Research & REI


Where to start?

So, here I am with this growing seed/desire to hike the AT. What do I do? How do I get ready? Where do I start? Oh, right, Springer Mountain. Duh. But wait, there’s more. I could start at Mt Katahdin, Harper’s Ferry, Delaware Water Gap, Clingman’s Dome, or mile 853. Now is that mile 853 north-bound or south-bound? Questions, questions, and more questions. And the answer to one question creates five more questions.


Ok, Chris. Stop, drop, and roll! No not that, I’m not on fire. Stop, take a deep breath, and gather your senses. Use your military training and problem-solving skills. Research, that is what I need to do. Whew, I have a starting point. Ok, now what do I research? The Appalachian Trail, or AT for short, was thought of by Benton MacKaye…stop, stop, stop! I am not writing a report on the AT. Have you heard the ole saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” This will apply to the AT also. “How do you hike the AT? One step at a time.” And the first step is not even on the trail or through the stone arch at Amicalola Falls State Park, Georgia. I would say the first step is researching what YOU will need to survive living on the AT for six months.

Gear Research

Gear, that is what I will need. Backpack, sleeping bag, stove, water filter, to name a few of the items. I searched the internet for a backpack and could not find one that would hold a six-month supply of toilet paper or food. What to do what to do? Wait a minute. I read somewhere online that you only need to carry 4-5 days of supplies before you happen across another town. So, let’s refine our search for a backpack that will hold five days of toilet paper. Never mind, the internet has too much information sometimes. Let’s look for local recreational equipment stores. That way I can look, touch, feel, and try on what I will need. I might even get lucky and talk to someone that backpacks, bonus.

Gear layout for Appalachian Trail thru hike

Check out my gear list at upper right. Not shown: Micro fleece and Crocs


I Google recreational equipment stores and I get Dick’s Sporting Goods, Academy Sports, Cabela’s, and REI. OMG! Did you know that REI stands for Recreational Equipment, Inc.? I’m going there. I head to the REI store in Cary, NC and start walking around looking at all the gear, gadgets, and the sorts. I have hit the motherload! A store employee by the name of Alex comes up to me and ask if I needed some help. “Yes, I do. I need a lot of help. I want to hike the AT.” His response was one that I will never forget. He completed the AT a few years ago and the Pacific Crest Trail last year. He shows me some backpacks, sleeping bags, and gives me a lot of pointers. Some I have retained; others have been forgotten. I will use the excuse of age as the reason.

Gear Testing

REI in Cary, NC is my store of choice. I shopped at other equipment stores and online to acquire the gear that I feel will last and help me complete the AT. I tested the gear, set up, took down, and used all of it (in my backyard) to ensure that I could use it day or night. Pretty simple, right? It will bite me in the butt. I packed and unpacked my backpack to get a sequence so I would not have to dig for something I needed. I did hikes walks with my loaded backpack to get used to it and walking. This will bite me in the butt, too.

Pack Shakedown

A few weeks before my planned start date, April 9, 2021, I went back to REI to have a pack shakedown. The best thing I did. Michelle, recommended by most of the REI employees, did my pack shakedown. She went through every item in my pack. Asked me questions like, “What is this for, what is your reasoning for this, and why do you have two of these?” She took a little over 15 pounds of stuff out of my pack that I would not need or could get a lighter version. That brought my backpack weight down to 35 pounds minus water. And I was going to carry two one-liter bottles which would bring my total backpack weight to close to 40 pounds.

Gear all packed up and ready to go.

Packed and ready to go. Just add food and water.

I want to thank every REI Cary, NC employee for their assistance. Everyone was very courteous and helpful to me.

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Comments 8

  • Duane : Nov 14th

    Consider hiking the Foothills Trail on the Western NC/SC border as a shakedown hike. 76 miles with fantastic waterfalls.

    • Chris : Nov 14th

      Thanks for the info. Will check it out and possible do this winter as a cold weather prep hike.

  • pearwood : Nov 14th

    REI is my go-to store for such things, and has been since 1978 according to my membership card.
    What outer socks do you recommend for the AT? I used these. Sold.
    Steve / pearwood

    • Chris : Nov 14th

      Yes REI is a great store and they have a great return policy too. Darn Tough! Hands down. I use them for everyday, work, and hiking. And their return policy is also great. Have returned a pair to them and was able to get another pair for free.

  • WD : Nov 15th

    Funny article…. but gear testing… ugh… well, if you don’t want to waste your $$, try this. 1st, watch YouTube videos of AT hikers (specifically AT hikers) and what they are carrying towards the end of their hike. Call/review the gear that the first two or three Outfitters on the trail are carrying. This would be Neel Gap, Outdoor 76, etc. That will tell you what early AT hikers are switching to. Mountain Outfitters makes ridiculous $$ because of gear swap-outs of those early hikers who bought the wrong gear. Also, read thetrek’s AT gear list. I believe they derive those items from their surveys. That is what the hikers are using, and what AT hikers are having the most success with.

    Some things I personally think give hikers problems… carrying too much food. 2-3 days max.

    Carrying too much water, 1ltr max IMO. There is always water to be found, especially early on, and it take 30 seconds to fill up if you carry efficiently.

    Know how to set up a tent properly. Just simple things like changing stake configurations, or getting guy lines tensioned correctly, which actually kept the tent from leaking.

    Learn quickly(early) how to hitchhike and get into/out of town. Regardless of what you think, you will spend more time navigating that part of your hike. Those who embrace that early become super efficient at it later when places are hard to come by.

    I hiked 630 miles of the At in 2019, and all of it 2021. A lot of what I learned in 2019 carried over, and made 2021 much more enjoyable. I didn’t have much gear to swap because I just looked at what others used, and it minimized what I had to change. I did spend bigger on the Big 3 items. I did spend way too much time prepping, and worrying, in 2019… but not in 2021. A lot of hikers will tell you not to stress and over prepare… but at the same time, it’s part of the fun, and the journey… a necessary evil maybe 🙂

    Have a great hike!!!


    • Chris : Nov 15th

      Thanks for the info. I have done some gear testing and swapping. Yes, ugh is right but worth it and needed. I have my base at 20lbs now and am happy with it. I don’t expect to have over 10 lbs of food either, well at least starting off. Congrats on your thru- hike btw.

  • Sara : Nov 16th

    I love the way you write/think. It sounds similar to that voice I have in my head. Keep truckin and keep writing because you are inspiring more people than you will ever know!

    • Chris : Nov 16th

      You mean I am not the only person with Jeff Dunham’s Bubba in my head? Sweet. Thanks for the comment. I hope people at least get a smile when reading my blogs.


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