food, water, and gear

What you carry with you on your hike depends on how far you're going, where, and when. Planning is key for a successful time on the Appalachian Trail (A.T.).

hiking-friendly foods

If you're out for the day or the weekend, you can probably pack whatever foods you like best, even fresh vegetables and fruits! But since these spoil quickly and are heavy due to their high water content, they're not good for extended backpacking trips.

Breakfast on the AT 


Instant oatmeal or grits, powdered milk and breakfast cereals that won't crush easily, and toaster pastries are quick favorites.

Lunch on the AT 


Crackers and cheese, tuna and chicken in foil packets, pita bread or bagels, and peanut butter are popular lunch options.

Dinner on the AT 


Dried foods ​like pasta that can be boiled and prepared on portable stoves are always good options. Tuna or chicken in foil pockets can add protein. Some instant foods require only that you boil water. Ramen noodles are inexpensive and lightweight and can either be cooked or eaten raw.

Snacks on the AT 


Carry lots of snacks, including things you can stow in your pockets and nibble while you're hiking. You'll have more energy if you snack often compared to if you eat ​only big meals. Energy bars or a mix of dried fruit, nuts, and chocolate bits work well.

Campfire Cooking on the AT 


Don't rely on building campfires. Not only are stoves more convenient and reliable in wet weather, their use minimizes your impact on the environment around you. In some areas, campfires are prohibited altogether.

Pack In Pack Out on the AT 

Pack In/Pack Out

​Be sure to pack out all your garbage, including items such as apple cores and orange peels. Don't burn garbage in a campfire; it rarely burns completely and will produce harmful fumes.

How much should you carry?

Backpacking burns a lot of energy. However, novice backpackers on the A.T. often make the mistake of carrying too much food. An overly heavy pack with excess food can take the fun out of backpacking. When deciding how much food to carry for your trip, keep these tips in mind.

  • ​Avoid canned foods or foods high in water weight.
  • 1.5 to 2 pounds per day is adequate in most circumstances if your food is high in calories.
  • In cold weather, when you need more calories to stay warm. Carry 2.5 pounds per day.
  • In winter or early spring, carry enough food for an extra day or two in case you are stranded by a snowstorm.
  • Many lightweight backpacking staples can be purchased at a grocery store. You need not rely on expensive, prepared "backpacking food" sold at camping stores, although these products can offer convenience and variety.
  • Dehydrating your own food can provide you with nutritious and lightweight meals and snacks, but is labor and time-intensive.

Resupply on the Trail

Resupply on the Trail

For longer trips you can either buy food along the way or mail it to yourself using a "drop box" or a "bounce box." Explore these options in the food resupply section of the thru-hiker portion of our website.

​gear needed for the trail

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 that you talk to an experienced hiker.

​Don't forget that some items can be shared with a partner to lighten the load!

Day Hiking Gear 

Day Hike

  • A map and compass (learn to use them first!)
  • Water (at least 1 quart, and 2 to 3 quarts 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

Longer Hikes Gear 

Longer Hikes

(Especially in remote or rugged terrain)

  • All day hike essentials listed to the left 
  • 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
Thru-Hiking Camping

Overnight Hikes

  • All essentials listed to the left
  • 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 feet of rope or cord to hang your food at night
  • Water filter or another method of treating water 

Clothing Considerations

Pack for the worst weather on the AT 

Hope for the best weather, but pack for the worst

Clothing to protect you from cold and rain is a must, even in midsummer and especially at higher elevations. Synthetic fabrics such as polypropylene and various acrylic blends as well as wool or silk help protect you against the dangers of hypothermia.

Avoid Wearing Cotton Clothing on the AT 

Avoid Cotton Clothes

This is particularly true 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.

Dress in Layers on the AT 

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. Since hiking will make you sweat, no matter the weather, shedding layers enables you to regulate your body temperature more effectively than choosing between keeping a heavy jacket on or taking it off.

Footwear on the AT


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. Remember, 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.

finding water on the trail

Water faucets, pumps, or spigots are rare. Reliable, natural water sources are listed in guidebooks, and springs and streams are marked on most official A.T. maps. Most, but not all, shelters are near a reliable water source. Some springs and streams dry up during late summer and early fall, so plan carefully.

Water Safety and Treatment

Water in the backcountry and in water sources along the Trail may be clear, cold and free-running, and may look, smell and taste good, but can still be contaminated by microorganisms, including Giardia lamblia and others that can cause diarrhea or stomach problems. Go here for detailed information on water treatment methods and their effectiveness in removing pathogens, as well as information on less common treatment methods that are not listed below.

Chlorine Iodine Water Cleaning 

Boiling Water

THE GOOD: The most certain treatment to destroy Giardia and Cryptosporidium is to bring water to a rolling boil for at least one minute. If you are above 6,562 feet, boil water for at  least three minutes. Boiling will also destroy other organisms causing waterborne diseases.

THE BAD: This method is time-consuming, requires additional fuel, and may affect the taste of water.

Water Filtering 

Portable Water Filters

THE GOOD: Filtration can be used as a pathogen reduction method against most microorganisms, depending on the pore size of the filter, amount of the contaminant, particle size of the contaminant, and charge of the contaminant particle. Use a filter that has been tested and rated by National Safety Foundation (NSF) Standard 53 or NSF Standard 58 for cyst and oocyst reduction (Absolute greater than or equal to 1.0 micron filter.)

THE BAD: Only filters that contain a chemical disinfectant matrix will be effective against some viruses.

Iodine, Chlorine or Chlorine Dioxide

THE GOOD: Disinfectant tablets or drops can be used as a pathogen reduction method against microorganisms.

THE BAD:​ Contact time, disinfectant concentration, water temperature, water cloudiness, PH, and other factors can impact the effectiveness of chemical disinfectants. The length of time and concentration of disinfectant varies by manufacturer and effectiveness of pathogen reduction depends on the product. These chemicals are either completely ineffective or at best, moderately effective at killing the protozoa Cryptosporidium.

​Combined Water Treatment

THE GOOD: If boiling water is not desired or possible, a combination of filtration and chemical disinfection is the most effective pathogen reduction method in drinking water for backcountry use. For short trips, take a supply of water from home or from other treated domestic sources.