What NOT To Take on the Appalachian Trail
Leave This Gear and Clothing Behind on any Long-Distance Hike and Even Most Short Backpacking Trips
Well before I began my own A.T. thru-hike with 40 pounds on my back, including food for several days and a few liters of water, I was hearing stories of hikers who'd started up the approach trail to Springer Mountain and the first white blaze with packs weighing in excess of 75 and even 90 pounds.
I'd heard that many of those prospective thru-hikers had left the trail soon afterwards because it was just too difficult, while others sustained injuries from carrying too much weight. Of course, other hikers pared down their overweight backpacks and carried on, successfully making it more than 2,000 miles to Mt. Katahdin at the other end of the trail.
Regardless if you're aiming to be an ultralight backpacker or, like me, are comfortable with a "reasonably heavy" pack, don't take up precious room in your backpack or add to your pack weight with these unnecessary, extraneous, and possibly even risky items.
(And about that rocketpack pictured above ... if you really are interested in a beverage pack like this one and and other similar packs, see the bottom of this page.)
A Pack Weight Poll - Are you a kitchen sink carrier or do you go to the opposite extreme?
Which statement most accurately matches your backpacking philosophy?
My Suggestions for What NOT To Take on the A.T. (or other backpacking trips) and recommended gear too
A Humongous, Heavy Backpack
You really don't need all that room (or weight) on the Appalachian Trail
Okay, I know; you're going backpacking, so you NEED a backpack. And you're backpacking for a very long time over many, many miles. But, really, the main differences between what you need to carry for an overnight trip versus several days at a time on the trail are the amount of food, maybe some additional clothing, and, depending on availability where you're backpacking, the amount of water you might carry. But the other basic hiking essentials are usually very much the same.
So I'd advise against going with a pack that's much -- if at all -- larger than what you'd carry for a short trip. Think of an Appalachian Trail thru-hike or long-distance section hike as a series of short backpacking trips strung together. No need to carry one of those heavier, expedition-sized packs, like the Cuscus 75+10L pack (below). I'm not saying it isn't a good backpack, but at 5400ci and 5 pounds, I think it's really too much ... much more than you need for the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and many other long-distance treks.
A thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail is a journey, but not what I'd call an expedition. For an expedition, you'd need something like this....
A 5,400 cubic inch Cucus Backpack -- Too much pack for the A.T.
This Would Be a Better Choice for a Long-Distance Hike on the Appalachian Trail
There are so many choices out there when it comes to backpacks, not to mention other gear, so I'll just give you my two cents.
When I thru-hiked, I carried an external frame Kelty Tioga pack. It did the job, and it was very good for organizing gear with its multiple pockets, but I personally would never use an external again. (It squeaked, and the rigid frame got stuck too often on branches and rocks. It was also a bit wide.) These days, I prefer an internal frame Osprey pack for its quality, comfort, and features, including handy hip belt pockets. Like this one...
Leave the Deoderant Behind
Use that space for something tasty instead.
Sure, when you're at home or work or just wandering around in public, being stinky isn't really socially acceptable (unless maybe you're just home alone and don't mind your own stinkiness). But when you're out there backpacking the A.T., being stinky is the 'in' thing. Trust me! And, honestly, there's little you can do to avoid it.
Even my trail friend, Diamond Doug, who took a solar shower at the end of each day before putting on his signature Hawaiian shirt, got a bit ripe. And, yes, he actually carried a and felt the extra weight was worth it. solar shower bag
So face it, trying to mask said stinkiness with several swabs of deoderant just isn't going to work. It would be kind of like spraying perfume on dog poop.
Just take a bandana "bath" or use a wet wipe on your smelliest pieces. That's about the best you can do.
Shampoo and Conditioner Can Stay Home, Too
Some folks, both men and women, shave their heads when they're thru-hiking, but most, like me, prefer to leave their fuzz intact. I just braided my ponytail and left it that way until I got to the next trail town or other place where I could shower.
Most of the time, showers along the A.T. had at least shampoo, but even if they didn't, my hair felt so clean and soft when I washed it after several days on the trail. It's good to let those natural oils build up sometimes, and since many of us are in the habit of showering and washing our hair almost daily at home, the trail is a great place to get some life back in our dried out tresses.
Denim is Not a Hiker's Best Friend
On ANY trail
You've probably seen those photos from Appalachian Trail and other hiking books from the 70s and 80s, showing smiling hikers on sunny days wearing jeans. Maybe you've got photos of yourself wearing jeans while posing on a mountaintop with a pack on your back.
While that may have been the style at the time and considered appropriate material for the trail, I'd say it never was a very good fabric for backpacking, no matter how many times you may have worn denim pants while hiking. Denim is heavy. If it gets wet, it stays wet for a long time. And it chafes (in my experience, anyway).
See, I used to do it, too. This is me in 1988, hiking in the White Mountains in New Hampshire in jeans ... and in snow no less!
Try These Hiking Pants Instead - Go synthetic and go convertible
Perhaps you're still stuck on denim when you go for a hike. And on a short dayhike in nice weather ... sure, jeans (or "dungarees" as my parents would call them) may be fine. But if you're intending to go on a multi-day backpacking trip or an end-to-end hike on the Appalachian Trail, I'd recommend going synthetic. It's much lighter, weather and wind-resistant, and dries much more quickly than jeans.
Personally, I prefer zip-off pants, easily convertible to shorts if the weather warms up enough during the day on the trail. Convertible pants usually have zippers or drawstrings at the ankles, so you don't have to remove your shoes to remove the lower pant legs or put them back on. Many styles also have handy pockets on the thighs and/or hips for stashing small things (like an A.T. Data Book, a camera, or snacks for instance) you want to have easily at hand.
Cotton Isn't So Hot for Backpacking
Have you heard the expression "cotton kills"? Well, I can tell you that it's a true statement. I'm not only a hiker; I'm also a Search and Rescue volunteer, and I've found people deceased because they were unprepared for the conditions, including wearing cotton clothing that got wet and didn't dry, contributing to hypothermia.
Sure, natural is nice -- in this case, a natural fiber -- but that's not always the best choice of what's available. It's one thing if you're hiking in, say, the Grand Canyon in the middle of July and WANT to stay wet to help you cool down in the extreme heat of the day, but if you're in any other type of climate and/or don't have other clothing to change into should the cotton get wet (on purpose, from the rain, or from sweat), leave the cotton home. Even a cotton base layer can literally freeze. And wet cotton is heavy, so why carry the extra weight of that water around?
But don't just take my word for it. Read Why Does Cotton Kill? by "Section Hiker."
For the Hiking Trail, Go With Synthetic Instead
Capilene, polypropylene, nylon, polyester, kevlar -- synthetic fabrics have many different names, but they're all man-made products created through a chemical process. Generally, synthetics are great for hikers because they're light, have good wicking properties (making them great for base layers), and dry quickly. They can also be waterproof (ie. Gortex) and windproof.
Synthetics keep you warm when it's cold and cool when it's warm.
I almost always hike in synthetic tees. When it's warm, they wick the sweat away from my skin and dry quickly. If its chilly, they make a good wicking base layer. On the down side, synthetics seem to get stinkier faster than cotton and hold the stink longer, but, ah well, the birds and other critters don't seem to mind. (I'm afraid I can't say the same, though, for nice motorists who gave us hitch-hiking thru-hikers rides into town.)
Save the Heavy, Bulky Sleeping Bags for Car-Camping
And slumber parties
I'm not saying you need to spend a few hundred dollars on a super ultralight bag, but, for backpacking (be it for one night or many), definitely go for light synthetic or down instead of one of those heavy (often cotton) car-camping or slumber party sleeping bags. Just be sure to keep down fill dry.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but I've seen some "interesting" choices of sleeping bags lashed to people's backpacks, including a double bag like this one for a couple who was hiking together. I don't know, but after a few days on the trail, I can hardly stand being with myself in a sleeping bag let alone anyone else.
A Better Choice of Sleeping Bag for the Trail
This synthetic bag weighs 2 pounds, 14 ounces and packs down really well.
We All Love Our Pillows
But they're not very practical for backpacking
Hey, to each his or her own, and if you really want to carry a pillow -- one of those little (some of which are inflatable), I hope, and not a full-sized bed pillow -- then by all means, do so. You're doing the carrying, unless you plan to take a pack mule (where allowed) or pack man ... er, or woman. But I prefer to stuff my extra clothing into my sleeping bag stuff sack and use that as a pillow. You know, the "multi-use" thing. backpacking pillows
So Stuff a Stuff Sack Instead of Taking a Pillow
At the end of the day, pull your sleeping bag out of its stuff sack and replace it with your extra clothing and outer layers. I sometimes place a fleece or even just a large bandana over the stuff sack, so I can lay my head against a softer material than the smooth fabric of the stuff sack.
You can even put your emptied backpack under the stuffed stuff sack for extra lift if you're more comfortable that way.
Hatchets, Machetes or Over-the-Top Multi-Tools
There's no need for such tools on the Appalachian Trail
On my first night on the A.T., I saw a fellow backpacker trying to saw down a small tree because it was RIGHT where he wanted to put up his tent. Crazy, huh? And totally uncool. Needless to say, other hikers put a stop to that immediately, and the tree-cutter put his machete back in its holster. Not an appropriate "tool" for the trail.
Neither are big, heavy multi-tools with everything from bottle openers to screw drivers and seventeen different blades. Most anything you'll need to repair, open, pry, pick or punch a hole in while on the trail--any trail--can be accomplished with just a small number of implements. Some thru-hikers carried just a sharp knife rather than a multi-tool.
Definitely NOT the Right Tool for the Trail - Any trail, for that matter
But this is too funny ... AND expensive. Check this out....
Better Options for the Backpacker
I like this little Squirt. The Leatherman Squirt, that is. It's very small and very light, but it has everything I need for pretty much any little job or repair I've needed to make on the trail (any trail). I prefer the option with pliers as the main tool, which are handy for grabbing and pulling and twisting and turning.
With the keychain attachment, I can hang the Squirt from a lightweight carabiner on my pack along with other small things I want to keep handy.
Some backpackers prefer just a blade rather than a multi-tool, like this Gerber knife with a serrated edge.
Forego First Aid Kits That Could Treat a Family of Five for Five Months or So
That many medical supplies are not necessary on a thru-hike
Even if you ARE hiking with your family and carrying the first aid kit for the whole group, you really need just the basics along with any medications you may take. Me, I hiked the whole trail with just some band-aids, a little bit of Ibuprofin, a small tube of Neosporin, and some blister care items like Moleskin and Second Skin. Oh, and duct tape, which came in handy for covering "hot spots" and, if I did get a blister, keeping the blister care stuff in place.
While you may want or need a bit more of a first aid kit than I carried, you certainly don't need anything nearly as extensive as this one pictured here.
Smaller, Lighter First Aid Kits for Backpackers
Of course, you can put together your own first aid kit with one trip to the drugstore and without spending much money. And keep in mind that you'll be able to pick up some supplies along the way, if you run low on basic first aid items or find you want something you didn't include.
Or you can pick up one of these handy, lightweight, pre-packaged first aid kits.
No Need for a Big Ol' Mess Kit
At home we often use a plate for the main meal, a bowl or separate plate for salad, another little plate for dessert, not to mention different utensils. On the trail, though, all those items add up to additional weight and bulk.
When I hiked the A.T. as well as other trails, I had one cooking pot, which was also my plate and bowl, and one utensil -- a spork. I occasionally used the pot lid as another surface to construct and put down my bagel sandwich in between spoonfuls of soup. Or sometimes I just used a handy rock or my leg. To me, backpacking is partly about making do and improvising rather than carrying all kinds of extras. That's part of the fun, and I think it's cool how little we can get by with for long periods of time compared to all the stuff we use and have at hand at home.
What Else WILL You Want to Carry on the Appalachian Trail? - Here are some backpacking gear checklists you might follow, whether you're packing for a long-dista
My Backpacker's Cooking System These Days
When I hiked the Appalachian Trail, I started off using an MSR Whisperlite Stove and a single pot. Eventually, I traded that stove out for simple Esbit Fuel tablets and a pocket stove. These days, I usually backpack with a Jet Boil stove like the one pictured here, along with the 1-liter cooking vessel, which doubles as my mug.
This set-up is nice and compact, because the stove and the fuel canister fit inside the pot.
The cooking vessel clips to the burner for safety, and, as the name implies, the Jet Boil is fast. I've been really happy with mine.
You can buy various accessories to go with the Jet Boil system, including a larger cooking pot if you need one.
See product listing for price range depending on color choices and other options.
One Pot Can Do it All - Aluminum is lightweight, but if you're willing to spend a bit more, titanium is even lighter and more durable.
Read about Pack Man: The Appalachian Trail Guru who helps northbound thru-hikers pare down their pack weights at their first stop, Walasi-Yi at Neel's Gap.
If You Really DO Want a Backpack -- or rather "beer pack" -- Like This One....
You can take a look at this and other similar items (for real!) on Rocket-Packs.com, selling vending beverage drink dispensers for cold or hot drinks.
© 2012 Deb Kingsbury