Selecting your gear for the Appalachian Trail is one of the most important parts of the pre-trail planning phase and something that shouldn’t be taken lightly, in my opinion. After all, your gear is your lifeline and there to keep you on the trail for as long as possible; choose crappy gear and you could be making an early, unplanned departure.
I spent a long time researching the gear I would need for my hike, taking price (I was on a budget), weight and quality into consideration with every single purchase.
I’m proud to say that overall, I was more or less thrilled with every item I bought and they went on to withstand everything that was thrown at them along the AT. I didn’t need to, or want to make any major gear changes during my hike and would continue to use the majority of it in future endeavours.
That being said, going forward I think I would upgrade my tent and backpack if I had the funds available. But for my level of experience at the time, plus the price, quality and weight of these items, they were perfectly good enough.
So without further ado, here’s everything I took on the trail, how it performed and what my overall thoughts are on its performance:
My pack of choice was the Osprey Aura AG 65 in small. I was super keen on this pack during my training hikes, however when it came to carrying a much heavier load on the trail itself, I struggled on-and-off with pain, primarily in my upper back, shoulders and hips.
This continued despite numerous adjustments to the pack and changing the weight distribution of my belongings. I also found that the position of the hip belt pockets made them really challenging to open and close, and their small size and odd shape meant that they were pretty useless for storing much (just a few snacks and my headphones would fit).
Overall thoughts: My Osprey pack performed really well when it was filled with a lot less weight, therefore is excellent for shorter hikes. It’s also great for travelling with in general. However, for future long-distance hikes, I would invest in a lighter, less complicated pack; Zpacks and Hyperlite Mountain Gear are two brands which especially caught my eye.
My High Tail Designs fanny pack kept my phone and camera safe and dry and was way more easily accessible than my backpack hip belt pockets. Off-trail, it was perfect for carrying my valuables around town as I explored and did my chores.
My only qualm was that the colourful polyester layer which was bonded to the Dyneema began to rub away fairly quickly due to constant friction, but I guess this can be expected and was more of an aesthetic issue than a serious problem.
Overall thoughts: My fanny pack was one of my most-used pieces of gear. I loved the design, its simplicity and effectiveness. By the end of my hike, it was seriously grubby (like the rest of my belongings), so I would definitely consider ordering a brand-spanking new one for another time.
At 1.14kg (2.5 lbs), my Vango F10 Helium UL 2 tent was small and light, as well as being fairly simple to erect and dismantle; but like most 2 person tents, it really was only big enough for me plus my gear. It withstood all types of weather and manhandling very well over the 1000 miles it was used, but it did have its set-backs.
My main issue with this tent was its height. At 5’9, I couldn’t sit up straight without brushing my head against the roof, so spent much of my time inside it hunched over or forced to lie down.
It’s not freestanding, which would have come in seriously useful at many of the uneven campsites, and its stakes are incredibly flimsy (I bent one on my very first night) and a nightmare to use on hard ground, which is rather soul destroying after a hard day.
I also found the all-in-one pitching design great for setting up quickly in poor weather, but this also meant that I couldn’t sleep without the flysheet on in summer or star-gaze.
Overall thoughts: I think that this no bells and whistles tent is perfect for beginners and those wanting something lightweight but still on the cheaper end of the scale. I absolutely loved it for the first few months, but felt that I quickly outgrew it and wanted something a little more high spec. In the future, I would like to try tents by MSR and Big Agnes:
I’m absolutely blown away by how lightweight, comfortable and durable the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Ultralight Backpacking Air Mattress is. I could lie in all positions, on varied terrain and wriggle around all night and still feel more comfortable than I have done on some beds.
Its thin, mummy shape means that your limbs have some restricted movement and it’s quite easy to end up rolling completely off your mat if you’re not careful, but in all honesty, I was quite happy to flop my arms and legs all over the place in warmer weather and curl up into a motionless ball when it was cold.
They do get grubby, especially on the trail, and when I held mine up to the light the inside appeared to be full of dirt and what I think is mould, but this is probably unavoidable. It is filled up with your hot, wet breath every evening after all.
Overall thoughts: This is one of the best pieces of gear that I have ever purchased. It’s worth every penny and I wouldn’t hesitate to buy one again.
My sleeping bag was the Mountain Equipment Helium 400, which claimed to have a good nights sleep guaranteed at -5 degrees Celsius. The coldest it got on the trail for me was around -4 degrees C (approx 25 F), and I was as snug as a bug in a rug. Being down-filled, the bag is incredibly warm, lightweight, and scrunches down to an impressively small size.
Like all mummy-shaped sleeping bags, it does make movement somewhat restricted and awkward and perhaps a bit like wriggling around in a straitjacket at times, but this is a small price to pay in my opinion.
Overall thoughts: My sleeping bag was another favourite piece of gear and an item I think is worth researching thoroughly and splurging on (this was my most expensive piece of gear). Combined with my sleeping pad, I slept absolutely amazingly on the trail most of the time.
I stored my sleeping bag and its liner in my Sea to Summit 20L Lightweight Dry Sack. These dry sacks are great and they do exactly what they say on the tin.
Sleeping Bag Liner
I swapped my cheap Amazon silk sleeping bag liner to a Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor liner after sending my sleeping bag home in the warmer months. In hindsight, I sent my bag home a touch too early, and was caught by a couple of chilly nights where the liner wasn’t quite enough, but overall it was a good purchase and can be used with the sleeping bag during cold weather in the future too.
My Black Diamond Trail Ergo poles saved my ass countless times and became extensions of myself. I liked their cork handles and flick locks, which were sturdy and didn’t falter throughout my time on the trail.
Overall thoughts: I would say that the majority of people use trekking poles on the trail. Whenever I would encounter someone without them, I’d be in awe of how they had got so far and were still in one piece. My poles saved me from countless falls, helped drag me up every single mountain and steady me on the way back down. I wouldn’t ever hike without them.
Upon arriving in Atlanta, I had a much-needed pack shakedown from a 2018 AT hiker and ended up sending a lot more clothing home than I imagined. Most of my clothing was cheap and nondescript from UK high street stores and lasted my entire hike. I was able to get rid of my thermals and gloves in the warmer weather, but hung onto most things to be safe.
My everyday clothing was everything I kept hold of throughout my hike. Though it’s incredibly tempting to be ruthless and rid yourself of as much as possible to save on weight, I hung onto my fleece and puffy to err on the side of caution, which was wise, because there were some nights after I sent my sleeping bag home where I was caught off guard and the temperature dropped considerably. I stored my clothes in my original sleeping bag stuff-sack.
1 quick-drying sports top
1 cotton top for sleeping/towns/laundry days
1 pair of shorts
1 pair of sports leggings
3 pairs of underwear
Buff (which I didn’t use much)
Dirty Girl Gaiters – I didn’t bother using my gaiters for a good portion of my hike, but when I eventually tried them out, I instantly regretted not using them sooner. They work wonders for keeping those little annoying stones out of your shoes.
I started off with three pairs of Bridgedale Merino Wool Socks (two pairs for hiking, one for sleeping); which under more normal circumstances are great, but the daytime socks failed to last very long on the trail, so I soon switched to the ever-popular Darn Tough socks.
They are a lot more durable and their lifetime guarantee means that they can be swapped out for a new pair if they get holes in. My sock choice varied with the seasons, but I particularly liked the shorter running socks in summer.
My Jack Wolfskin fleece was warm, super lightweight and quick drying. I used it religiously in the cooler temperatures as an extra layer at camp in the evenings and to sleep in.
My Mountain Warehouse Winter Jacket was wonderfully warm and folded away into its own little drawstring bag (mine’s in green). I tended not to hike in it as I didn’t want to get it all sweaty, but it was very much needed in the evenings at camp and when I wasn’t sleeping in it, I’d use it as a pillow.
I was able to send home all of my seasonal clothing as the weather got warmer, saving some space and weight in my pack.
1 thermal top
1 pair of thermal leggings (to sleep in)
A warm hat
I opted for Mountain Warehouse ski gloves. Although they were one of my bulkier items, they were perfectly lightweight, warm and flexible and most definitely needed on those freezing cold mornings when I could barely feel my fingers as I took down my tent.
I wore my Regatta Pack It Waterproof Over Trousers a lot more than I expected, but not for the reasons I initially thought. It turns out that they make excellent wind breaks and are great for keeping you well insulated when it’s freezing cold. I used them for these benefits more than I ever did for rain.
The same went for my unremarkable waterproof jacket, which I purchased a while back in Tasmania. It was lightweight, had great ventilation and folded away into a small pouch, but like most waterproofs when exposed to relentless rain, it failed to keep me very dry. Once the warmer weather kicked in and I no longer needed to use it as a wind break, I binned it and got a Walmart poncho, which did a much better job!
I adored my Inov-8 Trailtalon 290 Trail Runners, which lasted me until Damascus (they also had many pre-trail miles on them). They are the first brand of trail runners I’ve ever owned, are the comfiest shoes I’ve ever worn and kept me virtually blister-free. I was unable to get another pair easily, as Inov-8 seems to be less popular in the States, so I decided to try out a pair of Altra Lone Peak 4.0 trail runners (in black).
Overall thoughts: Like my pair of Inov-8’s, the Altra’s fit me perfectly. I have fairly wide feet and long toes and found that the large toe box gave them plenty of room to spread out without hitting the sides. The zero-drop design had no negative effect on my feet, although I did hear that some hikers experienced pain in their achilles tendons because of this.
The only negative comment that I can make about these shoes is that they have a couple of well-known design flaws, that being the toecap and insoles are notorious for coming loose after only a few uses. I found this to be absolutely true, but after a generous application of shoe glue, the problem was completely resolved. I’d advise glueing the insoles before you even wear them properly for the first time.
I didn’t get any blisters over the 700-odd miles I hiked in them and I still wear them today, 7 months after getting off the trail.
My camp shoe was the humble Croc, and nothing felt better than taking my trail runners off at the end of a long day and airing out my feet in them.
Eating & Drinking
I stored my food, cooking equipment and anything else that bears and critters would find mildly tasty in my Zpacks ultralight Bear Bagging Kit, which I absolutely loved! Check out my blog, What I Ate on the Appalachian Trail as a Vegan to get an idea of what you would generally find in my food bag.
I found my MSR Pocket Rocket 2 lightweight, durable and compact and honestly can’t fault it. It fit perfectly inside my MSR Titan Kettle, which like the stove, I loved for all the above features, plus its 850ml capacity was more than enough for cooking my meals.
Tip: I used a bandana to dry my pot every night after washing it. It was also useful for picking up the lid when it was hot.
I had no regrets bringing along my collapsible Sea to Summit X-Cup. I found that I used it religiously in the cold weather and would make wonderfully warming coffee or hot chocolate in it every morning.
My Sea to Summit Alpha Light Spork was a no-fuss, lightweight tool to shovel all the foods into my face. I think my only qualm was its length, which was a bit on the short side when scooping food out of the ready-made backpacker meal pouches. In the future I would probably consider buying one with a longer handle.
Like many hikers on the AT, I used the Sawyer Squeeze to filter my water. I found that having two 1L Smart water bottles plus my 2L Platypus Water Bladder to be the perfect combination. My preferred technique was to filter dirty water from the Platypus into the two clean water bottles.
Overall thoughts: The Sawyer Squeeze would screw onto the Platypus, though sometimes not completely perfectly and could be fiddle, but once I got the knack I found it all a breeze. The water flow speed was perfectly decent and I felt like the water was completely safe to drink; I never got sick on the trail from any of the water sources. I can’t fault the Platypus. It’s super durable and the 2L capacity is ideal.
Tips: Keep a spare sports cap for back-flushing your filter and always sleep with it on cold nights to avoid it freezing and breaking. You can fill your Platypus with hot water and use it as a hot water bottle on cold nights.
Technology & Electronics
I decided to take my Olympus PEN E-PL8 camera with me on my hike and amazingly it survived! It’s chunky, heavy and can’t be charged via USB, meaning I had to lug around its bulky battery charger, so I would consider it a ‘luxury item’. I kept it in my fanny pack so I could access it quickly and it did an amazing job of keeping it safe and dry.
I got some great shots during my hike, which was important to me as I love taking photos. A great feature of this camera is its inbuilt WiFi, which I used to transfer photos from the camera to my phone (something I loved to do whilst relaxing in my tent in the evening). Whether or not you decide to take a ‘proper’ camera on your hike will really depend on how much you are going to use it and how passionate you are about photography; it must be said that phone cameras are pretty decent these days.
This PEDCO Ultra Camera Tripod was a great find. It was cheap, it’s super lightweight and ideal for those all-important ‘advanced selfies’, however I think I only really used it a couple of times on my entire hike. Saying that, I’d probably keep it handy in the future, just in case.
I charged up my electronics (bar my camera) with the Anker PowerCore 20100. It’s a little on the heavy side but was well worth it. It didn’t run out of juice between towns on me once and I’d use it virtually every evening.
I opted for the Black Diamond Spot Headlamp for its decent reviews and relatively cheap price. To me, this was an important piece of kit. It was a life-saver when night hiking, trying to find my way to the privy in the dark or breaking down camp before the sun was up. It had great battery life, was easy to use and comfortable to wear.
I wore my Fitbit Charge 2 on the trail, primarily as a watch but also as a fun way of tracking my steps. Unfortunately, and to my dismay, it broke within less than 2 weeks of hiking (it was my own fault for being a bit too heavy handed).
Finally, we enter the miscellaneous section. I won’t bore you with toiletries and first aid, suffice to say they were minimal.
Notebook & pen – a lovely way of collecting memories. I filled mine with stickers, post cards and got fellow hikers to write in it. Small multifunctional knife – primarily for cutting avocados and manicuring my filthy nails. Zpacks Passport Zip Pouch – excellent for storing my money and passport and keeping it dry.
I used the Moon Cup prior to hiking the trail, so was already familiar with it. It saves weight, money, the environment and packing out bulky sanitary products.
Honestly speaking, I found using it on the trail incredibly stressful at times, for privacy and hygiene reasons. I also had an unfortunate mishap which you can read about in my post, Some Days, Hiking the Appalachian Trail SUCKS, if you have a strong stomach. Going forward, I would probably continue using it, as I believe its overall benefits outweigh the negatives.I took a small microfibre travel towel with me and found that more often than not, I didn’t use it, however it was still a welcome piece of gear for the rare times that I did need it.The sit pad is an absolute must in my opinion and I used it every single day. It saved me from sitting on the cold, wet ground and helped to keep me at least a little bit cleaner.
What is your favourite piece of gear? Comment below!