Making Sure I Have the “Right Stuff”

There are people who attempt to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail who have never backpacked in their life. Some actually succeed. There are many others, however, both experienced and inexperienced, who do not. Of the 3,839 northbound thru-hikers that registered with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in 2017, only 715 completions were reported. That is only 19% of thru-hikers making it all the way from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. In order to improve my chances of becoming one of the lucky finishers, I decided to take my time and prepare some beforehand. This meant choosing the right gear, getting some experience, and learning what I could from past and current thru-hikers.

Backpacking gear can get pretty expensive, so I took an entire year to find good deals and to spread out my purchases. I made a few bad choices but eventually got all my backpacking gear together. I felt pretty good with a base pack weight (BPW) of 20 to 25 pounds. That’s the weight of the pack and all the gear in it minus food, fuel, and water.

My first weekend backpacking trip with all my new gear was a lot of fun. Over the course of several more weekend trips and talking with other backpackers about their gear, I realized I was becoming quite the gear junkie and a little bit of a gram weenie. I started realizing that I wanted a lighter base weight and other gear that was better and more efficient. Some backpackers strive to be ultralight which means a base weight of under ten pounds. Their gear is minimalistic, ultralight, and eliminates not only most luxury items but also some emergency and backup items as well. I admire their effort, but this is not something I strive for. Being lightweight, a base weight of under 20 pounds, on the other hand, is something I do strive for. This can be accomplished with the use of a fair amount of ultralight or lightweight gear and cutting out unnecessary items, just not to the extent of someone going ultralight. Unfortunately, it also means spending more money on expensive gear. I have since gotten my BPW down to between 16 and 18 pounds, and my bank account down proportionally.

So now I have been backpacking again for five years and have racked up many outings in that time. It has been absolutely amazing. I have met some wonderful people backpacking and hiking with my local groups, primarily with the Cincinnati Area Backpackers Meetup group. With these outings, I’ve been able to test my gear and get it all dialed down pretty much to what I feel I will need and be comfortable with for my thru-hike. There are a few luxury items that I’m on the fence about, but they are items that I will not mind mailing home, leaving in a hiker box or tossing in the trash if I feel it is not worth carrying for 2,200 miles. With less than two months till my start date, I have also kicked up the training. I actually started training last spring, so in addition to an occasional backpacking outing, I have been going on ten mile, plus or minus, day hikes wearing my fully loaded backpack.  I will be kicking that up even more now and trying not to go many days between hikes.

If you would like to see a list of my warm weather gear and what it weighs, you can do so here.

Next time, I’ll talk about my thru-hike plan, like my start date and how long it will take.

So until then, happy trails!

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Comments 2

  • Tom chiconas : Feb 10th

    Fantastic Karl! Good wishes to you!

    • Karl Halvorson : Feb 10th

      Thanks, Tom!


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