When embarking on a thru hike there are a few things you need to take into consideration when selecting the gear you’re going to bring. With attempting a trek of 2,000+ miles (3,500 km) in one go you will want your pack to be as light as possible but filled with gear that will be durable enough to withstand the journey. Keep in mind that this is no perfect list because opinions will vary and what works for us may not be the most comfortable set up for yourself. Here we tried to compile the list of essentials needed for any thru hike and that might be going on sale with the upcoming black Friday and cyber Monday sales! ALSO if you haven’t checked out our blog on the the three major thru hikes in the US be sure to go give that a view and email us at Support@yourvitalventures.com for any comments or suggestions about the trails or what equipment you find is best!
The ideal pack will vary from one backpacker to another but here is a list of do’s and don’ts that should help you in choosing gear.
Important things to consider: Weight and Durability
Your sleep system is completely up to you. It will vary depending on if you prefer comfort and peace of mind or the lightest option available. Here you can choose from a tent, tarp-tent, hammock or none at all (which really isn’t that crazy).
To go even deeper, the shelter you choose all depends on your trek. Although the AT has over 250 shelters for all hikers to use, it doesn’t guarantee you a spot and then you are faced with the dilemma of asking for room to be made, sleeping on the ground for the night, or trekking to the next shelter which could mean a few more hours of hiking.
We recommend to bring some sort of sleeping solution even if you plan on using the shelters the entire time.
Hammock: Hennessy Hammock
We recommend using a hammock on the AT since there is a vast majority of woodlands.
Tarp tent: Six Moon Lunar Solo
One trekking pole needed
Under 2 pounds, one pole, sleeps 2 (you and your gear, and from and extremely reputable brand
Important things to consider: Weight, Durability, and most importantly FIT. Head to your local outdoors shop (We love REI) to get fitted by a staff member to find what pack feels best for you.
For thru hikes you’ll most likely be looking for a pack between 40L and 65L depending on how much you plan on packing. If you have a trekking mate you can both opt for smaller, lighter packs and split the load (recommended). With any pack weighing over 25 pounds, which most thru hike packs would, your going to want a pack with an internal frame.
Granite is always a great go to as one of the most reputable brands in the backpacking world. For your weight to feature ratio this is the pack to go with. Weighing just over 2 pounds, they offer bells and whistles that you would not believe along with many add-on features.
Super light and durability is what you’ll get for forking out the cash for this pack. You’ll always pay more for the Dyneema fabric but this pack is tried and true and worth every penny.
Pricey but you pay for quality. Said to be one of the most durable bags out there with a simple design and lightweight for anything from a thru hike to ice climbing
Osprey Lmina and Levity
Coupling packs for his and hers from Osprey with a new suspension feature that keeps the pack away from the back for less impact and smoother trekking. Haven’t tried ourselves but have heard some great things about the packs so far
This becomes an important factor when trekking NOBO (North Bound) on any of the trails and ending up in Maine or Canada in September, it can be cold. We suggest a sleeping bag with at least a 10-20 degree rating to offer the warmth and comfort into the colder parts of the trek.
Also when looking at sleeping bags, determine if you’ll be in a waterproof tent or not. If so we suggest a down sleeping bag, but if you’ll be sleeping with the possibility of damp ground near you opt for a synthetic bag. We have one of each option below.
Ultralight and with a 20 degree rating that can be stretched well beyond that makes for one of the best sleeping bags you can find if you can afford the $500 they’re looking for. BUT, if you do, it’s completely worth it!
Synthetic will always run at more affordable prices than down, because down just performs better when talking about warmth. But when you bring moisture into the equation synthetic will always trump down. Marmot is reputable by all means in outdoor equipment and this goes for their Ultra Elite 20 bag.
Sleeping Pad – This we would say is one of the most important pieces of equipment. There’s really nothing like a good night’s rest when your days consist of hiking mile after mile with a heavy backpack. It’s hard to go wrong with sleeping pads. Either inflatable or foam both work just look for something lightweight around one pound or so.
Clothing – This is always the most difficult part of a packing list to articulate to aspiring thru hikers. The fact is most have to learn through experience. They will read all the different packing suggestions online, with almost ALL stating the same thing, that any extra clothing is a luxury. New thru hikers will conclude that it be crazy not to have extra clothes and continue to weigh their pack down with extra shirts, shorts, shoes, and whatever else that will end up being sent home within the first week. So with that being said, a few more tips and we’ll leave the rest of the clothing suggestions up to you.
VV Suggestions: Down, Wool, and Synthetic are the materials you should look for. Never use cotton as it absorbs moisture and odors, is a poor insulator and wicks nothing away from the skin.
Headlamp – It’s dark out there, and a headlamp isn’t the most essential of essentials but definitely more handy than not. Whether you decide to embark on that night trek or simply have to do you business in the middle of the night (when a full moon isn’t out) a headlamp comes in handy!
Black Diamond Spot (wrap around)
300 lumens and a burn time of 180 hours, it doesn’t get better than that.
350 lumens, beam distance 380 ft, water resistant, but it does tend to run heavy for a head lamp
Shoes are another difficult thing to suggest because to each is own and what feels good to me might feel like walking on glass to you. Shoes might be THE most important item while on the trail because, well, you are walking 2,100+ miles and you do use your feet for that. That being said, here are some general tips.
First decide whether you would like to go for trail runners, boots or both. Boots are the classic go to and help with rough terrain and ankle support while runners are more lightweight resulting in less blisters and quicker hiking speed. This choice is completely up to your style and there are great mediums out there these days. Second, think about if you want waterproof or breathable shoes. If thru hiking we suggest non-waterproof because face it, your feet are going to get wet and when that’s the case it’s better to have shoes that will dry out quick and breathable. Third, head to your local outdoors store to talk with a professional about what your about to embark on and try a few different types of shoes to see what feels good. Finally, and potentially most importantly, purchase about 1 size larger than what fits you. While on the trail for 6 months your feet will swell and that 1 size increase will soon feel like heaven compared to a cramped foot a month in.
Merrell Moab 2 Vent Mids (Boot)
Probably the most popular hiking boot out there. Affordable, lightweight, breathable and waterproof make them second to none.
Altra Lone Peak 3.5 (Trail Runner)
Considered one of the top trail running shoes with a rugged design that delivers comfort and support. We have personally never tried them out but have met plenty of people that absolutely love the shoe!
Guide books are really beneficial in the planning stages prior to leaving but not a bad thing to have with you while on the trek. They have all the information on resupply locations, shelters, and what’s in nearby towns. Plus the pages make for great fire starter when in a damp area!
Phone app with trail information
Purify your water. Just do it. It doesn’t give you an trail cred that you sip straight from the river and even if it does it will go away when you have Giardia for a week and can’t trek because of the constant diarrhea. So yes, treat your water.
It’s absolutely imperative to keep your sleeping system and camp clothes dry at all times. I will tell you from experience that there is nothing worse than rolling into camp after a good trek through the rain to find that your sleeping bag and only dry camp clothes are not dry anymore. Talk about a morale killer. So grab at least one for your sleeping bag and one for your camp cloths and maybe a backup as well.
Just because you’re about to trek in the woods for 6 months doesn’t mean that you should completely abandon all general hygiene. But, this is another section where people tend to over pack so keep it concise and only the essentials. Remember you’ll be able to re up in a town along trail so don’t think what you bring will need to last you the entire trip.
VV Suggestions: Dry shampoo, bar of soap, mini toothbrush and paste, wipes, ibuprofen, sanitizer, band aids, needle, antibiotic cream, toenail clippers
Food – Food seems like such an important part of a six month trek right? Well, it really depends on preference but you don’t need as much as you’d think. This is where the itinerary (below) becomes so important. You need to strategically plan your resupply points on the trek to really know how much food you’ll need to carry at a time. Sometimes you’ll be carrying more than other due to a longer distance before another town but please just do your research so you don’t find yourself weighed down by three jars of peanut butter or run a little too thin either.
For food you’ll want each item to meet three standards:
– Nutritionally dense
Oatmeal, grits, dried fruit, nuts, bagels, instant coffee, instant noodles, instant potatoes, lentils, couscous, freeze dried meals, energy gels or gummies, peanut butter, granola, some spices for bland dinners,
Itinerary – In order to set yourself up for success on a thru hike adventure you want to have at least a general plan for timing and resupplies. These milestones are crucial to the success of a thru hike to stay on pace, and know generally where you will resupply especially when it comes to food and shipments from home. And we all know that no plan is perfect, especially when on a 2,000+ mile trek so be prepared to deviate and communicate with home to be on the same page.
Here are some things that you might want to leave at home. Some are items that we eventually sent back and others are what we heard from other trekkers. If you feel like an item is an absolute essential for you, bring it. It’s better to initially have it and send it back that not give it a chance at all.
A Massive Knife – It’s really just not practical
Books – Waterproof kindle
Food – this might seem crazy but food is in town and rarely will you ever need extra food
This could go along with a stove and cookable food.
Trekking Poles – Not essential but can be very beneficial for preventing leg injuries due to impact on downhills and can give you an upper body workout on what seems to be neverending leg days. Can also be used as tent poles for tarp tents.
VV Suggestion: Find one the collapses and is lightweight so that it can be stored.
As good as it gets. Just over a pound for the pair, shock absorbant, different attachments, and a compact, foldable design.
Stove – On the trail hot food is a luxury and not a necessity. Some ultra light trekkers opt to cut this weight out of their packs while others are extremely willing to sacrifice some extra weight to have the hot coffee and warm meals. This one is completely up to you, I would say give it a try without one for a short trek prior to your thru hike and see how you like it.
Too much stuff – The lighter the better!
Cotton or Denim – Both can be nightmares…
Camera – they’re heavy and most cell phones offer great cameras now a days.
Extra cloths – Maybe an extra pair of socks but not much else.
Games and toys – leave your gameboy at home, your in the woods, enjoy it. At the very most bring a sudoku book or a Rubik’s cube.
We hope that this extensive gear guide for your favorite outdoor activities will be much easier to tackle with this information!
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