What’s In Your Pack?: A Gear Survey of the 2014 Thru-Hikers

One of the biggest challenges for me before beginning my through hike was to decide on the core gear that I would carry. More specifically I was faced with the challenge as to the tent, bag and pack I would bring with me that could fit into a broke college kid’s budget. Would a clearance-rack bag from a discount outfitter fit my needs for the full 2,200 miles? What degree rating sleeping bag would I need? Should I switch to a lighter bag in the summer months or carry a liner in the cooler ones? Did I want to pay the big bucks for a popular ultralight tent or risk being rained out in a cheaper one-person?

All the research I’d put into making gear choices led to arguments in online forums with the same dead end answer: Hike your own hike. All in all I was able to find the happy medium in most cases: getting lighter gear without breaking the bank. I mean come on, if Earl Shaffer and Grandma Gatewood could live without the ultralight gear, so could I. (Many of the trail’s earlier pioneer’s gear is displayed in museums and outfitters along the way)


I’ve made my decisions and so far I’ve been very pleased with everything, nothing’s leaked yet and I’ve yet to make a single repair to my core gear even after 1100 miles. These are the items I chose that I am still carrying:

Köppen Lokal 1 Person Tent


RAB Ascent Sleeping Bag


Osprey Aura 65l


Now that I’ve said what works for me, let’s take a look at what other hikers are doing on the trail this year. The following information was collected from surveying over one hundred of this year’s (2014) through hikers.


Overall Osprey took the definite lead when it came to preferred packs with a whopping 24%! For male hikers the most common Osprey model was the Exos and for females the most common model was the Aura.

Gregory Packs came in as a close second at 17% followed by Granite Gear 15%, REI 8% and GOLite 6%. The remaining 30% of hikers carried a wide variety of brands which includes homemade gear, external frames and modified pieces from other packs. The average size pack was about 65 liters.



As it turns out I wasn’t the only hiker stressing over the tent issue. Surprisingly only 61% of hikers surveyed on the trail carried a tent. The remaining 39% was divided up into hammock campers (21%), tarp tenters (16%), and the 2% who didn’t carry anything and instead relied on staying in hostels and shelters.

Of the tenters, the most common brand of tent I encountered was Big Agnes (mainly the Fly Creek) but that was closely followed by MSR (Hubba Hubba being the most prevalent) and REI’s Quarter Dome. Everyone seemed happy with their choice but many people (regardless of brand) said they wish they had traded the extra few grams of weight they saved for the space of the two person model.

The majority of the tarp tenters switched to a tarp at some point along the trail and did not start with them. The biggest complaint with tarp tenters was the lack of protection from insects.

Of the hammock-ers, the most common brands seen were Hennessey and Eno. A few people switched between hammocks and tarps and tents for various reasons (to save weight, get more bug protection, etc). Keep in mind that these numbers only reflect what hikers carried with them and does not take into account how often they used the gear (versus staying in a shelter or cowboy camping).

Swiper and Biohazard modeling the Big Agnes

Swiper and Biohazard modeling the Big Agnes


Sleeping Bags

Here we saw the greatest diversity of the three gear articles surveyed. I found countless combinations on this subject: cold weather and warm weather bags were traded out, fancy thermal silk liners are used as were common bedsheets, quilts and thrift shop blankets. It really was a toss up as there are so many different brands and makes on the trail. The most common brands of actual sleeping bags I saw were Marmot, EMS, REI, RAB, Granite Gear, Eureka, Big Agnes, and Köppen. Many people sent bags home and picked up cheap fleece blankets from Goodwill for the warmer Summer months. There was no significant difference between genders and sleeping bag preferences.


The best thing about the trail is that there really isn’t one correct way to hike it. You’ll see endless combinations of high end and homemade gear and a million different ways to use the same equipment.

The general consensus with gear is to use whatever works for you. Most gear companies are used to thru-hikers and can give you advice but it all comes down to your personal preference. Do you want a bivvy tent that you cannot sit up in to save the extra pounds or would you prefer a spacious tent with room for two? Are you a warm or cold sleeper? What can you handle? Whatever you choose bear in mind that things may need to be replaced along the way either because of preference, temperature, or wear and tear and if possible extra funds should be set aside accordingly. Just remember to hike your own hike and enjoy the ride!

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Comments 5

  • Lea Sophie : May 12th

    Thanks for this! I have been trying to figure out pack size for a while and this was super helpful! 🙂

  • Lisa : Jul 2nd

    I would love to thru hike with my dog. What is your plan for the stretches of trail that don’t allow dogs?

  • John (Capt. America) Barber : Oct 10th

    I hike 560 mile of the AT, with a big anges fly creek II an REI 20* bag and an osprey 58 L. exos backpack. The sleeping bag was down filled. Got my tent new on ebay $240.00 Backpack was $229.00 at REI.had no problem carring 34 pounds, I was going to switch the bag out in MD. to a wall mart ozark trail 32* down bag $52.00. I preferred trail runs to boots Salomon’s they showed some wear after 560.00 niles on the trail I liked the thick sole I didn;t get one blister. Rain Gear started out with a Marmot precip it rain the first 8-10 days of my hike also carried a litterrainccoat a North Face I go for $50.00 in the VA Hospital .commisary. Sent the heavier marmot home. Worn 2 Marmot tee shirts $10.00 each at marchal’s on sale. Merino wool socks and a thin dress sock liner. 2 pair of colombia convertable pants same come and 1 set of legs to cut weight.1 Down patagonia jacket $34.00 Ret garage sale. 1 pair Underarmor long under wear mid wt. Cook pot Toaks 45 ml 40.00 and a $10.00 chinese pocket rocket which was lighter than the MSR and had a spark starter. 1 mini multi-tool sports authory $15-17,00. PTEC headlamp 20-$30.00 Mini homemade first aide kit. $15.00 hiking sticks from china with mini compass on top of grip on ebay. I had no problems with any of my gear. Hope this helps PS.1 10 penny nail to hang your pack on a tree. mini sawyer water filter. use smart bottles.

  • John (Capt. America) Barber : Oct 10th

    Meant to say same color (lol)

  • Logan Greenwood : Mar 22nd

    Thank you so much for this post! My wife and I are preparing for the AT, our first thru hike, and it is definitely great to see an actual breakdown of what real people are using!


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