What you need to carry depends on how far you're going, where, and when. New equipment for even an overnight hike can easily run $1,000 to $2,000 or more. However, some backpacking stores offer gear rental, and notices for used equipment are often posted on A.T.-related discussion forums.
What should I carry? Packing for a day-hike is relatively simple. You should have:
On longer hikes, especially in remote or rugged terrain, add:
- A map and compass (learn to use them first!)
- Water (at least 1 quart, and 2–3 on longer hikes in hot weather)
- Warm clothing, rain gear, and a hat
- Food (including extra high-energy snacks)
- A trowel for burying human waste and toilet paper
- A first-aid kit with blister treatments
- A whistle (three blasts is the international signal for help)
- A Garbage bag to carry out trash
- Sunglasses and sunscreen—especially when leaf cover is gone
- A Blaze-orange vest or hat during hunting season
- A flashlight with extra batteries and bulb
- A heavy-duty garbage bag to use as an emergency tarp or to insulate a hypothermia victim
- A Sharp knife
- A Fire starter, such as a candle, and waterproof matches
If you're backpacking and plan to camp out, we suggest you consult a good "how-to" book for details about what to carry, or talk to an experienced hiker. Most A.T. backpackers carry the following items, in addition to the day-hike checklist above and some method of treating water. Some items can be shared with a partner to lighten the load.
- Shelter, such as a tent or tarp
- A lightweight pot and cooking utensils
- A stove and fuel
- Medium-sized backpack (big "expedition–size" packs are usually overkill)
- A pack cover or plastic bag for rainy weather
- A sleeping pad to insulate you from the cold ground
- A sleeping bag of appropriate warmth for the season
- Additional food and clothing
- 50’ of rope or cord to hang your food at night
- Water filter or another method of treating water
Remember that renting gear or buying used equipment are low-cost options when you're first starting out.
What kind of clothing do I need?
Hope for the best weather, pack for the worst. Clothing to protect you from cold and rain is a must, even in midsummer and especially at higher elevations. Avoid cotton clothes, particularly in chilly, rainy weather, which can strike the mountains at any time of year. Wet cotton can be worse than nothing and can contribute to hypothermia, a potentially fatal threat. Synthetic fabrics such as polypropylene and various acrylic blends as well as wool or silk will help protect you against the dangers of hypothermia. Layer your clothes—a “polypro” shirt, synthetic fleece, and a coated nylon or “breathable” waterproof outer shell will keep you both warmer and drier than a single heavy overcoat in cold, damp weather.
Remember, hiking will make you sweat, no matter the weather. Shedding thin layers enables you to regulate your body temperature more effectively than choosing between keeping a heavy jacket on or taking it off.
What kind of footwear do I need?
The most important thing is that shoes fit well and are broken-in. Nothing spoils the fun or ends a hike quicker than blistered feet. On a day-hike, broken-in tennis shoes can be a better choice than brand-new boots. When carrying a backpack or hiking on rocky terrain, more substantial hiking shoes or boots may be desirable, but some hikers walk the entire A.T. in running shoes or cross-trainers. The heavier your pack, the more substantial a shoe you will need. Shop for boots in the afternoon as feet swell throughout the day. Thru-hikers can expect their feet to expand over the course of their hike, so if between sizes, choose the larger size.