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.
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:
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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)
- Tent: Durston Gear – X-Mid 1 (V2)
- Footprint: Tyvek (cut to size)
- Tent Stakes: MSR – Mini Ground Hog Stake
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.
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.
- Backpack: Osprey – Men’s Exos 58L
- Fanny Pack: REI – Trail 2 Waistpack
- Bag Liner: Big Black Trash Bag
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*.
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).
- Quilt: Enlightened Equipment – Revelation – Custom 20F – X-Long X-Wide
- Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest – NeoAir Topo Luxe Sleeping Pad – Size Large
- Pillow: Sea to Summit – Aeros UL Pillow – Large
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.
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
- Hat: Blaze Orange Baseball Cap
- Shirt: Jolly Gear – Triple Crown Sun Hoodie
- Shorts: Patagonia – Men’s Nine Trails 8″ Inseam
- Underwear: ExOfficio – Give-N-Go Boxers
- Shoes: Altra – Lone Peak 6
- Socks: Injinji – Midweight Toe Socks (x2), Darn Tough – Light Micro Crew (x1, for camp and sleep)
- Base Layers: Smartwool – Classic Thermal Merino Crew Base Layer – Top & Bottom
- Puffy Jacket: Montbell – Plasma 1000 – XL
- Rain Jacket: Arc-teryx – Beta LT Jacket – XL
- Gloves: Smartwool – Merino Wool Liner Gloves
- Watch: Fitbit – Charge 5
- Camp Shoes: Birkenstock – Arizona EVA
- Headband: Buff – Headband
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.
- Bear Canister: BearVault – BV500
- Stove: MSR – PocketRocket Deluxe
- Cooking Pot: GSI Outdoors – Stainless 1.1L Boiler
- Spoon: TOAKS – Titanium Long Handle Spoon
- Water Filter: Sawyer – Sawyer Squeeze
- Water Bottle: Two 1L Smartwater bottles
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.
- Trekking Poles: Black Diamond – Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
- Power Bank: Nitecore – NB10000 Quick-Charge PB
- Head Lamp: Nitecore – NU25 360 Lumen
- Sit Pad: REDCAMP – Foam Sea Pad
- Trowel: TheTentLab – The Deuce #2
- Satellite Communicator: Garmin – inReach Mini
- First Aid Kit: The usual ointments, pills, tapes, hygiene, etc
- Cellphone: Smartphone with the FarOut app installed
- 5 Year Q&A a Day Journal (sending back home after I finish it on May 14th)
- Pocket Knife
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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