Appalachian Trail Hiking Gear: To Splurge or Not to Splurge?
Good gear is an investment in injury prevention. My gear advice for my fellow hikers is quite simple, it starts and ends with: purchase quality, lightweight stuff. Go as lightweight as your budget permits.
You might save a few dollars here and there purchasing cheap-o stuff, but don’t kid yourself, you’ll replace those items at the first opportunity, doubling your costs in the long run, meanwhile subjecting yourself to uncomfortable days and nights.
If you plan to do more than 2-3 overnight hikes in your lifetime, go for it, get the lighter stuff. If you decide to only hike once, you can always resell your gear on Gear Trade or REI Trade-It-In Program.
Insight: Almost one-third of long-distance thru-hikers quit because of injuries, which were mostly due to troubles with lower body extremities (2019 The Trek Survey and 2017 The Trek Survey). So reducing your pack weight will reduce the beating on your legs, knees, ankles, and feet—saving your lower extremities from the little injuries that turn into monsters as days go on.
You can certainly hike with cheap(er) gear, but it will likely increase the weight of your pack. Imagine hiking with a 20-pound dumbbell strapped to each leg for 8-10 hours each day. Hikers are obsessed with pack weight because after hiking all day on uneven terrain, you’ll quickly regret every extra ounce in your pack.
On shorter hikes, I feel lighter when my food supply dwindles down to the last meal. It’s only a 2-3 pound difference in pack weight, but I physically feel less drained when I get to camp and still have energy to make dinner and set up camp.
How do you know which gear is the “best”? Just type into Google “top-rated (insert item)” and you’ll get answers in less than one second. You can also scan Gear Trade and REI Garage for lightly used or last season gear at highly discounted prices (50-70% off).
Pro Tip: Always test your gear before taking it out into the woods. From zippers to lighters…test, test, and re-test. Don’t be like Cheryl Strayed in the book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. She ended up without a working stove on her thru-hike. Made for interesting meal planning. Rookie mistake. Test your stuff.
- Gregory Maven 65 Backpack ($185) – Lightweight and not overly designed with features, a simple backpack is best so you can jam-pack your home away from home for 5-7 months (Bonus: It comes with a rain cover and a day backpack!)
- Pack Liner, DCF Dry Bag by Mountain Laurel Designs ($70) – It will rain, a lot, this lightweight bag is perfect for using as a pack liner to keep your gear dry
- Trekking Poles, REI ($110) – They will save your knees with better weight distribution across your body, taking pressure off your lower extremities
- Satellite Emergency Device ($400) – Garmin InReach Mini 2 with a basic $14.95 monthly plan, because s***t happens – and one should expect it to happen
- Headlamp ($50) – Rechargeable to avoid carrying extra batteries
- Waterproof Dry Sacks, Osprey ($20) – For keeping clothes dry in the rain and Osprey is the softest and least crunchy type
- Tent, Copper Spur HV UL2 – Big Agnes ($499) – Two-person version for me, myself, and I to be comfy together
- Carabiners ($5 x2) – Handy for hanging gear on the outside of your pack to dry or to hang your food in the trees away from bears
- Trowel ($20) – Handy-dandy instrument for digging 6×6 inch holes when a privy is not available – it’s critical to follow all the Leave No Trace Behind rules so that everyone can enjoy nature for decades to come
- Bug Spray ($10) – Lyme disease is no joke and I am bringing bug spray for the warmer days starting in mid-Virginia
Pro Tip: I use my clothes bag as a pillow. Therm-a-Rest sells a waterproof nylon pouch that has a soft fabric on the inside that I turn into my pillowcase. With my clothes inside, it stays in place as a heavier alternative to a blowup pillow which tends to shift around…a lot. If you’re feeling crafty, sew a fun pillowcase to make your clothes bag a welcoming evening addition. But, keep your clothes in a waterproof bag, always.
- Sleeping Bag, Sea to Summit Spark Ultralight 18F ($479) – 18°F degree for frosty GA and NC nights, cold nights are no bueno
- Sleeping Pad, Sea to Summit ($140) – R-value of 4.1 (out of 6), it is rated for warmth and cushion, I am no fun without sleep – bears beware!
- Silk Sleeping Bag Liner ($65) – Stink prevention and 6-8° F degrees of extra insulation
The 4 Ws: Wardrobe, What to Wear and When?
Floridians have no tolerance for the cold. That’s a fact and cooler temps are hard to tolerate. So, I tend to overpack. Anything below 70° F degrees feels a bit chilly. Anything below 40° F might as well be the Arctic.
Warning: My layers may be more extensive than those who are from the cooler climates.
- Salomon Speedcross 5 Trail Runners ($130) – These trusty bad boys have not failed on any of the prior 500+ miles of hiking and trail running, but I will be swapping them every 500 miles or so
- Smartwool Socks ($25) – Three pairs, one for sleeping, two for hiking
- Chaco Sandals ($85) – Camp shoes with secure back straps are a must for your foot care
- Waterproof Overmittens, Black Diamond ($90) – Icy rainstorm protection to keep all 10 phalanges warm, wearing these with ski glove liners inside
- Rain Jacket, Black Diamond ($160) – Appalachian Trail goes through a rainforest! Hiking in the rain is guaranteed, so no skimping here
- Waterproof Pants ($60) – Extra warmth and added protection against hyperthermia
- Puffy Down Jacket, Cotopaxi ($150 on Sale) – Lightweight, 800 down fill, good for all conditions except for rain
- Merino Wool Shirts ($100 x2) – Merino wool fabric is warm even if wet, and it keeps the stink at bay for days longer than synthetic materials – I have a long and a short sleeve version
- Hiking Pants ($60) – Synthetic and breathable, something that doesn’t stick to skin for ventilation (yoga pants just seem like they will keep all the bacteria on your skin for days, yuk)
- Merino Wool Tights ($100) – Great for sleeping on cold nights
- Merino Wool Undies and Sports Bra ($20-$40) – Same reason as above, more natural fabric, better odor management – my go-to are made by Mons Royale and Icebreaker
- Hiking Shorts ($50) – I will probably ship myself shorts in May for warmer hiking days or maybe just throw a pair in just in case anyway in March
- Neck Gaiters ($20) – Excellent extra warmth and sun protection, have one that’s merino wool for colder days and a UPF Buff for warm days keep sun and sweat at bay
- Beanie Hat ($20) – Great warmth for chilly evenings in the Spring and Fall
- Insulated Baseball Cap ($38) – Keeps the sun out of the face, while keeping me warm through the day
Pro Tip: I am a big fan of the merino wool fabric. The natural fiber is unparalleled to all the synthetics out there for odor and temp regulation. If your budget allows, upgrade shirts, undergarments, and socks to the merino wool variety. Days without washing while sweating will trap a lot of dirt and bacteria, so anything next to skin will smell and get grimy, but the natural fibers will air out faster and more efficiently to naturally ward off the stink and minimize the microorganisms.
- Dry Bag, Osprey, 20 Liter ($20) – Superior for hanging on trees away from bears
- Stove, MSR Pocket Rocket 2 ($50) – Can’t eat dinner without it, basic must-have that’s small and light
- Titanium Bowl ($19) – Handy for hot cereal and it’s super lightweight
- Spork, Toaks ($10) – Perfect long length to reach into freeze-dried dinner pouches without sticking your entire hand into the mush
- Pot, Toaks, 750 ml ($45) – For boiling water and cooking, goes with the stove
- Water Filtration, Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter System – 4 Liter ($119) – Unless you are interested in experimenting with giardia (some people do gamble here), I would recommend filtering all your water, and gravity filters require minimal effort to procure lots of water – yum
- Gas ($10) – Gas canister for the stove
- Pocket Knife – Any decent pocket knife will do for cutting cheese, apples, and sausages or chopping wood
- Water Bladder, Osprey, 2.5 liter ($40) – More handy than 1-liter bottles, no clumsiness in trying to walk and sip on water
- 1 Liter Vapor Collapsible Water Bottle ($13) – It’s very convenient to have an extra liter of water for cooking and coffee
- Ziplock Bag, 1 Gallon – For collecting trash neatly in my backpack, such as wrappers
- Rope ($6) – Hanging food from trees at night as a bear precaution
- First Aid Kit ($28) – I end up completely customizing this kit, removing some items and adding other items like Leukotape for blisters, tweezers for ticks, and topical anesthesia for bug bites
- Toiletry Bag, Aloha, Small ($34) – Tyvek makes for some great low-weight fabric. This little bag is a perfect size to hold my kit together for all my hygiene items
- Reusable Antimicrobial Kula Cloth ($20) – Many women will use just a plain handkerchief, air drying it on their packs, but this seems more sanitary
- Toothbrush/Toothpaste – Some ultralight hikers cut their toothbrushes in half to minimize weight, that’s maybe a bit extreme for me, so I am keeping my toothbrush intact
- Floss – Upkeeping dental hygiene to avoid unexpected trips to the dentist is a must
- Contact Solution – Hygiene for my eyeballs
- Glasses – For finding a bathroom spot in the middle of the night and not stepping off a cliff
- Mirror – For taking out and putting in my contacts and tick removal from hard to see places
- Hair Brush, Olivia Garden, Mini ($8) – Tangles-be-gone! Hair maintenance is a must for the ladies with longer locks
- Compressed Body Wipes ($38 for 500) – Some people are against this, but I will see how it goes since I always carry them on shorter trips and use them extensively
- Toilet Paper – Bringing re-rolled into ziplock bags, neatly folded, double-ply. Reminder: You must bury it 6” deep after use or hike it out with you
- Soap, Dr. Bronner, 2 oz ($5) – Biodegradable to wash hands at night for contact removal, and a little of this liquid goes a loooong way
- Hand Sanitizer, Purell ($5) – Keeping hands clean before eating or snacking
Pro Tip: Hygiene will vary on trail and fellow thru hikers might not always sport similar cleanliness levels to you. It’s good practice to use sanitizer after touching anything in shelters, using pens and registers, going to the bathroom, and securing food on cables or bear boxes.
When you add it all up, the gear above costs around $3000. That’s less than the $5,500-$6,000 median budget of hikers surveyed in 2019 by The Trek.
That’s a lot to unpack there. Literally. Do you really need a $500 sleeping bag? Yup. If you like sleeping in comfort and hiking with a 25 lb pack. Does anyone enjoy dragging 40-50 lbs up a mountain? Nope. Gear doesn’t get lighter with miles. Splurge on your gear and enjoy nature with minimal blisters.
But, please spend responsibly. Budget for your hike a few months ahead and ensure you plan somewhere around 10% contingency for a rainy day fund (literally!). Always expect the unexpected and leave some wiggle room to deal with sticky situations.
When I first started hiking, I wore cotton (yikes) leggings and a cheap waterproof jacket. I nearly froze in July when it rained for 24 hours in North Carolina and all my clothes soaked through, chilling me to the bone. I had to hike out and get back to town to find new clothes. I wasted a precious half-day of a three-day backpacking trip on that little mistake.
And now…it’s time to get out there and enjoy nature.
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Most hikers include rain jacket and puffy jacket. Why not use a light weight rain jacket with a liner? Based on my research, it appears a rain jacket can keep you just as warm. Am I off-base?
Oreo – you could go with a lined jacket, but when you are actively hiking it will feel about 20F warmer than the temps outside. A light rain jacket over a mid-weight base layer is all you need for temps above 35F-40F. A puffy jacket is a nice-to-have item when you stop at camp and are no longer moving to generate body heat.