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Hiking the stunning 2189 miles of the Appalachian Trail can feel like a dream come true if you’re a fan out the outdoors. It’s likely right there on the top of your bucket list, along with the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail.
It’s the challenging, fun, and altogether epic trek that isn’t just about enjoying the fresh air, nature, and being outside but also about discovering yourself, learning what truly drives you and what you want from your life.
The only problem is that the logistics of preparing for the trip can feel overwhelming.
You want to make sure you have what you need to enjoy the experience, but you don’t want to overload yourself. Ask experienced for hikers for advice, and they’ll probably give you a host of different responses, which only makes matters worse.
Here’s our simplified advice on what you should pack for hiking the Appalachian Trail. It’s certainly not exhaustive, and it shouldn’t be used as a checklist, but it can help you figure out what you need to include in your backpack when you’re enjoying this trip of a lifetime.
Don’t leave home without
Several items are essential when you get there into the outdoors and hike the Appalachian Trail. These will help you stay more comfortable on your epic journey; they will help you to keep warm and maybe even relatively dry, they’ll prevent you from getting lost, and they’ll also provide emergency equipment that you might need should the worst happen.
Despite the extra weight, it’s always worth carrying a high-quality tent or even hammock with you when you travel the AT.
Yes, there are indeed hundreds of shelters along the route where hikers can stay, but these aren’t reservable. If it’s particularly busy on the trail, you might find yourself without a place to stay. Choose whichever tent you prefer, ensure that it’s durable, relatively easy to pay, and also lightweight.
Be sure to practice putting up your tent before you travel to ensure that there’s no additional stress or confusion when you need it the least. After a long hard day, you’ll want to sleep!
Many hikers have learned the hard way that backpacks for hiking should always be as light as possible and preferably easy to keep organized too. It should be simple, easy to access, and around 40-65 liters, depending on your strength and what you plan to carry with you. Remember that you’ll also be carrying food and water which can add to the overall weight.
Always choose a high-quality backpack from a recognized brand- although it can be tempting to save a few dollars and want a cheaper model, these often aren’t as durable as you need for a trek like this.
When you hike the AT, you can expect to be subjected to a variety of temperatures, especially between fall and spring.
Make sure you choose a suitable sleeping bag (at least 15-20 degrees), so you can stay warm. Also, make sure it’s light, quick, and easy to pack and durable. Synthetic fibers work best if you are in damp conditions, down is excellent if you’re sure you will be able to keep it dry.
Add a degree of comfort, stay warmer, and cushion your body by choosing a good sleeping mat for your trip. Whether you opt for a foam mat or an inflatable option, make sure it’s lightweight, insulated, and from a well-known brand that you can trust.
Don’t be tempted into taking your entire wardrobe with you on your hiking trip- you definitely won’t need everything that you think you will. Even the most minimalist of hikers often find that they send clothes back home or donate them to goodwill when they’re on the trail.
Only take two pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks and one spare bra and at least one change of clothes for camp. Add whatever extras you can fit into your backpack, but always keep to the bare minimum. Synthetic and wool items are excellent choices as they can wick moisture away from the skin and insulate well. Avoid cotton as it holds moisture and will keep you feeling wet and stinky.
Precisely what kind of footwear to take is a matter of personal choice for most hikers on the AT. You’ll see some people with trail running sneakers for extra comfort, softness and to keep blisters at bay.
You’ll also see some wearing the traditional leather hiking boot to provide stability and protection to the ankles. Experiment and wear whatever you prefer. Always choose shoes that are slightly bigger than your regular size to protect your toes and provide space for your feet when they swell.
Water purifying kit
You will find numerous water sources along the AT in the form of springs, streams, rivers, and lakes, but you will want to treat the water before you drink it. Although it’s unlikely that you’ll catch anything too serious, many hikers have suffered from bouts of giardia while on the trail. This parasite can cause diarrhea and vomiting, so it’s certainly best avoided.
There are many ways to purify your water, including tablets, UV wands, and so on. Choose whatever works for you.
Many hikers find that they become tired and chronically dehydrated on the AT as they just aren’t carrying enough water with them to meet the needs of constant movement. This factor is especially the case for those with less experience.
Always take a reusable bottle or hydration bladder with you and aim to carry around 2 liters with you at all times if you can.
Keep yourself organized and make life much easier on the trail by taking at least two stuff sacks with you. Your priorities should include one for your sleeping bag and another for your clothes. However, it’s worth taking extra for your food, for any toiletries or your first aid kit, and any electronics you want to take with you.
A map or guidebook
Although the AT is so well marked that you shouldn’t worry about getting lost, it’s worth throwing a map or a guide into your backpack, so you don’t get lost.
These maps will give you extra information about shelters, places to resupply, campsites, and other amenities, so it’s often worth their weight in gold!
First Aid Kit
Be prepared in case of injury by taking a first aid kit with you too. This kit doesn’t have to be anything complicated- antiseptic wipes and cream, painkillers, hand sanitizer, soap, and duct tape are essentials to include. It’s also worth throwing in a whistle, some duct tape, and a needle and cotton too, just in case.
A small survival kit
It’s also worth throwing a small survival kit into your backpack too. You can either invest in simple pre-made equipment or make your own. Include an emergency blanket, a whistle, and a Firestarter also.
Jacket or raingear
You’re likely to be coping with extremes of temperature and most likely some rain, so also pack a lightweight jacket and additional raingear, if needed. There’s nothing worse than getting soaked in a downpour and not being able to do anything about it!
Some additional items will make trail life more comfortable and are undoubtedly worth taking with you. These include:
See where you’re going at night by taking a good quality, lightweight lamp with you. Aim for at least 70 lumens.
Although no one will be judging you for how groomed you are on the trail, it’s always nice to include some toiletries to help you stay fresh. At the very least, include toothpaste, a toothbrush, a comb, and a facecloth to help you feel fresh. Don’t forget about a bottle of bug spray too.
They’re certainly not essential items, but they can help distribute your body weight more effectively and help save your legs.
Swiss Army Knife or multipurpose tool
You never know when you might need a pair of tweezers or small saw when you’re on the trail, so consider including a small knife in your pack.
Yes, a camp stove will add weight to your backpack. But it’s fantastic to have the ability to have hot food when you rock into camp. Yum!
You’re supposed to be having fun while you’re outdoors, so feel free to throw in some small personal items too. We highly recommend you bring an eBook reader or a paperback with you and consider an mp3 player, a camera, a notebook and pen and perhaps a phone.
Make the most of your hike along the Appalachian Trail by making sure that you have everything you need with you before you go. Include essentials like shelter, first aid kit, and a water reservoir, add a book or two for entertainment, and you’ll be ready for the trip of a lifetime.