5. Gear for Your Appalachian Trail Hike

"Your pack weight is directly proportional to the sum of your fears." - Warren Doyle, 9-time AT thru hiker

Now that you know a bit about the Appalachian Trail, let's discuss gear. Many novices rush out and start buying gear only to discover a day or two down the trail they have chosen poorly and wasted a good deal of hard earned cash.

At the end of this section, you should be able to:
  • develop a comfortable clothing system, 
  • select a sheltering and sleeping system, 
  • assemble a cooking system,
  • assemble basic hygiene and health kits,
  • have space and weight leftover for including a few modern luxuries, and
  • select a light pack capable of holding your stuff. 
Note we have used the term "system" several times. You goal is not to acquire individual trail toys, but to assemble groups of items which together fulfill a need unique to your hike. "Plays well with others" and "multi-tasker" are not just resume fodder, but underlying principles in gear selection.

The gear rule of thumb: Buy the lightest, best quality gear that you can afford.

5_1. Gear Overview
Before you learn about specific gear, let's first learn about how to pack light and for very little cash. We'll also look at other hiker's gear lists and give you tools for building the lightest gear list you can afford.

5_2. Clothing systems
Unless you're hiking on Hike Naked Day (June 21st), you'll need a basic set of warm, but light clothing. Always ensure that you are clothed and/or carrying sufficient clothing to safely survive a sudden weather change on the trail.

5_3. Shelter & Sleeping systems
Late in the afternoon, generally after long miles, you're going to be tired and thinking about stopping for the night. You'll need a sleeping system, probably composed of a ground cloth, a pad, a sleeping bag, and a shelter. Even if you intend to overnight in the wooden shelters along the trail, you need to carry your own shelter as shelters may be full or unavailable. As a guide, both your shelter and sleeping bag should weigh less than three pounds each or less than six pounds total.

5_4. Cooking systems
Having made camp using your chosen shelter and sleeping system, you're now hungry and ready for a meal. You'll need a heat source, fuel, something to hold your food or water while being heated, and a utensil to move it into the body. Your complete cooking system should weigh one pound or less. (By the way, some hikers eat cold food to avoid the weight of cooking gear. You have that option.) 

5_5. Health and Safety systems
The human body needs regular maintenance, including cleaning. You should assemble one or more small, light kits for handling sanitation and medical care. Be careful at this step as ounces add up to pounds. Pack only the minimum amount that you'll need for your hike.

5_6. Luxury items
If you've chosen well and acquired the lightest gear you can afford, you can treat yourself to a few luxury items, such as a cell phone or digital camera. Some hikers carry guitars (not recommended), a book, a pillow or some other "luxury".

5_7. Packs
The very last piece of gear you should buy is your backpack. Put your shelter, sleeping bag, cooking system, carried clothing and any other items in a box and measure its dimensions. That's the minimum size pack you will need. Be careful about buying too large a pack as they weigh more and you'll be tempted to fill the space with gear you don't really need and won't want to carry after a day or two. Your chosen pack should weigh three pounds or less.

  • 5-7d. Exercise: Put all the hiking gear you currently plan to carry into a cardboard box. Measure the dimensions in inches. Multiply the width X length X height to calculate cubic inches. Which packs are large enough to carry your gear?

Congratulations! You've completed another section of the Appalachian Trail Online Course.

One final word of advice. Even though you might not own all your gear yet, you should consider running your gear list by a previous thru-hiker for their review and advice. You'll find just such a community of experienced A.T. hikers on Whiteblaze.net.

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