The Ultimate Appalachian Trail Packing List
Get ready for your AT thru-hike with this gear checklist from expert thru-hiker Liz “Snorkel” Thomas and BACKPACKER Gear Editor Eli Bernstein.
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Snowstorms, weeks of rain, humid mid-Atlantic summers: Your gear goes through a lot on a thru-hike of the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail. The rocky, rugged path has more elevation gain than any of the other long trails, and thru hikers’ gear needs to be light enough to carry, but versatile and tough enough for the four- to six-month journey.
On a thru-hike across fourteen states, even the smallest flaw becomes amplified. The too-short strap or the unstable pot stand can turn from annoying to injury-causing (I have the scars from my backpack to prove it).
Small and light is the ticket here: Thru-hikers spend less time in camp than the typical backpacker, so they gravitate towards gear that keeps them happy on their feet.
Everyone’s different, and the best gear is the gear that works with your skills, experience, age, fitness levels, and health conditions. But on the AT, there are some experiences everyone will have: you’re going to get wet, live with bugs, and you’ll almost certainly have to slog through some hot, humid climbs up mountains.
On both my thru-hikes of the AT, I chose to use lightweight and even ultralight gear, which reduced the pain and exhaustion of climbing steep, rocky, rooty terrain. For me, the AT was hard enough as it is. No need to have heavier gear to make it even harder.
A word of warning: lightweight gear only works if you know how to use it. Before starting your thru, test all your new gear to see how it works, both on its own and as part of your system. These time-tested picks are a great place to start.
Try to keep these major items below 2 pounds each.
As for any long trip, your pack should be the final thing you buy: Get your other gear first, and test it out together. You’re looking for a model that fits you well and doesn’t rub, which can leave nasty abrasions, blisters, and even scars. I like the Gossamer Gear Gorilla or its bigger cousin, the Mariposa, which are only two pounds but, with abrasion-resistant 70-denier ripstop or 100-denier Robic, reinforced with 100- or 200-denier high-strength nylon, are burly enough to manage the food carry across Maine’s 100 Mile Wilderness. Tip: On the AT, rain is inevitable. Waterproof your bag with a pack liner like a trash compactor bag.
The AT is famous for its wooden three-sided shelters, which are generally spread out around every 10 miles. Beyond that, however, the rocky, rooty, rugged terrain on the AT makes it hard to find a good tent spot. That’s one reason why I prefer a hammock shelter on the AT—good setup spots for them abound. Regardless of whether you like hanging in trees or staying on the ground, a good AT shelter is lightweight, durable, easy-to-set up, keeps out bugs, and holds up to storms. The all-in-one Hennessy Hammocks Hyperlite Zip is a good balance of weight, price, and durability. At less than 2 pounds, it includes bug netting and a tarp to keep out rain. For those who prefer a traditional tent, the freestanding two-person Tarp Tent Double Rainbow pitches with a pair of trekking poles and is time-tested on the AT.
Sleeping Bag or Quilt
Temperatures on the Appalachian Trail range from below freezing to mid-Atlantic hot and humid, so no single sleeping bag is going to be perfect for every night. Many AT hikers enjoy starting the trail with a 20- to 30-degree sleeping bag, swap out to a lighter model (or even a silk liner) when summer arrives, and then switch back to the heavy bag for New England. If you’re using a hammock, I recommend a quilt; The Therm-a-Rest Vesper 32 is about as light as they come. For those looking for a more traditional bag, the REI Co-op Magma 15 has full coverage and a hood, but weighs less than 2 pounds. Both the Palisade and the Ultralite will feel like overkill during the peak of summer, so be prepared to switch out to something lighter (the Katabatic 40 Degree Chisos quilt or the Western Mountaineering Megalite are both good options) or sleep on top of your bag for a few states.
A good sleeping pad will go a long way toward keeping you comfortable in shelters, where hikers sleep on hardwood floors (some of which aren’t flat, like the infamous baseball bat flooring of parallel logs used in older shelters in Maine). To save weight, I like to a ¾ or kids’ length pad. At 10 oz and only $35, the short version of the Thermarest Z-lite Sol is an affordable foam pad that is a favorite of many thru-hikers. (Prefer an inflatable? The 3/4-length Paria Recharge S is a lightweight option.)
Appalachian Trail Apparel and Accessories
Of the 20-plus long trails I’ve hiked, I still say that my clothes from the Appalachian Trail stunk the most. Indeed, AT thru-hikers have a reputation for worse-than-usual-backpacker odor. Hikers spend a lot of time hiking in hot, humid climates, creating a perfect surface for odor-causing bacteria. Choose your clothing knowing that after the trip, it may be unwearable.
Light Puffy Jacket or Vest
A lightweight puffy jacket is a good item to carry for at least the first and last 500 miles of your trip, if not the entire time. No matter your hiking style or goals, you’ll want one of these to help manage the extreme temperature swings on trail. Because the AT is such a wet trail, many hikers appreciate the warm-when-wet benefit of the synthetic Montbell U.L Thermawrap. It’s only 8.5 ounces, and even if it does get wet, it dries quickly. For the warmer sections of the AT, you may want to switch to the vest version of the jacket, the Montbell U.L. Thermawrap Vest.
It’s almost impossible for someone to thru-hike the AT without walking in the rain for at least a few days straight. On the AT, thru-hikers must balance moisture management with overheating from the steep climbs. Try the Rab Phantom Pull-On It adds enough warmth, but not too much, and since it’s designed for running, it vents better than most.
Carry an extra pair, either wool or a quick-drying synthetic. Consider using long underwear as sleep clothes and in colder conditions.
On a 2,000-plus mile hike, you’re sure to get a few blisters no matter how good your shoes are. While boots are more common on the AT than on the PCT, almost all hikers out for the long haul choose mesh trail runners. Moist feet can lead to blisters, chafing, or trench foot. Mesh trail runners hold water less readily than boots. Plus, studies have shown that each pound on the foot is equal to at least five on the back, so a lightweight shoe can lead to less pounding.
Still, AT hikers need enough support and cushion to deal with the rocky, rooty, rough terrain of the AT. I opt for the nimble Altra Lone Peaks 4.5, which make movement along an obstacle-laden trail like the AT feel more like dancing than tromping. Expect to replace your thru-hiking shoes every 400 miles, especially since many hikers find their feet “grow” up to two sizes over the course of their hike. You don’t need to stick with the same models the whole time; I’d be tempted to use a more cushiony model like the Olympus for the uneven tread of “Rocksylvania.”
AT hikers walk through mud and puddles, and sometimes, their feet won’t be dry for days. Quality hiking socks will hold up for hundreds of miles, even when wet. I find the Darn Tough light hikers fit so well I can barely feel them, which cuts down on the kind of rubbing that can lead to hot spots or chafing from moist footwear. Since there are lots of colors and designs, it’ll keep you from accidentally taking some other hiker’s socks from the laundry line at the shelter. I carry enough clean, dry extra pairs so that I never have to reuse socks before they dry.
The AT is infamous for mosquitoes, black flies, and Lyme disease-carrying ticks. While the experts suggest hiking in tick and bug country wearing long sleeves and pants, many AT hikers find it uncomfortable and impractical to cover up in the heat. Thus, bug spray and bug lotion are a must; woe to the hiker who enters the 100 Mile Wilderness without it. Check yourself for ticks each night, and consider using bug head netting in the shelters. Before you start the trail or part way through your trip, consider treating your clothing in Permethrin, and learn the signs of Lyme and West Nile.
First Aid and Emergency Bag
I include a blade, tooth care, blister care and prevention, krazy glue, and over the counter meds for stomach issues, allergies, fever, and pain. A whistle and mirror are essential emergency signaling equipment, while a needle, thread, and duct tape will cover most gear repair.
While it may seem difficult to get lost on the AT, having maps, a compass, and the skills to use it may save your life in a white-out in the White Mountains. Hikers (including yours truly) have stepped off trail for a bathroom break, only to become temporarily lost in the AT’s dense tree cover. Some hikers use a phone app, but don’t count on it as your primary form of navigation: the AT’s rainy weather is a phone killer. (If you’re relying on your phone, you’ll need to carry an external battery pack, too.) In addition, carry paper databooks, town guides, and maps.
If you’ll be doing serious night hiking, carry a waterproof headlamp like the Black Diamond Spot Lite. Otherwise, I recommend the 0.25 ounce Photon Freedom Micro LED keychain, which is bright enough for nighttime bathroom breaks. It comes with attachments to use as a hat clip and necklace, too.
With the trail more crowded than ever, following Leave No Trace rules matters. The lowest impact way to poop is in the numerous privies next to shelters on the AT. If that’s not an option, thru-hiking potty trowels like the Deuce of Spaces weigh 0.5 oz and make digging a cathole the easiest part of the day. Be sure to pack out used toilet paper.
Despite what you’ve heard, a good water filter is essential to prevent against waterborne illness on the crowded AT corridor. I like the Sawyer Mini filter, which easily screws onto a Smartwater bottle or can be used as an inline filter with a hose and bladder hydration system. It’s light weight and long life (a million gallons!) make it a near ubiquitous choice among thru-hikers.
Stove and Cook Kit
Most thru-hikers opt for an alcohol, canister, or integrated stove system, at least for the first and last part of the trail. The mid-Atlantic can get so toasty and the trail comes near so many delis, you may opt to go stoveless.
The AT crosses areas frequented by bears, and some of the critters have become accustomed to pilfering food from hikers, as well as pulling down bear bags. Check regulations for where bear cans are required.
How to buy shoes: Most hikers will need to replace trail running shoes every 400 miles. For first-time thru-hikers, I advise starting the AT with a pair of shoes that you’ve worn in and trust, but haven’t used too much. If that pair worked out, when you’re 300 miles into your trip, use the internet to order yourself a new pair of shoes. Have it mailed to a hostel or Post Office near the 400 mile mark of your trip (note: Post Offices cannot accept mail from non-USPS delivery services). If your first pair didn’t work out, find a gear store near the trail and try on some shoes to find something that feels better. Otherwise, you can use the internet to size up or choose a different brand of shoes and have that pair mailed to yourself.
What to ship: The best thing about thru-hiking is you won’t need to start the trail with 2,000 miles’ worth of food and gear already picked out. Use your guidebooks and maps to find the best address to send yourself gear as the weather changes.
Don’t be fooled by warmer temps in early spring. On my first AT thru-hike, I made the mistake of letting the heat convince me to send home my puffy jacket right before entering the highest elevation part of the trail. It snowed on April 29 and I crossed icy, frozen trail in shorts and a windshirt. Most AT hikers like cold weather gear for the first and last 500 to 600 miles of their trip.
What size backpack for hiking the appalachian trail
What size backpack do I need for backpacking?
Intrigued by backpacking but aren’t quite sure what size backpack you need? The answer is very subjective and based on numerous factors, but this guide will give you a general idea.
The most common hiking backpack size is around 60L (liters). This capacity offers enough space for several days of backpacking yet isn’t too large for a single night trip. However, there are many things to consider when determining the most efficient backpack size for your next backpacking trip.
Are you a minimalist who will only carry the essentials? Or do you want to be prepared for any possible, yet unlikely, scenario? Maybe you have ultralight gear. Maybe you are still carrying that bulky Coleman sleeping bag from Wal-Mart. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to determining your hiking backpack capacity needs.
Here is a quick overview of backpack size organized by trip length:
Length of Trip
Average Min. Volume
Average Max. Volume
Note that the information in the table above and the paragraphs below are not concrete. The size backpack you need will vary greatly depending on your gear. This information is just my perception for what a beginner backpacker should consider based on average gear size and weight.
What size backpack do I need for a day hike?
A day hike is a hike you complete over the course of one day. It can be as short as a half mile or can be 20 miles or longer. Either way, you are back in your vehicle before the day is done.
For a day hike, a hiking backpack between 18L and 35L will suffice. Any larger isn’t required since there is no need for a shelter, sleeping bag, or other gear you need for camping. However, keeping an emergency shelter and blanket/bivy sack is recommended in cases of the unexpected.
Personally, I use the REI Flash 22 daypack , but when I want a workout, I use my Granite Gear Crown2 60 and pack it with everything typical for an overnight trip. Go with a larger backpack if you want to build strength and endurance for longer, more difficult multi-day hikes.
What size backpack do I need for an overnight hike?
For the average backpacker, an overnight trip will require 45L, assuming you do not have the most ultralight and compact gear. For a single night, you do not need as much food and water or fuel for cooking. And if you are someone who likes to pack extra clothes, you won’t need as many.
Aside from food, what you carry in a pack for an overnight trip will be much the same as a multi-day or extended hike.
What size backpack do I need for 2 or 3-days (weekend hike)?
For a multi-day, or weekend hike, a 45L to 55L backpack offers enough volume for the average backpacker. The extra capacity allows for carrying more food, water, fuel, and some comfort items you might leave behind for a single night trip. With lightweight and less bulky gear, a smaller capacity backpack can work as well.
What size backpack do I need for an extended hike (4+ days)?
An extended hike will require a backpack of at least 60L or more if you are not planning to resupply along the way. You will need to carry enough food and fuel to last for the entirety of your trip, which is what most of the extra capacity in your pack will be used for. This should also offer enough space for additional clothing if you choose to bring it.
As for water, you will need to carry a water filter or purification tablets so you can collect water as you need it, because carrying enough water for an extended hike is unrealistic.
What size backpack do I need for the Appalachian Trail?
On average, hikers use a 58 to 65-liter backpack for their Appalachian Trail thru hikes. However, seeing smaller or larger backpacks are not uncommon. With the right gear, people have successfully hiked the trail with 35L backpacks.
An Appalachian Trail thru hike takes 4 to 7 months, but a pack big enough to carry 3 to 5 days’ worth of food is all that is required. This is because there are plenty of resupply points along the trail, usually within a few days of each other.
Much of the same can be said for other long-distance trails, such as the PCT or CDT, but resupply points are spaced out a little further, but still easily accessible.
Analyzing your gear space requirements
Ultimately, the size of your hiking backpack is going to be dictated by your gear. Here are some staples that every backpacker tends to carry on overnight hikes.
A tent is likely the largest item you will be carrying on an overnight backpacking trip. Traditional camping tents have tent poles and separate rainflies that require more space.
On my first backpacking trip, I carried a 3-person dome tent. To help save room in my 48L backpack’s main compartment, I put my tent poles in a side pocket vertically. I also packed the tent body and rainfly directly in my pack (without the storage bag) to eliminate voids of empty space. If you prefer, you can use a stuff sack for your tent for more organization, or you can strap your tent (poles included) to the outside of your pack.
As for ultralight tents, it is standard for them to come with stuff sacks.
A synthetic sleeping bag (most common) does not compress as tightly as a down sleeping bag. And cheap synthetic bags tend to be very bulky and can fill out a backpack quickly! However, there are exceptions, like this one from REVELCamp , which was my first sleeping bag. If you still plan to hold on to that bulky sleeping bag, make sure the backpack you choose can accommodate it!
The roll-up or foldable sleeping pads will need to be strapped to the outside of your backpack, but inflatable ones can fit inside. However, self-inflating sleeping pads consume much more space than normal inflatable pads.
Your pot (or pots) can be from backpacking size to normal kitchen size. Obviously, a pot designed for backpacking will take up less space, but normal size cookware is useful when cooking for a larger party. Save space by packing your fuel, lighter, and stove inside your pot (if it fits). When carrying larger cookware, if necessary, fasten it to the outside of your backpack.
I was required to use a bear canister on my first backpacking trip (near Black Balsam Knob ). I used the Bearvault BV500 which is rather large. There is the smaller BV450 , but any bear canister is going to eat up space in your backpack. Stuff your food, fuel, and anything else you can inside the canister to make use of the volume.
Clothing and Jackets
The amount of clothes you choose to take on your backpacking trips is up to you, but the more you take the more space you need. It’s reasonable to carry clothes to sleep in, plus a rain jacket and pants. And, depending on the conditions, you may want a top layer for warmth, like a down puffy jacket.
Get to packing!
It can be difficult to determine the most efficient size backpack for your hiking needs, but do not be intimidated. When trying to find a pack that fits your current gear, visit your local outfitter store. They may let you pack your gear in-store. At the least, you can purchase a backpack and pack it at home and if it does not work, return it. If you are still looking to purchase gear along with a pack, I again recommend visiting an outfitter where a qualified salesman can help get you started. If you have a tight budget and need some cheaper alternatives than what you can find in a store, check out my article on how you can start backpacking for $200 .
How To Pack For Hiking The Appalachian Trail? Fully Explained
Around 50 liters is the best size backpack for the trail. Some people think taking a 70 liter backpack is a good idea, but there are plenty of places to get food and water on the trail, and a large backpack will encourage you to do so.
If you are going to carry a lot of gear, you may want to consider a smaller backpack. A 50 liter backpack is about the same size as a 40 liter pack. If you plan on carrying more than a few days worth of food, water, and other supplies, then you will need a pack that can carry that much weight.
For example, if you intend to pack a tent, a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, stove, cooking utensils, toiletries, etc. in your pack, the weight of the pack should be at least 50 pounds. You can find a list of all the gear you need for a thru-hike here.
Table of Contents
How much money do you need to hike the Appalachian Trail?
Hikers spend an average of at least $1,000 a month on the hike. Those who like to stay in motels and eat at restaurants when they have the chance can save a lot of money. Hiking is also a great way to spend time with family and friends.
If you’re hiking with a group of friends, it’s a good idea to make a list of all the things you want to do together, so that you can plan ahead and make sure you don’t miss out on any of the fun.
Do I need bear spray on the Appalachian Trail?
Even if the bear makes a bluff charge, don’t run or play dead. It is strongly discouraged to carry firearms. If you’re concerned, then carry a shotgun or rifle. If you see a bear, don’t try to fight it. Instead, run away as fast as you can and call for help. Bear attacks are rare, but they can happen at any time of the year.
Do you have to register to hike the Appalachian Trail?
The Appalachian Trail is free for all to enjoy. No fees, memberships, or permits are required to walk the trail. The trail is open year-round. For more information, please visit www.AT.gov.
Can you carry guns on the Appalachian Trail?
The carrying of firearms on the trail is discouraged by atc. On federal lands administered by the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service, possession of a firearm must be in compliance with the law of the state in which the firearm is to be carried.
The NPS and USFS prohibit firearms from being carried on their lands, except in the following circumstances: (1) for law enforcement purposes; (2) to protect life or property; or (3) in self-defense or defense of another person from an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury. In addition, federal law requires that firearms be stored unloaded and in a locked container at all times when not in use.
Federal law also prohibits the possession, transportation, or use of any firearm by a person under the age of twenty-one (21) unless the person is accompanied by an adult who is at least eighteen (18) years of age and who has been issued a license to carry a concealed firearm.
What is a bear bag?
A bear bag is a waterproof bag with a roll-top closure that protects your food and other items from the weather, animals, and bugs. I used the 13L Sea to Summit Dry Sack for a long time. I’ve switched to a Bear Bag because bears have an extraordinary sense of smell.
The Bear Bags are designed to be used in the backcountry, but they’re also great for backpacking trips. They’re lightweight and easy to pack, making them a great choice for long hikes. Bear bags are made of polyester, which is breathable and water-resistant.
The bags come in a variety of colors, including black, blue, brown, green, orange, pink, purple, red, white, or yellow. You can also choose to have the bags printed with your own logo on the outside of the bag. If you’re looking for something a little more unique, you can even order a custom-printed bag for a small fee.
Can you have a fire on the Appalachian Trail?
It is illegal to light a fire on the appalachian national scenic trail if it poses a public safety hazard or burns park resources and property. Park users should only light fires in national parks, national forests, and national wildlife refuges if the park rules indicate otherwise.