If you're thinking of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, or AT, one of the first things you'll need to do is start stocking up on gear. There are a lot of little items that you'll need, from a natural gas canister for your grill to comfortable clothing. However, for most thru-hikers, it's important to focus most of your attention on the "big three." These are items that you'll use every single day as a hiker. You don't want to skimp out on them, and they'll be expensive to replace if you don't buy the right one the first time. Here's a look.
Even though there are a few back-country shelters along the trail, on most nights, you'll need to provide your own shelter. Some minimalist backpackers choose to sleep in hammocks, but unless you're particularly experienced in sleeping under the stars safely, your best bet is a tent. Make sure you look for one that is:
- Lightweight. (You'll need to carry your tent from start to finish).
- Backed by a great warranty. (Though you hope to never have to use the warranty, this is a sign of a great product that's less likely to break on you.)
Your Sleeping Bag
There are bound to be a few freezing nights on your thru hike, especially up in the mountains and early in the spring, when most hikers start. Look for a sleeping bag that's rated for temperatures as low as 15 degrees F, just in case. Synthetic sleeping bags tend to be lighter than down bags, so they're a common choice among serious backpackers. If you have the money in your budget, spring for a waterproof bag—but know this is not absolutely essential if your tent is fully waterproof.
The most important thing to look for in a pack is that it's comfortable! Visit a store to try out bags rather than ordering them online. This way, you can try on several different brands and models and purchase the one that's most comfortable to you. After a few days on the trail, a bag that rubs or rides up even a little can cause serious irritation. Also, make sure that your bag is lightweight, spacious enough for all of your gear, and waterproof. For most hikers, anything in the 45–60 liter range is ideal.
Once you have these three items, you can start shopping for the smaller things, like clothing, footwear, and a water bottle. Talk to a company that sells camping and hiking equipment, like Peace Surplus, to learn more.