Greenhorn Gear: A Newbie’s Thru-Hiking Gear List

I’m new to hiking but I know that you need gear to hike the Appalachian Trail. So I had to figure out what is and isn’t worth the weight for me.  It is my hope that sharing this information will be a helpful starting point for other aspiring or committed thru-hikers. I also want to commemorate my first gear list to see how drastically this all changes after ~2,200 miles!

(If you just want the gear list, head to the Gear List tab on my author profile.)

Special acknowledgment to my partner, Abi, for assisting with the photography process for this article. Especially for setting up and taking the featured photo. I wouldn’t have anyone else drown me in gear.

In a pinch, bear canisters can be used as a container to weigh items that don’t fit on your scale.

HOW I RESEARCHED GEAR

If you read my first post, you know that my NOBO AT hike in 2023 will be my first real foray into backpacking and camping. Subsequently, my knowledge of gear relies primarily on reviews from The Trek, YouTube videos and shakedown hikes. The Trek’s Best of 2022 article series was the starting point for most of my gear.

Reflecting on my choices, I know that I highly value the opinions of recent thru-hikers when compared to other sources. I cross-referenced the Best of 2022 articles with The Trek’s 2021 Hiker Survey. Seeing the same gear repeatedly across different posts and videos also played a heavy hand in what gear I tested first. (I’m talking about everyone and their extended family seeming to have a Sawyer Squeeze peeking out of their bag.)

GENERAL GEAR PHILOSOPHY

My philosophy for gear selection ultimately boils down to three main tenants:

  1. If It Works, Then It Works
    • If I feel that a piece of gear works for me, I stop actively searching for better versions of the gear. If my gear feels comfortable, then it’s comfortable. No need to waste time and energy second guessing. (But if something better is dropped in front of me, I’ll give it a shot.)
  2. Grandma Gatewood Did It
    • For those not aware of Grandma Gatewood’s story, I urge you to read Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery. (Her Wikipedia page will suffice in the meantime.) When I start worrying if I have the “correct” gear, I remember that people have gone the distance with far less comfortable and far heavier kits than I. It is my theory that the gear, while important, takes a backseat to what’s inside the person using it.
  3. It’s All Theoretical Until I’m on the AT
    • Almost all of my gear has survived a handful of shakedown hikes and camping trips. There are essentially no mountains in Wisconsin (thank you, glaciers) so the best I can replicate AT conditions is by hiking the moraines of the Ice Age Trail (thank you, glaciers). My gear will certainly change as I do my thru-hike, so I am not too concerned about getting “the perfect kit” before heading down to Georgia.

Let’s get to the items I am planning on bringing to Amicalola Falls in February.

THE BIG 3 (Shelter, Backpack, Sleep System)

SHELTER

I learned about the X-Mid 1 about two days before they opened for orders in January 2022 and managed to snag one before it sold out. I’m thrilled with its performance! It has kept rain, wind, and snow off of me for many overnights outside.

I don’t expect too many snowy days on the trail, but it’s nice to know my tent can handle it.

What drew me to the X-Mid 1 is that it uses trekking poles to support itself (saving weight on needing to pack tent frames) and its set-up is quick and easy. I also enjoy having a vestibule on each side since the tent floor is situated diagonally inside the fly. A one-person tent appeals to me not just for the weight and financial savings, but because it’s my first tent. I figure if I never know how spacey a two-person tent is, then my one-person can’t feel small by comparison! (How’s that for preparing mentally?)

I chose a Tyvek footprint as it has great weight and durability for a cheap cost. It does make loud crinkling sounds when folding and unfolding, which I hope will lessen with use. The tent stakes that come with the X-Mid 1 are very flimsy, so the sturdier and lighter MSR tent stakes made the team.

PACK

Before I fully committed to hiking the AT, I went on a number of day hikes to make sure I actually enjoyed hiking. (Spoiler alert: I do.) I used an Osprey bag during my day hikes and I knew I wanted an Osprey bag for my thru-hike.

The Exos’ overall comfort made it a very easy choice. I have done 10+ mile days with 30+ pounds of weight and rarely feel the thing on my back. The brain on the bag was tempting me to fill the space with unneeded items, so I removed it.

I do use a fanny pack for snack bars, toiletries, and other quick-draw items. This is because my Exos does not have hip pockets*.

Who doesn’t love a vibrant fanny pack?

Notably, I do not plan on bringing any stuff sacks. My pack fills in better when everything is allowed to flow freely and form to the shape of the bag. Trying to make a bunch of compressed cylinders get together (especially when packing a bear canister) makes my pack extra lumpy and harder to fit everything.

I’ve developed a system of layering everything in that works well for me. Stuff I want easy access to towards the top (tent, rain jacket, bear canister) and items I don’t plan on needing in a hurry towards the bottom (quilt, sleeping pad, extra clothes).

*I have found out that Osprey now produces an updated version of the Exos which has, among other things, hip pockets. Oh well. My fanny pack does the job and is ultra-stylish (according to me).

SLEEP SYSTEM

You know the backpacking adage “you pack your fears”? I guess I’m afraid of not sleeping well.

This is the area in which I’ve done the most research and testing. But boy is it worth it. By ultra-light standards, my sleep pad is a beast at almost two pounds. (The absolute horror, I know.) As someone who twists and turns all night, the dimensions are amazing. The size of the pad gives me room to do my nocturnal gymnastics whilst still fitting in my one-person size tent.

6’1″ hiker for scale. The sleeping bag pictured will be replaced when my larger quilt is finished being made.

Full disclosure: I haven’t received my Enlightened Equipment quilt yet so I can only explain why I made the choice. I previously was using a large Outdoor Vitals quilt which was fine during hot summers, but didn’t cover my body to my liking during chilly fall and winter nights. I also learned that I do not enjoy a sewn footbox on my quilt. My feet need to roam! So I am hopeful that the larger Enlightened Equipment quilt with the zippered footbox will be more my speed. (I also got it on sale, which never hurts.)

THE REST OF THE STUFF

CLOTHING

All of my clothing choices have been well-tested and feel as dialed-in as I care to get. My favorites are my Jolly Gear sun hoodie and the Injinji toe socks. The sun hoodie is a great balance of sun-protection, breathability and style. I have yet to get a blister in my Injinjis, so they are coming to Georgia.

KITCHEN

If you compare the manufacturer weight to the actual weight of my bear can, then I’ve added 1 ounce of stickers to my base weight. Worth it.

From what I’ve read, my kitchen is pretty standard for new hikers except for the bear canister. I was initially planning on using a bear bag until I read a few articles about the benefits of using a canister (here’s my favorite article on the subject). I will accept the extra weight to decrease the possibility that my actions will result in a fed, and therefore dead, bear. It also doubles as a stool and a place to put stickers, which is pretty sweet if you ask me.

MISCELLANEOUS

Note: The items in the first-aid ziplock are not fully representative of what will be in the ziplock when I step off in Georgia.

PACKING IT UP

That’s all I’ve got on my gear at this time! Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts and rambles. I plan on fine-tuning my gear list as I get closer to my start date, so don’t be surprised if my trail updates feature different gear.

If you have any questions or suggestions, I would love to hear them in the comment section below! Happy Trails!

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Comments 22

  • Dan Durston : Dec 6th

    Nice! Glad you’re liking the X-Mid. Good luck on the AT!

    – Dan

    Reply
    • David Firari : Dec 7th

      Thanks, Dan! Absolutely love the X-Mid. Knew it was the right choice as soon as I set it up.

      Reply
  • Pinball : Dec 7th

    Trust in Grammy. Sweet list. You seem more than ready.
    But also, Bearikade canisters worth a look.
    Pricey, but substantially better than others due to light weight, construction, ease of open, ease of reach in/out usage in my opinion.
    I’ve never hung a bag and never will.
    I sound like an ad, but I just love it because I personally couldn’t overnight hike without a bearikade.
    I got the expedition size and use it as a chair during breaks.

    I really need to try those injinji. I’ve never made it three consec days without blisters despite loving shoes.

    Reply
    • David Firari : Dec 7th

      Thanks, Pinball! I did initially look at the Bearikade but the price made me steer clear for this hike. That said, if this AT hike turns into a Triple Crown journey, I’m definitely got my eye on it for a lighter-weight upgrade.

      I can only speak for myself but Injinji socks have yet to let me down. Would highly recommend!

      Reply
  • Bruce Hall : Dec 7th

    I am no gear expert and my AT thru was a fail (fell and broke my arm, covid year). My qualification to voice an educated opinion is that I have been a backpacker (1-2 weekers) for over 40 years. I have much of the same gear. Your testing has been good. A couple of comments:
    Being in Wisconsin you think of Georgia as deep south and mild weather. You will be in mountains in February. It snows a lot. Not that your tent choice is a problem, but your comment about not expecting much snow !! I laughed and laughed. GSMNP is famous for its snow well into March. (Weather conditions at 3500-400 feet elevation in Georgia are roughly equivalent to Wisconsin. Snows there is Feb., huh?) You will be walking in a lot of snow for the first month or so. The bag liner is critical, bring a second. My argument in favor of stuff sacks is they provide another layer of moisture protection. When it rains hard, you will be surprised where water can get to. Pack your tent in its own trash bag. It will be filthy and wet almost every day. Pack it on the bottom. Don’t be concerned about what’s on the bottom. When you camp at the end of the day everything is coming out anyway. Rain gear and an extra warmth layer on top make sense for during the day. The Enlightened Equipment Revelation is what I have and love it. A quilt will service well in all 4 of the seasons you will experience on trail. There are places on the AT where you will get all 4 seasons in 24 hours. From 1975 to 2000 I hiked and backpacked hundreds of miles in the White Mountains. One last comment – lose the watch. It kinda ruins a key aspect of a backpack. In a couple of weeks, you will be running on sun time and know exactly what you should be doing and where you should be.

    Reply
    • David Firari : Dec 7th

      Howdy, Bruce! Thanks for taking the time to type out such a thoughtful reply. Really appreciate the notes about snow levels on trail and keeping my stuff dry during it all. I’ll definitely reconsider my current packing strategies.

      Sorry to hear about your broken arm derailing your thru-hike. Might I ask how far you made it before the injury and if you have plans for another thru-hike? Happy trails!

      Reply
    • Cecil Chappell : Dec 8th

      I love reading everyone’s input both novice and experienced as I’m getting ready for my 2023 AT “FlipFlop”. Piggybacking on the reference to the weather in the “South”, I was visiting Hillbilly Vegas (Gatlinburg) in October and we drove up GSMNP to Clingmans Dome. When we started at the base it was 75, by the time we got to the top the temp had fallen 22 deg, it was raining horizontal and we were in the clouds, so the apparent temp was even less. So much for seeing the Dome but we returned the next day and it was like another world, beautiful weather. In ref to the all important sleep/rest, you want to be comfortable so definitely have clothes dedicated for just that. In ref to the watch, I agree it’s overrated, over time you’ll run on your internal clock and throw schedules in the camp fire. Great work doing your homework. Happy Trails!

      Reply
      • David Firari : Dec 9th

        Wow! That’s quite the rapid temperature change. Making note of that for sure!

        Hope to see you on your Flip Flop! Where are you flipping and floor to and from?

        Reply
  • Meital Kupfer : Dec 7th

    team bear canister! glad i’m not alone. see you on the trail!

    Reply
    • David Firari : Dec 7th

      Do we get team t-shirts? See ya out there!

      Reply
  • Stephen : Dec 7th

    For a newbie backpacker, this is a great gear list. You’ve done a good job of researching and synthesizing the information you found. Only a couple of suggestions: 1) if you can, swap out the black trash bag for a white trash compactor bag. Makes things in it easier to see. 2) Invest in a pack cover. Your backpack is water resistant, not waterproof (not matter what the manufacturer says). Wet bag = heavy bag. 3) Bring clothes to sleep in (unless you are sleeping in your base layers?) 4) Definitely get rain pants, even if they are Frogg Toggs. Great for chilly mornings, and the rain. 5) Consider swapping your spoon for a spork. Infinitely better/easier.

    Piggybacking on what someone else said – it can get cold in the Southeast in the winter. Last Thanksgiving I was on the AT in Georgia and I woke up one morning and it was 20 degrees inside my tent – meaning it was colder outside it.

    Good luck!

    Reply
    • David Firari : Dec 7th

      Hey, Stephen! Thanks for the suggestions and well wishes! Always open to hearing different opinions or experiences for back packing. I am taking everything you said into consideration.

      Great call on the white trash bag. I think I’m gonna make that change. I was planning on using my base layers or hiking clothes for sleep. I figure if I’m going to get sweaty and gross, then switching into a different set of clothes every night just means I’m making two sets of clothes dirty instead of one. That said, if there’s a benefit to the set of sleep clothes I’m note seeing right away, please let me know!

      Reply
      • Stephen : Dec 8th

        The benefits of sleep clothes are several: 1) sleeping in wet, sweaty, and dirty clothes means your quilt gets wet, sweaty, and dirty. That’s no good, and you’ll be cold. 2) It’s a huge psychological boost to change into something warm and clean at the end of the day.

        Reply
        • David Firari : Dec 8th

          All good points I hadn’t considered. While I’m familiar with the AT’s reputation of being a very rainy trail, I have yet to hike in the rain. It hadn’t crossed my mind what I would wear in my tent if my hiking clothes were soaked. (Seems like an obvious issue in hindsight.)

          Any recommendations for what makes good set of sleep clothes? Just another set of hiking clothes that you don’t hike in?

          Reply
          • Jeff D : Dec 9th

            I wear a merino wool t-shirt & underwear every night, so comfy and they don’t retain odors much and I never hike in them. In colder weather I have options of a merino base layer bottom, senchi top, merino beanie, & darn tough socks.

            Reply
            • David Firari : Dec 9th

              Thanks, Jeff! Great starting point for me. I’m looking into some options now.

              Reply
              • Stephen : Dec 9th

                What Jeff wrote above was right. When it’s cold I wear wool base layers (I got mine from Target, of all places, so it could be a wool/cotton blend), heavy socks, and a beanie. In warmer weather it’s usually shorts and a T-shirt.

  • Stephen : Dec 8th

    The benefits of sleep clothes are several: 1) sleeping in wet, sweaty, and dirty clothes means your quilt gets wet, sweaty, and dirty. That’s no good, and you’ll be cold. 2) It’s a huge psychological boost to change into something warm and clean at the end of the day.

    Reply
  • Dan : Dec 12th

    The one thing I noticed are the Birkenstocks, they look very heavy and are made of Eva foam also very heavy. You can get decent flip flops at around 5 to 6 oz. Go to Ross with a scale and rummage through the men and women’s sandals section.

    Reply
    • David Firari : Dec 15th

      Hey Dan! Thanks for the comment!

      I initially wasn’t going to bring camp shoes but I tried on the Birks and if they aren’t the most comfortable piece of footwear I’ve ever put on. The extra ~4oz compared to a normal flip flop are currently worth it for me. I will keep your advice in mind if I get the urge to shave ounces.

      Reply
  • Michael Brown : Dec 13th

    Good luck on your journey, that list looks fantastic. I have to double down on the thoughts of rain pants and making sure you have enough to stay warm. I got caught 2 years ago in sleet, rain and snow in the Smokies in May, and besides being cold, would have been miserable if I was also wet.

    I love the idea of the white trash bag as well, and will be switching to that. The pack cover may or may not make a difference depending upon how much water that pack will absorb. I carry a gossamer gear and never noticed a difference. The wet pack is about the same weight as a pack cover. Of course, this may change in freezing conditions.

    I’ll be starting my thru hike in late March, so good chance I’ll see you out there..

    Reply
    • David Firari : Dec 15th

      Howdy, Michael! Thanks for leaving your comment!

      I’m going to use your comment to let everyone know: I’m looking into sleep clothes and rain pants. You’ve all gotten my attention. Haha!

      Thank you for also reinforcing how rapidly the weather can turn in the mountains. I’m double checking my list to make sure it’s storm/weather resistant.

      Glad to hear you’re also getting to the trail this year! Hope to see ya out there. Happy Trails!

      Reply

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