• What to leave home/preparation for a thru-hike (Hiker Advice)

    What to leave home/preparation for a thru-hike

    By A-Train 4 Feb 2005

    Thought I'd compile a list of ideas that would be helpful to future thru-hikers planning to leave soon for their journey. This is advice that I would have found useful in making last-minute decisions as what to buy and what to bring. This is intended to help decrease pack weight and shy away from superflous items that you most likely won't use on a daily basis. It's also meant as a way for you, the hikers to save money sending things home that you could just as easily leave home. Lastly, It may save you money from having to buy some things in the first place.

    Disclaimer: This is based on my own experience on the trail as well as witnessing others sending many similar items home and lugging the same things and wondering why on earth they had them in the first place. I can guarantee there will be folks who will disagree with almost every item I deem uncessary. I'm not claiming this is the right way, or that since I don't need it, YOU won't need it. It's simply a suggestion, you can take it for what it's worth. If this benefits one person I'll be happy.

    Pack Towel-This was something that everyone had, sometimes 2 or 3 of them. Sure they could be handy, but why not just carry a bandana. It's lighter and can be used a million and a half different ways. I cleaned my glasses, tied it around my head, wiped condensation off my tent walls, and washed my face with it. It's multi-purpose. Most likely a hostel or motel will have towels. If not you can get creative. A pack towel is not a necessity.

    Tent/Seal seam and boot water proofing- You simply don't need these items often enough to warrant carrying them in a pack for 6 months. When you need them you can split a bottle with other hikers, or find leftover in a hiker box. No need to lug it up the trail.

    Soaps and toiletries-All you really need is a SMALL bottle (like an oz or two) of all purpose or Doctor Bronners biodegradable soap. This can be used to wash you and your pots. No need for special "human" soap. Likewise carrying toiletries like deoderant and shampoo are not necessary. You're gonna stink and the only time to get clean is in town. They have what you need.

    Trowel-I carried the orange shovel for 700 miles before realizing I didn't really need it. Most shelters have a privy. If you can excercise any sort of self control, you usually can time your business around lunch or dinner or breakfast at a shelter. I hardly ever needed to dig. Use a trekking pole, use a boot heal, use your finger. The only section without privies is Erwin to Damascus, so maybe you can pick a trowel up in Erwin if this scares you.

    A groundcloth- I'm sure the masses will want to stone me for this, but I saw absolutely no reason to carry an extra piece of material under my tent. If the tent was going to get wet due to a storm or a poor setup, a piece of material would do little to keep the floor dry. All it seemed to be was another layer of material that didn't do a whole lot. Experiment before leaving with this one.

    Gaitors-Backpacker magazine and the likes like to embed the idea that to be truly hardcore and rugged, we most have these very expensive hot covers on our legs to protect us against all the perils of the woods. Not so. In reality they do very little for you other than make you look goofy or rough, depending on who you talk to. If you haven't bought them, save your money for xtra cheezburgers.

    Mitten Covers- I bought these and never really needed them. Regular fleece gloves are great to keep you warm at night but generally you generate enough heat while hiking that i never needed these, maybe once or twice at most. You can always put your hands in your pockets or use ziplock bags

    XTRA food and clothing-this is generally the source of peoples riciculous 80 lb loads when they leave Springer. You can get more food 30 miles up the trail, even 20 if you run into trouble. Don't start out with 10-15 lbs of food. It just doesn't make sense. Likewise, be prepared for the mountain weather, but there is no need to set off with 4 t-shirts, 3 pairs of underwear and "Town clothes". Your gonna smell, just wear the same thing everyday. Trust me, no one cares.

    A book-I love reading on the trail but realize for many people they are too tired to sit down and attack a novel after a long days walking. You can always pick one up along the way if you are so inclined.

    Radio/Music player-most hikers seemed to not have a need for one until virginia when the days started to get long and motivation decreased. If you can't live a day without, bring it to springer, but realize you may be wrapped up in adjusting to trail and meeting folks the first few weeks. Trust me, you won't be bored if you leave in march or april.

    Camp Cup-lots of folks had cups or spent much too much on titanium mugs. Thats why we have water bottles. They double as mugs too. Cups don't pack well and take up space. If you are a devoted coffee drinker, this might be a staple for you, though.

    Sunglasses/Sun screen-This ain't the desert or the PCT. There is good tree cover and it's not called the Long Green Tunnel for nothing. Almost everyone ended up sending their spiffy specs home. If you need a pair, go with somehting cheap. Most likely you'll smash them or leave them in a shelter.

    Bug Spray-Sorry if this sounds dumb but you won't need this till later on. Buy some in Kent Ct.

    Sox-3 pairs is perfect. 1 for warm camp wear and 2 to alternate while hiking. Anymore than this seems overkill

    Xtra pants-Go with one pair. Decide what you like better: rain pants or convertible/cool hiking pants. They esentially do the same thing which is cover your legs. Both are NOT water proof. Most thru-hikers seemed to deem rainpants obsolete by the warmer weather (especially after their wicking ability had died) and I tend to agree. Go with a real cheap pair (10 bucks) or use those fancy convertible pants. I had a pair that were quite expensive and the zipper broke on me. Not good. Shorts and tights always works good and is versatile.

    Guidebook-you don't need the state guidebooks unless you are really interested in every turn and twist the trail takes. A handbook and data info and maps will be all you need.

    Don't over do it on the journal. I use loose small paper and pen. Some people had elaborate notebooks which were heavy.

    Water holders/Bottles-You will be inclined to fill your canisters so avoid those humongous platypus sacks or 3-4 nalgenes. All you need is 2 1-liter bottles and something to keep camp water in (a small collapsible bag). I saw people leaving springer with like 20 lbs of water, no exageration.

    First Aid-this is personal of course, and I'm not trying to get anyone killed here, but don't overkill here. Use your common sense. Most likely if the injury is real bad you're gonna need to get off trail. A couple band-aids, antibiotic oinment, some tape to wrap blisters and ibuprofen does me good.

    poles/sticks: I'm a HUGE proponent of these and I do own expensive Lekis. You don't need the fanciest though. Ski poles work well and the cheaper brands often performed as good as the expensive ones. They're great for your knees but don't get sucked into the marketing scheme, if you don't want to.

    Cell Phone- This is highly debated, but most likely its just gonna add weight to your pack and you won't find service. If you wanna pay money to carry a rock in your pack, go crazy, but know the overwhelming majority of folks sent these home.

    As I mentioned, you may find that one or more of these are necessary for you to enjoy your hiking trip. If you want to lug it, go for it! This is only a sugestion as how to trim pack weight and save some money and time. Each person generally has a comfort item and any of these may be what you can't live without. Good luck to all
    This article was originally published in forum thread: What to leave home/preparation for a thru-hike (Hiker Advice) started by A-Train View original post
    Comments 148 Comments
    1. SGT Rock's Avatar
      SGT Rock -
      Great idea.I nominate it as an article for the Newbie stuff.
    1. Jack Tarlin's Avatar
      Jack Tarlin -

      Great post.
    1. chris's Avatar
      chris -
      Ditto. I wish I was clever enough to think it up. Certainly this is something that new hikers should take a look at.
    1. Footslogger's Avatar
      Footslogger -
      Way to go A-Train ...

      I've done things like this with individual hikers but never thought to post it here.

      Something like this oughta be posted at Amicolola or Walasi-Yi (Neels Gap). Lots of hikers who attempt the AT do not visit Whiteblaze or read previous hiker journals. The hiker box at Neels Gap might not be overflowing with day 3 discards.

      Since many hikers may respond to your post with their own opinions/experience though, this thread could get pretty involved and confusing. What would you think about a series of threads that dealt one-at-a-time with each of your points ?? Some of this has already been done (eg cell phones) but others have gotten somewhat lost in the multi-topic clothing/gear threads.

      Anyway ...just a thought.

      AT 2003
    1. Peaks's Avatar
      Peaks -
      To each their own.

      I might add that I carry a ground cloth and use it not because I'm trying to keep the bottom of my tent dry. Rather, it provides a little layer of cushion between the floor of my tent and the ground so that the tent floor does not get punctured by sharp sticks and stones. Plus, I spread it out in a shelter to keep my sleeping pad and bag that much cleaner. I'd rather replace the ground cloth then replace the tent. Thus far, the tent has lasted for the entire AT, plus a cross country bike trip.

      As far as the other items go, I'd advocate that when starting out, think about what are really going to use. I know that I packed along a lot of the items that are on your list not to bring.
    1. A-Train's Avatar
      A-Train -
      I'm certainly OK with opening it up for discussion, since every point and item can be debated heavily. In fact I thought I was gonna get 100 angry posts about me being the devil for suggesting not to use a groundcloth..

      And I'd love it to be part of the archives/articles section if people are ok with that.
    1. Skeemer's Avatar
      Skeemer -
      I liked A-Train's comments on packing too much food. On the AT I could never seem to get it right as I always had too many dinners and not enough Snickers. I think I ended up packing too much because I had room in my Ursack and it kinda felt like a "safety item". When I decided early on that I didn't want to cook breakfast I had all of this oatmeal at my maildrops that I ended up leaving in hiker boxes. I also remember packing an unopened tuna packet for something like 500 miles...that's 3 ounces. But the worst was peanut butter. I love peanut butter but made the mistake of carrying an 18 ounce jar. I found I didn't always want to fool around spreading it on Ritz (which BTW were expensive to buy in town) and ended up using the prepacked peanut butter crackers half of the time. I don't want to tell you how far I carried an unopened jar of peanut butter on my thru-hike. Now when I "went cold" on my section hike last summer, I packed the jar and used it everyday so it made sense then. If you can plan your food it will go a long way in reducing your pack weight.

      Now, about the gators...look up the thread as there was some great discussion pro and con. I love mine and even wore them in the hot weather and also on the JMT...I guess I looked goofy anyway so it didn't matter.
    1. ACH05's Avatar
      ACH05 -

      Thanks for your positive contribution. Your post is far more beneficial to prospective thru-hikers than some other threads I have read on WB.

      I second Rock's motion. The information contained in A-train's post will be just as useful to next year's hikers, as it is now. It deserves a place under the "Information" link.
    1. SGT Rock's Avatar
      SGT Rock -
      Well just like any article, it is all subjective. Any reader with at least 2 IQ points to rub together should have learned by now how to compare and evaluate anything they read. I think A-Train's list is valid to his point of view, and besides editing to change the format or something like spelling/grammar, it should stand as he writes it and not by committee. Other people can write their own. I think anything like this should be basically OK as long as it passes the common sense test, I think the only time I would veto is if an article would suggest you don't bring something like a first aid kit at all and just bum off someone else if you get hurt or sick.
    1. MOWGLI's Avatar
      MOWGLI -
      Quote Originally Posted by A-Train View Post
      I'm certainly OK with opening it up for discussion, since every point and item can be debated heavily. In fact I thought I was gonna get 100 angry posts about me being the devil for suggesting not to use a groundcloth..
      It's all good A-Train. I'm with you on the ground cloth. Or how do they say that in Brooklyn? I'mwhichyouse?
    1. DavidNH's Avatar
      DavidNH -
      Thanks so much for this post. probably one of the most useful posts this beginner to intermediate hiker has read.

      I am personally undecided as to weather gaitors in rain are helpful or not. Do those with gaitors find that their feet stay drier in prolonged rains? if they don't then they would not be useful in my book.

    1. Alligator's Avatar
      Alligator -
      There's a lot of good suggestions on that list. Some contrary opinions can be found in the forums. But he did open it up for discussion. I don't think it needs to be open to committee, but most articles before publishing get reviews. For this, and some of the other articles planned, why not open it up to some limited review, and allow the authors to either accept or reject any suggestions. Then the finished article could be placed somewhere prominent.

      These are my thoughts.
      1. I don't carry a tent anymore except in the winter, but I do bring the groundcloth then for the sole reason of protecting the bottom because the tent was expensive. Suggested change: Note that a ground cloth will protect the bottom of the tent, but it is a big weight penalty.

      2. I also use titanium cup ($15, 2oz) as a second pot, so someone interested in side dishes (couscous or instant rice with dinner) might find it useful. Plus I use it for hot drinks when my pot is still dirty, and as a protective location for goodies look a tomato or avocado the first night out of town. But I know that most just boil water. Certainly don't take a cup like my old stainless steel one, I think it weighed 7-8 ozs! I personally wouldn't put anything hot into anything plastic other than a Nalgene, but I generally don't carry one anymore. Suggestion: If you enjoy hot beverages and/or cook extensively a very lightweight titanium cup can serve as a second pot.

      3. Platypus containers are very light. Rather than saying don't carry one, say don't fill it up all the way if it is high capacity. I carry three: 1, 2.5, and 3l with a hose. They weigh 7.3 oz with the hose, or 0.6, 2.5, and 4.2 ounces respectively. I carry the one liter because I find it easier to drink in camp, and all three so that if I want to stay at a dry camp I can. I would not fill all three up and start the day. Suggestion: Do not carry more than 2 liters of water unless you have a very good reason to (big person, long dry stretch). The weight penalty is ~2.2 pounds/liter.

      And of course, as I always tell folks I review for, take it or leave it.
    1. Lone Wolf's Avatar
      Lone Wolf -
      Gaitors will NOT keep your feet dry. They will keep your sox a little cleaner and keep the rare stick or pebble from getting into the shoe. I don't use them. Besides, they're goofy looking. Spend the $ on something more functional.
    1. Blue Jay's Avatar
      Blue Jay -
      Great list. My only change would be dump the first aid kit you stated and bring something to stop heavy bleeding. Twice, I've used mine. Once, when there was a serious danger of bleeding to death when some one fell on a sharp stone water bar. The second time was for a serious dog bite. Most people fall more than a few times between Georgia and Maine. All it takes is to land on one small tree stub or pointed rock and you'd be surprised how fast the red stuff comes out.
    1. Alligator's Avatar
      Alligator -
      What will stop heavy bleeding in the field?
    1. Footslogger's Avatar
      Footslogger -
      Quote Originally Posted by Alligator View Post
      What will stop heavy bleeding in the field?
      Depends on what type of wound/bleeding. Direct pressure is the generic answer but if the wound involves a major artery on an extremity you might need a tourniquet.

    1. Oracle's Avatar
      Oracle -
      Tourniquets have the possibility of killing whatever limb you put them on, plus the person using them needs to know how to use it (i.e. loosening it every 15 minutes). What you need is a "blowout kit", similar to what is used by soldiers to treat gunshot wounds. They contain a clotting agent which will make a massive wound clot up within a minute or two.
    1. oldyeller's Avatar
      oldyeller -
      Excellent article. Currently packing and repacking to drop weight before the 2/27 start...thanks to all for the insight - oldyeller
    1. rocket04's Avatar
      rocket04 -
      I agree with almost everything on the list. The only thing on the list I took and was certain I would use was a book. And I did use it and got many more of them. But I agree that unless you're absolutely certain you're gonna read, you might as well leave the book at home and get one later.
    1. Lone Wolf's Avatar
      Lone Wolf -
      I agree with MOST of what A-Train posted except, I always bring a book/crosswords, headphones, insulated coffee mug, and I'll never use hiking poles/sticks. I do carry maps as everyone should.
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