Springtime is a reawakening. Flowers stretch up toward the sky, black bears crawl out from their hibernation and the Appalachian Trail becomes alive with hikers who are just beginning their 2,000 mile trek to or from Mt. Katahdin. Along the way they’ll eat, sleep and live under the open sky and carry everything they need on their backs. Knowing what to take and what to leave behind can make all the difference. As Earl Shaffer put it, “Carry as little as possible but choose that little with care.”
If you’ve already made the decision to hike the Appalachian Trail, the prospect of shopping for your new adventure can be exciting! Take the time to research the best items to suit your personal needs and ensure your success in completing a thru hike. In this blog we‘ll cover the ten most important things you need to take to make it the trek across 14 states.
- Backpack: The first thing you absolutely need to hike the Appalachian Trail is a sturdy and comfortable backpack. This bag will act as your storage for the next several months, carrying everything you need to sustain you along your journey. A loaded backpack really shouldn’t be more than 20 percent of your body weight so carefully select a bag that will hold everything you need without allowing you too much extra space to fill with items that will only weigh you down. Keep in mind that your pack will only get lighter as you make your way along the trail.
- Sleeping bag/Shelter: You’ll need to decide where you’re going to lay your head at the end of the day. Some hikers rely on lean-to shelters that are spaced every 10-15 miles along the trail but you should have a backup plan in the event you arrive to find the shelters full. If you’re not staying in shelters, you’ll have to decide between a tent that offers space and privacy after a long day and a hammock that boasts lightweight portability. No matter where you choose to sleep at the end of the day, it is important to have a sleeping bag rated to at least 20°F to protect you from the cold weather. Protecting yourself against the elements on a hike such as this is crucial.
- Clothing: While you don’t want to overpack clothes and end up having to mail them home after you realize you’re being weighed down, it is important to pack the right clothes for the journey. You will need to pack and plan to wear clothing in layers and have garments that are insulating so you can adjust for temperature as needed. For the long days in the sunshine, check out American Backcountry’s UPF 50+ Sun Protection shirts in women's and men's sizes.They offer sun protection as well as moisture wicking and odor resistance. Leave the cotton at home for the Appalachian Trail. Not only is it heavy, it holds moisture and takes longer to dry than synthetic fabrics.
- Head lamp: This is an item that a novice hiker could easily forget but you certainly don’t want to be in the dark without the ability to see where you’re going! Have an extra set of batteries on hand and replace as necessary when you’re in town.
- Water filtration: Out on the trail you’re sharing water with nature and animals meaning filtering your water is just as important as drinking it. Dehydration can be deadly but waterborne illness can have the same effect so make sure you’re purifying any water that you drink. It’s also important to have at least a couple of liters of water on hand to hold you over until the next opportunity to refill.
- Food: While this is probably one of the more obvious things that you’ll need to pack, what you want to pay attention to is the weight of the food you are packing. Avoid heavy food items in favor of dehydrated meals, energy bars, oatmeal, pasta and packaged protein such as tuna or chicken. Remember you will not be packing the food for your entire journey right from the start as you will stop in town to restock along the way and can mail yourself a package ahead of time with refill items.
- Stove/Cookware: Now that you’ve packed your food, it would be great to have a way to cook it. Bringing a fuel canister stove and a small lighter ensures that you will have a way to cook your own food and will not be relying on campfires to cook your food which are restricted in some areas.
- Hygiene/First Aid: Your personal hygiene regimen on the trail may be a little different from home but it’s important to have what you need on hand. You will want to have everyday items such as toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, sunscreen and insect repellent but also some first aid items in the event they become necessary. A tick removal tool, hydrocortisone, antihistamines and pain relief medicine may not be used every day but can make a large impact on your comfort levels in an uncomfortable situation.
- Ziplock bags: These bags are one of the most versatile items you will have with you on the trail. You can use them to keep your items organized and safer from the elements. They are also extremely useful as trash bags to pack out everything you bring in with a minimal impact on the weight of your pack.
- Trekking poles: Although trekking poles fall into the category of optional items, many hikers choose to bring them along for adventures such as the Appalachian Trail that boasts some pretty arduous climbs especially near the end. These poles help relieve some of the pressure on your joints, increase balance and reduce the risk of injury. They do add an additional weight to your pack if not in use and can be cumbersome in trying to get through tight spaces.
As with most things you will bring on your journey, there are pros and cons to every choice and you have to decide what items you’re willing to compromise on and what is really important to you because every ounce counts when you’re carrying it all on your back. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a hiker that has already completed the Appalachian Trail to ask for guidance and know that the reward of this journey will far outweigh the challenges you face in preparation.