Appalachian Trail Thru Hiking Guide by hipp0

Appalachian Trail Thru Hiking Guide by hipp0

The lighter your equipment the more fun you're going to have hiking. But there is a point I believe when gear becomes too light and starts to become a liability. So I like to find the happy medium between light and durability. This is why I am not an ultralight thru hiker. Ultralight stuff just breaks too easy and is very expensive.

The most important part of hiking is walking with our feet. So taking care of our feet is very important. Your feet are going to swell up when you're hiking everyday. This is why it's important to get a wide hiking shoe and get about ½ size larger than you normally wear. I prefer lightweight hiking shoes that are built to last.

But to be honest no matter how good they say a hiking shoe is, after you've put 1000+ miles on a pair of hiking shoes they are going to start coming apart. That's why I like companies like Merrel that will send  you a new pair of shoes if this happens while you're hiking.

Merrell Men's Moab 2 GTX Hiking Shoe:

No shoe is completely waterproof. So buying a hiking shoe based on Gortex, or waterproof is not going to help when you're hiking all day in a torrential downpour. Best just get a light pair and avoid the rain the best you can. The waterproofing is pretty standard on most hiking shoes these days. But it doesn't do much, it will keep your feet dry for a little while before you're going to want to put grocery bags on your feet to keep them dry. I like low cut hiking shoes. But if you want more ankle support get something like these: 

Merrell Men's Moab 2 Mid: For women I also recommend Merrel, but the brand Keen may interest you. I know when I hiked many women used these.

You're going to get blisters on your toes, ankles, bottoms of your feet and your heels. Many of these blisters/sores can be avoided with proper footcare. Wearing great socks will make a big difference that's why I recommend Darn Tough Socks:

Remember to air out your feet every 5 miles or so and swap out socks. I normally carry 3 pairs of socks and rotate them throughout the day. 

The next thing you need is a great insole for hiking. I highly recommend Superfeet I use the Oranges, the Greens seem to be for a very high arch. Most hiking stores have these to try on.

You're going to need toe nail clippers. And do your best to avoid ingrown nails. There is a method to avoid them by cutting the nail a certain way and pulling away. Basically you cut a diagonal cut and pull the nail away from your main nail and pull out all the stuff. Look on the internet for hiking/foot care methods for more information.

Now for treating the blisters moleskin is not going to do the job. It will not stay on your foot unless you have something else securing it. All I would use after a while is duct tape. If you buy it in strips or make the strip yourself it makes protecting your foot much easier.  You can also get something like this which is a mini roll that you can tuck away in your hiking bag:

Okay I think I’ve covered feet for the most part. Just remember to take good care of them!

Now onto backpacks. I recommend the company ULA they make great durable, functional and lightweight packs. I currently have the ULA Catalyst which is perfect size for all my stuff. They also have smaller packs if you want to get super lightweight.

The sleeping bag is very important. Because this is what's going to keep you warm and alive when you're in the cold freezing mountains. I used a Stoic 30 degree when I hiked the Appalachian trail and there was one point around April I was in the Smoky Mountains and it was 0 degrees with wind chill, raining and snowing. My friend's gear got all wet and froze. The reason I was okay though with the 30 degree is because I was in a hammock with an underquilt. An underquilt adds a lot of warmth to your setup. So you can get away with a lot lighter sleeping bags when you have both.

I would look at getting a 20 degree sleeping bag if you're starting April 1st in Georgia. Any earlier than that you might want something a bit warmer, maybe down to 0 degrees. Remember you're going to be combining with an underquilt which is going to add a lot of warmth.

For hammock you're going to want one that's lightweight, strong and has a bug net attached to it. Hennessy Hammock Expedition series is well known Warbonnet & Grandtrunk is another hammock company to checkout. Currently two of my parachute nylon hammocks are from GrandTrunk and I have an underquilt from Warbonnet. these are pretty expensive but I prefer very lightweight and small underquilts because you need all the space you can get! I don't think I can recommend any of the underquilts on Amazon because they look too bulky and heavy! You really need to spend the most money on your backpack, hammock, sleeping bag, and underquilt. Sleeping bags are usually the most expensive piece of equipment in a thru hiking setup. Make sure you get a rainfly/tarp. And some stakes to keep the rainfly/tarp from flying away The Hennessy Hammock has everything you need. Including Tree straps which makes tying onto a tree a lot easier, and does less damage than ropes. Grandtrunk has good tree straps also.

There's going to be times when you're hiking that there aren't any trees to hammock from so you're going to sleep in a shelter. For the times this happens I recommend getting this sleeping pad.  NEMO Switchback Sleeping Pad When I did the Appalachian trail I actually used this Thermarest and I do recommend this one or the other Thermarest This ties onto the bottom of your backpack and you will rarely use it because you will be in a hammock about 90% of the time, but the times you need it will help give you a good night's rest.

Next important thing you will need is a water purification system. When you're hiking you will need to find water along the trail. Using tablets , or pump purifiers is a pain in the ass. Gravity fed water purifiers is what everyone does nowadays. Just scoop your water from a stream or waterfall. Hang it from a tree and in a few minutes you will have a couple liters of filtered water. Can't recommend the Platypus GravityWorks enough. When you're hiking you will be drinking 1.5-3 liters of water per day, and you will be using some of that for cooking also. I would normally carry about 2 liters sometimes more when I would fill up (you will know how much water you will need based on how many miles you're hiking and how hot it is. Having more than you need is always a good idea!). It's nice being able to hold up to 4 liters of water, but you really only need about 3 liters capacity.

For cooking I recommend a denature alcohol stove setup. Denatured alcohol is cheap and you can find it everywhere along the Appalachian trail. Every hiking store has it, random people will have it hiking, and hardware stores will have it. And it cost pennies to fill up your fuel supply. I'm a big fan of Vargo stoves. this is what I used and still use to this day. You're going to want a windscreen for it as well. As for denatured alcohol fuel storage Vargo does have these but they're a bit too small, you really need something that's about 3 times that size. You need a HDPE type bottle. Something like this would work

Now for your cooking pot, titanium is best because it's light and durable. I would get a 1000 ml pot or bigger just because you don't want to run out of space for cooking. You're going to be hungry so you want to make sure you can cook an entire pasta side with tuna or whatever is thrown in there. 1000 ml is about 4.2 cups of liquid/food it can hold. Vargo 1.3 liter titanium pot you can also fit a tea kettle or your stove, lighter and other stuff inside this pot for storage. Some people also like coffee mugs all I used was a pot, but if you're someone that needs coffee in the morning you might want to get a mug or kettle.

The only utensil you need is a long spoon Vargo Titanium Long-Handle Spoon these are great especially when you're eating a freeze dried bag meal it helps reach down into those bags to eat.

Now one important piece of gear that I don't want to overlook and that's a backpack rain cover. It doesnt really matter what type of backpack cover you get. Just make sure it has good reviews, its rip stop nylon and will fit your backpack. It should say how many cubic inches it will fit.

You're also going to want a waterproof bag for your food and a smaller waterproof bag for electronics. 20 liters should be enough for 3-5 days worth of hiking but if you eat a lot or want extra space just get the 35 liter to be safe. You can always add like granola bars anywhere since they have wrappers on them, so not everything needs to be in the waterproof bag. 

For everything else like your clothes, sleeping bag, underquilt I don't have waterproof bags for that. I use a grocery bag to separate clothes that are sweaty and damp with ones that aren't. (for the most part I have one hiking outfit and one sleeping outfit, no underwear. So 2 shirts, 2 shorts, 3 pairs of socks. A bandana I use for my towel, nothing heavier than this is needed to dry off believe it or not. Just air or sun dry. I also line the hiking bag with a trash compactor bag. At the bottom of the bag I stick my sleeping bag/underquilt into that trash compactor bag to protect it from water and my hammock inside of there. That trash compactor bag and backpack cover should be plenty to keep your bag dry. I’ve never had an issue with a wet sleeping bag using this method. Food usually sits in your waterproof bag outside and sometimes up in a tree (away from bears). So it's important to keep it protected from the elements.

You're going to want a way to keep your body warm. This is where layering comes into play. Your basic hiking outfit is a shirt/shorts. Ideally with antimicrobial properties, sun protection, quick drying, etc. But there are going to be cold mornings and cold nights. The first layer for warmth is called the wicking layer. This layer wicks sweat away from your body. You will need a top and bottoms for this. The next layer is the base layer. This is usually pants and long sleeves. Then is the insulation layer, this is usually a lightweight puffy jacket like a Patagonia or Marmot or Mountain Hardwear sweater jacket. Marmot Men's Lightweight, Water-Resistant Zeus Jacket, 700 Fill Power Down Make sure you compare how much things weigh and how bulkier they are. You want to really have as light as gear as you can find. I would probably get something like this

Here is an example of a base layer for legs, don't forget you need a top as well. 

Next you need a waterproof shell. I don't like thick sweaty Gore Tex rain jackets. They get really warm very quickly when you're hiking. The armpit zippers help, but still you're going to end up just taking it off when it's too hot. I would get something like this

Usually people mail their warmer clothes home when they reach Damascus, Virginia and have it sent back to them around September when they hit Vermont/New Hampshire. Just don't get caught on top of the mountain when it's cold with no warm gear.

Once you have your clothes situated you're going to want to pick up a trailbook. The best one is This is used for people that start hiking in Georgia heading North. If your heading South make sure you get a different one. Also these books are updated with new information every year so make sure you get the latest one. Amazon may not have the most updated copy so make sure!

Okay let's review so far we've covered, clothing, shelter, cooking, water, fue, shoes. As far as food goes you can just buy whatever you want at a grocery store along the way. Many hiking stores sell energy bars, trail mix and freeze dried foods. It's very easy to save a lot of money preparing your food and mailing it to all the addresses along the way. These are called supply drops at different hostels. They will hold onto your packages for you till you reach them. Some people like buying a lot of easy to cook pasta with some seasonings, etc. Snacks, dried meats, fruits, etc. I personally prefer just to shop and buy things as I go. It's more expensive this way but you never know what you're going to be hungry for on the trail. Vegans and vegetarians are going to have a harder time but there's plenty that have done it successfully. Most of the food I would eat would be tuna packets mixed with pasta sides. Pasta with some dried chorizo chopped up. I've even resorted to just eating a bag of beef jerky and a block of cheese. When you're hiking all day, fats are what hit the spot and keep you going. So nut butters, nutella, nuts/trail mix, candy bars. One of the best things I would make would be a tortilla with peanut butter or nutella, snickers bar and some gummy bears. Yes you will eat just about anything to get those thousands of calories you need each day.

Your hiking bag will be heaviest on the first day after resupply. But as the 5th day nears you will have less and less weight so you will be flying through the miles. Remember some food weighs more than others. One of the lightest and highest calorie foods is stuffing. You can never go wrong with stuffing. Cooks fast and taste good. I remember mixing that with some hamburger helper and some pepperoni or something I had and it was really good.

There's businesses that you can take a flight to near Springer Mountain in Georgia that will bring you to the start of the trailhead. You pay them like $100 and they pick you up from the bus stop or airport and let you stay overnight at their hostel.  You can also just get a hotel and find a shuttle service.

Now finally we talk about First Aid. Here is my recommended list of products and their uses:

  1. Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent (around June/July the mosquitoes are going to kill you at night. Make sure you got that bug net hammock or your life will be miserable. This helps a lot for when you have no protection from mosquitoes.
  2. Body Glide (this is used to prevent chafing, you can put it on your inner thighs or feet. This is a godsend and will make your life so much easier. Put it anywhere you might be chafing)
  3. Triple Antibiotic Cream (this is very helpful, especially healing chafing. Once I had really bad chafing in my butt crack. I wiped it with a rubbing alcohol wipe. ** that burnt like hell, but then I put the triple antibiotic cream on it and it was gone the next day!)
  4. Sterile Rubbing alcohol pads
  5. Toothbrush/Toothpaste/Floss
  6. Ibuprofen (after a long day of hiking sometimes you need this. This is why hammocks are great because your legs are elevated above your heart, so you heal really quick)
  7.  Duct Tape (this is to protect your feet and is a must have!)
  8.  Fingernail clipper
  9.  Zinc Oxide (this has a ton of uses and needs to be in your first aid kit!)

Now for extra supplies you might want to bring with you:

  1. Phone charger/battery
  2. Headlamp (this isn't optional it is needed, many times it will get dark and you will need it)
  3. Trekking Poles (makes hiking easier, some people don't use them)
  4. Razor blade or knife (you won't be chopping things often, maybe some rope/string or some pepperoni so pick what you need) 
  5. E-Reader (your going to be tired most of the time, so the last thing your going to want to do is read, but sometimes there is a lot of downtime, so if your a reader pick one up)
  6. Lighter (multiple just incase, keep in waterproof pouch)
  7. Stakes (this stakes your rainfly/tarp into place)
  8. Lightweight rope for raising your food bag up into the trees away from bears. (this can also be used as extra line for your rainfly, having multiple uses for the same item is how to stay very light! Like a bandana will dry you off, hold stuff for you, or keep the sun out of your face!)
  9.  Camp shoes/sandals/crocs  (Crocs are very popular on the trail, at least when I did it. Many would even hike in their Crocs to give their feet a break from their shoes) 

You don't need sunglasses while hiking, you're under a tree cover most of the time, and don't need sunscreen for the same reason. Wear a hat if you want but your head is going to be pretty warm, and sweaty. Hats are cool for when you're in town though. If your not a fan of the big hiking beard you can grab this: Philips Norelco OneBlade I use this at home and it gets the job done and it's small and lightweight. I also mentioned above you don't need a towel. If you want one of those micro quick drying towels get it. But space is very limited, so I recommend just using a bandana. Don't buy a solar charger, they don't work, and you're not going to be sitting around for hours waiting on a charge.

This is a lot of stuff you gotta fit in your bag. That's why a bigger bag is better, but it still needs to be lightweight. The backpack I recommended will fit all this stuff. The things that take up most of the room is your food, water, sleeping bag, hammock and underquilt. Bug net hammocks can be very bulky so you need to find one that is lightweight and durable. I don't recommend one without a bugnet. You can use a parachute nylon hammock and get a bug net attachment. You don't need a bugnet for the colder months till summer.

I think i've covered everything you need to know. Make sure you invest in a very lightweight and non bulky sleeping bag. That's the thing that takes up the most space besides food and water. You can always eat lighter food and carry less water. Clothes also take up a good chunk of the space. So minimizing that is good. You could skip the wicking layer and just get a good base layer. But you will need a pants shell to keep your legs warm for when it's really cold. Shorts that are also pants work out well for this, it's what I used. I used some Columbia pants/short combos. I wore my puffy sweater jacket a lot at night, especially up in the mountains where it's colder. All the way up to Maryland I was still wearing it and I started April 1st. I didn't have a bug net so by the time I hit Pennsylvania I was getting eaten alive. In New york I couldn't even hike and just had to take benadryl and heal my body.

I hope this guide helps you with your hike. There is a learning curve to thru hiking which mostly involves less is more. People tend to remove anything from their bag that's not needed. Extra straps are cut, etc. You wanted to try to stay under 35 pounds on a fully loaded day. 40 is okay but you want to eat some heavy food as soon as possible because that will load you down. I've come across some that had 40-60 pound bags. 60 pounds will kill you though after sometime. By the time most of my food is gone I will be down to around 20 pounds, less if my water is gone. Remember water weighs about 2.2 pounds per liter. And you're going to be carrying about 2 liters on average.