Last summer I hiked over 1000 miles on the Appalachian Trail. Over those 1000 miles I was able to see what gear worked well and what didn’t. I can confidently say that my set up worked great for me. When I go to reattempt thru-hiking the AT, I will be carrying a very similar set up, if not the exact set-up you see here. My ultralight backpacking set up is light weight and minimalistic. I prioritized comfortability while hiking over comfort at camp. Not to say that I was uncomfortable at camp, however.
For a more detailed look at the weights, check out my Lighter Pack gear list: https://lighterpack.com/r/jrxupw
Learn more about my gear list by watching my YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OS0AWLpbLmc
The Big 3
Pack: Waymark Evlv 35L – Made of X-pack, a durable waterproof material that is also light weight, allowing the weight of the pack to be under a pound. I added a Nylofume pack liner inside the pack to provide extra protection from the rain to my clothes and sleep system, as well as a shoulder pocket to store my phone and some snacks. I started with a Hilltop Packs phone shoulder pocket but quickly switched to a Hyperlight Mountain Gear one with a zipper. This pack was the perfect size for my needs and was able to carry 4-5 days worth of food comfortably. This is an ultralight pack made for ultralight gear. I would not carry more than 25 lbs. total in this pack, and Waymark recommends having a sub 10 lb. base weight.
Tent: Zpacks Altaplex – Say what you will about Zpacks as a company or their pricing, but they make a damn good tent. The Altaplex is the largest one-person tent Zpacks makes. It is a trekking pole tent which requires one pole that can extend to 56-60". It requires at least 6 stakes and tension to hold it up. Zpacks claims that it can fit someone 6’ 6” comfortably. Being nowhere close to 6’ 6” myself, I found the tent to be very roomy, and comparable to some two-person tents. I went with the Altaplex over the Hexamid (now replaced with the Plex Solo) because the Altaplex has significantly more room for only 1.5 more ounces. When on trail, your tent becomes your home, and I wanted to make sure I had enough room to spread out and relax while inside my tent.
Sleeping Bag: I started the trail with my UGQ Bandit 20 degree quilt. Starting in early May this was the perfect temperature for Georgia and the Smokies. Roan Mountain in Tennessee was the last night I was glad to have a 20 degree quilt. Soon the summer heat was unbearable and the 20 degree quilt did nothing to help. While at a hostel I ordered a 40 degree Enigma quilt from Enlightened Equipment. After the worst night on trail at the Partnership Shelter (nobo mile 534.1) where it was too hot to be inside my quilt and I was being eaten alive by no-see-ums outside of it, I went into Troutdale to pick up my new quilt. The Enigma 40 degree worked fantastic for the remainder of my time on trail.
Sleep Set up
Sleeping Pad: Thermorest NeoAir X-lite – an all season, ultralight sleeping pad. This is the yellow inflatable sleeping pad you see in everyone’s gear videos. It is one of the most popular pads on trail and for good reason. This pad is insulated with an R value of 4.5 and only weighs 12.5 oz. It is very comfortable and is a quiet sleeping pad, unlike many other insulted pads. It has great durability, and I had no problems with it on trail.
Pillow: I started with a Trekkology pillow I got from amazon a few years ago that I had used on overnight trips in the past. After a few nights of use, it started to deflate during the night and I had to wake up to blow it up. When I got to the Natahala Outdoor Center, better known as the NOC, I bought a sea to summit Areos pillow, which I had for the rest of the trail and it worked great. It was more comfortable, stayed on my sleeping pad well, and stayed inflated throughout the night.
Clothing and Layers
Shoes: Altra Lone Peak 6 – Lightweight trail runners. A very popular shoe on trail, the Lone Peaks are Altra’s mid-cushion shoe. I had two pairs while on trail, getting a new pair while in Damascus, Virgina. I wasn’t thrilled with them and found that the cushion gets compressed very quickly. I started to develop pain in my heels and plantar fasciitis (although I may have had that before starting the trail). The back of the heel wore out and a hole formed, that started to cut the back of my heel. I also found that the MaxTrac tread sucks on wet rocks and wears out quickly. I did love how light they were and the extra roomy toe box. After my second pair of Lone Peaks, I switched to Altra’s Mount Blanc, another trail runner with more cushion and a Vibram sole with better grip. The material used on the Mount Blancs is not as durable as the lone peaks, making them lighter at 9.9 oz. I never had any issues with holes forming in my shoes, it was the cushion and tread that wore out first, so the thinner material works well for me.
Shorts (x2): Patagonia Strider Pro 5” shorts – I carried two pairs of the shorts throughout my hike. I cut the liner out of one pair. I ended up buying another pair in a smaller size after I lost some weight and cut the liner out of that pair too.
Shirt: Outdoor Research Echo t-shirt – Outdoor research claims that it is the lightest weight hiking shirt on the market, and I was very happy with mine. For being so light weight, it does not lack in durability. I had no issues with my shirt, and it was not unbearably hot as many other shirts can be.
Rain Jacket: Eastern Mountain Sports Thunderhead Jacket – I got this rain jacket nearly 5 years ago and it has been great the whole time. It kept me dry from the rain on trail, but I didn’t use it often as it was hot enough to just walk through the rain and get soaked. The jacket does have pit zips but still traps in a lot of heat, especially on humid days. It also has waist and hood cinches to tighten the jacket and keep the rain from sneaking in.
Puffy Jacket: Enlightened Equipment Torrid Apex – A synthetic puffy jacket, not as warm as some down jackets but would do well in the bubble season of the AT. I used my puffy once in the smokies before getting off but wore it plenty of times in camp when I did the 100-mile wilderness in October with my girlfriend as she was finishing her journey. The benefit of it being synthetic is that it still has some insulting value when wet, unlike down. However, down is probably the way to go as it is typically lighter, or warmer for the same weight.
Socks (x2): Darn Tough – Ankle height, light cushion socks. I am not sure the exact model, but I have been wearing the same pair for nearly 3 years of hiking and I haven’t had any issues with them. Darn Tough also has a lifetime guarantee and will replace your socks at any point.
Wool Long Sleeve Shirt: Smart Wool 250 Merino Wool Base Layer – A great shirt for hiking in cold weather. The merino wool is antimicrobial, meaning it takes longer to start to smell, and keeps some of its insulating properties when wet. I have used just this shirt for hiking down to the 30’s (degrees) and it has kept me warm. On the AT in May I used it more as a shirt to sleep in, as my quilt would often expose my upper half when I moved during the night. It is a comfortable and cozy shirt. I sent it home when the weather got warmer.
Headlamp: Nite Core NU25 Headlamp – a popular ultralight rechargeable headlamp. I was very happy with it and would not do a long hike without a rechargeable headlamp. It makes it much easier for me to keep it charged than to have to carry extra batteries and switch them out.
Power Bank: Rav Power P100D 15000 mAh- Light weight and compact this was a great power bank for me. The 15000 mAh capacity was enough to charge my phone 5 times, not that I ever needed that much power. It was reassuring to know I had enough power for close to 10 days and could share with other people when they ran out. The p100d has a screen to show the battery percentage which I like much better than most that show it as 4 or 5 dots that light up. The new model is now more compact and lightweight than before at 9.9 oz. The downside being it only has one usb-A port rather than two, like the model I had. It does still have a usb-C port, which is an input and output for the battery.
Phone: iPhone XS – A phone is a great resource on trail. It is a safety device, allowing you to communicate between your tramily, your family, and your friends back home. It is also your guidebook and camera. I used my phone with the FarOut App as a guidebook and map. The FarOut app has interactive features showing you water sources and camp sites and has comments from other users to let you know recent details, like if the water source is dry. I also used it to take a lot of photos, and to post on this blog. You can read about my time on trail in the Hippie on the AT tab.
SOS Satellite Communicator: Garmin Inreach Mini – A SOS device is a comforting thing to have. It’s something you hope to never use, but have just in case. Not only was it an SOS communicator, but it also allowed me to send text messages through satellite when I had no cell service. This allowed me to keep in touch with my very worried parents, and even got me and my girlfriend a ride into town when there was no cell service and we couldn’t get a hitch.
Watch: Garmin Instinct – I was never much of a watch guy, but it was nice to know the time on trail without having to get my phone out. When you are in the green tunnel it is hard to tell how much daylight you have left. It also allowed me to check notifications on my phone, track the active calories I was burning (I should have paid more attention to that), and check the weather. I could pause and play music, check the elevation we were at (more fun than useful), and keep track of what day it was. Any watch will work, it doesn’t have to be a fancy one.
Med Kit: While on trail my med kit changed a lot. I started with my allergy medication, some Advil, a lighter with some leuko tape wrapped around it, and a safety pin. A heavy downpour soaked through what I thought to be a waterproof bag that I kept my med kit supplies in. I had to throw away the safety pin that was now rusty, and the leuko tape. After throwing up at Uncle Johnny’s hostel in Tennesse I picked up some Tums. Thankfully I didn’t have a single blister on trail, so I had no need for moleskin or leuko tape.
Trowel: Duece of Spades Trowel – Very light weight and easier to dig with than a stick or your foot, especially when you are in a hurry. Make sure to practice good Leave No Trace ethics!
Water Filter: Katadyn Be Free – Similar to the Sawyer Squeeze, the Be Free is a hollow fiber filtration system. It comes with a soft water bottle, in 0.6L, 1L, or 2L sizes, that allows you to easily collect water and squeeze it through the filter. The flow rate is much faster than the Sawyer Squeeze, however the filter doesn’t last as long. Katadyn states that it can filter 1000L, which is plenty to see you to the end of a thru-hike. The Be Free is light weight and compact. I went with it over the Sawyer because of the soft water bottle it comes with, allowing for an additional 1L of water storage.
Tent Pole: 60” Zpacks Carbon Finer Tent Pole – In order to properly set up my Zpacks Altaplex tent, I needed a pole that was between 56-60". I did not hike with any trekking poles, so I got Zpack’s tent pole. It is super lightweight at 3.9 oz and was easy to throw in a side pocket with my water bottle.
Stakes: MSR Ground Hog Mini & Big Agnes Stakes – I used a combination of 3 MSR Ground Hog Mini stakes for the 3 main guy lines holding up my tent. I used an additional 7 Big Agnes stakes that came with my Big Agnes Fly Creek tent. The MSR stakes are a bit heavier and more robust than the Big Agnes stakes. The Altapelx takes a minimum of 5-6 stakes to set it up, but you need 10 to get the most room out of the tent.
Food Bag: LiteAF medium sized food bag – A lightweight dyneema role top bag. This bag was the perfect size for me on the AT. I was able to fit 5 days of food and even with the heavy ressuply, the lightweight dyneema never had an issue. It was great for bear hangs with a handle for an easy spot to tie your rope and it is waterproof, so you don’t need to worry about hanging it in the rain.
Water Bottles: 1L Smartwater bottles – I started the trail with one bottle and had no problem with only 2L of water capacity (including my 1L Be Free Filter) until Virginia. Before VA I would care 1L max to save on weight. With plentiful water sources through Georgia, Tennesse and North Carolina, this was not an issue. Once in Virginia, I hit a drought and started to carry two bottles. Miles between water sources were increasing and some sources were drying up. It was especially helpful to have the increased water capacity when dry camping.
Cooking: Cold Soaking & Snow Peak Stove – I cold soaked for the first 700 miles of the AT. I had cold ramen for dinner every night and occasionally cold oatmeal with an instant breakfast drink mixed in. It was not good and not worth saving the few oz a stove would add. The food was not appetizing, and I was not eating enough, which caused me to get off trail. While in Daleville I picked up a stove, the Snow Peak Litemax. It was a piece of garbage. I have a BRS stove I got on Amazon, which is basically an MSR knock off, and it does great. The BRS stove is the lightest weight one I have seen and cost me about $15. A stove is worth the weight and a tasty dinner at the end of a long day of hiking can make all the difference.
Hopefully my gear list can give you some insight into what may work for you on the AT, but at the end of the day what works for one person might not work for everyone.
If you are preparing for a hike on the AT, I would love to hear about your gear list in the comments!