Top 5 Items Sent Home in a Shakedown


The act of having an experienced backpacker cull through your backpack in search of unneeded items.

I have only worked one thru hiker season at Mountain Crossings, but the patterns are obvious. I see why it is a trail tradition to get a pack shakedown 31.7 miles into your thru hike. The same mistakes come falling out of almost every pack. And why shouldn’t they? We leave our old, comfortable lives behind and come out to the woods with everything we think will we need. Problem is, we all have way too much stuff in our lives and we live in way too plush of a manner. Truth be told, that doesn’t translate very well when reverting back to a nomadic, nearly off the grid way of life. So before you even walk through the front door of the badass, climate controlled shelter you live in, chuck these things out of your pack!

Matt "Pretzel" Mason scouring for ditchable gear.

Matt “Pretzel” Mason scouring for ditchable gear.

Dirt Bag Warning: Ultralight means big sacrifices and stepping out of your comfort zone. You will enjoy backpacking exponentially more when you cut the fat and go ultralight.

Bear Mace / Pepper Spray

Google "Bear Mace". No really, do it. Count how many black bears you see. Then Google what kind of bears are on the East Coast... Don't carry bear mace.

Google “Bear Mace”. No really, do it. Count how many black bears you see. Then Google what kind of bears are on the East Coast… Don’t carry bear mace.

If you even see a damn bear on the Appalachian Trail, you’re lucky! They are definitely there and maybe you will even see a few, but don’t believe the fear mongering hype. Total freak accidents happen but it is far more rational and likely that you will die in a car accident on your way to the trail than have a bad bear experience. Don’t waste the money, weight, or potential accidental shot going off with a can of bear mace. As far as pepper spray goes, the Appalachian Trail is a place to restore your faith in humanity. You will find the biggest hearts and kindest souls you’ve ever met. Don’t dishonor this with such distrust as to bring pepper spray. Just be smart, aware and make friends who will watch your back!

Spot Beacon/Solar Chargers/Battery Packs

Don't be this guy, who might as well have a 2,185.9 miles leach one him.

Don’t be this guy, who might as well have a 2,185.9 miles leach one him.

The SPOT GPS units are the hardest thing to try to convince someone to send home. Usually, a parent or significant other has bought the expensive item for the hiker and guilt is what makes them keep it. Still, 100% of the time we tell someone to send it home. They are heavy and the trail is so well marked and cell service is depressingly easy to get along many parts of the AT that they are absolute over-kill. They are not at all necessary for a high traffic adventure like the Appalachian Trail. Good luck breaking your leg during thru hiker season and not having 10 hikers come along and help carry you out. There is no need to be so strictly monitored and its goes against the soul of your journey. Solar charges also fall under the group of way-too-heavy-and-way-too-expensive-to-be-worth-it. There is too much tree coverage on the AT for a solar charger to work well. They share the same root problem as with battery packs. Just let go, live a little, in the moment, with your own known how and capabilities, and you will find you forgot your phone wasn’t charged for half a day as you rolled into town for burgers and beers!

Half of the first aid kit


What could one person possibly need all this crap for?! Bring it down to the realistic needs: scrapes, bruises and upset stomachs.

Open up your first aid kit and separate it into everything you know how to use and everything you don’t know how to use. Be honest. Can you really clamp off an open artery and suture it back up in the backwoods? No? Throw out the scissors and heavy duty sewing kit. Throw out the ace bandage that wont even work as well as your bandana. Throw out the StingEz and burn gel because you’re an adult who can withstand a bee sting and you also promised yourself you wouldn’t get so drunk as to fall in the fire. Really all you need are a few Band-Aids and a bunch of pills; things for achy muscles, diarrhea, gas, cold symptoms, a few sleep aids for the snore symphony nights. That and any special prescriptions is all you will use for the most part. Carrying the entire bathroom cabinet of emergency items waiting for a just-in-case scenario is an excellent way to carry extra weight you will never be able to justify.  We’ve summarized our suggested list of first-aid kit items here.

Extra Toiletries

Travel size or not, just don't bring them! Too heavy, too repetitive.

Travel size or not, just don’t bring them! Too heavy, too repetitive.

Here is where the comfort comes in a lot. Many people assume that they can maintain the same level of hygiene as in regular life. Thru hiking is a wonderful opportunity to just say “the heck with it” and stink as hard as you can. If you can’t embrace that right off, you eventually will be worn down to a smelly numb until you do! A single 2oz bottle of Dr. Bronner’s is all you need to send you off on the trail. It will clean your hair, your body, your clothes, your dishes, your pack. Anything! Shampoo, Conditioner, Lotion, Deodorant and Make Up should all be left. They are heavy and unnecessary. Smelling and looking like a natural human being can be a very enlightening experience.

Extra clothes

This is close but why 3 bottoms? Why 3 tops? Why two gloves? Why arm warmers? The answers probably start with a "Just in case..." or "What if..."

This is close but why 3 bottoms? Why 3 tops? Why two gloves? Why arm warmers? The answers probably start with a “Just in case…” or “What if…”

People go overboard on clothes, but having the proper clothing keeps you from carrying too much. Don’t bother with more than two sets of clothes; two shorts, two shirts, two socks in summer or two pants, two long sleeves, two socks in winter. Have one set of clothes to hike in and one for camp/town. If your clothes get soaked in the rain and you’re cold in camp, slip your town clothes on to sleep in but put your dirtier hiking clothes back on in the morning. If they dry and you can sleep in them, keep the town clothes clean. Then when you shower in town you can put relatively clean clothes on while you are doing laundry. Then use them that go around as your hiking clothes and repeat the cycle. In cold weather carry a set of base layers, any necessary hats and gloves and a heavy insulation later like a down jacket but don’t double up on anything. Simply carry decent enough clothing items that you will be sufficiently warm without doubles.

The Take Away

Who do you want to be?!

Who do you want to be?!

It can seem harsh to riffle through someone’s pack and tell them to get rid of things they have thought long and hard about bringing. It’s hard to do sometimes. I was so resistant to it myself back when I started backpacking. Sometimes I hesitate to tell someone to chuck something out. But then I think back to RPH Shelter in New York almost 1,500 miles into my thru hike when I finally got rid of all the pointless shit in my pack I hadn’t touched yet. It felt awesome and I want people to feel awesome at mile 31.7!

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Comments 13

  • Rick Baglione : Jun 18th

    I’m a size 12 4E shoe. The selection is extremely limited. I’ve seen
    a few 12 D hiking shoes I’d pay double if they were available in a 12 4E. Small town USA
    is not likely to carry Fits socks in XXL. Please help me regarding company’s that
    carry size 4 E hiking shoes/boots. Thank you, Rick B.

    • david : Dec 16th

      try some big an tall sites for your 4 e shoes

  • URSilly : Jun 22nd

    Why do people like you always endorse expensive products when far less expensive options are available? A 2 oz bottle of this Bronner’s stuff is almost $7. I bought 8 ounces of a product for $2.98, as a shopping cart add-on, which I put into leftover 40 ML bottles for my hiking. I guess that a biodegradable plant extract ingredient soap called Campsuds isn’t romantic enough.

  • Stacey : Aug 7th

    I disagree with the SPOT comment. I have AT&T and my phone rarely worked on the AT during my thru-hike. I only turned my SPOT on each night at camp to let my parents know I was okay. Knowing that they weren’t worried about me allowed me to relax and enjoy my hike so much more. It was definitely worth the weight, and I only used one set of batteries the entire 6 month trip!

    • Sherri Marshall : Aug 8th

      I totally agree, conditions are totally different here in Australia, and our Cellular Network coverage is almost nonexistent for most providers outside of capital cities. Personal GPS or distress beacons are recommended, especially as in summer death from heat stress/exhaustion & dehydration can occur in hours. I just think it’s a technological safeguard that should be used by anyone doing any hiking or travelling alone or in unfamiliar territory. Parents worry, a few extra ounces is nothing in the situation where it can save a life or ease a fretting parent.

  • JC Ridge : Jan 6th

    Excellent article, and most necessary for any aspiring long distance hiker. There are many items one simply does not need on the trail. Soap, for instance. Extra clothing just means more laundry because it either gets dirty, or simply adds weight to the pack. I have a friend with a spot tracker, and it was excellent when we were out on a wilderness kayak trip, but along the AT it really doesn’t pull it’s weight.

    Cell service is a different matter, and perhaps another article about the availability of various networks, and places where you just need to wait it out, i.e. the Smokeys would be in order. Some providers have scarce service availability on the AT. Best to research this and plan accordingly. It kind of sucks to even need to carry a cell phone, I didn’t on my first hike in 06, but the pay phones have all disappeared. Cell phones, or so called “smart” phones have become essential gear.

  • WildernesSam : Feb 10th

    If I carry pepper spray to protect myself against rape/theft I will “dishonor” the AT!? Wow. What bulls**t!

    • Jim : Feb 10th

      First WildernessSam, its 2 different things you are talking about ! a small self defense one that fits on your key ring I think is fine, but there is no reason to carry a bear size pepper spray…. if you are that worried about rape and theft you should stay home, do you carry when you go to the gym or out to eat, out to walk your dog??? much more likely to get raped there then the AT.

      • WildernesSam : Feb 12th

        Hey Jim, go back and reread the article…she specifically mentions pepper spray and how carrying it dishonors the trail. I don’t need a giant can of bear spray but to suggest that women who want to protect themselves (think about town time too) with a small keychain of pepper spray are somehow dishonor-ing the AT is ridiculous.

    • Mary Beth : Feb 10th

      I carried a small thing of pepper spray the whole trail (mostly for my parent’s peace of mind). I never came close to needing it but I can understand wanting to have it.

  • Gizmo : Feb 11th

    I do all of the that but giving up on “The Spot” I use the OK button to check in every morning and night. Like having to 911 button also. Gave up on other things like extra fuel. Switched to Aqua Mira have a small Helo charger for phone. Yer right about sunlight on the trail.

  • letshike2 : Feb 11th

    I’m not sure this article came across as the writer wanted it to. I really cringed at the advice on the spot and pepper spray (yes, pepper spray was thrown in there).
    Inchworm. Remeber her? I just can’t agree with ever advising the general population, as a whole, to ditch a safety device. You do not know their skill level or how they would react if truly lost or injured. I have been on the AT and went 2 days with only seeing 1 other person.
    Pink blazing is a thing on the AT. It isn’t a compliment, it’s creepy. Carry the pepper spray if it makes you feel safer. And there is also town time and occasional hitches. I agree with Samwilderness above. Don’t tell women they are dishonoring the trail.
    And Jim, when you check elevators to see if they are empty before you get on them…
    then you can chime in on how, when and where a woman should be safe.
    I usually don’t comment but this article fell flat with what I, and obviously others, consider bad advice.

  • Katherine : Feb 12th

    *Bear Mace / Pepper Spray
    Whatever a woman needs to feel safe getting out on the trail. In addition to (or instead of) I heartily suggest taking a **full-contact** self defense class. Like the kind with guys in padded suits that you can wail on. Gets your reaction in muscle memory so you don’t freeze up in a real encounter. When i took one in the 90s it was called “Model Mugging.”
    Also keep your whistle handy.

    *Spot Beacon/Solar Chargers/Battery Packs
    Geraldine Largay.
    I always take my PLB when out of cell range, even on day trips. Such a good tool.
    Money: Compare upgrade from lesser service to Verizon + ResQlink PLB (no subscription) vs. Spot + necessary subscription.

    Also if you want loved ones at home to be able to track your every move, I think (not sure) for iPhone users, this is possible via setting up “Find My Phone.” I believe the deal is you can be out-of-signal but need to have the phone on. So do that to appease the parents and get a PBL for a real *&%$ hits the fan situation.

    *Half of the first aid kit
    Yes. And take a wilderness first aid class + CPR.

    *Extra Toiletries
    The photo implies not taking toothpaste and floss. Not addressed in the text. Please take care of your teeth and gums! If you really want to shave grams, do Mike Clelland style dried toothpaste dots. Also, floss can do double-duty on repairs.

    *Extra clothes
    Interesting. I only do one set of shirt & shorts/pants (or dress) + dedicated dry sleep clothes. But thru-hike laundry…

    Be careful whose you take! Especially on these not really edited feeds. Good influences: Andrew Skurka, Heather Anderson (Anish), Mike Clelland, Alan Dixon—albeit w/some HYOH variables. Be aware of their older vs. current advice. Then there’s old Ray Jardine — controversial and dated, but he had some gems of wisdom.


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