10 Things You Thought You Needed on the Appalachian Trail (And Why You’ll Probably Send Them Home)

1. Trowel

(Editor’s note: as LNT outlines, feces should be buried in a cathole at least 6 inches deep.  There are sections of the trail where doing so will be very challenging with a trekking pole, boot, or stick.  For this reasons we recommend carrying a trowel, or other sufficient hole digging tool.  Here’s a good post offering recommendations on some UL trowel options.)

In following the guidelines for Leave No Trace you are supposed to properly dispose of all waste materials. But what do you do when a shelter lacks a privy or you’re choosing to pitch your tent at a campsite? The answer is bury yo poo! But you don’t need to spend big bucks on a little folding metal shovel. Hell you honestly don’t need to spend a penny on a child’s gardening shovel from dollar tree. If the urge to purge hits you in the woods, odds are it won’t be difficult to find a stick suitable for digging a six inch poop hole. I’ve even seen a guy use his trekking pole to dig cat holes. Weird yes, but guess who doesn’t need to lug around a shovel.

2. Extra Clothing

I admit I was still fighting this one several weeks into my thru hike. In the beginning I was afraid of being too cold and carried around unnecessary layers. Now that summer weather has rolled in, I had to really re-evaluate my clothing situation. Now I carry just enough to have camp/town wear including leggings and my jacket for cooler nights as well as my smelly hiking shorts/top combo. This system allows me to go to bed warm and dry every night, wash the rank stuff in town, and doesn’t weigh much. Once you get moving your body heat will warm you up even on cooler mornings so you honestly won’t need extra layers unless stationary. As for rainy situations, try to choose fast drying synthetics for hiking clothes rather than carrying around extras.

What I've cut it down to for my Summer clothes (minus rain jacket)

What I’ve cut it down to for my Summer clothes (minus rain jacket)

Need to wash everything? NO PROBLEM! Steal a bed sheet from the hostel and have a toga party!

Need to wash everything? NO PROBLEM! Steal a bed sheet from the hostel and have a toga party!

3. That pharmacy you call a first aid kit

Hiker boxes are pretty much guaranteed to have those little after-bite sticks, med tape, and other remnants of first aid kits. To be fair, this one was also a bit of a learning process for me. When I began the trail I packed like a mom and carried a little bit of everything for every situation. Anti-gas, antacid, anti-this, anti-that’s, anti-everything. This is what I’ve come to learn: if its small enough that a band aid will fit over it, it probably doesn’t need a band aid in the first place. You don’t need to carry around rolls of gauze, medi tape, burn cream, etc. If you get injured in the woods you either get a hitch into the nearest town to get the supplies you need or get creative using what you have in the meantime. Odds are, someone else around you will have whatever you need. From what I’ve experienced on the trail if you run out of something (Benadryl, fuel, toilet paper) hikers take care of their own, just make sure you return the favor!

4. Underwear

Boxers or briefs? How about neither! Give it up already, your chafe-free thighs and hind quarters will thank you. I’ve seen some pretty nasty rubs and rashes from both genders that couldn’t let go. If you just can’t shake the feeling of free floating, try out some hiking shorts with built in undies (Wal-Mart sells them for like $7).

5. Backup water treatment

Other than one major error on my end I haven’t had problem with my water filters that regular maintenance doesn’t solve. I used a Katadyn pump for years and switched to a Sawyer Squeeze but have seen everything else on the trail, steri pens, tablets, even chlorine drops. When I began hiking I carried a bottle of treatment tablets with me just in case I had any problems with the filter, but even when I froze my sawyer (N00b Mistake: it was 15 degrees and I didn’t clear the thing out or snuggle up with it at night) I never cracked the tabs open. I just used a friend’s filter until I could get a replacement two days later. Going back to the hikers helping one another out, if you’re ever at a point where you are SOL on the trail your good friends and buddies will usually come around and get you through even the worst case scenario.

6. Hatchet, Machete or Pocket Saw

In talking with a friend who carried a hatchet several hundred miles before sending it home I understand the thought process to a point; he brought a hatchet to chop firewood. After learning that cutting live trees is not necessary and that dry, dead wood from the forest floor burns better and usually can be snapped into manageable pieces by hand, the only use that hatchet saw was for shot gunning beer cans. I saw several hikers in my first week on the trail (many who I haven’t seen since then) who carried machetes for similar reasons.  

7. Recreational Hammock/ Camp Chair

In packing for the trail you imagine spending lazy moments along the trail napping in your 1p ultralight hammock or hanging out around the camp fire with your crazy chair. In reality, when nap time rolls around you won’t have the energy 90% of the time to dig through your pack for a hammock, find the trees, and then pack up afterwards when the alternative is leaning up against a tree or using a sleeping pad/jacket to lay across. Now if you are hammocking versus tenting that’s a different scenario, but if you bring a hammock in addition to your primary shelter you are probably going to get tired of lugging it around pretty quickly.

8. Makeup

Several girls I met on the trail kept makeup with them in the beginning with the intent of dressing up in towns. Girls, you are beautiful without mascara and foundation and you will realize that once you get used to seeing your muddy faces in mirrors on shower day. One girl I became very good friends with (who btw I honestly think is one of the prettiest people I’ve ever met) admitted that one of her challenges and personal goals in hiking was to overcome a lack of self esteem without makeup to hide behind. I am really proud of this chick, because I think her statement after a few weeks on trail demonstrates that she’s finally become comfortable in her own skin: “I look bad? Well that sounds like YOUR problem doesn’t it because YOU are the one who has to look at me!” <3


9. Self Defense Weapons

It was a difficult decision whether or not to go out and purchase a katana to fight off bears and dirty mountain trolls, however luckily for me I haven’t had a need for one yet. I carried pepper spray for a little while but found that by generally staying with a group of people I trusted and using what little common sense I’m capable of, I haven’t run into any situations I’m not capable of handling yet. Besides, when I was packing heat I lived in constant fear of accidentally spraying mace all over myself and my gear.  I’m not saying things don’t happen and if you want to bring a glock, grenade, nun chucks, or rabid gopher to fight off potential enemies then by all means pack it up. My personal choice however play it smart and take the risk of one day having to use my trekking pole as a sword.

10. Solar chargers and the like

I’ve seen a bunch of these solar charging devices and rechargeable plug in things on the trail. They’re pretty expensive to purchase or operate and usually don’t give you much of a charge, normally just enough for emergencies or an extra day’s juice. Plus, solar charges are hard to work with when you’re under a canopy of trees all day. I had a cheap USB AA battery charger from Wally World but honestly, getting to towns for resupply is often enough to keep my phone charged as long as I keep it on airplane mode and my other electronics don’t need to be charged as often. Some people still cling on to them and many hikers adore these portable power packs, but on my end at least they are not something I see as necessary for my thru hike.

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