Hey everybody, Jackrabbit here with the first edition of a topic I began thinking about roughly halfway through my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. I found myself wishing some hiking guru had given me the unabridged pack list to end all pack lists; some sort of definite answer to which items I’d for sure need, and those that are totally optional.
So, once I finished my AT hike, I decided to make my own list of items that I carried and buried. (Just to be clear, please don’t actually bury your gear out on trail — but if you do, send me GPS coordinates!)
I want to preface this list by saying that everyone’s pack is different, because every single one of us is different. Some people prioritize being ultralight, some make sure they are never hungry, and others simply cannot be convinced to leave that ukulele at the post office.
This list embodies MY time on the AT and the anecdotal evidence I encountered along the way. So, if you see something here I decided to ‘bury’ that is your comfort item, or something I ‘carried’ that you wouldn’t be caught dead with … whatever gets you to where you are going is the right setup for you! Hike your own hike!
With all that being said, let’s get to it people!
This is absolutely the first item that came to mind — and the one that seems to be most heavily debated. People hold strong opinions on camp shoes, one way or the other. So when it comes to that $1 pair of flip flops from Dollar General, is it a carry or bury?
That’s right, I said it. Carry those damn camp shoes. You don’t have to be Steve Irwin to roll with Crocs!
I started my AT thru-hike with no camp shoes. At the end of the day, I’d ditch my shoes and socks first thing. I’d then be constantly pulling them on and off all evening to navigate my campsite. I picked up a pair of camp shoes within my first 200 miles and carried them the remainder of the trail.
The Appalachian Trail is a very wet trail. “No rain, No Maine”. Your shoes are going to be soaked A LOT. One of the most common issues I saw on trail was people not giving their feet ample time to dry out, which in turn fosters all kinds of bacterial growth. While camp shoes will not dry those muddy boots, they will give your toes time to breathe, and you the ability to move around comfortably.
Most hikers’ biggest hangup with camp shoes is the excess weight. Crocs, the most common camp shoes you will see on the AT, can weigh nearly a pound. If weight is your biggest beef, I highly suggest you check out the UL Pursuit Sandals by Deliberate Life Designs or the super-duper-UL Nymph by Mayfly UL Equipment (my personal favorite).
The comfort versus necessity of camp shoes will probably be debated as long as people climb mountains, so we’ll leave this battle for now, knowing it will get picked up again soon in Appalachian Trail shelters. And, whatever you choose, keep in mind you can always switch course, if you find yourself noticing the grass may be a bit greener on the other side.
SOLAR PANELS & SUNSCREEN
I know, I know these are two very different items to be lumped together. But they do have one thing in common: they need sun to have any worth in your kit. With the Appalachian Trail’s average weather in mind, these items fall into …
I carried both sunscreen and solar panels for a few hundred miles apiece. I didn’t use my solar panels one single time, and I put sunscreen on less than a handful of times. A good general rule is, If you haven’t taken an item out of your pack in the last 7 days, send it home! (with safety gear being an exception).
While you may escape some of Appalachia’s notorious week-long rains and encounter stunningly gorgeous stretches of sunny hiking, you will still find that those solar panels don’t work all that well. Why, you ask?
Unlike the two other triple crown trails in the US, you will be under the canopy of the forest a lot. Like, a lot, a lot. The Green Tunnel, as some refer to it, is going to suck as many of those solar rays in as it can, leaving nothing but crumbs for your panels.
But I have good news too. The AT is one of the most accessible trails in the world. You will never be more than 4-5 days from town to fully charge your phone and (recommended!) backup battery bank.
In addition to electricity, almost every town has a gas station, and almost every gas station sells travel size containers of sunscreen. So, if you ever do find yourself leaving the forest canopy’s shady protection to walk through, for example, the exposed Cumberland Valley in Pennsylvania on a hot summer day, pick some up!
This one is near and dear to my heart. When I first started planning for the AT, the last thing I was thinking about was a tiny pillow to help me sleep at night. However, perfecting our sleep systems is one of the first things us hikers often find ourselves doing on long trails. Quality sleep is an incredibly valuable asset when you’re covering big miles over rugged terrain day after day.
With that being said, I think you know where this is head-ed …
I thought about this one for a while because I definitely consider this a comfort item and potentially non-essential. But after some internal debate, I circled back to my first thought. Quality sleep is one of the most valuable assets you will have on any hike. If that means carrying a larger sleeping pad, a thicker sleeping bag, or even a little UL pillow. DO IT!!!
I was extremely inexperienced when I began the AT, having spent very few nights out in the wild. I slept like crap my first 3 nights. I was both cold and uncomfortable. I bought a pillow and sleeping bag liner at the FIRST stop on the Appalachian Trail, Neel’s Gap. While I sent my liner home when the temperatures warmed up, I slept with my pillow every night on trail.
I’m not saying you ought to try and replicate your bed at home in your tent, but ensuring your sleep system is robust enough to deliver a good night’s rest is essential. Use everything to your advantage to get the best rest. If you use a torso-length sleeping pad, use unworn clothes to extend the pad to your toes. Dial in when and how you hydrate to minimize the need to get up in the middle of the night. If you’re sensitive to sound, carry a pair of lightweight foam ear plugs. Find what works for you and replicate that every night.
With time, you’ll figure out what works for you when it comes to sleeping. When it comes to the major decisions — quilt vs sleeping bag; full-length vs torso-length pad; tent vs tarp vs hammock — there’s no right answer. But there likely will be a right answer for you. So figure it out, and don’t be afraid to carry a little something extra to ensure you can sleep well and often!
I know some of you have your pitchforks out and are ready to go, but this is only the first edition! So keep the roasting to a friendly comment below.
I'm Connor Chapdelaine but my closest friends call me Jackrabbit. I'm a biologist who loves running, backpacking, and anything that keeps me out in the sun all day. I hiked the AT NOBO last year and summited in Katahdin in August. I'll be heading NOBO on the PCT this year starting this spring. Backpacking will always provide you with amazing views but even more valuable to me are the amazing people. Keep up with the good times with me on the PCT through my blog at thetrek.co/author/connor-