Gear. When you’re hiking 2000+ miles for 6ish months, everything you’re taking with you has to be carefully considered, with the pros and cons of each item carefully weighed, usually literally. Or at least that’s what I and all the other thru-hiker-hopefuls are telling ourselves as we sit at computers for hours researching. We should probably all be out physically preparing for the trail instead of worrying about whether we should take a pack cover……..
But we’re not! And that’s okay, as long as we also do some training. Gear is important. It’s definitely not going to be the final thing that take us over the finish line, but the right gear will definitely make it easier. I’ll be writing a total of three gear posts: this one, focusing on my clothing, one on my pack, sleep and shelter systems, and one on everything else. When considering my gear choices, I had two big things I tried to keep in mind.
- Going as lightweight as possible. I’m a small person (~130lbs, 5’2). Most people say that your backpack shouldn’t be more than 20-30% of your bodyweight. So for me, that means my pack, with food and water, shouldn’t exceed 26-39lbs. That’s not that much. If my baseweight (everything minus food, water, and other consumables), is 20 lbs, I’d only have 6 lbs for food and water before I start getting into heavier-than-I-want-to-be territory. So, I wanted a goal baseweight of somewhere around 12-15 lbs.
- I’m not going NOBO. If you google ‘Appalachian Trail gear list’, you’re going to find lists that people have used, and 9 times out of 10 they were going NOBO. Admittedly, probably 90% of what NOBOs use is what a flip-flopper would use too. But, there are certain weather considerations that NOBOs have to think about that flip-floppers don’t, at least for the beginning of their hike. NOBOs have a high likelihood of encountering snow and freezing temperatures in the beginning of their treks. I (probably) won’t. There’s always the possibility of a freak cold spell in May, but it’s not likely. My mindset is I just have to be able to survive something like that, not comfortably live in it the way I might want to if I was going to be in it for days and days as a NOBO. Depending on how long I take, I may start to encounter more winter-like conditions towards the end of my hike, but this is my starting list, not my ending list, so who cares. I already know my gear will probably adapt as I go.
So, with those things in mind, here is my clothing system:
Everyday hiking outfit: the outfit I’ll be wearing each and every day on the trail. These items do not count towards my baseweight (since I’ll be wearing them all the time). I’ll be sending the shirt, shorts, socks, and hat
to InsectShield to get treated for tick and mosquito protection.
- Shirt – Smartwool NTS 150 t-shirt. I’ve had this t-shirt for a long time. It’s a thin material, and does already have one place where I’ve stitched it, but I figure better to start with a shirt that I already have then drop $50 on a t-shirt that’s going to get holes anyway.
- Shorts – Patagonia Baggies. These have big pockets, a fun print, and dry quickly. What else do you need?
- Socks – Darn Tough Hiking Micro Crew Cushion socks. I have strong feelings about socks, and Darn Toughs are the best. I will fight you on this. I’ll be carrying 2 pairs of these in total, so I can switch out every other day.
- Sports Bra – Patagonia Barely bra. In my opinion, it is the perfect sports bra.
- Underwear – Patagonia Barely Hipster. Dry quickly and comfy. I will be carrying 2 pairs of these in totals, so I can “wash” one and let it dry on the outside of my pack while wearing the other. With this method, I can wear moderately clean underwear everyday.
- Shoes – Altra Lone Peaks 4.0. I have a friend who has referred to these as my “clown shoes.” She’s not wrong, but the clown shoe look means an amazingly roomy and comfortable toe box, so I don’t care.
- Gaiters – Almost all thru-hikers use Dirty Girl Gaiters, but Chica from Chica and Sunsets used gaiters from the Etsy store UltraGam, and I followed her example. They’re cheaper than Dirty Girls by a little, and I love my cute owl print.
- Hat – some random wicking hat that I found at TJMaxx. I like the color.
Bad weather clothing: These are the items I can add to my hiking outfit if the weather turns cold, wet, or windy. Again, I chose these items considering I probably won’t be in winter-like conditions. These can take me down to around 20 degrees if I’m wearing all of them.
- Rain Jacket – Outdoor Research Helium II. This is a really popular rain jacket for thru-hikers. I’ve owned it for over 2 years and the waterproofing has worn off, so I’ll be re-waterproofing it with a spray sometime before I leave.
- Rain Bottoms – ULA Rain Kilt. This fashionable piece of gear allows for better airflow than rain pants, and weighs about 5 ounces less to boot. I can also unfold it and use it as a plastic sheet to sit on or lay things on to keep dry.
- Wind Shirt – Montbell Trachyon Wind shirt. I can wear this over my t-shirt and be warm down to about 40 degrees if I’m moving, so for 1.5 oz, this is a sure winner in the usefulness-to-weight competition.
- Cool Weather top – Patagonia Capilene Air Hoody. I bought this in the beginning of January and I’ve worn it in so many different situations, from my warmest layer while cross-country skiing to my next-to-skin layer when walking around during the dreaded polar vortex we had here in Illinois to wearing it hiking in 55 degree weather! It breathes great but is still so warm when it needs to be. I haven’t even started my hike and I already want to name this thing my MVP.
- Cool Weather bottoms – REI lightweight baselayer. These definitely are not for really cold conditions, so I’m already setting a midweight baselayer aside that I can have sent to me if I need something warmer. But for anything down to about 35 degrees, they’re fine. Colder than that, and I’ll either be in my sleeping bag or be putting on my rain kilt for some more warmth.
- Beanie – Skida Nordic Hat. This is a very cute, lightweight hat from a very cute company in Vermont. Go look at the cute patterns they have and tell me you don’t want to buy 20 hats from them.
- Gloves – Smartwool striped gloves. They’re not the warmest or the lightest, but they were on sale.
Camp Clothing: These are the items that I will never be hiking in, at all. You may notice this list is very small, and in fact is not actually a full outfit at all. To be clear, I will not be walking around camp in just flip flops, socks, and a puffy jacket. I’ve elected to not take specific “camp clothes” like many do and instead wear whatever clothes I have that aren’t wet when I go to sleep. If this means I’m just sleeping in socks, a pair of underwear, and my puffy jacket, then that is okay, because of the most important part of my sleep system – my sleeping bag! I have a sleeping bag rated to 10 degrees and a sleeping bag liner, so those are what are primarily going to give me warmth when I’m sleeping. This is an educated choice that I’ve made, based on how I hike, how I sleep, my experience with my gear in many different conditions, and my knowledge that I will not be in winter conditions. For walking around camp, I’ll just wear my hiking clothes. If I get in colder conditions, I probably will have warmer baselayers sent to me that will be more traditional ‘camp clothes.’
- Puffy Jacket – Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer. This is probably the most popular puffy jacket among thru-hikers, because it’s very lightweight for the warmth. Fun fact, these are pretty expensive, but they’re pretty easy to find on sale as long as you’re okay with odd colors.
- Sleep socks – Smartwool hiking socks. Why do I have sleep socks but not the rest of a sleep outfit? Because my toes get cold and I don’t want to put my gross crusty hiking socks in my sleeping bag. Next question.
- Camp shoes – Old Navy flip flops. I seriously considered not taking camp shoes at, because I really don’t need them in camp. When doing my regular backpacking trips, I consider camp shoes a luxury that is not needed. My shoes are light and comfy enough that I don’t need to change out of them at the end of the day. The only reason I’m bringing these is because I want something to wear in any hostel showers that I may come across. Foot fungus and plantar warts are not your friends.
All of my packed clothes will be in a Zpacks dry stuff sack. The total weight of my packed clothes is 2.42 lbs. For a full gear list, please click here, though be aware I’m still changing a few of the non-clothes things.