So I’m going to be living with my life on my back for the next five months or so. Here’s a list of what I’ll be bringing. Picking the right gear is all about making compromises between comfort on the trail and comfort at camp. Everyone has their preferred luxuries and it’s important that each person finds what works for them. Priorities lie in being warm, dry, and not overburdened with weight. As all the backpackers say, “Every ounce counts!.”
I have to give a huge shout out to my friend Chris Adams at Going Gear in Smyrna, Ga. Chris thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2015 I’ve spent hours talking with him about gear. He has made some awesome recommendations and Going Gear had all of it. Many items here, like my entire cooking system, aren’t even carried by major outfitters like REI. Going Gear has a great selection of top of the line gear and I was always surprised at how affordable the equipment I got there was. I definitely recommend making the drive over there, I’ve been five or six times in the last three months and have left satisfied every time.
Pack: REI Flash 50. My pack has a carrying capacity of 50 liters, which is a medium sized pack. I wanted something a little smaller, but I can always use the extra space for more food. It’s an internal frame pack with a waist band, chest strap, a brain compartment, and weighs a scant 2lbs 8oz.
Tent: Tarptent ProTrail. This tent is amazing. First off, it weighs 1 lb 9oz. It uses my trekking poles to set it up like an old A-frame tent. It’s a one person tent that’s storm worthy and even has adjustable floor space. Set up and take down time is under two minutes, and this tent is recommended by countless expert thru-hikers.
Sleeping bag: Cat’s Meow by North Face. I’ve had this bag for over ten years now and it has never done me wrong. I’ve slept in this sleeping bag in well below freezing weather many times. It’s a synthetic mummy bag rated to 20 degrees. I wish it were just a little more compact, and I wouldn’t complain if it weighed a bit less, but at just under 3 pounds, it could definitely be worse.
Sleeping bag liner: Patagonia synthetic liner. Sleeping bag liners are almost essential for all thru-hikers, not just the ones starting in late winter like me. Using a liner will keep your sleeping bag from getting dirty as quickly. It’s much easier to throw the liner in a load of wash with all of my clothes than it would be to do a separate load just for my sleeping bag every week.
Sleeping Pad: Nothing fancy here, just a closed cell pad from Thermarest. Most people go for an airpad, but this is what I have and I’ve been using it for over ten years. It keeps me off the ground, and that’s good enough for me.
Shoes: Asolo Tribe GV hiking boots. If you’ve seen me in the past three years, you’ve probably seen me wearing these boots. I absolutely love them. Made in Romania, they’re absolutely perfect. They’re a little on the heavy side to use on the whole trail, but are absolutely essential for the snow I’ll encounter for the first month of my hike. Once the weather warms up, I’ll have my pair of Chaco Yampas shipped to a hostel up ahead of me. Again, Chacos are not the most lightweight footwear option, but the soles will last the rest of the trip. People who use trail runners often go through upwards of three pairs on a thru-hike and that gets expensive. Chacos also have the benefit of the ultimate ventilation when worn with socks. More ventilation means less moisture means no blisters, and when it comes to footwear that’s what it’s all about.
Hiking Poles: Lumi Outdoors Duralumin Trekking poles. Almost all thru-hikers use poles and these are a great budget option. They cost about half as much as most of the nice brands and perform just as well. They’re incredibly light, collapse down to 18” long, and have cork handles for insulation in the cold, and dry palms in the heat. Trekking poles engage your arms in carrying the load of your pack and save your knees and feet a lot of unnecessary wear and tear. Especially downhill, trekking poles help prevent falls in uncertain footing, which is always a good idea.
Rain Jacket: Mammot Tatoosh. I’m absolutely in love with this jacket. It’s very lightweight, totally waterproof, breathable, has large under arm vents, and an adjustable hood to restore peripheral vision. It’s not insulated in any way, so I can use it throughout the summer as well. Works great as a windbreaker, durable material. And it looks really badass.
Rain Pants: Columbia EvaPOURation Rain Pants. When it comes to rain pants, there are a lot of inexpensive options, but the most important factor here is breathability. If your rain pants don’t breathe, you’re practically creating a rainforest of your own on the inside. Another very important factor for me here is mobility. I’ve got particularly thick thighs for my heights and size, and I’m also far more flexible than most guys. These pants are great in every way.
Midlayer: Northface Reactor Hoodie. This hoodie has all of the usual desirables: lightweight, breathable, insulating, synthetic, plus it has a hood. I’m wearing this right now.
Jacket: 32 Degree Weatherproof Down Jacket. I’ve worn this jacket every day since I bought it. In fact, I bought a second one to bring on the trail. There are a lot of down jackets out there, and most sell upwards of $100 or $150. This is a great budget option. Absolutely unbeatable weight to insulation ratio. Only downside here is that it’s absolutely imperative to keep it dry. I’m much more worried about keeping it dry from the moisture coming off me than I am moisture from outside. I might buy a second one to wear both when I stop for lunch or in camp when I’m not moving around as much. They compress down to the size of a baseball and weight a couple ounces, so theres really no reason not to.
Pants: REI Activator. Soft shell, stretchable, lightweight, insulating, very mobile. I had previously bought a pair of insulated running pants by Arc’teryx (a very nice brand), but found that they were made for someone taller and more slender than me. So I asked for a little help at REI and couldn’t be happier with these pants.
Baselayer top: Patagonia Capilene Midweight top with quarter zip for ventilation. The standard for baselayers. I chose the midweight to balance wicking and warmth. If I were doing something less active, I’d have chosen the heavy weight, but I’ll be sweating constantly, so the breathability is absolutely essential.
Baselayer bottom: Patagonia Capilene Midweight bottoms. Same as above: insulated, wicking, midweight. These are both synthetic and wont quite hold onto body odor the way organic fabrics like cotton do, so that’s a plus for every one.
Buff & Balaclava: Probably the highest warmth to weight ratio of any piece of clothing out there. If you’re unfamiliar with these articles, buffs are those things every one gets on Survivor. In cold weather, they’re usually worn around the neck like a scarf and can be pulled over the nose like a bandit. Balaclavas are what Russian bad guys wear in snow mobile scenes in action movies. It’s a tight-fitting hood-hat-mask thing. I’d much rather have one of these than a hat that doesn’t quite cover my ears and neck.
Gloves: I bought some generic fleece gloves at Steinmart for $8 instead of getting something fancy. I really value a non-constricting and highly mobile glove. I’ll gladly sacrifice water resistance and extra warmth for the ability to articulate my fingers. and not feel like they’re being squeezed by little children at all times.
Underwear: ExOfficio is the undisputed name brand here. Two pairs is all you need, highly breathable, 6” or 9” inseam is preferred to reduce friction as much as possible.
Socks: Darn Tough merino wool socks. I’ll be bringing three pairs for hiking, changing one out at lunch to keep my feet as dry as possible. I’m also bringing a pair of thicker, Thorlos socks to wear in my sleeping bag
Sock Liners: REI brand silk liners, increase ventilation and wicking, decreases blisters caused by friction and moisture
Bandana: It’s so hard to find a good bandana these days. Even the ones made in the USA have a very coarse thread count and are not particularly absorbent. I have a bandana that is probably older than I am and it’s absolutely awesome. It’s a little smaller than most bandanas, so I can’t quite wrap it around my head, but I’ll honestly be using it more often to clean out my cooking pot.
Camp Towel: Pack Towl XS. This is another little camp gadget I’m excited about. This towel is 24”x30”, but will compress down to fit inside my fist. I can dry my entire body with it and it is also useful for drying out my tent on days I have to set it up in the rain. It weighs less than 2oz
iPhone: Yes I will have my phone with me. Most of the time it will remain off or on airplane mode until I need it. When not in use, the charge should hold up to a week, but I’ll usually be in town to charge it more often than that. I’m, of course, bringing a charger too.
Headlamp: Black Diamond Spot. 130 Lumens, flood light, spot light, and red light options. Runs off of three AAA batteries and weighs 3oz.
Knife: Lil’ Friend by Boker. Knives are cool. Big knives are really cool. I own a knife with a 8.5” blade. I’m not bringing that knife on the Appalachian Trail. I’m bringing my Lil’ Friend. It’s a 4” knife with a 2” blade and a full tang. It weighs 1.5oz and I’m going to cut a lot of cheese and summer sausage with it.
Guide: The AT Guide is the definitive thru-hiker guide. There’s a NOBO and a SOBO guide available. The guide has information on everything from elevation changes and the distances between shelters/water sources to the prices of hostels in upcoming towns and which restaurants have discounts for thru-hikers. It weighs 7.8oz and comes with its own heavy duty Ziploc bag.
Duct tape: five feet wrapped around each hiking pole. Many hikers wrap their duct tape around water bottles, but I’m using my main water bottle as a cooking pot, so that’s not the best idea for my set up.
Needle and Thread: Used for repairs on backpack, clothing, sleeping bag, tent, or basically anything that might need repairing.
First Aid Kit: I’m fairly experienced at wilderness First Aid. I’ve get hurt a lot. This is a first aid kit that works for me. It’s pretty minimalistic, but it can treat a wider variety of the most likely injuries to occur on the trail. 1 roll of Gauze, a 1.5oz tube of Neosporin, a bottle of ibuprofen (emptied into a small bag), one roll of athletic tape. I can always add to this kit if I ever feel like I need to bring more or if I need to replenish something.
Stove: Vargo Titanium Triad alcohol stove. This stove is less than three inches in diameter, one inch in height when folded, and weighs 1oz. It holds 1.5oz of fuel and can burn for upwards of 15 minutes. I’m also bringing along a windscreen made of aluminum foil.
Cookware: Vargo Titanium Bot. 1 Liter. “Bot” is a cross between “bottle” and “pot.” This is a multifunctional piece of equipment. It has a screw on lid, and so can be used as water bottle throughout the day. Weight: 4oz
Utensils: Vargo Long-handled titanium spoon.
Fuel: Alcohol fuel in a marked container 16 ounces at a time. I’m using a water bottle with a sports tip to control pouring fuel into my stove.
Lighter: It’s definitely a good idea to carry two small lighters. Regular Bic lighters are best
Paracord: 50ft of this handy-dandy rope will be plenty for hanging bear-bags and maybe the occasional clothesline.
Food: Ramen, Knorrs side dishes, couscous, tuna, peanutbutter, granola bars, beef jerky, summer sausage, pop tarts, snack crackers. The amount of food I carry will vary from day to day, depending on the distance between towns and resupply trips. I’m keeping my food in a water-proof air-right bear bag. The weight of the food should range anywhere from 5-10 pounds.
Water Treatment: Sawyer Squeeze water filter. There are tons of filters on the market, but this one is simple, lightweight, and has no moving parts. To use it, you fill the included bag up with water from the source, screw the filter onto the bag and squeeze the bag to force water through the ceramic filter. It even has a nozzle so you can drink straight from the filter or use it to fill other water containers. It’s a popular choice among thru-hikers, though many people complain that the bags break easily. I’ve bought a Platypus Softbottle (0.5 liters) that is much more durable than the Sawyer bag in anticipation of a leak. All together this system weighs 7oz.
Water bag: Platypus 100oz. This is a bladder system like Camelbak. I enjoy the convenience of having water without having to stop and drink from a bottle. In the temperatures I’ll be hiking in, the hose to my bladder will freeze partially, but the bladder itself is inside my pack against my back and can melt the hose effectively.
Pack Cover: Sea To Summit Nylon Pack Cover. Essential for keeping everything dry. Many people use a pack liner, which wont protect anything in the outside compartments of your pack. Some people use a combination of both, which I may do if I have any problems with this approach. I have waterproof stuff sacks for my sleeping bag and food respectively, so to some extent I’ve already addressed the need for a liner.
Trowel/Toilet Paper: Always essential.
Water: I’ll be carrying 32 ounces of water most of the time, though I can hold up to a gallon. It’s a good idea to drink a lot of water at the source to minimize the amount you have to carry in your pack.
I haven’t weighed my pack yet, but my (conservative) estimates put it at 14.5 pounds before food and water. Most of the time I’ll be carrying around two pounds of water and five pounds of food, leaving my average weight roughly between 20-25lbs. I have almost every piece of gear I need now, so I can finally start saving up for food. If you’d like to help me afford to eat (especially in the first freezing, barren month) you can donate to me at paypal.me/RyanStoyer. Five dollars will feed me for a day, but absolutely any amount will be greatly appreciated and rewarded with a handwritten letter specifically for you!
As always, let me know if you have any questions about any aspect of my hike and I’ll be happy to answer. If you missed my first post, you can read it here. My next post should be coming up mid-February and will be about the fascinating history of the Appalachian Trail. It’s way cooler than it sounds, I promise.