The Things We Carried

Living out of your backpack is serious business.

For nearly five months I lived out of my backpack, trekking from Georgia to Maine. Before setting off, I tried to pack everything and the kitchen sink. Literally, it’s amazing the amount of stuff that can be crammed into a 65L pack. However, a hiker once said the lighter the pack the happier the hiker. This leads me to the question: whats the ideal base weight?


Ideal Base Weight **

The golden base weight for the Appalachian Trail is under 20lbs. Certainly, a lighter pack makes a happier hiker. I learned this first hand, rocking a 40 pound pack at Springer Mountain.  After replacing older, heavier gear during my thru-hike, I realized how reducing my base weight by 5 lbs made a huge difference. It’s true when adding up gear- grams to ounces to pounds.

**Asterisk Required

The Ideal Base Weight ultimately depends on the Trail you’re taking on. As terrain varies, so does gear, food and water requirements. Given the Appalachian Trail’s proximity to roads, terrain and weather conditions there is no need to carry more than 30-35 lbs, including food and water. On average, I tried to leave resupply day under 30 lbs. However, I often left with a pack weighing over 35 lbs. Whoops. I always carried too much food. But, I’d rather have more food than hike hungry because being hangry is the worst.

The Big Three

Backpack, tent, and sleeping bag are typically the heaviest items on a gear list. If you’re hoping to cut down on your base weight I recommend looking at light weight options for the big three.

For example, I started with an Osprey Ariel 65 which weighed around 5 lbs and switched to the Exos 58 at 2.4 lbs. Honestly, I loved my Ariel 65 and had a hard time parting with it. But, I felt a significant difference when hiking with the lighter Exos 58. Because the Exos 58’s carrying capacity is around 30 lbs, it forced me to carefully consider my food, water and luxury items.

Did you know two liters of water weighs 4.4 lbs?

Water is heavy. I made the mistake of carrying 3 liters of water my first few weeks on the trail. Looking back, what was I thinking? There were plenty of water sources and no need to haul the weight. Plan ahead and carry enough water for the weather conditions and the availability of sources. Remember, drink up at the water source too.


Base Weight Breakdown…

Below are the things we carried on the Appalachian Trail. I included the gear prices and where it was purchased to the best of my ability. Although the ideal base weight is under 20lbs for the Appalachian Trail, some people have luxury items that are worth the weight. Personally, I don’t think I could be an ultra-light hiker. There are certain luxury items that I’m unwilling to part with. Technically, I don’t need an external battery or to carry a GoPro. Yes, I could live without them but ultimately I’m willing to carry them despite the weight. Thus, I tell people I’m an ultra-average in terms of my base weight. Hike your own hike, right?

1.Backpack, Sleeping Gear and Tent:

2. Kitchen:

3. Clothing

3.1 Layers: 

3.2 Hiking Attire:

3.3 Sleepwear:

4. Shoes

During my thru-hike, I went through five pairs of shoes. See the list below:

5.  Electronics

6. Accessories


Well, there it is.

An official list of my backpacking gear on the Appalachian Trail. Certainly, my gear list is on the heavier side but I managed to find a purpose and justify each and every item. At the end of the day, I was happier when my pack was lighter. That being said, there are certain luxury items I’m unwilling to part with. For now. As ultra-light weight backpacking isn’t for everyone, remember the saying hike your own hike also applies to the things you carry.

Remember, on average, the Appalachian Trail crosses a road every four miles. Because of the trails proximity towns, there is no need to carry additional weight like extra food or clothing. If you need something on the trail it has this strange way of providing. And, if not, you’re probably not to far from civilization.

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Comments 6

  • Nadine : Apr 29th

    I enjoy such information about basic needs. Thanks

    • Danielle : Apr 29th

      Thanks Nadine! I always find it helpful to lay out gear essentials and talk about how the terrain dictates the gear you need.

  • Jogoyolo : May 4th

    Thanks for informative article! I love this site and dream of making the trek some day!

    Quick cross-check on at least the first few weights (have not checked all). You indicate that “The Big Three” weight 7.25 pounds cumulatively. But if you break down the 5 items (I presume the sleeping bag is a serial use item), you have (pounds):
    2.69 = pack + rain cover
    2.38 — 2.5 = sleeping bag
    0.91 — 1.19 = mattress pad
    4.33 = tent + footprint
    10.31 pounds in lightest configuration, over 3 pounds heavier than reported.

    So, I suppose my math is wonky, or I’m just missing something, but I would love your input. Will look at the other numbers later.

    • Danielle : May 4th

      Hey there, thank you for fact checking and I want to apologize for any confusion. Also, thank you for catching my math errors. The weight mainly depends on the manufacturer or the site its posted on- this weight can vary by a few ounces (I don’t know why its not universally the same) which adds up in the large picture.

      For example, in the kitchen fact check, the weight of a 4 oz MSR Iso Pro Fuel Canister is listed under tech specs at 9.5 oz according to EMS . This converts to 0.593 lbs and not 0.819 lbs. However, I’ve found other sources that say a 4 oz Fuel Canister weights 12 oz (or 0.75 lbs) full; however, I’ve personally weighed an brand new MSR fuel canister with a scale and it weighed 8.5 oz. It’s odd how weight can vary depending and I will be updating the post to only base the weights off what the Manufacturer’s listed rather than other websites. Please check back tomorrow when the weights will be updated!

  • Gregg : May 10th

    I am much, much older, however, your writings inspire me. The AT is a bucket list thing that is getting away from me due to my age. Thanks for the info.

  • Otto : Jun 7th

    Thanks for the advice. I’m considering doing the AT.


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