AT Gear List
First completed in 1937, today's Appalachian Trail (A.T.) passes through 14 states and dozens of federal, state and local parks and forests along the way. Most thru-hikers finish the Appalachian Trail in five to seven months, although record holders have completed it in under two. Our advice comes courtesy of REI Knoxville camp/climb specialist Tim Bird, who thru hiked in 2014 and teaches classes and hosts forums for aspiring A.T. hikers.
Many factors will influence your gear planning and preparation, including the time of year you start your trip, direction you travel and length of time it takes for you to finish the trail.
Terrain: The A.T. wends its way through stark wilderness and crosses more than 500 public roads. Terrain ranges from forest paths to precipitous scrambles.
Weather: Conditions for thru hikers vary from the possibility of snow flurries in spring and fall to the sweltering heat of summer.
Route planning: The north-to-south route kicks off with a grueling ascent of Mount Katahdin, where the trail can be closed by snow until late June. Black flies and swollen creeks greet you at the start, while snow in the southern Appalachians often awaits you at the end. Another strategy involves starting in the middle and doing the trail in sections, but not continuously in one direction. (It requires a commute plan to connect sections and, unless you jump sections multiple times, it means forgoing the Mount Katahdin climax.)
Timing considerations: Elite athletes have done the full trail in as little as 54 days, but the average is about 6 months (preceded by about 8 to 12 months of preparation).
Your plan is an initial projection: Hiking thousands of miles through wilderness over many months is an unpredictable endeavor.
A.T. Permits and Fees
You don’t need a trail-use permit: Unlike the Pacific Crest Trail, no permit is required for the trail itself.
You do need national park permits: Both Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park require backcountry permits for A.T.
A.T. Maps, Guidebooks and Wayfinding
Because the trail gets altered from time to time, you need to learn how to recognize the distinctive white blaze that marks the trail: a two- by six-inch vertical paint rectangle in a prominent place along the trail.
A.T. Budget, Supply and Gear Considerations
Trip budget: The minimum estimate for the cost while you’re on the trail is one dollar per mile.
Food and resupply planning: These are the nuts and bolts of your trip plan, and the details will take substantial research.
Gear philosophy: Minimalist hikers will always argue that you can go lighter, but you’ll need to decide for yourself where you are on the ultralight to ultra-prepared spectrum.
Appalachian Trail Backpacking Gear List
Bear precautions: Though grizzlies are not found here, the average thru hiker is likely to encounter a black bear at some point.
On the trail, make noise to alert bears of your presence and give a bear room to move away if you see one.
Backpack (big enough for a bear canister, where mandated)
Small daypack (optional)
Tent suited to terrain, with guylines and repair sleeve
Tent footprint (optional)
Sleeping bag suitable for wet weather and anticipated temperatures
Whistle (plus signaling mirror)
Multifunction watch with altimeter (altimeter feature is optional)
Knife or multi-tool
Map(s) and guidebook(s) or route description
Trekking poles (optional, but recommended)
LED headlamp with extra batteries
Water filter and backup treatment system
Stove, fuel and repair kit
Matches or lighter
Cookset, dishes, bowls, utensils, cups (measuring/drinking)
Nylon cord (at least 60 feet)
Repair kits for mattress and other gear; duct tape strips
Fire starter (for emergency survival fire)
Clothing and Footwear
Wicking, quick-drying underwear
Wicking, quick-drying sports bra
Wicking, quick-drying long underwear
Wicking, quick-drying T-shirt and long-sleeve shirt
Quick-drying shorts (optional)
Fleece jacket or vest, or insulated jacket or vest
Fleece pants (optional)
Waterproof/breathable rain jacket suitable for the conditions
Waterproof/breathable rain pants suitable for the conditions
Bandana or Buff
Sun-shielding hat or ball cap
Gloves or mittens
Hiking boots or hiking shoes suited to terrain
Socks (synthetic or wool) plus spares
Sandals (for fording streams and relaxing in camp) or water shoes
Blaze-orange hat or vest (in hunting season)
Water bottles or hydration reservoirs (3 liters total capacity)
Toothbrush with cover and biodegradable toothpaste
Women’s hygiene items
Spare eyeglasses or contact lenses
Plastic zip-top bags
Insect repellent (effective against ticks)
Tick-removal tool (optional)
Bear spray (optional)
First-aid kit (see our First-Aid Checklist)
Camera or video cam and extra memory cards (optional)
Cell phone (don’t rely on service)
Satellite communicator / personal locator beacon (optional)
Field guide(s); star identifier (optional)
Journal, pen and e-reader or reading material (optional)
Fishing gear and permit(s) (optional)
Credit card; cash for layover days and camping fees
National park AT permits, plus camping reservations for your itinerary
Trip itinerary left with friend
6,000 calories per day in these categories:
Breakfast (oatmeal, granola, freeze-dried breakfast, etc.)
Lunch (bagels, summer sausage, cheese, smoked salmon, etc.)
Dinner (pasta, couscous, rice, freeze-dried dinner, etc.)
Snacks (cookies, GORP, jerky, candy bars, dried fruit, etc.)
Electrolyte replacement drink mix
Extra day’s supply of food (carried on each leg of the hike)
Lighter Gear Options
Stuff sack, dry bag or rodent-resistant food sack (for most of the trail)
Ultralight/mesh hiking shoes
Lighter sleeping bag (30°–39°)
Ultralight rain jacket
More Robust Gear Options
Bear canister (for a short mandated stretch of the trail)
Waterproof hiking boots
Calf-high waterproof gaiters
Warmer sleeping bag (15°–29°)
Waterproof/breathable rain jacket and pants