2018 A.T. Thru-Hike Gear List
I've traveled and moved around a lot in the last several years, so I know the value of packing light. I have relocated to new countries with a single large suitcase, and I've gone on week-long trips with a duffel bag. I rarely carry more than two pairs of shoes and have no qualms about wearing my jeans several times over between washes. I much prefer some mid-week sink laundry to lugging around a heavy bag.
All that said, when it comes to packing light for a long-distance hike, I am an amateur.
I thought I packed reasonably light for my 2015 Camino de Santiago, but my sister and I were casting off extra clothes and items our very first night, and by the end of the trip my backpack was a mere two thirds of its starting weight. On that trip, we slept indoors each night in town, so we carried no tent and never more than a day's worth of food. It's not difficult to keep the weight down in those circumstances. But in true wilderness backpacking, a hiker must carry everything. If I wanted to hike farther afield from civilization, I would need to think more carefully about my gear.
As I considered a 2016 hike of the Appalachian Trail, I began to research backpacking in earnest, and I realized that I had barely scratched the surface of the devoted-- fanatical, even-- "ultralight" hiking community. In the world of the major three American long trails (The A.T., the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail), a low pack weight is a mark of experience verging on a badge of honor. That spring, while teaching Spanish in Virginia, I started to accumulate my outdoor gear, primarily clearance items from REI. I tested it out on the weekends, spending one or two nights on trail at a time. I had no camping experience, so there was a steep learning curve. I would joke with the thru-hikers passing by that I wouldn't know it if my tent was upside down, and I eventually noticed that my rain fly was upside down.
Upon the end of the school year, I chose a job offer in Morocco over the flip-flop thru-hike I had been contemplating. However, a few weeks before the move, I completed a 146-mile section that gave me some confidence in both my gear choices and my conviction that I would hike the whole A.T. someday.
Fast forward to 2018. I'm planning my Northbound thru-hike for mid-April. Thanks to my hiking trips two years ago, I already had most of my gear dialed in, except for cooking and clothing. I had gone stoveless before, and my section hikes had been in the summer. To face the unpredictable spring weather in Southern Appalachia, I figured I would want warm meals and hot coffee, and some warm but lightweight baselayers for sleeping. So my new purchases include my stove and pot, water filter, wool leggings, and some lighter rain gear.
Without further ado, here is a tentative list of all the items that will make up my world for about six months:
To qualify as "ultralight" a hiker's base weight should be under 10lbs. (Base weight is everything you carry on your back except for food, water, and fuel.) I'd have to either invest a lot more money or sacrifice significant comfort to get to ultralight status, but right now I'm sitting at a respectable 15 1/2lbs. That's not including the skirt pictured below, since I'm undecided about it. The only things I might still add are an external battery pack to extend the life of my phone and possibly a pack towel. I'm working out a few smaller things such as a knife and/or pepper spray, and I expect I'll have an updated final list after about 60-80 miles of "shakedown" hiking I plan to do in the time remaining before my departure.
Another note is that once I reach my home area in southwest VA in late May or early June, I plan to make a few changes. Unless I fall in love with my trail coffee, I think I'll go stoveless once the weather warms up, and I'll swap out both wool tops for lightweight synthetic tees, and I'll swap out my beanie for a baseball cap. In the meantime, any questions or tips are welcome. Just leave a comment!