Appalachian Trail (AT) Gear

Choosing the proper gear can mean the difference between enjoying your journey or failing due to issues you encounter that you were unprepared for. 
Below we will be covering your main gear that will come with you for the entire trip along with some of the changes you may want to make based on weather and your start date to ensure an awesome thru hike experience!

AT Gear Details

Average Cost: $2000-$3000
March Start: Expect Snow and Ice
Budget Loadouts: Click Here
Ultralight Loadouts: Click Here

Gearing Up For the Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail spans approximately 2100 miles on a continuous foot trail from Georgia to Maine. Many choose to start this trek as early as February, while this can allow more time for a successful completion it changes the hike temperatures and weather.
The trail is going to be cold, its going to be wet, and as many hikers will tell you, you will need to "embrace the suck" to complete it.
Your gear selection and knowledge will be put to the test along with your will, don't weaken your resolve just prepare better in advance through bettering your knowledge and upping gear quality.
While it may sound crazy you want to have been assembling your gear over time and constantly using it to see pitfalls and strengths, when failing you need to replace it without question.

Gear Needs By Category

The Appalachian Trail can be vicious to the unprepared, it is relentlessly cold and wet and this along with ill preparations causes many people to quit before they need to, don't be one of those "should haves".

The Basics: Your Needs For a Successful Thru Hike

What gear you choose, especially early on with the cold and the soreness may impact your overall ability to complete the trail successfully.

Backpacks

When looking at a long distance hike many will want to choose a bigger backpack, while this may seem like a good idea this can actually lead to carrying more gear than you need.
Instead a long distance thru hiker will want to focus on the space they need to house their gear overall, many times this can be hard at first as you won't know until you purchase gear and figure out packing.
There is two styles of backpacks and these are frameless and framed, framed backpacks have some physical frame to maintain the shape against the back and frameless is unsupported.

Framed Backpack

Framed packs are rigid and maintain their shape when on your back and filled with gear or not filled with gear. These are the vast majority of backpacks you will see on trail as they are easily available from almost all sporting goods stores.
The frame allows for better carrying power and weight distribution on your back, this can help you to carry over time, many times these packs will give you airflow on your back in addition adding to long term comfort.
You can't go wrong choosing a framed backpack, I would suggest if you are planning to go ultralight that you look at the frameless options below as you may find a perfect fit.

Frameless Backpack

The frameless pack is a perfect match for those hikers who want to carry as low a weight as possible, without a frame their is less rigidity and you need to make it through gear placement.
This is best used by people who have put time into their gear and can get them under 40L on average and under 15lbs in base weight to maintain comfort.
While this doesn't exclude hikers looking to stay in a budget cost realm you need to manage your purchases much more to ensure the pack isn't overfilled so it doesn't break down.
Gear Keys:
  • Size Of Pack Liters Required
  • Backpack Weight Limit
Jump Back to Sections

Shelters

Shelters are a unique and interesting thing in the hikersphere as it splits the entire base of hikers in multiple ways with people who are fanatical about their choices.
There are the traditional tent people, hammock people, and the ultra ultralight hikers running with only a tarp for covering them in the night!
Each of them has unique perspectives and none are entirely wrong, nor entirely right as the best gear for you will be what you are comfortable dealing with in the cold and pouring rains after 10+ hours of grueling hiking.

Traditional Tents

I prefer a tent, I like the sense of "home" I get once done on my day hiking to set up my tent and have 4 walls around me is a comfort.
For many they will choose a tent because that is how they camped growing up, it is by far the most common way you will see hikers out on the trails ending their days.
Tents come in a wide variety of options, they have a freestanding option, semi-freestanding, and trekking pole styles which can change the weights.
  • Freestanding Tents
    • Best Overall:
    • Budget Option:
    • Runner Up: 
  • Semi-Freestanding Tents
    • Best Overall:
    • Budget Option:
    • Runner Up: 
  • Trekking Pole Tents
    • Best Overall: Zpacks Duplex
    • Budget Option: Dan Durston X-Mid 2P 
    • Runner Up: 
If you are looking for a change, and heading into a highly wooded area then the hammock may be a perfect way to expand your horizons to overnight gear.

Hammocks

I grew up with a hammock being a yard relaxation tool where you went to go sit in the sun and take a break from whatever activity you were doing.
What I found was a thriving community of people who have changed none of the basics and instead have added bug bets, cover, and more to make it a pinnacle of comfort outdoors.
  • Best Overall: N
  • Hiker Favorite: T
  • Budget Option: P
It is definitely a world changing time when you choose a hammock over a tent, but it does need to be noted that a hammock isn't always going to be less weight than a tent and in many cases it may be heavier overall.
For the Appalachian Trail it is a perfect marriage for there is always a location where you have access to trees to get set up.

Tarps

The absolute minimalist way to approach hiking while going ultralight, this is old days style where you are using a piece of fabric to make a cover against the worst elements, many times creating a roof over your head only.
The benefit to this though is that it drops your pack weight significantly and you may be able to straddle points of use by making it from shelter to shelter in many cases.
Drawbacks will be in having to know how to perfectly put your tarp in place to the landscape as you will need to know how the weather is moving and your placement on land to ensure you are high and safe from external weather effects like creek beds or low land.
  • Best Overall: N
  • Hiker Favorite: T
  • Budget Option: P
I would suggest if you aren't super knowledgeable that you bypass tarps, if you want to learn how to use one then it may be better suited to learning at home or with easy bailout points.
Gear Keys:
  • Understand You Environment
Jump Back to Sections

Sleep Systems

Your sleep system will be built out of two main gear, a sleeping pad and then your choice of sleeping bag or sleeping quilt. For most warm sleepers you should look at a 20 degree comfort rating, for those cold sleepers you will want to focus on a 0 degree comfort rating.
NOTE: You can add on a sleeping bag liner to support warmth issues, something like the Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor series are very useful and can add up to 15 degrees or more of additional warmth.

Sleeping Pad

Many think about the sleeping bag or quilt as the primary method to stay warm at night, what is more true though is you lose more heat to the ground than anything .
This is one huge reason why choosing the right sleeping pad is important and should get some focus as you want to insulate yourself from the problems faced by cold temps and cold ground.
The last focus from your sleeping pad will be if you want a closed cell foam pad, think the blue roll up or eggshell look. These will be lighter, retain less heat, and require no inflation, hence no worries about going flat, but many will want more comfort after the day of hiking.
The inflatable pad has become a staple for most in the hiking world due to the ease to pack down, the comfort achievable, and the heat retention these pads are able to achieve, our favorite inflatable pads are:
For most thru hikers on the Appalachian Trail you are going to want an R-Value rating of at LEAST 4, this will ensure you can stay warm and safe even on the freezing cold nights which are frequent.
Interesting Note: Many hikers will choose to purchase a sleeping pad built for women as they are lighter and typically will have a higher R-Value then the same pad for men.

Sleeping Quilt

Many will not have heard of sleeping quilts prior to their plan for a long distance hike if they haven't been big hikers or backpackers previously, a quilt removes some fabric, zipper, and open up more like a blanket.
Removing the miscellaneous materials makes for a much lighter carry and this weight could be used to add more down and warmth to the top covering instead of it being compressed below you costing warmth.
  • Best Overall: N
  • Hiker Favorite: T
  • Budget Option: P
Once I purchased and used my quilt I realized that I will never be moving back to a sleeping bag, the ability to adjust while sleeping for me and the freedom allows me to sleep better instead of feeling constricted.

Sleeping Bag

One of the mainstays of backpacking and camping over the last 50 years+ the sleeping bag is synonymous with outdoor adventures and is a perfect item to carry and use for a thru hike.
Sleeping bags can be a perfect match for those who are cold all the time as it provides a cocoon of warmth that surrounds you along with a hooded area on a mummy bag.
The only area where sleeping bags tend to fall behind on is overall weight due to fully enclosing your body and that they are frequently more bulky by taking up a tremendous amount of space within your backpack.
  • Best Overall: N
  • Hiker Favorite: T
  • Budget Option: P
They are the easiest piece of gear to find though as they are carried at basically any outdoors store and can help in a pinch, definitely worth money to upgrade into the higher down ratings to drop significant weight and gain warmth.
Gear Keys:
  • Sleeping Pad R-Value 4.0+
  • Sleeping Bag / Quilt 20 degree minimum
Jump Back to Gear

Clothing

Choosing clothing is highly personal and depending on whether you run hot or cold may change your needs for the trail and what you should purchase, beneficially most of your clothing can be swapped out with more ease than a item from the big three.
I would highly suggest working on building your clothing in a layering system to allow temperature management when out on the trail, being able to take off a layer or add a layer can help you do better on the trail when conditions change.

Base Layer

This is the very starting layer to keep you comfortable and preferably at a balanced temperature when you are hiking. For many this may only be shorts and a Merino Tee. For some people this is Compression pants or yoga pants and a long sleeve shirt which protects you from cold and sun exposure.
  • Best Overall:
  • Budget Option:
  • Runner Up: 
These will be down to a personal approach as everyone has a different temperature they run at, in addition some have a high itch factor on merino wool that they don't get from other compression gear.
JUST REMEMBER SAY NO TO COTTON!!!!!!

Mid Layer / Insulation Layer

The mid-layer will be a focus on adding more heat to your body and ensuring that if the temperatures drop you have additional garments to provide real heat to your body and keep you out of the critical zone.
  • Best Overall:
  • Budget Option:
  • Runner Up: 
xxxx

Outer Layer

xxxx
  • Best Overall:
  • Budget Option:
  • Runner Up: 
xxxx
Gear Keys:
  • Merino Wool is Warm Even When Wet
Jump Back to Sections

Cook System

xxxx

Minimal Cook System

xxxx
  • Best Overall:
  • Budget Option:
  • Runner Up: 
xxxx

Jetboil Cook System

xxxxx
  • Best Overall:
  • Budget Option:
  • Runner Up: 
xxxxx

Cold Soak System

xxxxx
  • Best Overall:
  • Budget Option:
  • Runner Up: 
xxxxx
Gear Keys:
  • Fuel Economy and Need
  • Cold Soaking Isnt For Everyone
Jump Back to Sections

Water Filtration

xxxx

Standard Water Filtration

xxxx
  • Best Overall: 
  • Runner Up: 
xxxx

Emergency Water Purification

xxxxx
  • Best Overall: 
  • Runner Up: 
xxxxx
Gear Keys:
  • Dirty Water is Dangerous
  • Boil if at all Concerned
Jump Back to Sections

Electronics

xxxx

Needed Electronics

xxxx
  • Best Overall:
  • Budget Option:
  • Runner Up: 
xxxx

Luxury Electronics

xxxxx
  • Best Overall:
  • Budget Option:
  • Runner Up: 
xxxxx
Gear Keys:
  • Reliable Battery Pack
  • Batteries or Not
Jump Back to Sections
Welcome to thru hiker guide, helping those who hunger for travel.
homebookmaplinkmenu-circlecross-circle linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram