UPDATE: Want to see how my kit fared? Check out my Post-AT Gear Review!Below is the list of gear I am currently planning to take on my AT thru-hike beginning in March 2018. This is a living post and will be updated if I make any changes. At this point I don’t suspect I will be making too many changes, but you never know!
My goal, as is the case with most hikers, is to go “as light as I can afford”. Instead of working from a strictly monetary budget, I challenged myself to source top-notch gear for the best possible price by using discounts, sponsorships, or buying used gear. The result was that I was able to achieve a base weight of approximately 13 lbs with nearly no comfort sacrifices. In fact, I even added in some additional comforts that most hikers do without, including a spare outfit to save myself from having to hike in wet clothes.
So without further ado, here is my current gear list from LighterPack. Photos and explanations to follow.
Photos and Explanations
Big Three + Pad/Z Seat/Multipack/Massage ball
I’m very happy about my “Big Three” setup and how lightweight it is. The EE Revelation quilt is one of the best on the market, and although the 10 degree rating is a bit overkill (20 degrees would be sufficient) I got this one used for over 30% off and couldn’t pass up the deal. Besides, it’s only a couple of ounces heavier than the 20 degree quilt and it will almost guarantee that I won’t sleep cold!
The Zpacks Solplex tent is about as light as you can get without switching to a tarp/bivvy setup. I was also able to snag this for about 30% off by buying used (the person had spent only one night in it!) and have found it to be spacious enough for me plus gear and a real cinch to set up.
Unfortunately, I still do not have my custom pack from Superior Wilderness Designs just yet, as their lead times are 10-12 weeks, but I’m hoping it comes soon so that I can use it, otherwise I’ll have to use the pack above, a Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor, which is fine but quite a bit heavier.
I went with the Big Agnes Q-Core SLX sleeping pad after doing lots of research, taking the advice of an experienced friend, and finding a great deal. I’ve tested it out and I think it will be perfect for the trip. The Z seat is something that lots of past thru-hikers have recommended and everyone says it’s one of their favorite pieces of gear. Whether you’re stopping for lunch or using it as a mat outside your tent, this little guy is fantastic.
The Zpacks multipack is another item that I can’t wait to use the hell out of. It can be mounted on your chest, worn as a fanny pack, or even carried as a satchel. Ideal for keeping snacks and camera handy without having to take your pack off. This will be great for reducing wasted time during long days!
Choosing my worn clothing for the AT was one of the easier parts of this whole process. With my experience running ultramarathons, I’ve found what items are comfortable to wear for long periods of time. It just so happens that a lot of those items are made by Patagonia (aka Patagucci) and thus I have gravitated towards them. One of my supporters, Manuka Sport, provided me a Windchaser shirt that is perfect for hiking so I’ll be wearing that a lot. I also love the Patagonia Duckbill cap and Baggies shorts, which are super comfortable, quick drying, and durable.
In my post about the ultrarunning skills I’ll bring on the AT, I mention how much I love gaiters. These are the Dirty Girl “Carpe Donut” pattern gaiters that I’ve had for a couple of years now and which have been fantastic. I never head into the woods without them, as the benefits they provide in keeping rocks and twigs out of your shoes are priceless!
For trekking poles I’m going with the Black Diamond Trail Ergo, which I’ve used for several hikes with great success. These are well-respected, durable, and relatively lightweight aluminum poles that fit the bill perfectly. They will also act as my tent poles, since the Zpacks Solplex .
Footwear-wise, I’m sticking with my tried-and-true Drymax socks and Altra shoes. Drymax socks really do keep your feet much more dry and are wonderfully comfortable and quick-drying. Altras have become the go-to thru-hiker shoe as folks are moving away from conventional boots as the extra space in their toe box really helps ease the pressure of expanding feet and make for a more comfortable hike. I’ll be starting with a pair of Timps, but likely changing to Lone Peaks after these wear out. I have run multiple ultramarathons in Altras and trust that they will work well for the AT.
I’ll also be wearing my Suunto Ambit3 Peak GPS watch in order to track my progress, time of day, speed, and elevation. There are lots of GPS watches on the market, but one particular advantage this one has is a setting which allows for the battery to last up to 200 hours (!) by reducing the frequency of GPS updates. Renowed backpacker and ultrarunner Andrew Skurka has written about this device on several occasions, and claims that this watch has “unmatched performance for the price“. I have used it almost daily for over a year now and concur.
For my spare/packed clothing, the focus is on warmth. As I am starting my hike in March, I am bound to experience a few nights below freezing and thus need a couple of extra layers. First, I’m packing a spare set of hiking shorts (Icebreaker Strike-Lite) and a Patagonia Capilene lightweight t-shirt. This will be my spare set of hiking clothes so that I don’t have to hike in my wet set from the day before. Lots of “ultralight” hikers poo-poo an extra set of clothes as unnecessary weight, but at less than half a pound for both I’m willing to sacrifice in order to be dry. Who knows, maybe I’ll change my mind and end up sending the extras home at some point.
For my insulating layers, I have a pair of Icebreaker Anatomica leggings which I can wear either under my shorts on cold days or to sleep in. Pairing these with a set of EE Copperfield wind pants (which weigh only 1.4oz!) will provide lots of warmth and protection from cold and piercing gusts. I decided to with shorts/wind pants instead of regular pants to save on weight, mostly. If I had pants I would need a pair of underwear and a belt as well, but my shorts have built-in mesh underwear and drawstring waistbands, so I was able to cut out all that excess. Besides, I prefer hiking in shorts anyway!
Up top, I’ll use a Patagonia Capilene Thermal Weight Hoody as my main layer when it’s chilly or while at camp. This is a very popular choice among hikers because it’s light (7oz) and works incredibly well with another baselayer (like the Capilene t-shirt). On top of that, if/when needed (i.e. the White Mountains) I have the Patagonia Ultralight Down Jacket as my main insulating layer. This thing rocks and weighs in at only 9oz.
Then, I have a spare pair of socks from Darn Tough(seriously, these are the best socks around and there’s no reason to go with anything else), OR Versaliner gloves, and a Buff (with the AT map on it!).
For rain gear, I decided to go the route of a poncho instead of a rain jacket and rain pants. Rain gear does a great job of trapping heat in, and only a so-so job of keeping it out. With a poncho, I am able to cover my entire upper body AND pack while having maximum air ventilation to keep from turning it into a sauna. combined with my wind pants, I should be able to stay perfectly dry and cool. I also cut the weight of a jacket and pants, which would have been over a pound.
For the purposes of illumination, I went with a Black Diamond Spot headlamp because it is lightweight (2.9oz) and has almost twice the output of other similarly-sized lamps (including my Black Diamond ReVolt). I don’t plan to do a lot of night hiking, but you never know. Also, I got it for half off so it was a steal.
For a battery backup, I’m bringing the RavPower 16750mAh. They say that you “pack your fears”, and one of mine is having my devices run out of juice. I already had a 10,000mAh battery (which lots of hikers recommend), but this one was on sale for $22 at the time and weighed only 1 oz more for 80% more capacity. It should be able to charge all my electronics multiple times during long stretches between towns.
For photography (but not necessarily electronics) I’ve decided to start the trail with my Pedco Ultrapod tripod with Neewer Fish Bone Quick Release because it works well with my setup (not pictured is my Sony A6000 camera and Peak Design Capture clip) . It weighs just 4 oz and has the ability to attach to a tree branch or pole with the velcro strap. I’ve used it on day hikes and runs and found it to be a great piece of gear. If I find I’m not using it much, I might send it home.
Odds and ends include a standard pair of headphones (with inline controls to save from having to turn the phone screen on and off and drain the battery), short USB cables to charge, and two USB adapter bricks. This is a trick I learned from Bigfoot – always take two separate adapters because the battery backup takes forever to recharge and you don’t want to tie up half your outlets for that amount of time. By having one double-outlet adapter and one single, I can plug the battery in separately and let it charge overnight while also powering my other devices at a faster rate.
I’m also taking a spare MicroSD card (with SD card adapter for my camera) and this cool USB adapter (similar to this). This little guy uses a MicroSD card as storage and has both a regular USB and micro USB output. This allows me to transfer photos and video from my camera to either my phone or a computer easily. I love this thing!
Finally, I am bringing a Delorme InReach satellite tracker. This is the older version of the device (Garmin bought them out and now makes this new one), but it has all the functionality I need. It provides a way to track your position and progress while also allowing for two-way communication via text message to any number from anywhere in the world, whether there is cell reception or not. In addition, it has an “SOS” feature that immediately connects you to search-and-rescue services worldwide in the case of an emergency. It’s an awesome device that will allow me to keep in touch with family and friends anywhere along the trail and provide a safety blanket if the worst was to occur. Adventure Alan wrote a great post about the InReach and why it’s a must-have!
Pretty standard stuff here. A super lightweight trowel for digging catholes, an “oh shit kit” with earplugs, ibuprofin, KT Tape (works better than moleskin for blisters), backup water purification, and a sleep mask. Then there’s a Zpacks compact toothbrush, mini toothpaste with flosser and multivitamins (I’ll have one of these baggies in each resupply box), some deodorant (not that it will help much), and a mini tub of Vaseline for chafing. Lots of people go with Body Glide or something similar, but Vaseline is about 1/10 the cost and, in my opinion, just as effective so I don’t bother with the other stuff.
I also have a bag containing a portion of the AWOL Guide. This is a must-have for planning and navigation purposes, as it lists every water drop, shelter, hostel, and trail town along the entire AT. The book is written and maintained by a past thru-hiker and is used by everyone on the trail. Many folks, myself included, decided to split the guide up into 4 sections in order to reduce weight, so I will start with a few hundred miles’ worth and dispose of the pages as I hike through them while shipping the other sections in resupply boxes.
To carry my food, I will use the Zpacks Bear Bagging Kit. There are many different options for this, but the Zpacks kit hits all the right marks on weight, volume, and accessories. Most thru-hikers use this kit, and for good reason. In this photo, I have a full 5-day resupply inside the bag, and there’s still room to spare.
For cooking, I will use the Snow Peak Soloist Titanium Cookset, a nice and lightweight pot/cup combo in conjunction with a Snow Peak LiteMax titanium stove. These are great pieces of gear that I got for over half off from someone who used them just a handful of times. After cooking my dehdrated meals, I’ll use a cozie from Antigravity Gear to keep it insulated. I’ll also use a Toaks Titanium long-handle spoon and a Bic mini lighter.
To filter my water (and you should definitely filter your water), I’ll be using the Katadyn BeFree 1L. This filter is relatively new to the thru-hiking community, but has really made a great impression. A vast majority of hikers use the Sawyer Squeeze, which is a perfectly good filter (and, in fact, is rated for more capacity than the BeFree). The downsides are that it has a rather slow flow-rate and the bags you fill with “dirty” water are prone to failure and have small mouths, making it difficult to scoop water when the level is low. The BeFree solves these problems by having a wide-mouthed soft flask with screw-on filter with much faster flow rate. It also shaves a few ounces off the weight of the Sawyer. Although it’s not rated for as many gallons and I’ve read that the flow rate reduces significantly after some use, I think it will work well for my hike. I also have a few tabs of Aquamira treatment in case the filter fails for some reason and I’m a couple days out from town.
Up above, I have a PackTowl Nano – an incredibly lightweight and absorbent towel to be used for just about anything, and a pair of Flopeeze sandals for camp shoes. Camp shoes are highly contested among “ultralight” hikers because they’re dead weight for a vast majority of the hike. However, in order to keep your feet healthy it’s imperative that they air out at the end of a long day, so I didn’t want to go without completely. Instead, I swapped the regular Crocs (which weigh nearly a pound) for these neoprene slip-ons that weigh just 4 oz and pack flat. It’s a worthy compromise, in my opinion.
That’s it! These are all the items I’ll carry on my back for the entirety of the trail – and maybe even less if I find I’m not using things. I’m still amazed that it takes so little to survive in the wilderness for 3+ months and that by doing research and testing out products, I was able to reduce my weight to something as manageable as 13lbs.
Did I miss anything?
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Brandon Chase is a writer, endurance athlete, and guide based in Maine. He is a former Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State and spent nearly a decade overseas serving at embassies in Egypt, Cyprus, and Pakistan.
Along with a 98-day thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, he has summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, hiked the West Highland Way, fastpacked in the Himalayas, and trekked around New Zealand and South Africa. He also regularly competes in ultramarathons at the 50k, 50-mile, and 100-mile distances. He is a Lead Guide for Andrew Skurka Adventures and the New England Outdoor Center.