I’m writing this post to document and share my thoughts on the gear I used for my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. Everybody has gear preferences and by no means was all of this gear perfect as you’ll read but hopefully this can help give you some additional insight when selecting gear.
1. Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Junction Backpack
2. MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2-Person Backpacking Tent
3. Hyperlite Mountain Gear Flat Tarp Shelter
4. Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus Sleeping Pad
5. Therm-a-Rest Hyperion 20 Down Sleeping Bag
6. Patagonia Micro Puff Jacket
7. Black Diamond Stormline Stretch Rain Shell
8. Altra Lone Peak 5 Trail-Running Shoes
9. Teva x Cotopaxi Original Universal Sandals
10. Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles
11. Sea-to-Summit Dry Bags
12. Gerber Paraframe Mini Knife, Serrated Edge, Stainless Steel
13. MSR PocketRocket 2
14. GSI Outdoors Halulite Minimalist II System Cook Set
15. Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System
16. Anker PowerCore 20,100mAh Portable Charger Ultra High-Capacity Power Bank
17. Anker Elite Dual Port 24W Wall Charger
18. Petzl Actik Core Headlamp, 450 Lumens
Hyperlite makes some of the best packs for light thru-hikers and was one of the most common brands on the trail in 2021. The packs weigh roughly 2lbs and uses a tough Dyneema fabric (waterproof). They come in multiple sizes with 2400 and 3400 being the most common. The 2400 is an equivalence to 40L and the 3400 is approximately equivalent to 55L. The Hyperlite packs for thru-hiking come in three options, Junction, Southwest, and Windrider. These are slight variations with the most notable being the outer pockets. Choose as you please with the pockets and you’ll be well off in any of these packs on the Appalachian Trail.
What I Liked: I was looking for a light pack, with a frame, and completely waterproof and Hyperlite hit all of these requirements. I had heard some bad reviews on the Z Packs backpacks and was looking for a pack with a bit more substance and padding in the hip belt and straps which Hyperlite had over other light weight packs.
Also having the option of black was important to me. Of course, it’s personal preference but the white packs get so dirty that they look to wear down easier.
What I Disliked: The only problem with this pack was that the seams at the bottom of the pack aren’t well sealed and water get’s through in heavy rains. The bottom is also subject to the most wear and tear which created more areas for water to get in. The Dyneema was 100% waterproof and no issues there but during heavy rain items at the bottom of the pack would be significantly wet.
Best Feature: The big hip pockets.
Worst Feature: The seams at the bottom leaking water.
Weight: 32 oz
What I Would Do Differently: I went with the 3400 which was a good size at the start of my hike but by the end it was overkill. I think the 2400 is a better size and you should aim to be able to thru-hike with that amount of gear.
This MSR tent is one of the most popular in the outdoor world for its lighter weight, roomy two-person design, and incredible structural durability. I used this tent for the first 800 miles of my thru-hike simply because I already had this tent and had been spending a lot of money on other gear. I wasn’t convinced on the trekking pole tents that are common in thru-hiking now. I was able to get this tent down from 3lbs 16oz to just over 3lbs using a light weight conversion kit sold separately by MSR.
What I Liked: It’s a freestanding tent that I was already comfortable with and knew it would withstand all rain and heavy wind. I’ve never been wet in this tent and that is critical in the cold months early on. I loved having the amount of room for only myself. They have a one-person option but this was the version I already had.
What I Disliked: The weight. It’s an impossibly heavy tent to be thru hiking with. I think if you’re with two people this can be a good option because other weight items can be split amongst but otherwise it’s more than you’ll want past the start of your hike.
Best Feature: Built to withstand the worst of conditions you’ll experience.
Worst Feature: The lightweight conversion for this tent removes the bug netting. This was not a problem in southern states but by June it would become a problem.
Weight: 3lbs 2oz (with lightweight conversion kit and removal of unnecessary cords and straps)
What would I do differently? This question should be, what did I do differently and that is switch to a tarp shelter.
It’s clear that Hyperlite is on the expensive side when it comes to backpacking gear but I think their quality, design, and lightweight make them a good choice for important items like packs and shelters. I switched to this tarp from the MSR tent in Waynesboro, VA before entering Shenandoah National Park. This cut my base weight by over 2lbs which was quite insane, truly a noticeable difference. I went with the tarp instead of a trekking pole tent because I was primarily sleeping in shelters and this would be the least weight. It’s also very versatile with set up and I liked the idea of feeling closer to nature.
What I Liked: This was fast to get up once you have a little experience. I could set this up in the rain faster than any tent and not have my other gear wet in the meantime.
What I Disliked: A few things but nothing too critical, the first being that it doesn’t come with stakes. The second is that it used a lot of stakes for the ‘proper’ set up which I never did. The last was that ultimately this will require an additional bug net for the summer on the Appalachian Trail and most other trail. There are quality bug bivys out there but I did a quick and easy one from Amazon.
Best Feature: Versatility of set up designs.
Worst Feature: Additional bug net and stakes are required.
Weight: 9.74 oz
What would I do differently? I would get a bug bivy from the start, it took me a few sleepless nights getting eaten by bugs before I got a hold of one.
Therm-a-Rest is a go to for providing quality sleeping pads since the 1970s. They make padded and inflatable models that are staples in the backpacking world. The ProLite Plus pad is less common among thru-hikers but it was a piece of gear I already owned and figured it would do the job pretty well. Funny enough I found a tear in the top of the pad on my first night in Georgia! Miraculously a patch that I did on the second day held the entire rest of the trail!
What I Liked: The pad is comfortable and has a good R-value (3.2) for the Appalachian Trail. This pad also requires minimal inflating and is also self-inflating so unlike other models that can make you dizzy or that use an air bag to inflate, this goes up in a flash.
What I Disliked: This pad is substantially heavier than other inflatable pads and it takes up more than twice the volume in your pack compared to other inflatable pads.
Best Feature: The regular size was a good fit and felt pretty wide throughout the whole pad.
Worst Feature: The size and weight.
Weight: 23 oz
What would I do differently? I would probably look into the other inflatable pads that Therm-a-Rest offers. The Xlite and Uberlite would save at least 10 oz and be much more compact than this pad.
Therm-a-Rest is also known for their quality sleeping bags for all outdoor adventurers. They have many models ranging from cold weather to summer bags, quilts to mummy bags, and normal to lightweight. I was shopping for sleeping bags late in the season with many options sold out. This bag that I ended up with I absolutely loved but I did pay the price for that. Nonetheless, lightweight sleeping bags cost a lot of money so comparatively it was only slightly more.
What I Liked: This bag is feather light for being a 20-degree bag and compresses down into almost nothing. I never had a frozen night with this bag.
What I Disliked: I probably would have preferred a quilt rather than a bag which was my main regret. Even loving this bag, I recognize that a quilt is much more versatile and will perform better in summer conditions, aka you won’t wake up in a soaking wet from sweat sleeping bag in the 70-degree summer nights if you have a quilt.
Best Feature: The compression of this bag makes it close to the size of a thick water bottle. Other bags I’ve seen compress to the size of a pillow and take up half the space in someone’s pack.
Worst Feature: I wish the zipper would go to the bottom of the bag, it stops half way down and you’re forced to stuff yourself into the narrowness. The zipper also get’s stuck on every piece of fabric but I’ve experienced that with many bags.
Weight: 20 oz
What would I do differently? I’d probably go for a quilt, there are a couple great options even including quilts from Therm-a-Rest. I did love this bag and happy to have it for future use and colder weather hikes that will be coming up.
A puffy is an essential piece of backpacking gear for all hikers and the most important to have for comfort at camp. The insulation makes it feel like a wearable sleeping bag which is exactly what you want to be wearing as your body temperature cools after arriving to camp. Patagonia is known to have some of the best quality puffy jackets and the Micro Puff is ultralight even for these lightweight jackets.
What I Liked: Outside of the comfort aspect, I loved the pack down and weight aspect of this model. At 8.3 oz it weighs next to nothing and takes up no room in your pack. This is an item that you’ll almost never be able to hike in because of the insulation so being able to compress it in your pack is a key feature.
What I Disliked: The pockets felt like they’re at a weird angle, maybe the size was a bit small but just felt a little off.
Best Feature: Good water-resistance coating.
Worst Feature: The pockets.
Weight: 8.3 oz
What would I do differently? I bought this jacket new and they run at $250 which is top of the line for puffy jackets. I didn’t have much time to research but if you can, look for used versions. REI and Patagonia have these commonly in their used gear sales and if you can find your size it’s like hitting the jackpot. These take a beating during a thru-hike, especially if you sit around many fires (when the fire pops embers out and they land on your puffy it creates a hole for insultation to leak out).
The Appalachian Trail does not go through any sections which include desert, it will be wet, very, very wet. You’ll still be soaked with a rain jacket on but it could protect you from hypothermia. I’m a big fan of Black Diamond Equipment and their Stormline Stretch Rain Shell was something I wanted for my hike and for my other regular backpacking trips.
What I Liked: This jacket was super comfortable and was used as much as a rain jacket as a cold weather hiking jacket. It’s super breathable but offered just enough body heat insulation that I could go for hours and not need to switch layers.
What I Disliked: When it really poured this jacket eventually soaked in a decent amount of water making it a bit heavier and harder to dry than others I saw.
Best Feature: Great selection of colors, alright that’s not really important so I’ll go with the zippers. All the zippers have great quality and waterproofing built in.
Worst Feature: Material soaks in water after long periods of heavy rain.
Weight 11.2 oz
What would I do differently? Froggs Toggs makes some great light weight rain gear. This gear is cheaper, and worst quality meaning lots of tears but it fits the hiker trash vibe more and a lighter rain jacket could be a good place to save a few oz.
Trail runners or hiking boots? This could be said to be the biggest differentiator between types of thru-hikers. It’s true hiking boots will last longer and that they will provide greater support. However, when you’re hiking as many miles as possible each day, it pays to have something comfortable, light, and agile on your feet.
What I Liked: I never had an issue with blisters when hiking the Appalachian Trail and I wore the Lone Peaks every mile of it.
What I Disliked: Each pair breaks down at a different rate depending on many factors, some of which are the terrain, your pack weight, and weather conditions.
Best Feature: The MaxTrac designed grip on the bottom has a ton of hold on rocks.
Worst Feature: Easy to blow out the sides (contact Altra for a replacement if this happens within the first 300 miles).
What would I do differently? I would keep these same shoes for another thru-hike because I think they are that good and is a reason why they are so popular among thru-hikers. Only thing I would change is to replace them more often, it can be logistically difficult trying to get a replacement when the shoe is way past its lifespan.
I’m not sure how anyone survives without camp shoes on the trail. This was one of my favorite ‘luxury’ items and came in plenty helpful fording rivers and long walks at shelters for water.
What I Liked: The color design and the Teva collab with Cotopaxi was pretty sick and got plenty of compliments. I actually hadn’t realized these were a Cotopaxi collab or that Cotopaxi was another brand until people started to point it out.
What I Disliked: The weight I looked up online for these was actually about 4-5 oz less than what they actually weighed. I probably wouldn’t have bought these if I had know that before hand but they still came in under a pound and a few other hikers wear similar camp shoes.
Best Feature: Being able to wear these with your socks is key.
Worst Feature: They were more weight than what I would like in a camp shoe.
Weight: 14.8 oz
What would I do differently? Crocs are the most popular but you either are a Crocs person or you’re not, and I am not. I would maybe look at the xero sandals which are lighter weight and similar sandal design. Another alternative I would consider is make my own, you can make ultralight camp shoes using a shoe insole and stretchy string – it’s a rough job but could pay off.
I wrote an article on cheap vs expensive trekking poles and looks like you can tell I’m the expensive type. I love these poles but I also recognize cheap poles do the trick and serve the same purpose. I do appreciate the quality and the sturdy feel of Black Diamond, it’s also a brand that puts out great gear.
What I Liked: The straps and grips of these poles are what I think clearly differentiates them above the cheaper models.
What I Disliked: I’ve broken a lot of tips, twice on the trail, and once the week before getting on trail.
Best Feature: Sturdy design and feel.
Worst Feature: Even good trekking poles break often.
What would I do differently? The poles made it the whole way and with some duct tape and modifications they are still the poles I’m using after the trail. I did get lucky with finding some spare bottom sections to replace broken tips. I would stick with these poles but will always recognize that cheap poles are just as good. See my trekking pole article here!
Dry bags are another essential to backpacking and play an important role. With many of todays light weight packs not using pockets or container areas it’s difficult to organize gear properly without separate bags. Sea-to-Summit are great price-to-weight-to-quality bags that I used for electronics, camera storage, clothing stuff sack, and as a food bag.
What I Liked: These are quality made bags and absolutely waterproof. I relied heavily on this and trusted them inside my pack with my camera in the roughest of storms.
What I Disliked: One of the buckles lost its pin on my clothing sack and no longer could be rolled and buckled closed.
Best Feature: Everything.
Worst Feature: Nothing.
Weight: Depends on size and style but around 2oz
What would I do differently? Probably nothing here, I don’t feel like the Dyneema bags offered from other retailers are worth the cost for the minute savings on weight. The Ultrasil Sea-to-Summit bags come almost identically close. See my full article on dry bags here!
Carrying a knife is not a necessity on the Appalachian Trail. I used this knife only a handful of times for items like avacados, cheese, slicing my finger, a couple tags, the usual ya know?
What I Liked: Felt good to have starting off and was glad the weight was next to nothing.
What I Disliked: Tough to clean on trail, I got a lot of avocados stuck in the base.
Best Feature: Ultralight and durable for a knife.
Worst Feature: Tough to clean.
Weight: 1.4 oz
What would I do differently? I’d likely ditch the knife my next hike, I didn’t use it enough and it’s not like it was offering me any protection either.
Stove or stoveless? Another good differentiator between types of thru-hikers. I ended up ditching my stove early on to save some weight because I was a little heavy carrying a Sony camera. I also wasn’t cooking anything gourmet so it felt like the right decision. The PocketRocket is one of the lightest of stoves and a popular choice among hikers.
What I Liked: Very light, simple to use, and packs away into the size of an egg.
What I Disliked: It can be tough to light in windy conditions and pots can be a little bit unstable with the small design.
Best Feature: It takes up no room in your pack because it will fit right into your pot.
Worst Feature: No wind barrier.
Weight: 2.6 oz
What would I do differently? Well, I ditched the stove early on so can’t really speak here but the new Jet Boil is quite popular and looks to be efficient, so if you’re going to be cooking a lot, I think that could be the best option.
For some reason choosing a cook set seems to be more of a challenge than it needs to be. With a Jet Boil stove you actually wouldn’t run into this problem but in any other case you’re likely seeing hundreds of pots that have the slightest of variations and are at a loss at which will fit your needs best.
What I Liked: This was a light weight cook set that included a pot, lid, pot holder, and spoon for an inexpensive price.
What I Disliked: Pot only has a pot holder grip; no actual metal holder is attached to the pot.
Best Feature: Everything plus a small size fuel canister and a MSR PocketRocket 2 stove fit inside the pot with the lid shut.
Worst Feature: Bottom of pot can get rusted from fuel canister if pot is still damp when packing up.
Weight: 6.1 oz
What would I do differently? As I mentioned I got rid of my stove only 300 miles into my hike so this wasn’t something that lasted a while. The pot was perfect for what I needed it for but it is on the small side so if you’re cooking in your pot or need to boil multiple servings of water at once I would look into a bigger size. The spoon that comes with it was pretty awesome though, super light and compact.
By far the most popular option for water filtration on the trail and easy to find replacements if ever needed at all outdoor and outfitter stores along the way. There are other options for squeeze type filters but remember to stay away from anything that includes a pump for backpacking. Pump filters will be too much of a pain and inconvenience.
What I Liked: Simple to use, fill up included bag or screw onto a smart water bottle and squeeze to filter.
What I Disliked: Filter eventually will become clogged and it will require much more effort and time to filter water. Backwashing is a simple process but even after a good back wash, the filter may go back to its clogged state of flow quicker than a new filter.
Best Feature: Ease of use.
Worst Feature: If it freezes at night the filter will not function properly. This is because the water molecules that remain in the filter will expand and crack the hollow-fiber membrane of the filter and effectively make the filter useless.
Weight: 3 oz
What would I do differently: I’d keep with this filter but maybe backwash it more often? Additional tips here would be to use the full size and not the Mini Sawyer Squeeze. The weight savings will not be enough to justify the extra time that the Mini creates. Also, no need to bring the backwash pump with you, every hiker box and hostel along the trail will have.
People always ask how you charge your phone on the trail. This here is the answer. This battery pack will give a phone 4 or more charges when fully charged. This is plenty of charging to get through the longest stretches of wilderness.
What I Liked: If I had a full charge of this battery, I knew I wouldn’t have any chance of electronics dying through stretches of 4+ days in the woods. Once you get use to this charger it’s also easy to plan how much battery will be drained and how much each of the 4 lights indicating power will be used.
What I Disliked: It did get to the point that I wasn’t using my phone and we were doing higher mileage making the number of days between towns less and less and this battery could have been considered an overkill.
Best Feature: You have the option to charge two devices at once at full charging capacity on each plug at the same time.
Worst Feature: The input plug on mine was very finicky after years of use and broke a couple of my micro-USB chargers along the way.
Weight: 12.56 oz
What would I do differently? I would look for something about a third smaller and a third less weight.
Don’t overlook this important piece of gear, you often have limited time to charge devices and having something as efficient as possible when in town is key. At the minimum you will want to have two charging ports available for a single outlet since usually other people will be going for outlets at the same store or place too.
What I Liked: This charger did the trick with two ports and Anker’s Power IQ technology keeping both ports charging full speed from one outlet.
What I Disliked: Depending on what kind of outlet you’re at, the design of this can sometimes be a total failure. It can either need to overlap another outlet, which may be unavailable, or it will not fit if an outlet has a casing (think outdoor outlets on the sides of gas stations).
Best Feature: Having two charging ports.
Worst Feature: Design is tough for certain outlets.
Weight: 3.36 oz
What would I do differently? To be honest this charger was nothing to rave about, it did charge two devices at once but it was at a speed that was nothing above normal. I think when people buy this they expect to notice some difference but that’s not the case. I would search the market more before deciding if something else could be a better option.
I had one friend who didn’t start with a headlamp, made it far enough without, and then ended up finishing without as well. Even so, I still think this piece of gear is an essential, especially if you could see yourself night hiking.
What I Liked: I went with the 450-lumen version for the sole reason of night time photography and having a strong light to paint and use in astrophotography. This was also a benefit if you wanted to feel like you were day hiking, at night because it really is that bright.
What I Disliked: Hard to tell the amount of battery left.
Best Feature: Battery is rechargeable but also can use batteries. The battery also lasts impossibly long on the low setting, I think about 130 hours!
Worst Feature: No battery gauge.
Weight: 2.65 oz
What would I do differently? I would keep the same lamp but some people replace the headband strap with a small and lighter string to save weight. I think this is a good idea because you actually don’t use your headlamp a ton since you are probably already in bed as it’s getting dark.
Additional Items in the Pack:
Clothing – Planning to write another blog post about what clothing I like to wear while hiking and for which conditions, stay tuned!
Toiletries – This consisted mostly of tooth brush (bottom cut off), travel size tooth paste, travel size floss, and some rolled up toilet paper (taken from a public bathroom).
First Aid – As most do, I took minimal first aid and was resourceful when needed. What I did include though was Advil, duct tape, KT Tape, and pain relief cream (mostly for chaffing).
Camera Gear – Also planning to put a more detailed post about having a camera on the trail and important but minimal gear for that, so stay tuned as well!
Read more posts on the Appalachian Trail here:
If you liked this article, have questions on gear, or have thoughts to share drop me a comment below!
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