I’m often asked what to pack on a long distance backpacking trip like the Appalachian Trail. My answer is “what you need and nothing else.” What you need is different for everyone. The ultralight zealots might argue against this, but I’m a firm believer in “hike your own hike.” If you need your teddy bear, and your hike will be more enjoyable if you have it, then take it. The trade off is that every single thing you decide you need adds weight to your load. Choose wisely. While it seems counter-intuitive, I carry far more on a weekend trip than I do on a week plus hike. On a short trip, I know there isn’t a lot of mileage so what I want (maybe a pillow, a block of cheese, bottle of wine, etc) outweighs need. On a long trip, where the primary objective is to cover substantial mileage day in and day out, the least amount of gear I can get away with is the goal.
Since that is rather vague advice, I’ll offer up my gear list as an example.
My pack is an Osprey Atmos 65. I could probably get away with a 50 liter pack, but the 65 accommodates almost any three season backpacking trip. I have the older model of the Atmos, and it weighs 3 lbs, 6 ounces after I removed unnecessary parts (sleeping bag divider, excess strap, etc).
I have an EMS Velocity 1 tent. I love this tent. I have spent a few hundred nights in it in every possible weather condition and stayed warm and dry. It is a true free standing tent so I don’t carry stakes. If needed, I guy it out or use sticks. It weighs 3 lbs 2 ounces. The negative is it is truly a one person tent. There is no extra space inside. I’ve been lustfully eyeballing a Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 which weighs in at just 2 lbs. You could save weight and space with a tarp or a bivy sack. I’ve decided I need a tent.
My sleeping pad is an REI Flash which weighs one pound. It has good insulation and is very comfortable. It is not self inflating, but the weigh savings is worth the breaths for me.
In warmer weather, I sleep in a Thermarest down quilt. It weighs 1 lb 4 oz. and packs to the size of a softball. In colder weather, I use a twenty degree down bag that weighs 2 lbs.
My water system is a Sawyer Squeeze, a spare squeeze bag, two liter Platypus reservoir, a two liter Platypus collapsible bottle, and a one liter Nalgene bottle. The Nalgene could be replaced with a Gatorade bottle and save weight, but I like how bomb proof it is. It is also nice to fill it with hot water on cold nights and put it in my sleeping bag. Total weight of the water system is 15 ounces. If water is readily available on the trail, I hike with one liter.
My cook system is an MSR pocket rocket, .7 liter pot, Sea to Summit fork and spoon, and a Bic lighter. With a fuel canister, the system weighs 13 ounces.
I have what I call the “Oh Shit” bag which contains Tenacious Tape (awesome stuff!), duct tape, needle and thread, waterproof matches, water purification tablets, 50 ft of paracord, and a Leatherman Skeletool. Total weight is 1 lb. A successful trip is when this bag is not opened.
Toiletries consist of…toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, ibuprofen, bug spray, and sunscreen.
I know distance hikers who carry only the clothing they’re wearing and one extra pair of socks. In warm weather, I take two pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks, two shirts, one pair of hiking shorts, a pair of cycling leg warmers, a raincoat, a down vest, a pair of flipflops, and a kilt. The flips and kilt are for lounging in camp. The down vest weighs just a couple ounces and is handy to have. Everything is synthetic material except the socks which are wool. The only cotton I carry is a bandana. My boots are Asolo Fugitives. You can save weight by going with trail runners, but I like the support.
Everything in my pack is coordinated in stuff sacks. My sleeping bag goes in a waterproof sack. These stuff sacks add up to about five ounces, and they greatly help keep things organized.
So, without food or water, I’m at about 17 pounds.
I also carry a journal and pen, Gopro camera, paperback book, Black Diamond Storm headlamp, a Goal Zero Nomad solar panel, and Black Diamond trekking poles. That adds another two and a half pounds.
Add water and a week’s worth of food, and I’m right about thirty pounds. Not overly heavy, but not exceedingly light. It is a comfortable weight for me to carry, and I have everything I’ve decided I need for an enjoyable and safe trek.
What’s in your pack? Hike your own hike.