What’s in the Backpack?
What does one need to hike 2194.3 miles? The answer can be both short and sweet or long and complicated. We are going to try to split the difference.
To safely get through a backpacking trip of any length you need the same essentials. A long-distance backpacking trip is just a series of short trips. We’ll resupply at least once a week, usually more often. We’ll have the same “base” items but the amount of “consumables”- mostly food and water- will change depending on how far away we are from our next water or food source.
For all of our items we considered the weight. We also considered cost, comfort, and durability. For example, our tent is not the lightest tent, despite being in the same price category as the lightest tents, but it’s roomier and more durable, ultimately more important considerations for us. I’ve been through many different iterations of my gear. Basically nothing I am bringing with me is the same as what I brought with me on my 2018 LASH. I’m constantly thinking about my gear and considering ways to improve. I don’t think I have the perfect setup right now but I do think it’s more than good enough to keep me safe and comfortable!
A lot of gear education talks about your “big three”- your backpack, your tent, and your sleep system (a sleeping bag and a sleeping pad.) I like to think about things in a more utilitarian fashion- I think about things I need to keep me warm, things I need to keep me dry, and things I need to keep me fed and watered. There’s also miscellaneous items, like things to keep me on the trail (maps), things to keep me clean and safe, and things to keep me entertained.
In this category we have our “sleep system”- an inflatable sleeping pad, a sleeping bag or quilt (currently we both have bags but Bryce has an Enlightened Equipment quilt on the way), and *pillows* – lots of people use their clothes bag or backpack as a pillow, we love pillows so we both have big inflatable ones. Warm socks, a dedicated sleeping outfit and a warm hat are also important parts of a good sleep system. I tend to run cold so I’ve got down booties and synthetic puffy pants from Enlightened Equipment, too.
Our “puffy” jackets and fleece layers are also part of the warmth category. Bryce has a down puffy from Decathalon and I have a synthetic puffy. I’ve generally used down but, surprise, my jacket is also from Enlightened Equipment, so it’s synthetic and incredibly warm and packable. Your warm things need to be protected from wet at all costs because down doesn’t work as well if it gets wet. Synthetic, wool and fleece items will keep their warming qualities, but if you’re like us and have down sleeping bags, at the end of the day we need to be getting into bed as dry as possible so we can stay warm at night. Which brings us to….
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of “things to keep you dry” is likely a raincoat or an umbrella. I also include my tent, backpack, pack cover, and all the bags I store my stuff with inside my backpack in this category. The Appalachian Trail is *wet* and often cold and wet. A lot of the way I pack my backpack is aimed at keeping my essential warm things dry. I keep a plastic trash bag in my pack and I load my sleeping bag and clothes within that, in separate water resistant bags, to keep them safe from any water that might seep in. When it’s raining I put my pack cover over my backpack and put my rain coat over me, though sometimes if it’s hot, I might enjoy a nice rain shower. Bryce plans to bring a poncho instead of a rain coat. Ponchos tend to make regulating your body temperature a little easier because they are more drafty.
We have separate hiking clothes and sleeping/camp clothes. We are likely to get wet not just from rain or snow but also from *sweat*! If we go to bed in wet clothes we are likely to wake up cold, so we always changes clothes before going to bed. However, we only have one set of each. That means we’ll be wearing the same outfit every day. Yes, we will be very stinky.
Eating and Drinking
There is no running water and no kitchen out in the backcountry. We get water from springs (fresh and cold from the source!) and clean it with water filters. We both have big sturdy plastic bags that we fill with water. Then we attach our filter and squeeze it into water bottles. We are pretty lucky on the AT, water sources are generally plentiful and easy to access. We won’t usually need to carry more than about 1-2L at a time, but we will have the capacity for five.
To cook, we carry these cute teeny “pocket rocket” stoves. They weigh just a few ounces and hook directly to a fuel source. We then place our 500ml pots on top and voila. Most of our cooked meals consist of things we can cook in boiling water- rice, pasta, ramen, beans, etc. While we will only have to carry up to about five days worth of food at a time, we will eventually have to carry *a lot* of food. After a few weeks we will star to feel “hiker hunger” from burning so many calories per day. Eventually we will want to eat all the time and will be able to eat incredible amounts of food in one sitting. It gets really hard to balance weight and enough calories. We’ll be looking for calorie dense but light foods as much as possible. We’ll rely on town stops to really fill up and satiate ourselves.
Being in the woods means that we have to be mindful of how we store our food at night. Bears, mice, raccoons, etc all want to eat our tasty snacks. We’ll be lucky for a lot of Georgia, when we stay at shelters there will be bear boxes (big metal boxes with complicated handles that keep bears out). In the Smokies there are bear cables- a sturdy pully system that will put our food high out of bear reach. Most of the rest of the time we’ll have to hang our food from a tree using a rope and carabiner. (I’ll try to remember to post pictures or videos of this. Hanging a bear bag is my *least* favorite camp chore, but it is essential.)
Hygiene and First Aid
Just like there are not kitchens, there are also no bathrooms. The closest we get are “privies” (composting toilets, like an outhouse) at shelters. When there is no privy, we pee and poop in the woods! Peeing is easy, we just find a secluded spot away from the trail and water sources and go for it. I have a fun item called a Kula Cloth that I can use to wipe instead of having to carry toilet paper (it’s *just* for pee!)
Pooping is a little more complicated. We carry a tiny shovel because we have to dig a “cat hole” in which to bury our poop. We also carry wipes and/or tp for cleaning up. These items *must* be packed out- it is gross and unpleasant to see loose toilet paper on the trail, I don’t care if it “biodegrades” or whatever- it’s not Leave No Trace! We have a separate trashbag for our potty trash. The wipes we carry are multipurpose, we use them to “shower” and clean our dishes, too.
A lot of hygiene goes out the window on trail. We’ll only take showers when we get to town, we might not brush our teeth every day (but we will carry toothbrushes and toothpaste!), and we definitely won’t wear deodorant. We will wear sunscreen every day (gotta protect Bryce’s beautiful head!) and some days we might wear bug spray (we also have bug nets for our heads!)
We will carry first aid items- the main mishaps we’ll have are sore muscles (Ibuprofen), scrapes, bruises and blisters (Leukotape, band aids, vaseline and neosporin). Bryce also carries a first aid kit with some more complicated stuff like sting cream. Chafing is also a potential issue, we each have our own tiny body glide stick.
Mirage intends to bring along her Kindle Fire, as opposed to the Paperwhite. (Not bringing a kindle is non-negotiable to me because I read every night before bed and don’t like to read on my phone, plus my phone battery just can’t hang like that. I was going to bring the Paperwhite because it’s lighter, but I think the Fire might make it easier for me to do this blogging thing and I have access to more books on it…) Bryce’s fun item is a tiny chess set Mirage’s mom got him for Christmas. Bryce *loves* chess and Mirage loves games but isn’t good at chess… yet.
We’ll also have our cell phones + headphones so we can listen to podcasts and music while we hike. Music helps both of us get through a tough climb or a loong last mile of the day. Our cell phones also have FarOut/Guthook – an app that uses satellite GPS to tell us where we are on trail and how far we are from waypoints like water, campsites/shelters, road crossings or vistas. We’ll also have a paper map with all that info on it as a backup, plus I find it easier to plan ahead long term with the paper maps.
To keep these electronic things charged we have two types of batteries- a standard big hefty lithium ion battery and a pretty neat solar battery (though we can also plug it in). Between both of them we should be able to keep our electronics charged for several days if we are mindful of our usage!
Overall, we expect our packs to run about 30lbs with full food and water. Our “base weight”- non food or water items- is around 20lbs. We have yet to fully pack everything or do a final weigh in, we are procrastinators 🙂 I’m curious to see what items we wind up shedding or changing over the course of the trip!
So there you have it. An overview of what we’ll be carrying with us and why. Just a few more days until we get started! We can’t wait!
Note, none of this is advertising, we bought all of our stuff like normal people, just sharing for fun.
If you want to go into the weeds on how much our stuff weighs, here’s Mirage’s Lighter Pack, Bryces Lighter Pack. They might not be 100% complete, but pretty close.
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