Putting together a thru-hiking kit is a daunting endeavor. The gear can be expensive, and you don’t want to buy anything more than once. Beyond that, thru-hikers come from all sorts of financial backgrounds, and oftentimes the most expensive models just aren’t feasible for everyone. That’s fine though—there are many offerings out there, in price ranges to fit all budgets.
In this series, we’ll list our recommendations for thru-hiking kits, including options for the dirtbag-budget hiker, the somewhere-in-between hiker, and the no-expense-spared hiker. Pick and choose from different price categories, or go straight down the line in the category that best suits your budget.
Since a thru-hiking setup is complicated, we’re going to split this series into three parts. Today, we’ll give you our recommendations for the Big Three items: shelter, pack, and sleep system. Keep in mind that we focus on ultralight backpacking here at Garage Grown Gear, so the items listed are more geared towards lightweight, specialized kits. Stay tuned for more on accessories, clothing and food!
This simple, affordable, one-person trekking pole shelter is perfect for solo hikers just getting into tarp tents. The Skyscape Scout uses 2 trekking pole for structure, and has an internal mesh body with a fully enclosed bathtub floor. The canopy is generous, with a vestibule big enough to keep your gear out of the elements without cramming everything into the tent with you. You’ll have to waterproof this model on your own, but a simple seam-sealing treatment does the trick. It weighs just over two pounds, and has a wide-side door for easy entry and exit.
This shelter is a stalwart for trekking-pole tent aficionados. With a stable pitch and a deep bathtub floor, it inspires confidence in high winds and at less-than-ideal tent sites. The shelter is designed for one person, but is incredibly spacious with a large vestibule and plenty of room to sit up and move around inside. The 2021 upgrade to The One just arrived!
There are lighter (and less expensive) shelters on the market, but few Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF) tents are as durable as this offering from Hyperlite Mountain Gear. Built with five varying weights and constructions of DCF based on high-use regions of the tent, this shelter was thoughtfully designed and built to last. It has a horizontal spreader bar for increased shoulder room, and two doors and vestibules for two-person comfort on the trail.
Gossamer Gear G4-20
This pack was built with thru-hikers in mind. Organization is key, with one of the side pockets smaller for reaching water bottles on the go, and the other one longer for holding tent poles or a rolled-up shelter secure on the outside of the pack. The hip belt pockets are unique as well: one is open mesh with an elastic top for easy access to snacks, and the other is a large, zippered pocket to hold small items you want to have on hand, but keep protected. This pack has a roll top, and we recommend a pack liner if you think you’ll get rained on. The Robic Nylon is durable, but not waterproof.
LiteAF appeared on the market just a few years ago, and has quickly become known for their customizable packs, wild patterns, and deep knowledge of the ultralight thru-hiking community. These packs are made with DCF, built right at the LiteAF headquarters in New Jersey, and have the comfort of a heftier full-suspension pack without the weight penalty. The side pockets are generous, the shoulder straps are well padded, and you even get the often-forgotten shoulder strap pockets. Get a custom model or buy one off the shelf if you don’t want to wait the lead times.
Made from a durable DCF, this is a burly, quality pack that can stand up to off-trail abrasion. It is a simple 55L, with a removable internal frame and rugged Cordura outer pockets. Featuring a roll-top closure, a wide hip belt with good-sized pockets, and a large back pocket to stash quick-grab gear, this is one of the more durable packs out there. Be aware that the DCF material against your back can feel sweaty during hotter days on trail.
This sleeping bag is as simple as it gets — no hood, no zipper, and it weighs in under 9 ounces. It really is just a sack full of feathers. While the Magic 125 is ultralight and packed with 850-fill down, be aware that this model is only rated down to 50 degrees. This is a fantastic warm-weather bag, but if you’re planning anything colder, you’ll definitely need a sleeping bag liner. Most hikers should be fine wearing a beanie and a jacket in the bag during cooler nights as well.
These are some of the most popular quilts in the thru-hiking world. Enlightened Equipment quilts are packed with high-loft down in u-shaped baffles to keep the fill in place. Quilts have the benefit of being a flexible sleep system for a range of temperatures. Cinch the footbox shut and snap the collar around your neck when it gets cold; then open it up for venting when temperatures rise.
Formerly known as the popular “Merlin” model, this renamed mummy bag is one of the most popular sleeping bags from Feathered Friends. This bag is made in Seattle, packed with 950+ fill-power down, and has a thick draft collar for extra protection from the wind. The insulation is protected by a DWR-treated 10D Pertex Endurance fabric, which has some water resistance and is also highly breathable. Concerned about the temperature rating? Most thru-hikers won’t need anything beyond a 20-degree bag, and this one is as cozy as it gets.Other great options: Katabatic Flex Quilt, Nunatak Arc UL Three Season and the Western Mountaineering Ultralite