The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is an extensive hiking trail which extends from Springer Mountain in Georgia, to Mount Katahdin in Maine. On average, it takes hikers six months to thru-hike the entire trail and that is only possible with the right equipment. In this article you’ll discover which items make up the perfect Appalachian Trail gear list.
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The Longest Hike-Only Trail in the U.S.
At about 2, 200 miles in length, the A.T. is one of the longest footpath trails in the world. The terrain ranges greatly, from easy flat trails to rugged, jagged paths that don’t feel like a trail at all! Typically, hikers start either one of two ways: they start at Springer Mountain and head north to Maine, or they begin in the middle of the trail and complete the journey through designated sections.
Occasionally people begin in Maine and work their way southbound, but this is not recommended for beginner hikers, as Katahdin is considered the most difficult part of the A.T. Generally, people camp in tents while walking the great trail, but there are also over 250 makeshift shelters for those who claim them first.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail is not something that you should decide and carry out on a whim. We advise that you not only do extensive research in regards to terrain, regulations and weather, but to physically prep eight to twelve months in advance. In order to cover all or a substantial amount of ground, hikers of the A.T. typically walk up to thirty miles each day.
Review your route before you begin your journey, at the beginning of each new day. You never know when a section of the trail will be unexpectedly closed, or harder to manage than anticipated. Make sure you have a contingency plan set in place long before you begin your adventure.
What to Pack – Essential Appalachian Trail Gear List
Perhaps the most important part of planning for your thru-hike is to pack the right hiking gear. Knowing you must carry each and every item on your back makes most people pause and consider what truly are hiking essentials and what can be left behind.
Many seasoned hikers have varying opinions on what should be included on your backpacking checklist, but here is our extensive list which will prepare you for any situation:
- Backpack (Make sure it’s big enough to fit a bear canister, where necessary)
- Pack raincover
- Small daypack (optional)
- Tent suited to terrain, with guylines and repair sleeve
- Tent footprint (optional)
- Sleeping bag suitable for wet weather and the temperatures you expect to experience
- Sleeping pad
- Whistle (don’t forget a signaling mirror)
- Multifunction watch
- Knife or multi-tool
- GPS (optional)
- Map(s) and guidebook(s) or route description
- Trekking poles (these are optional, but we recommend them)
- LED headlamp with extra batteries
- Water filter and backup treatment system
- Stove, fuel and repair kit
- Matches or lighter
- Cookset, dishes, bowls, utensils, cups (measuring/drinking)
- Nylon cord (at least 60 feet)
- Repair kits for mattress and other gear; duct tape strips
- Fire starter (for emergency survival fire)
Clothing and Footwear
- Wicking underwear
- Wicking sports bra
- Wicking long underwear
- Wicking T-shirt and long-sleeve shirt
- Quick-drying pants (convertable to shorts)
- Insulated jacket or vest
- Waterproof rain jacket
- Waterproof rain pants
- Bandana or Buff
- Sun-shielding hat or ball cap
- Winter hat
- Gloves or mittens
- Hiking boots or hiking shoes suited to terrain (though they add a bit of weight, you may want to consider waterproof hiking boots)
- Socks (synthetic or wool) plus spares
- Sandals or watershoes (for crossing streams and relaxing)
- Swimwear (optional)
- Blaze-orange hat or vest (for hunting season)
- Water bottles or hydration reservoirs (3 liters total capacity)
- Lip balm
- Toothbrush with cover and biodegradable toothpaste
- Biodegradable soap
- Toilet paper
- Sanitation trowel
- Hand sanitizer
- Women’s hygiene items
- Personal wipes
- Spare eyeglasses or contact lenses
- Plastic zip-top bags
- Insect repellent (effective against ticks) and/or Mosquito repellent
- Tick-removal tool (optional)
- Bear spray (optional)
- First-aid kit
- Blister tape or Moleskin
- Gold Bond Baby Powder (to prevent chafing)
- Quick-drying towel
- Camera or video cam and extra memory cards (This is optional)
- Binoculars (optional)
- Cell phone (you can rely on cell service though)
- Satellite communicator / personal locator beacon (optional)
- Field guide(s); star identifier (optional)
- Fishing gear and permit(s) (optional)
- Credit card; cash for layover days and camping fees
- Bear canister (for a short stretches of the trail where’s it’s necessary)
- National park AT permits, plus camping reservations for your itinerary
- Trip itinerary left with friend
- Breakfast (oatmeal, granola, freeze-dried breakfast, etc.)
- Lunch (bagels, summer sausage, cheese, smoked salmon, etc.)
- Dinner (pasta, couscous, rice, freeze-dried dinner, etc.)
- Snacks (cookies, GORP, jerky, candy bars, dried fruit, etc.)
- Energy gels
- Energy bars
- Electrolyte replacement drink mix
When preparing for your journey, it is important to look over several people’s lists of packing gear. You never know if someone came up with an ingenious solution on how to repair a hole in a tent, or simply forgot to add something to the list as they typed it up. Compare lists to make sure you don’t forget a single thing.
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Beyond the essentials, few lightweight luxury items should be considered, as a means of keeping morale high when on the trail. Here’s a few non-essential items you should think about bringing:
- A book or two: Sometimes you’re going to need a way to mentally escape the trail. Some people like to bring a couple of paperbacks but they can be bulky and add more weight than necessary. We prefer The Kindle Paperwhite e-reader, by Amazon. It’s lightweight, takes up less space, and it can store a huge amount of books – so you’ll never run out of something to read.
- A Journal: Writing an entry every night before you go to sleep is a great way to reflect and reminisce about your journey years later.
- Music: Listening to your favorite tunes will help you keep upbeat and moving at a steady pace throughout each day.
- A Reminder of Home: If you plan on hiking the entire A.T. you are very likely going to be away from home for about six months. Bring a small trinket that is important to you or represents where you are from. Its familiarity will give you comfort in times of duress.
How To Pack Your Backpack
At this point you may be wondering, “How the heck do I get all that gear into my backpack?” That is a great question actually. Because how you pack your backpack will have a huge impact on your comfort and your ability to hike. Watch this video to discover how to pack your backpack correctly:
Dangers of the Trail
Before your journey on the A.T. it’s important to familiarize yourself with any and all potential dangerous along the trail, including three very important ones:
Over half the Appalachian Trail goes through areas where hunting is allowed. Familiarize yourself with these areas beforehand and make sure that you have a couple items of clothing that are blaze orange in color.
There’s a good chance you’ll see at least one black bear while hiking the trail. Though they are infrequent, bear attacks do happen from time to time. Make sure to give them a wide berth if you see them. If you find one close to you, retreat backwards slowly.
Always make sure to hang your food up or keep them in bear-proof canisters during portions of the trail where bears live.
You will definitely want to carry repellent against these Lyme disease carrying insects. Be sure to wear long layers in tick-infested areas, and check your body frequently while on the trail. The best way to avoid potentially getting Lyme disease is to remove a tick from your body the moment you see it.