in mind that your best defense against a rattlesnake is the noise it makes. Portable television sets and cellular telephones are definitely out of character on the A.T. (quickly destroying the benefits of wilderness travel), so leave them at home. If you do decide you can't leave home without a cell phone, be sure that you NEVER use it so that it can be seen or heard by another hiker in the woods.

Hiking Stick (optional)
A hiking stick is not a necessity for hiking the A.T., but many thru-hikers carry one because they find it so useful. Many use two. On a rainy night in a shelter many years ago, a group of thru-hikers made a list of more than 200 ways in which a hiking stick could prove useful. Some of the uses: balance while hiking, fending off dogs, finding hidden stepping stones in muddy areas, clearing weeds, propping up a pack during rest breaks, leaning on while talking to someone in the middle of the Trail, hanging clothes during breaks, etc. A number of companies make both wooden and metal models, some telescoping for easy travel. An old ski pole makes an inexpensive hiking stick. Do not count on finding a good hiking stick among the deadwood in the woods. Few thru-hikers do. Under no circumstances should you even think of cutting a living sapling! If you select to carry the sharp-pointed carbide-tip models (such as Leki brand), be sure you outfit your poles with rubber tips to help prevent erosion to the Trail's edge caused by repeated aeration of the soil, and to prevent scarring of rocks. Hint: Paint your name and home telephone number on your hiking stick. Many thru-hikers each year leave their sticks in cars when hitching in and out of town and the driver has no way of returning your poles to you if it isn't marked.

Binoculars (optional)
Binoculars are used very little by thru-hikers once they are on the Trail. Most people find them to be just something else to hassle with, and the weight of even a lightweight pair is hard to justify for carrying day after day. The exception is for bird watching. If you are really into bird identification, then binoculars are a must.

Sunglasses (optional)
Many thru-hikers think that they will be wearing sunglasses every day of their hike, but such is never the case. As soon as trees start to put out leaves, the Trail is mostly in shade, often being referred to as "the long, green tunnel" by those who go the distance. Sunglasses are quickly sent home. Regular prescription glasses, on the other hand, are another story. They are not optional for many people. If you only need reading glasses, you may want to find an inexpensive pair of plastic "drugstore" glasses that will be of no great loss if damaged or lost. If your visual needs are more complicated, you may want to have a nonbreakable pair of prescription glasses specially made for use during your trip. If you must hike in glasses, know that it can be a bother during rainy days or hot periods when you sweat a lot. Fogged lenses have caused more than a few thru-hikers to swear under their breaths, which usually only adds to the fogging problem. No one has found a good solution. Consider carrying an extra bandanna or cloth for cleaning your glasses frequently. Contact lenses are used and cared for on then Trail in the same manner as at home, but do not depend on spring water (which has sediment) for cleaning them. Carry a small container of cleaning solution.

Equipment Failure
Hiking day after day will put your equipment to the test, so occasional equipment failure is something you should expect. Some common failures experienced by past thru-hikers are broken pack straps, buckles, or frames, punctured sleeping pads, stripped zippers (especially on packs and sleeping bags), clogged stove orifices, and malfunctioning water-filter pumps. Usually you will have some advance warning of equipment failure, especially if you form the habit of inspecting and maintaining you gear at each town stop. If you do experience a failure, handling the problem on the Trail is a hassle but not the major difficulty you may think, since you are never too far from help on the A.T. If something does break or show signs of failure during your hike, you have several options:

Make on-the-spot repairs, using your sewing kit to mend broken pack straps, for instance, or using the repair kit recommended by the manufacturer if you have included it in your gear.

Contact the outfitter who sold you the gear when you reach a telephone, requesting warranty repair or replacement. If you are not dealing with a manufacturer through your local outfitter, you will have to explain that you are a thru-hiker and cannot wait for regular warranty procedures.

Purchase new gear from one of the outfitters near the Trail, or ask for a replacement from them (but only if they are a warranty representative for your equipment brand). Many Trail outfitters offer repair services for a wide range of equipment and have helped many past thru-hikers continue their hikes without major interruption.

Boots and Footwear
Most thru-hikers consider footwear, which means boots and socks considered as a unit, to be their most important category of gear. This will be true for you, too, since you will not be able to continue your hike if you cannot maintain your feet in good condition. Footwear also affects other parts of your body, such as knee joints and leg muscles, and even hip joints and spine, so careful consideration should be given to choosing the boots and socks you will use to begin your hike. You should assume that you will need at least two pairs of boots during your hike. This assumption does not mean that you must purchase two pairs before you start, but it does mean that you should be prepared to obtain a second pair somewhere along the way if the first pair wears out or fails.

Choosing Boots
Prospective thru-hikers often ask past thru-hikers which is the best boot to use on an end-to-end hike. There is no good answer to that question. Since there are as many variations in feet as there are hikers, no one boot brand or model works for every thru-hiker. Your choice will be determined by your hiking characteristics and will be based on the shape of your feet, strength of your arches and ankles, total body and pack weight, and other such factors. If you are like most thru-hikers, the type of boot you select will be determined by your wallet, and to a lesser extent fashion, as much as anything else, but arch and ankle support, durability, comfort, and weight are more important on a thru-hike. For example, each extra pound on the feet is equivalent to five extra pounds on the back in the amount of effort you exert while hiking.

Types of Boots
Four main types of boots are used by thru-hikers, with all four types suitable for doing an end-to-end hike, depending on the user. Not every type will be suitable for every hiker, however, and you are probably the only person who can determine which type is right for you. You can narrow your options by considering the following descriptions and focusing on the type of boot that seems to best fit your particular needs.

Lightweight fabric-leather boots: These boots usually weigh about 18-20 ounces per pair and often resemble sneakers but have more built-in support and a tread suitable for hiking. Most models are low-cut like sneakers. All models are fairly flexible and thus give only moderate arch support and no ankle support, but allow good foot and ankle flexibility, which allows you to get a feel for the lay of the Trail underfoot. Few models are waterproof because of their low cut. Hikers who choose to use these lightweight boots realize that they will need several pairs, possibly four or five, for a thru-hike. Thru-hikers have been getting about 400-500 miles of use per pair before the structural integrity begins to fail. In recent years, a variety of trail running shoes suitable for use on the A.T. have appeared in outfitting stores.

Medium-weight fabric-leather boots: These boots are similar in appearance to the lightweight boots, but weigh about 1.5 to 3 pounds per pair and have higher tops. Because of the added materials used in these medium-weight boots, they have fairly good arch and ankle support, rivaling some all-leather models. They also have stiffer soles (usually glued to the uppers) giving more protection from rocks and roots. Few models are waterproof unless they have a Gore-Tex or similar nonporous liner. Medium-weight fabric-leather boots are not usually as durable as all-leather boots, but thru-hikers have been getting 800-1,200 miles of use per pair, and on some occasions as much as 1,500 miles per pair.

Medium-weight leather boots: These boots usually weigh 2.5 to 4.5 pounds per pair. They are not as flexible as the fabric-leather types and thus give more arch and ankle support. The all-leather construction offers more protection from water, even without a nonporous liner. All-leather boots require slightly more break-in time, but often have the advantage of being more easily repaired by cobblers along the Trail. Several methods of attaching the sole are used. Some boots have a molded sole glued to the leather uppers. Others use leather uppers stitched to a midsole, either inside or outside, with a Vibram-type lug sole glued to the mid-sole. Novice hikers like to debate the merits of each construction method, but veteran hikers will tell you that most popular brand-name leather hiking boots are suitably constructed for use on the A.T. Some models have waterproof Gore-Tex liners. Leather boots are durable, and thru-hikers have been regularly getting 1,200-1,800 miles of use per pair before new soles are needed, occasionally going all the way in a single pair without repairs.

Heavyweight leather boots: These boots often weigh 5 pounds or more per pair and are usually referred to as mountaineering boots in catalogues and stores. They are solidly built and almost indestructible, requiring extensive break-in time. It is often joked that hikers do not break in these boots, but the boots break in the hikers instead. You will not wear out a pair of mountaineering boots with normal Trail use, even on a thru-hike, but the extra weight will slow you down considerably and cause leg weariness unless you have very strong legs.

Buying Boots
If you have never before bought hiking boots, you will probably be better off buying them from your local outfitter if you can find a suitable model. Most good outfitters can help you determine your requirements, can fit you properly, and will often allow you to take boots home on trial. When shopping for boots for a thru-hike, always try them on with the socks you intend to wear on your hike. If possible, walk around with a loaded pack to see how the boots feel under weighted conditions. Make sure your toes do not jam against the front of the boot when you lunge forward, as you will when going down a mountain. Also make sure that the boot shape fits the curve of your arch and verify that the boots bend where your feet bend. Check the heel cup to ensure that its shape matches the curve of your heels and that it does not bind or rub unduly on the top of the heel. Make sure the uppers do not bind the tendons on the front of your ankles, especially if you have large ankles and lower legs. Rule of thumb: If boots do not feel good in a store, they will not improve on the Trail, so do not buy them. Keep shopping until you find a perfect fit.

Before buying boots, you should ask your dealer about procedures for replacing boots if they should fail (fail does not mean wear out) on the Trail. If your dealer says that you must return defective boots to the manufacturer for inspection as a condition for replacement or repair, look for another brand of boots. The good manufacturers and outfitters will realize that thru-hikers cannot sit around a Trail town for a week or two waiting for new boots and will agree to replace defective boots promptly, handling any necessary warranty procedures while you are hiking merrily on your way. When your boots eventually wear out, buying new boots from the Trail is not a major problem. You can find an outfitter near the Trail during your hike, or leave buying instructions with your support crew back home before you leave and have them send replacements to you on request. When you purchase your first pair of boots, you may even want to prearrange with your boot dealer to have an identical pair sent later, but allow for the fact that your feet may spread during your hike and a larger and/or wider size may be required for proper fit.

Breaking in Boots
Begin breaking in your boots or hiking shoes immediately after you make your purchase, even if the manufacturer claims no break-in time is needed. Your feet need to be toughened. The secret to breaking in a pair of boots is to put them on and walk and walk and walk and walk some more. The more you can wear your boots before your hike, the fewer foot problems you will have on the Trail. You also have more opportunity to discover boot defects and improper fit. If you develop blisters during the breaking-in process, a not uncommon occurrence when tender feet meet new boots, remember that these are blisters you will not have on the Trail. During break-in, you can also test to see if insoles offering additional cushioning are needed. If you already use orthopedic inserts, you should check with your doctor about your probable needs during your thru-hike.

Boot Problems and Care
The mileage estimates for boots given above are just an average based on your author's observations of many hikers over many seasons of thru-hiking. Some hikers are much rougher on boots than others, of course, but even the most light-footed hiker can experience a boot failure. The most common type of boot failure on thru-hikes is separation of the rubber tread from the midsole or upper part of the boot, and all types of boots can suffer this problem, especially during rainy periods when boots stay wet day after day. Fortunately, total delamination does not happen all at once but instead happens gradually over a period of days or weeks, usually beginning at the toe or heel of the boot. You can delay the process if you form the habit of inspecting your boots at the end of each hiking day and carry a good boot glue for doing on-the-spot repair as soon as delamination begins. A thru-hiking cobbler recommends "Barge Cement", usually found in hardware stores. As for waterproofing your boots, none of the popular products on the market will keep water out of your boots for long, but they will deter it. Small amounts of waterproofing can be carried in a plastic film canister during your hike. Leather boots should be treated often to keep the leather supple and to prevent cracking as boots get wet and dry out repeatedly. Special treatments are available for fabric-leather boots, but few thru-hikers bother to use them.

Choosing Socks
The health of your feet will depend in large part on the socks you choose. Socks for your trip should be designed specifically for backpacking and have padding placed where your feet take the most abuse. Especially important are the areas around the toes, under the ball of the foot, under the boot laces, and around and up the back of the heel. Synthetic-fiber and wool hiking socks are both widely used on the A.T., but cotton socks should be avoided, at least at the beginning of your hike. Most thru-hikers feel that synthetic socks are cooler during hot weather, using them without liners. If you use wool hiking socks, you may want to use a thin, synthetic sock liner (polypropylene in summer, Thermax in winter). Newer wool socks use wool-synthetic blends, which give better performance than pure wool. You should carry as many pairs of socks as you can afford on your thru-hike, or plan to wash a few pairs often. Clean socks have more loft and give better performance, resulting in fewer foot problems and more friends.Hint: If you are using a woven padded sock (e.g., ThorLo socks), wash and dry them inside out, and never use chlorine bleach on either wool or synthetic socks.

Camp and Town Footwear
Most thru-hikers carry some kind of footwear, such as Tevas or sneakers, to wear in camp at the end of the day and to wear in town during resupply stops. Having this extra footwear is not just a matter of fashion or convenience. It has very practical purposes as well. For one thing, it allows the hiker's feet to rest from being in a pair of boots all day long. The benefits of this break from wearing boots, especially early in the hike before feet are fully toughened, cannot be emphasized too much. The feet respond most favorably to the change. In addition, having an alternate footwear besides boots in town often makes it possible for wet boots to dry since, not needed for a day or so, they can be left open to air out in the sun with insoles removed. There are several kinds of very lightweight footwear available. Most discount chain stores have flip-flops that weigh only a few ounces each. Many thru-hikers feel that having a decent pair of alternate footwear is just as important as having good boots, however, and thus accept a little extra weight in their pack for all the benefits to their feet, boots, and morale!

Clothing and Rainwear
Many thru-hikers give too little thought to the clothing they will use on their thru-hike, assuming that "any old clothes will do in the woods", or they go to the other extreme and get caught up in the fashion parade. In either case, they fail to take into account that having the wrong clothes can be very uncomfortable or even dangerous in the mountains. Do not make their mistake. Choose the clothing for your thru-hike carefully, with function instead of fashion or economy, even if you are on a tight budget, in mind, taking into account that on the A.T. your clothing must keep you safe and comfortable in cold, heat, wind, rain, sun, sleet, and snow, and it must give you protection from rocks, limbs, briars, poison ivy, stinging nettles, and insects. In addition, it must be lightweight, durable, quick-drying, and easy to clean.

The specific items of clothing you carry at any given time will depend on the weather, or, to be more precise, the high and low temperatures and the amount of precipitation you expect. Assuming you do a "normal" thru-hike (i.e., starting late March through April from Springer, late May through June from Katahdin), you will possibly have some near-or-below-freezing days and probably some nights below freezing. In the middle part of your hike, you will have hot, summer conditions. At the conclusion of your hike, you will probably have cold temperatures again, depending on when you finish.

Northbounders should keep in mind that freak winter-like storms can occur in the Southern mountains at any time in early spring, as late as the first week of May in recent years. Flowers may be blooming one day and snow falling the next. Those starting in late February or early March should be prepared for extreme weather, possibly one or more feet of snow and persistent near-or-below-zero temperatures at the higher elevations, especially in the Smokies. Within the last decade, heavy snowfalls have occurred in the South between mid-March and early April, although we seem to be entering a warmer-than-average period judging from the most recent winters.

In the weeks immediately before the start of their hike, northbounders can get a good idea of what the weather is doing in the Smokies by watching the reports for Knoxville, Tennessee and Asheville, North Carolina, then adjusting for the difference in elevation between either of those two cities and a specific location on the A.T.'s ridgeline (add or subtract 3.5 degrees for every 1000 feet lost or gained in elevation, subtracting as elevation increases). Southbounders should call Baxter State Park for an up-to-date reading of recent Maine weather, which is virtually unpredictable from year to year. For statistical information about temperatures and precipitation along the Trail that can be used for general planning purposes, see the Climate and Weather Chart, remembering that the figures shown are averages. Actual temperatures at any given time can fall substantially below those shown.

Rule of thumb: Always plan your clothing for the worst weather conditions you can expect and allow for a few surprises as well.

Clothing Requirements
Your clothing will involve both warm-weather and cold-weather clothes in various combinations as you move through the seasons. You will also need rainwear, and you may want to include special clothes for wear in Trail towns as well. Your selection of individual clothing items should be guided by the concept of layering, meaning the use of several thinner layers of clothing together to create thicker layers. Layering gives you the ability to adjust insulation and ventilation as your body heat increases or decreases with activity. This is very important on a thru-hike. For example, when climbing a mountain and generating a lot of heat and perspiration, you can strip down to a single layer. When sitting around camp and producing less body heat, or when hiking in cool, windy conditions, you can add layers for warmth. In very cold weather, you can add many layers to keep warm. Layering allows you to use a few well-chosen garments to keep comfortable in any weather at any level of activity. Most thru-hikers use a three-layer system as follows, with each layer having a specific function:

Inner wicking layer: underwear or lightweight garments of a material that provides some insulation and has good wicking qualities to move moisture from perspiration away from your skin.

Middle insulating layer: heavier garments, such as sweaters or pile jackets and pants, or lightweight down garments, to keep you warm without trapping body moisture.

Outer protective layer: waterproof-windproof parkas and pants, often unlined and without insulation, to protect the inner and/or middle layers from the elements, usually constructed of a breathable material.

Warm-weather Clothing
Most of your trip will be hiked in sunny, warm weather with no rain (really, it will!). On such days, you will wear a shirt, shorts, socks, boots, and little else. The shirt and shorts you use should be lightweight and easily washed, made of quick-dry nylon or similar material, and they should be loose to allow freedom of movement. You should have at least two sets, perhaps more in hot weather. A long-sleeved shirt will feel good in camp and deter insects. Underpants are optional and unneeded for hiking if your shorts have a built-in brief. Cotton underpants should be avoided for hiking, but make a comfortable set of Trail pajamas and help keep your sleeping bag clean (true for both men and women). Many women hikers use a hiking or jogging bra, but many do not. You may want to have a pair of lightweight long pants to protect against sunburn early in the trip, and they are useful for protection from insects and stinging nettles later. A lightweight jacket (or some easy-to-put-on equivalent) is needed to prevent chilling when you stop for breaks, except in the hottest mid-summer weather, and a wool sweater (or equivalent, such as a Polartec jacket) feels good in camp even on some summer evenings. During the hottest summer months, either the jacket or sweater can be sent home, but plan to have one of them with you at all times. Many thru-hikers include a cap, and find that crushable soft-brim types works best.

Cold-weather Clothing
The time of year you start and end your hike, and the direction you choose for doing your hike, will determine how much cold-weather clothing you need. If you plan a normal start, remember that you will have mostly cool-to-warm days, but days and evenings can drop below freezing occasionally, and you may have some snow and extended cold at the higher elevations. In addition to the warm-weather clothing items above, you will need to add lightweight or medium-weight thermal underwear (synthetic, not cotton). You may want to substitute a heavier sweater or equivalent garment for the lightweight sweater, and you may want to carry an insulated parka instead of the lightweight jacket. A ski cap or equivalent is a necessity (the first cold-weather item you should put on while hiking), and gloves feel good in cold, windy conditions. This combination of warm- and cold-weather clothing should be sufficient for any early-spring weather conditions you will encounter in the South. In the rare event you get caught in more severe weather, you can always lay over in a shelter and stay in your sleeping bag until conditions improve, or head for the nearest town. Southbounders may have to use slightly warmer clothing if Maine is having a cold spring (as stated above, call Baxter to find out). If you plan to start your hike earlier than the normal period mentioned above, you will need to get information about doing a winter hike, which is beyond the scope of this discussion. Keep in mind that winter conditions above 3,000 feet can be brutal even in the southern Appalachians. Do not risk your life if you have never had experience living outdoors for extended periods in below-zero conditions; wait for warmer weather.

You will need some type of rainwear for an A.T. thru-hike, not so much for keeping dry as for keeping warm on cool, windy, rainy days. Most thru-hikers use a rain jacket and pants, constructed from either a breathable or coated-nylon fabric. They can then wear jacket, pants, or both as conditions require. A rain jacket with zippered underarms is very helpful in controlling body heat and perspiration. A few people use chaps instead of rain pants to save weight, but chaps have the disadvantage of having to be tied to a belt or something else to hold them up. Some thru-hiker�s use a poncho, which is not ideal rain protection in windy conditions and often cannot be easily adjusted to protect against windchill effects, but it is a satisfactory and inexpensive alternative to the higher-priced rain suits. Gaiters will help keep water out of your boots, but are normally used by thru-hikers only in cooler weather. Whichever type of rainwear you select, know that nothing will keep you dry from your own sweat when you are hiking up a steep mountain with a pack. In hot weather, you will probably choose to leave your rainwear in your pack when it rains.

Town Clothes
Some thru-hikers carry a set of town clothes in addition to their Trail clothing. This is purely optional, depending somewhat on your dedication to fashion. Town clothes can be simply a spare set of shorts and shirt that you use only for town wear, or you may want to include some lightweight �dress� clothes. Many thru-hikers like the feel of something other than hiking attire in towns, especially when they go out to dine or perhaps catch a movie. Even if they do not want to carry special town clothes, most thru-hikers do find a pair of sandals or sneakers worth the added weight. Sandals or sneakers are a welcome change from wet boots in town and feel equally good in camp. If you choose sandals, pick the open-toe kind you can wear with socks in cooler temperatures. A few hikers have used aquasocks for camp and town wear, but select the breatheable kind if you use them.

Choosing Clothing
The first step in choosing the clothing to use on your thru-hike is to make a clothing list of every item you think you will need for your hike. Once you have a list of clothing for your hike that satisfies you, compare the listed items with the clothing items you have on hand. This will tell you which items you need to research and buy. Be careful about adding items to your clothing list, even more so than you were when making your equipment list. A few items of unnecessary or inappropriate clothing (for example, that favorite pair of jeans) can add several pounds to your pack weight, quickly offsetting any advantage gained by selecting lightweight equipment. As you did with your equipment list, you should revise and refine your clothing list until you arrive at a combination "on paper" that meets your hiking requirements, and minimizes the weight added to your overall pack weight, before you make any purchases.

Resist the temptation to rush out and buy a completely new backpacking wardrobe. There may be many clothing items already in your closet that are quite suitable for use on your hike, especially if you are active in other outdoor activities. Some soccer uniforms, for instance, make excellent hiking clothing. On the other hand, many sportswear items are made of cotton, which is generally unsuitable for use on the Trail because it absorbs perspiration and takes forever to dry, undesirable properties in cool or cold weather. Undoubtedly you will want to consider clothing items made specifically for backpacking which incorporates designs and materials created to handle the special needs of hikers. You can best obtain information about the latest available backpacking clothing by visiting outfitters in your area and looking at clothing items in person. You can also find a good deal of clothing information on the internet.

Buying Clothing
You will have three main sources for buying backpacking clothing: mail-order catalogues, your local outfitters, and internet outfitters. Mail-order catalogues and the internet sometimes offer more variety but may not save you much money, especially after you pay shipping charges, since many brand-name clothing items seem to be priced about the same no matter where you buy them. Your local outfitter will normally have fewer choices of clothing, but you will be able to try on items and make sure they fit. You will probably be better off buying major clothing items (rainwear, parka, etc.) from a local outfitter if you have never had experience with these items.

Back-up Clothing
As the weather changes from spring to summer and then to autumn, you may need to add to, subtract from, or change the clothing items you are carrying. Back-up clothing should be packaged, numbered, and listed as you are doing with back-up gear items, so that it can be sent without error when you request it from home. Most northbounders send cold-weather gear home from somewhere in southern Virginia (usually Pearisburg, after going across Mt. Rogers), and pick up cold-weather gear for going through the White Mountains at Hanover or Glencliff, New Hampshire. Southbounders usually send cold-weather gear home from Hanover, after they have gone through the Whites, and pick it back up somewhere in southern Virginia prior to going through the southern Appalachian highlands and the Smokies.

Clean Clothes/Dirty Clothes
A stuff sack is needed as a clothes bag for keeping your clean clothing together in your pack, and it makes an excellent pillow at no additional weight. Your clean clothes should be carried in a plastic garbage bag, so that you will always have at least one set of dry clothes totally protected in waterproof plastic in case of emergency. Dirty clothing, which is often wet and sweaty, should be stored in a separate plastic bag. You won't have to worry about telling which is which!

map man
08-07-2007, 00:34
Attroll, this article has lots of valuable information in it. I know it's probably just a short term oversight, but the writer should be credited. The author describes having hiked the trail seven times, the first time in 1985, so I suspect I know the writer's identity, but as it stands now the article has been submitted by you with no other attribution. Even if the contributor chooses to remain anonymous, that should at least be mentioned so people don't conclude that you wrote it. (And the sources for the other four articles that went up at about the same time, but that are not formatted so they can be commented upon, should also be cited.)

08-07-2007, 01:51
Attroll, this article has lots of valuable information in it. I know it's probably just a short term oversight, but the writer should be credited. The author describes having hiked the trail seven times, the first time in 1985, so I suspect I know the writer's identity, but as it stands now the article has been submitted by you with no other attribution. Even if the contributor chooses to remain anonymous, that should at least be mentioned so people don't conclude that you wrote it. (And the sources for the other four articles that went up at about the same time, but that are not formatted so they can be commented upon, should also be cited.)
Thank you for pointing this out. I have corrected this issue. It was an oversite that never crossed my mind. Thank you.

gold bond
08-07-2007, 09:50
Alot of great information. This must have taken awhile to prepare and type.Cudo's to whom ever did it..thanks for sharing!

08-07-2007, 11:44
WOW! This is the article written by WF that I felt was a terrible loss when he closed down Trailplace.com. Obviously, others do agree. Thanks, WF, wherever you are, whatever you're doing.--Kinnickinic

Time To Fly 97
08-07-2007, 13:40
Hey attroll,

I tried to send a private message to Wingfoot using the "pulished by" link for this original post. I see that it has changed to your name now instead of Wingfoot. Did you receive my message? If so, can it be forwarded? Thank you!

Happy hiking!


08-07-2007, 13:44
Hey attroll,

I tried to send a private message to Wingfoot using the "pulished by" link for this original post. I see that it has changed to your name now instead of Wingfoot. Did you receive my message? If so, can it be forwarded? Thank you!

Happy hiking!

I did not. The publisher was Wingfoot but he is not a registered user on this web site. I put his name in there and changed it back once it started a controversy. I explained what happened in this article here http://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/showthread.php?t=26565.

Appalachian Tater
08-07-2007, 14:26
"A dollar a mile" is probably an underestimate of the amount of money currently needed for the average thru-hike.

08-07-2007, 15:17
This article seems to end abruptly. Anyone who's read it before know whether or not it's complete as posted?

09-07-2011, 05:35
One of the things that you should consider in hiking is the pain that your Body may experienced because of the swelling. One of these is the Hips.

Don Newcomb
09-08-2011, 19:34
cellular telephones are definitely out of character on the A.T. (quickly destroying the benefits of wilderness travel), so leave them at home. Were I to suffer some medical emergency on the trail (as I have in the past) and a cellular phone could have brought assistance/rescue more quickly, I would have considered it well worth the perceived diminution of the "natural experience". In fact, I find it curious that people who carry some of the most highly technological equipment made by man (e.g. Cuben ponchos, JetBoil stoves, Goretex socks, titanium drinking cups, etc.) would disparage another for "bringing technology into the wilderness." I will pay attention to this admonition when I hear it from someone clothed in animal skins and eating the squirrel he killed with a rock and cooked over a fire he started by rubbing two sticks together.

09-08-2011, 22:52
Good information.... Thanks

09-09-2011, 01:38
Were I to suffer some medical emergency on the trail (as I have in the past) and a cellular phone could have brought assistance/rescue more quickly, I would have considered it well worth the perceived diminution of the "natural experience". In fact, I find it curious that people who carry some of the most highly technological equipment made by man (e.g. Cuben ponchos, JetBoil stoves, Goretex socks, titanium drinking cups, etc.) would disparage another for "bringing technology into the wilderness." I will pay attention to this admonition when I hear it from someone clothed in animal skins and eating the squirrel he killed with a rock and cooked over a fire he started by rubbing two sticks together.LOL! Great post...best one of the day! :D

08-15-2012, 13:20
Alot of great information.
very good

10-01-2014, 20:53
Wow! Wow! I just spent the last 2 evenings reading this wealth of information and taking notes! As someone planning a late start hike from Springer in 2015, this was an amazingly helpful piece of writing! Thank you!