Big Three (plus accessories)
Superior Wilderness Designs Long Haul 40L (not pictured above, but seen in my Instagram here). I LOVE THIS PACK. Seriously, this was my favorite piece of gear. I beat the hell out of this thing and it took it all without any issues whatsoever. The pack weighs less than two pounds, is completely waterproof, and fit like a glove (even as I lost 26lbs throughout the course of my hike). Do not sleep on SWD packs – they are fully customizable and have the friendliest customer service I have ever dealt with. I don’t see any reason why I would buy elsewhere at this point.
EE Revelation 10 degree quilt. I was satisfied with this quilt, but not super impressed. I really liked how light it was (22oz), but felt that the temperature rating was far too generous. I experienced many cold nights on the trail (10-30 degrees) and really struggled to stay warm in this. The quilt itself was durable and I had no issues with the manufacturing, but if I did the trail again I might consider taking a 0-degree quilt from EE or starting my hike later in the season.
Zpacks Solplex tent. This tent was very good. Despite the inherent issues of it being a single-wall shelter (condensation), it performed well for my needs with the exception of one night in the Smokies when the wind blew my poles over and I got 2″ of water pooled in my (aptly named) bathtub floor. I wasn’t psyched about setting this thing up in the rain due to its limitations in that regard, but for how light and durable it is, I think the sacrifice was worth it.
Big Agnes Q Core SLX pad. Although it had a leak that required me to refill it halfway through the night, I liked this pad a lot. It’s thicker than its counterpart, the NeoAir Xlite, by 1″ but weighs only a couple of ounces more. Also, the insulation was a great barrier between me and the cold ground. I slept very well on this pad (even on my side) and would recommend it.
Zpacks 4-in-1 multipack. This piece of gear was invaluable to me. Just as I had planned to do, I filled this thing up with snacks every morning which would get me through most of the day without having to take off my pack. It never got in the way or felt like a burden but made everything within reach which saved me a ton of time. Highly recommended!
Therm-A-Rest Z seat. LOVED this thing. I used it as a seat cushion when I stopped for breaks, a knee pad when I set up my tent, and a clean place to put my feet once I had taken my shoes off for the day. I even employed it as a wind screen on several occasions when the gusts were high. This was one of my most versatile and useful pieces of gear and I was very sad when I realized I had left it at the Lake of the Clouds hut in the Whites after my work-for-stay. I’ll definitely purchase a replacement.
Massage Ball. Instead of taking the one pictured, I instead went with a foam ball made by TriggerPoint. Weighing just 1.4 oz, I used this thing quite a lot to stretch and roll my feet after a long day and even to help loosen my glutes when I was having IT band issues.
Patagonia Capilene shirt, Duckbill cap and Baggies shorts. These items were all perfect. I wore these three things almost every day during my hike and they still look new. There’s a reason Patagonia has such a good reputation among thru-hikers and adventurers alike – their stuff is tough, comfortable, and light. I recommend all of these.
Dirty Girl “Carpe Donut”gaiters. As far as I’m concerned, gaiters are a must-have on the AT and Dirty Girl is as good as you can get. At one point I swapped out shoes that didn’t have any velcro attachments, so I didn’t wear my gaiters for a couple hundred miles and I totally regretted it. These saved me a ton of time by keeping my shoes and socks clean and pebble-free.
Black Diamond Trail Ergo poles. These really took a beating, but they lasted me the whole damn hike! I saw several people on the trail with these exact poles, and they worked great for me. I only changed out the tips once (in Manchester Center, VT) but it seemed that they were as widely available as Leki replacements – and cheaper to boot. I highly recommend these poles.
Drymax socks. Despite their ability to shunt water and keep your feet slightly more dry, these socks are not nearly as durable as I thought. I’ve used them for ultramarathon training but on my thru-hike they just fell apart. I switched to Darn Tough and never looked back – I suggest you do the same.
Altra Timp shoes. I wore these shoes for my FKT attempt in Cyprus as well as the first 400 or so miles of the AT to Damascus, VA when they had all but reduced to threads. I ended up using several different kinds of shoes on the trail as I developed some painful tailor’s bunions that necessitated a shoe much wider than normal. However, the Timps were great to start with and I saw many others with them on the trail. Great shoe!
Suunto Ambit3 Peak GPS watch. This watch is awesome. For the first month and half of my hike, I was using it to track my daily mileage in addition to my inReach, and even while having it running for 12+ hours a day the battery would last for a week (when the GPS settings were set to “good”). Although I stopped using it for that purpose for the second half of my hike, it was still a great piece of gear that I will continue to use after the trail.
Icebreaker Strike-Lite shorts. These shorts fit well and were super lightweight, but they fell apart after about two weeks of wear via a split crotch seam. This is not the first pair of these I have gone through, so they appear to be quite delicate. I ended up wearing my Baggies about 85% of the time and I would not recommend these shorts.
Patagonia Capilene lightweight t-shirt. Again, this shirt rocks.
Icebreaker Anatomica Leggings. These leggings were the only thing keeping me warm on some of the very cold nights and days in March. I wore them under my shorts and also slept with them, and they worked great. Combining these with shorts (which had a liner) meant I could eliminate the need for pants, underwear, and a belt, which saved a ton of weight.
EE Copperfield wind pants. These pants also make my top 5 list of favorite gear. At only 1.4oz, they did so much for me by acting as incredible wind pants and a warm layer to sleep in at night. I was continually impressed with how well they performed, and I wore the hell out of them and never had any tears, rips, or holes. These things are pricey, but totally worth it in my opinion.
Patagonia Capilene Thermal Weight Hoody. Loved this hoody. It was a great insulating layer that was super comfortable and worked great. I wore this under my down jacket for warmth at the start of my hike and wore it up until my last day during the chilly nights in Maine. Highly recommend.
Patagonia Ultralight Down Jacket. This is a must-have, for real. There are many options for a lightweight down jacket, but this one hits all the marks for the weight, warmth, durability, and price. I used this jacket throughout my whole hike and loved everything about it.
Darn Tough socks. This particular pair of socks didn’t last more than a few days on the trail, so I would not recommend them. They were actually running socks, so not made for what I was putting them through. I swapped them for a pair of their merino hiking socks and had a much better experience.
OR Versaliner gloves. These worked really well on the trail. The liner gloves were perfect for hiking in the brisk March mornings, and the Gore-Tex shells were awesome as a wind blocking and rain-resistant extra layer. They are very lightweight and super durable and I highly recommend them.
Buff. Standard issue. I never go on a hike or run without one, and it was perfect for the AT.
Sea-to-Summit Ultra-Sil Nano Poncho. I went back and forth on whether or not using a poncho was better than a jacket on the AT, and I think that overall it was a better choice. I liked that it served as a jacket, pants, and pack cover all in one, but like anything of that size it was nearly worthless in the wind despite its snap-up sides. Out of the many (many!) times I hiked in the rain, I only wished I’d had something different on maybe two or three occasions and so the overall weight savings were worth it for me. As for the product itself, it worked great. Like all sil-nylon it wetted out during serious downpours but it kept everything mostly dry, didn’t tear when I snagged it on a branch, and dried out very quickly. I was happy with it.
Black Diamond Spot Headlamp. This headlamp worked nicely, but it CHEWED through batteries – especially in the cold weather. I didn’t do much night hiking yet still managed to go through a dozen or so batteries, which I was not expecting. For $30 it’s a nice light, but in the future I’d probably go with my ReVolt rechargeable one instead.
RavPower 16750mAh Backup Battery. This battery was perfect! Despite my heavy usage of electronics and needing to charge my phone, watch, and inReach, I was able to get 5 (and sometimes 6) full days worth of life from a single charge of this baby. It recharged rather quickly as well, which helped immensely. It was totally worth the little bit of extra weight for more capacity.
Pedco Ultrapod tripod with Neewer Fish Bone Quick Release. I ended up not bringing these items because I didn’t think I’d have the time or desire to set them up, and I was right – I don’t think I ever would have used them. Despite that they are great accessories to have on a run or dayhike, so I would recommend them for those purposes.
Sony A6000 camera and Peak Design Capture clip. Although I didn’t use my camera as much as I thought I would, I really appreciated having high-quality photos when I did. The a6000 is much lighter than a standard DSLR, but still a little heavier than I would have liked. Also, when I was in the Hundred Mile Wilderness the lens stopped functioning (too many bumps, I guess) which rendered the camera useless. I ended up purchasing an RX100 Mark III after I finished the trail and wish I’d had that with me instead. The a6000 is a fine camera overall, and the Capture Clip a wonderful accessory, but it felt a little out of place on a thru-hike in my opinion.
MicroSD card, etc. Standard issue. I ended up not ever taking the SD card out of my camera so these extras were of no use.
Delorme InReach satellite tracker. I really love this thing. It was my most expensive and unnecessary luxury item, but I have zero regrets. Having AT&T cell service meant that I had very limited coverage on the trail, but with this thing I experienced no dead zones whatsoever. Having the ability to stay connected to family and friends, see my progress on a map, and check the weather as often as I liked were magnificent features. To save on the upfront cost, I went with the older Delorme model instead of the new Garmin InReach one and it worked out great. I wouldn’t have used any of the new features anyway, so it was perfect for me. Update: If I were in the market for a new device, I’d look hard at the Garmin InReach Mini.
The Deuce trowel . This thing was awesome. It’s extremely sturdy yet exceptionally lightweight, which I loved. I’d be hard-pressed to recommend anything other than this.
Med kit. Two of the most valuable items I had with me on my hike were in this kit: earplugs and ibuprofen. People snore everywhere (and birds are noisy too) so the earplugs were crucial. Because of the issues I had with tailor’s bunions on my feet, I ended up taking more ibuprofen than I would have liked but I’m glad I had some packed away. I barely had any blisters, so the KT tape went mostly unused.
Zpacks compact toothbrush, mini toothpaste with flosser and multivitamins. I didn’t care for the Zpacks toothbrush at all – the handle was flimsy and the bristles felt like horsehair. I swapped it out for a real toothbrush, full handle be damned, and never looked back. The toothpaste, floss, and multivitamins were nice and I used them throughout the hike with no issues.
Deodorant. This was useless. I barely used it, and when I did it made no difference. I threw it away pretty quickly and never went back.
Vaseline. I only experienced chaffing a couple of times during my hike, and Vaseline worked great. I had some Bodyglide for a short period but found that I actually prefer Vaseline since it’s easier to apply to those hard-to-reach places.
AWOL Guide. I barely used the AWOL guide because Guthook’s was so much easier. I will say, though, that AWOL had more information about the trail towns so I occasionally peeked at it for that purpose. Also, had my phone died at any point this would have been my backup, so I don’t recommend going without a physical guidebook.
Zpacks Bear Bagging Kit. This was a good (but not fantastic) food bag kit. The lightweight carabiner which came with it broke pretty early on, and also the stitching around its buckle started to come undone soon after. I was able to repair the handle with some dental floss, but it was a pain to deal with on the trail. I probably had too much food in it, but I feel like it should have been more durable. Despite all that, the bag was very lightweight which I appreciated.
Snow Peak Soloist Titanium Cookset, Snow Peak LiteMax titanium stove, Antigravity Gear cozy, and Toaks Titanium Spoon. I have only good things to say about this cookset. I had no problems whatsoever with any of it and everything was light, easy to clean, and dependable. I recommend each of these items.
Katadyn BeFree 1L. This was one piece of gear that I was most looking forward to using but ended up being disappointed with. I liked its wide mouth, which made it super easy to gather water from even the smallest of trickles, and the flow rate was amazing in the beginning. However, about halfway through my hike the filter began to get more and more clogged, despite constant efforts to clean it. By the time I got to Maine it was taking me 15 minutes to filter one liter of water, which was driving me nuts. What’s more, the hydrapak bottle ended up getting a mysterious leak which would empty half the contents before I had a chance to filter it. I sent this back to REI when I finished the hike and will look for something else to use during my next long hike (probably a SteriPEN Ultra).
PackTowl Nano. I used this as a dish towel and it served its purpose tremendously. Super light and easy to pack!
Flopeeze sandals. I brought these thinking I’d wear them as camp shoes, but I never did. I found I didn’t really need camp shoes and so I eventually sent these home after carrying them for several hundred miles. There were only a couple of instances on the trail when I wished I’d had camp shoes (e.g. the river crossing in Maine), but otherwise I was glad to have saved the weight.
Gathering gear for a trip of this length is a highly individualized process. The essentials will be standard from one person to another, but the luxuries will differ. In the end, I made very few changes to my gear on the trail which saved me time, money, and soreness thanks to my extensive research and practice before departing for Georgia. The only way to know what will work best for you is to test different options, and I hope that my experience and opinions might help you in your research.
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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.