AT Equipment – Supply Suggestions

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  • Start planning your hike well in advance. Many thru hikers start planning 9 months to a year ahead of their intended departure date.  Of course there are those adventurous souls like me who decide to hike at the last-minute and just “wing it”. 😉 This is not the recommended approach to a thru hike BTW.  Make a list of what items you believe will be needed during your hike. There’s a “shopping” list posted below. You probably will not want every item on the list, and may think of a few things not listed, so customize it to fit your own needs. Keep something with you to write on while you do your “normal” grocery shopping, riding in the car, etc. so when something pops into your mind that you would like to take on your hike you can jot it down. Watch the sale papers. At least a few of the items you will want to take with you are likely to be placed on sale if you start planning far enough in advance, especially clothing and non-prescription medicines.
  • Save manufacturer coupons for things you will want to buy now AND while on the trail. Any coupons not used now can be divided up and placed in your Mail Drop packages. You’ll appreciate the savings while hiking, especially when it comes to treats like ice cream!
  • Consider purchasing the lightest, yet durable, version of non-food items you can afford. Every ounce, and especially every pound, saved will make a big difference in how enjoyable your hike will be. Unless there is something you absolutely positively can not live without NEVER carry canned goods or bottled liquids other than stove fuel. They are heavy, bulky, and extremely difficult to properly dispose of on the trail, and you certainly do not want to be lugging empty cans or bottles along with you until you reach a trash can or disposal site. Garbage disposal sites are few and far between on the AT, especially after the governmental funding cuts several years ago.
  • When considering/purchasing food items, including flavored drink powders, go for as wide of a variety as your personal tastes will allow, especially if planning a thru hike. Don’t forget nutritionally sound foods/drinks that contain carbohydrates and sodium. Energy and food bars are a great supplement to an otherwise well-rounded diet. Foods such as Ramen® Noodles are good occasionally but you will soon find they do not have the nutritional ability to keep you strong and healthy over a long period of time, plus they typically have extremely high sodium levels. You need sodium but extremely high levels are as harmful, if not more so, than not having enough. Choosing a wide variety of items will lessen the chance of you growing tired of eating/drinking the same thing over and over again for weeks, or months, at a time. As the old saying goes, “Variety is the spice of life”. This holds true especially when hiking mile after mile for days at a time with only the food in your backpack to choose from. There are no fast food restaurants on the side of the trail every few miles like you would find in the city.

 Shopping List

As stated above, you probably will not want every item on this list, and may think of a few things not listed, so customize it to your own needs. Some of the items you should consider are:

  • Map(s) and/or Trail guides – A must have for every hiker. If you can afford to do so, purchase waterproof or water repellant versions. You can also apply waterproofing yourself and save a few bucks. In my experience, AquaSeal® works best and allows the documents to remain flexible and able to be written on.
  • Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) –   These are personal safety devices that are designed to summon aid in an emergency. Many can also be used to simply let friends or family know where you are and that you are safe. When you activate one it transmits a coded message on the 406 MHz distress frequency which is monitored by the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite system. This alert is automatically relayed to the nearest Rescue Coordination Center (RCC). These PLBs use an internal GPS receiver to pinpoint your location to within 62m no matter how remote a location you are in. Once they are in your general area, rescuers are then able to pinpoint your precise location using the built-in 121.5Mhz homing transmitter. These devices are subscription-free, so once you purchase one there are no other fees involved.  A good review of the top four devices can be found on the “Outdoor Gear Lab” website.
  • Backpack with water-repellent / waterproof cover. – Choose one that fits you well and is not larger than necessary for the way you plan to hike.  A “tummy strap” makes a lot of difference when using medium to large backpacks.  The higher quality backpacks come with these.
  • Bear bag – When I first started hiking a bear bag was any closable bag capable of holding your food and aromatics which could be attached to a rope and suspended from a high tree limb in order to dissuade a bear from taking your food, or attacking you for it. That definition has now changed. A bear bag is now described as a soft sided bear-resistant storage container usually made from ballistic nylon. These have had debatable success in keeping a bear out of a hikers food but are much better than just putting food and aromatics in a nylon sack and tossing it over a tree limb.
  • Bear canister – A “bear proof” canister designed to keep your food and aromatic items safe from bears. Click HERE  to read an interesting article about these. A good article for comparing different brands and models can be found HERE.
  • Cord or rope – Primarily for hanging “Bear Bags”. Also comes in handy for other things.  I recommend Paracord for this because of its many other uses.
  • Tent or “jungle” hammock – Not required but can come in handy if a shelter is full. If you prefer a tent, choose one that meets your needs without being overly large. You certainly should not need a large family size tent. I saw one of these near Springer Mountain with a note on it saying it was free for the taking. I’m sure they quickly learned their error on the Approach Trail. A one man tent with a vestibule for your backpack, or a two-man tent for couples, should suffice. In case it matters to you… there has been a definite trend among hikers to choose hammocks over tents, however some people are just not made for hammocks, or is it the other way around? 😉 FYI – A jungle hammock is loosely defined as a hammock that has a rain-resistant/rain-proof top and closable mosquito netting for sides. There are many styles available, but the photo below will give you an idea of what I’m talking about.
    Jungle Hammock

    Jungle Hammock

     

  • Tent seam sealer and patches – There are few things worse than a leaking tent in the middle of the night so be prepared just in case.  See “Boot/shoe waterproofing” below.
  • Sleeping bag(s) – Appropriately rated for the season(s) you will encounter while on the trail. Depending upon how long you will be hiking you may need a summer bag and an extreme cold bag.  If your bag has a marginal rating there are several good interior liners that will add another ten or so degrees to its rating.  They are easy to install / remove, and in some cases can serve as a light-weight blanket or “throw” when you do not need an actual sleeping bag. The two I primarily use are “30 degree” rated and “0 degree” rated. I also have a lightweight “summer” bag without a stated rating. Other temperature ratings may work better for you. For some reasons these ratings vary from manufacturer to manufacturer so check the manufacturer websites to see how they come up with their ratings. Also check reviews and/or tests in hiking/sports magazines such as Backpacker Magazine®.
  • Sleeping pad – Foam or inflatable. Not required but can make all the difference in the world for a good nights’ sleep, especially if you are not accustomed to sleeping outside.
  • Ground cloth – Usually 3 mil or 6 mil plastic sheeting or even a piece of Tyvek® house wrap that has been run through the washing machine a couple of times WITHOUT detergent to soften it. A number of hikers use large windshield sunscreens under their sleeping bags to add another layer of insulation between them and cold ground. I’m told the aluminum-type reflective layer also reflects the cold back toward the ground or when turned around reflects body heat back toward you. The reflective surface of a sunscreen could be useful to signal search planes during the day in an emergency situation. Tip: A CD/DVD works great for daytime signaling also. Just look through the hole in the middle at what you want to signal and wiggle the disk up and down slightly. Ground cloths are especially helpful in keeping your sleeping bag and/or the bottom of your tent dry when sleeping outside of a shelter. Regardless of your choice of a ground cloth it does not matter how dry the ground feels.  There will probably be a significant amount of condensation or dew form under you overnight.
  • Water bladder or bottles – Water bladders that fit into, or attach onto, backpacks are probably the most popular way of transporting water now, however I still prefer using individual plastic bottles. For me, mixing Gatorade® or flavoring is easier in a bottle. Bottles are also easier to clean/sanitize than bladders and hoses, especially after having water with “additives” in them.  This is discussed further down this page by the “tip” found in the “Sports-drink powder(s)” section.
  • Cook-stove and fuel – Many varieties of fuel are available including compressed, liquid, and solid such as ESBIT®, my personal favorite. There is also a wide variety of stoves that use these fuels. Visit the following links for comparison information: Backpacking Guide.com®, PMAGS®, and REI® Expert Advice. I recommend a visit to your local outfitter to compare what is available first-hand before deciding.
  • Cooking utensils – Pots, pans, cups, cutlery, etc. Titanium is the lightest and longest lasting but most expensive. Lexan® (a plastic) cutlery is less expensive, holds up well, and is easy to clean. It is also the most popular amongst ultralight hikers. Lexan® is considered “indestructible”. I’ve used Lexan® utensils for a long time and have never experienced a problem with any of them.
  • Matches and/or a fire starter of your choice – Avoid liquids. Several cream and solid styles of fire starters are available. Magnesium “survival” sticks, when used properly, will get a fire going even with wet kindling and wood since Magnesium burns at approximately 5,600 degrees F (3,100 degrees C). One tool will start several hundred fires.
  • Clothing – Winter and summer if you are thru-hiking. Do Not forget about under garments (including thermals) and socks, self-wicking if possible. Also remember gloves and something for your head! Two of the highest heat loss areas are your head and feet.  Keep both of these warm and you’ll feel much better in frigid weather. While hiking in the winter a heavy coat is not the best choice. Layering with lighter garments (sweater/sweat shirt/ sweat-suit, light jacket, wind breaker, etc.) gives you more flexibility in controlling your comfort, and usually ends up being easier to pack than a winter parka and/or ski-suit.
    Rain gear – Preferably breathable, durable, and light weight. Ponchos and large trash bags are NOT a good choice.
  • Boots/shoes – Do not go cheap here. Invest in quality foot wear. You will almost certainly go through at least two more pairs than the ones you start out with if doing a thru hike. If you can catch them on sale it will save you a lot of money in the long run. Shoes and boots do not come cheap if you have to buy them at an outfitter in a trail town so put the extras on your “when I ask for it” list, then ask for them to be sent before the ones you are wearing become completely worn out.
  • Boot/shoe waterproofing. – Most hiking boots are waterproof, however some of the less expensive brands are simply “waterproofed” by an oil or wax additive, not by a waterproof membrane sewn inside the layers. Shoes are seldom, if ever, sold waterproof. Nothing except waders will keep your feet dry if you step into deep water, but for everyday use through wet grass or leaves, heavy dew, rain, snow, etc. waterproofing will add immeasurable comfort to your feet. Nobody wants to hike with soggy foot gear, especially when it can be avoided.  In my experience, Sno-Seal® works the best and is very long-lasting.
  • Hiking pole(s) – Very helpful when climbing/descending the many hills and mountains on the AT, especially if you have knee problems. Also useful when going through mud…. or for poking the fire. 😉
  • Yak-Trax® or other boot/shoe mounted traction aid – Useful not only in snow/ice but also in mud or thick layers of wet leaves after a heavy rain.
  • Snow shoes – Not a typical accessory for hikers but are being used in increasing numbers by early and late season hikers who encounter heavy snow.
  • Flashlight or head-mounted light – Using a head-mounted light frees your hands for other tasks and the light is always pointed in the direction you are looking. If you already have a flashlight you should consider replacing the original bulb with an LED or Halogen bulb. Both are more durable, longer lasting, and consume less power than traditional bulbs.
  • Batteries – No need to explain these. I usually pack 1 (one) spare set for whatever I’m carrying that requires them, then once those are placed into the device I replace the spare set at the next opportunity.
  • Shelf-stable food – Meals and snacks typically dehydrated at home or commercially freeze-dried.
  • Corn or Flour Tortillas – Will not get crushed like bread and makes a good bread substitute. Corn tortillas seem to stay edible longer than flour ones. Both types will last longer if never refrigerated.
  • Condiments/spices – Salt, Pepper, Garlic, Chili Powder, Italian Seasoning, Etc. Some sporting goods departments carry small multi-packs of assorted condiments & spices. These multi-packs are a little heavier than individual packets but more convenient.
  • Sports-drink powder(s) – Gatorade® or your favorite drink that will replenish electrolytes, sodium, and carbohydrates. Your body WILL use these up, even during winter hiking. Replenish them. Tip: I divide these up into single-use sizes using snack size pressure-seal bags, then just snip off one corner to pour into my water bottle. It’s much easier than carrying a full container, and not messy like trying to measure out the right amount each time you want to add it to your water.
  • Vitamin supplements with minerals – Helps keep the necessary nutrients in your body while on a diet of freeze-dried foods, Ramen® Noodles, etc. Even the best vitamin supplements are NOT a substitute for having a well-rounded diet, even on the trail.
  • Toiletries – Tooth brush, tooth paste, toilet paper, soap, personal hygiene items, ear swabs, etc. Tip: When packing toilet paper remove the cardboard center, smash the roll, then place it in a pressure-seal bag.  I like to double-bag mine “just in case”.  A couple of other options are to go to your local Military Surplus and purchase the small packets of toilet paper that go into MREs or pick up a few packages of the “camping” toilet paper found in sporting goods stores or discount centers.  The later comes in bulky plastic containers so you will want to repackage them into a pressure-seal bag or two.
  • Medications – Both prescription and “OTC” items such as aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, allergy relief, eye drops.
  • Sewing kit, compact – One of those things you “don’t need until it’s needed”. Necessary to replace buttons that pop off, repair torn clothing, tents, or sleeping bags.
  • First-Aid items – A few of the items needed are: Assorted size bandages – both adhesive and cotton, gauze, hypoallergenic tape, antiseptic cream/ointment, small scissors, needles, sting relief pads, liniment for sore muscles/strains, non-latex gloves, “Ace”® bandage(s).
  • Film & canister/mailer – If you are not using a digital / disposable camera or your I-phone / Tablet to document your hike.
  • Reading materials – On paper, Kindle®, or in Tablet format.
  • Writing supplies – Pen/pencil, paper, envelopes, stamps. Who knows? You may want to write home or to that Significant Other you left behind. 😉 Also comes in handy for keeping a written journal or making notes about any number of things.
  • Double-seal FREEZER bags in quart and/or gallon sizes – Use to pack food items for your Drop Boxes and/or to keep moisture-sensitive items (such as clothing or electronics) dry in case your backpack gets soaked. Accidents and sudden downpours happen, waterproof covers get removed during rain to get things out of the backpack. The pressure-seal bags usually open wider and seal better than the newer zipper-style bags. The tops (seals) are also oriented differently. Freezer rated bags are sturdier and less prone to being punctured or torn than storage rated bags. I always carry one or two extras “just in case”.
  • Single-seal sandwich and snack-sized bags. Pressure-seal type. You will discover the pressure-seal (not fold-over) style bags will come in handy for more things than storing food and powder(s). A couple of empty bags placed in each Drop Box should be sufficient for any extra needs. If you find you are not using them it is quite likely another hiker would be glad to take them off your hands.

 

 

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