You’ll cross varying forms of terrain and seasons along the way, and it’s important to be prepared for whatever crosses your path. Pack too much and you risk injury from a heavy pack; pack too little and you risk putting yourself in danger from unpreparedness. Here’s what you’ll need to budget for to embark on this epic journey.
The right shelter
Shelter is one of the most important aspects of any hike. The Appalachian Trail is home to over 250 backcountry shelters for hikers to use as refuge along the way. The problem is, these shelters are first come, first served. Do not count on them being available. Depending on when you start your hike, you’re going to be facing blistering heat or biting frost. A down or synthetic-down sleeping bag is a great asset and often necessary, as is a tent or hammock. Many hikers choose to sleep in hammocks the entire time—if you choose to do the same, invest in one that comes equipped with a rain tarp.
Many of the shelters along the way have wood floors, so you’d do well to buy a sleeping pad to soften the blow, too.
Cooking supplies and food
Unsurprisingly, when traveling more than 2000 miles, you’re going to get hungry. The two main ways hikers satisfy their hunger are by cooking on the trail itself, or heading into a nearby town for a hefty boost of carbohydrates. Be prepared to be adaptable when it comes to how, where and when you eat. Your next meal could be food you cook while camping, a meal at a bar or Chinese buffet, or even a few things from a convenience store. You’ll need to get comfortable with the idea that you’ll be eating whenever you have the chance, and that it might not always be the best quality! What matters most is getting calories into your body so you can continue the hike. Don’t scrimp on this expense.
No matter the season, rain is a constant factor along the trail. It happens often and you’re not going to want to stop for days to wait it out. You need a pack cover for your gear, and a rain or wind shell for your body. Regardless of what you choose to pack, get used to the idea of being wet—many spots along the trail are famous for setting records for rainfall.
A good pack
The East Coast is densely packed, and the Appalachian Trail is never too far from a town. Luckily, this means you can afford to pack lighter than you might on a trail out west. A 30-40 liter pack is the best option, though you shouldn’t need more than a 40L if you’re willing to step off trail more often for supplies.
Portable water purifier
Carrying a way to purify water is a necessary item for anyone hiking the AT. Hikers will often find themselves high and dry between towns, and will need to carry a water purification system in case they need to fill up from a creek, river, or lake. Most hikers choose a pump filters, while others prefer “gravity” systems, which don’t require pumping and are extremely lightweight. Water purification drops work well (if you don’t need to filter out grit) and are only around $15 for a pack, so pack these as a back up.
Waterproof stuff sacks
Did we mention it rains a lot on the East Coast? It might not be Pacific Northwest levels of wet, but the stuff pours from the sky on a regular basis and can last for days at a time. You’ll need a good number of stuff sacks: one for clothes, one for your sleeping bag, and a few spare; you never know when they’ll come in handy.
Having a reliable guidebook on the Appalachian Trail isn’t optional, it’s a must. You need it for planning your next rest stop, to know which town to mail your bounce box to in case you have an accident, and to know how far away your food and water sources are at all times if you run out. The A.T Guide by David Miller is a great option, and has just been updated for 2016.
Special thanks to Simple’s Director of Data Max, who provided photos from his Appalachian Trail adventure for this piece.
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