Ditch the Dead Weight: Tips And What Not to Pack for the AT

Don't make these common mistakes when packing for your thru-hike. Avoid unnecessary weight and leave behind the wrong attitudes for a successful AT adventure.

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Josh Koop

I live with my wife and daughter in Katy, Texas and my local trail is the Lone Star Hiking Trail which is an amazing way to experience the Sam Houston National Park!

AT sign on the trail in fall with trees having very few leaves left
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While everyone is typically excited about their thru-hike start date , they’ve gone through their gear five hundred times and are as optimized as possible.

They are ready to start their hike many times but bring too many miscellaneous items or choose to overcarry based on fears. Let’s discuss what not to bring on the Appalachian Trail, from items and gear to attitude.

Some of this is decisions made on what to carry from day 0, but other parts are about what you decide to carry on all the days between.

For many, their pack weights will already be heavy and full of needed items; burdening yourself with extra gear will only make this worse day in and day out.

So what items can you nix or leave home before your start date?

What Not to Bring on the Appalachian Trail

For many, it won’t be the basics of the gear they have chosen but implementation instead, the need for things they can do without, or what is simply overkill.

Here are 16 items you shouldn’t bring on the Appalachian Trail:

Overpacking Food

This seems odd, but oversupplying on the trail is a huge problem for most in the first weeks. The worry of hunger drives hikers to bring way more than they need.

Frequently, hikers will pack out up to double what they need per day and then some just in case, carrying 10+ pounds of food when five to seven would be more than sufficient.

This not only weighs you down but can also cause issues with storing food nightly away from camp protected from bears, as a bear bag will be much heavier, and that cord will bite into your hands.

Carrying Excessive Water

The Appalachian Trail has no shortage of options to filter and grab additional water in most areas. Carrying a water bladder is more than sufficient for those worried about water availability.

For those in doubt, most can get away with carrying one to two liters at any given time, which will be two to four pounds, and you just need to keep in mind that water is nearly two pounds per liter.

Understanding that you can “camel up” at the water source means drinking your full after filling bottles helps you carry significantly less water and weight.

Carrying Too Many Or Possible Too Few Clothes

For the vast amount of new attempts, people will either bring too few clothing choices or not understand how cold the trail can be in Spring which can be below freezing well into April and early May.

On the other hand, some will bring way too many clothes, which can quickly become a pain to carry and take up valuable space in your pack that could be used for other things.

A good rule of thumb is only to bring what you need and what you think you’ll wear. For most, that’s one set of extra clothing pieces like pair of socks, pair of underwear, and possibly a base layer to wear hiking or sleep to maintain core heat through those colder nights.

Unfamiliarity With Gear

Many may start the trail without using much of the gear they are bringing along, and they haven’t put water through their filter, connected, or utilized their camp stove and whatnot.

This is a huge mistake, as now is the time to test everything and ensure it works for you. What’s more, you need to understand how to use what you bring.

You may find that your tent doesn’t work well with your sleeping pad or bag, which can cause a miserable night, get everything figured out now.

Overburdened Pack Weight

This doesn’t mean you need some ultralight ten-pound base weight, but you need to dial in and drop as much weight as possible. Some start with huge 50+ pound packs because they think they need everything.

The truth is you don’t and won’t, and what’s more, you shouldn’t start with a pack that weighs damn near a third to half your body weight as this will seriously damage your body over time on the trail.

Target a base weight of 20-25 pounds for most people, which puts the total, including food and water at around 30-35 pounds.

Unsafe Food Storage

For some, the belief that bears won’t get them leads them to sleep with their food in the shelter, which is a huge mistake for several reasons.

First off, it’s just plain dangerous and stupid to have your smelly food where you sleep, and what’s more, if a bear does get into the shelter , you could be at serious risk.

Instead, hang your food or keep it in an animal-resistant container like a bear canister if you are in an area where animals are common.

Mice frequently chew holes in many gear items, from tent corners or backpacks, to get access to the food. It is not just because they want you to suffer dealing with the bear hang that you do this extra work for.

Starting Too Fast

So many people think that with 2100+ miles, they need to start hitting huge mile marks out of Amicolala Falls and the archway.

If you have been preparing well, are in shape, and have done plenty of hiking leading up to the start, this may be plausible, but for most, it’s a death sentence.

Your body needs time to adjust to the rigors of hiking day in and day out, and what’s more, you need to get used to carrying your pack with all your gear and food.

Start slow for the first week or two, getting in 8-10 miles per day until you feel like you can pick up the pace, and you’ll find your trail legs. Don’t try to force them!

Inadequate Fueling

Many newbie hikers think that because they are burning more calories, they don’t need to eat as much, which is a huge mistake.

If you are starting with little body fat, you will need to make sure you are consuming at least 3,000-4,000 calories per day, and your body is otherwise going to panic a bit and start breaking down muscle for energy.

If you are a little more plump, like me, you have a load of stored energy, which doesn’t mean you can’t eat. You should provide your body with the most protein and energy possible, but you will see the impact as you lean out just by physics alone.

What’s more, you must ensure you stay hydrated, drinking at least 2-3 quarts of water daily, especially in hotter weather.

You want to understand the relative heat and water sources and plan to keep yourself hydrated and able to pee without much problem.

Pointless Deodorant

A sin of new and inexperienced hikers is deodorant, I get it you don’t want to smell, and you’ve been taught your whole life you should smell like flowers or some other scent, but this isn’t how it works on the trail.

Deodorant is heavy, it takes up space, and what’s more, it doesn’t work when you are sweating all day. You will smell regardless, so embrace it and try to wash it off when possible.

Avoid Cotton and Denim

In yesteryear, these would be the only choices for clothing people may have had, but now there are much better options like merino wool or synthetic base layers, which last longer.

Cotton and denim hold moisture, they are heavy when wet, and what’s more, they take forever to dry. Instead, focusing on quick-drying synthetics or wool base layers, you’ll stay much more comfortable on the trail.

Oversized Sleeping Gear

If you have a very inexpensive sleeping bag or pad, they may just be huge and not be very packable for the space they take up.

You want to make sure you have a quality sleeping quilt or, if you like the enclosed feeling, a sleeping bag that is rated for the conditions you will be hiking in and, what’s more, a good sleeping pad that provides some warmth and comfort but doesn’t weigh too much.

Much newer gear is made with space and weight savings in mind, so if you are carrying an older system, you may want to consider an upgrade.

Impractical Solar Charging

This may seem like a winner before you hit the trail, but for solar to work well, it needs long hours of consistent sun exposure to work well, and what’s more, it can also be incredibly fragile.

Now the Appalachian Trail is known as the “Green Tunnel” for a reason, that’s because there is a lot of coverage overhead which directly impacts any solar panel you may have with you.

Instead, consider a more reliable power source like a portable battery pack that you can charge up before you hit the trail and will last you days, or many can reach up to a week.

I reviewed what I use, the Nitecore NB10000 mAh battery over here. If interested, it is close to, if not the lightest option available currently.

Unwieldy Blades

You’re not taking down wild animals, so you don’t need the gigantic knife from Crocodile Dundee fame. A leatherman or similar multitool is way over the line and will be something you end up dropping in a hiker box.

Instead, you just need something to cut little things like thread or food packaging. For me, I picked up this super small and ultralight Titanium Micro-Blade knife from Zpacks for $19.95.

This simple knife will work for ages as I can replace the blade when it goes dull.

Excess Electronics

Gadgets are great, but do you need to bring your laptop, iPad, Kindle, and camera? For most, a phone and maybe a camera will be the top of the need in luxury electronics you will want to bring, though I do suggest that you bring a GPS for SOS as it is a nice safety net.

The chances are slim that you will use most other electronics while out on the trail, and if you need a break from the constant hiking, most hostels or towns will have Wi-Fi you can take advantage of.

Poor Financial Planning

This is more of a mentality issue that starts before the trail and follows you as you go. Bad budgeting is a trip killer as once your funds run dry, and you are going to be heading home.

The best way to avoid this is to plan what you will be spending per day and, what’s more, have a little extra set aside for emergencies.

I suggest at least $1000 a month by looking at what the average hiker spends on the trail , as most people will stick to similar budgets.

The issues come with following the bubble and possibly spending extra days in a town where you consume large amounts of budget nightly for a place to sleep and food.

Harming the Hiking Community

Probably the real cardinal sin of everything, this one hurts others on trial, whereas the other things will be detrimental to you alone. Don’t be that person.

Just because you are having a bad day doesn’t mean you must ruin someone else’s day. This could be something as small as being negative all day or hogging the shelter to yourself.

Be upbeat, and try your hardest not to bring other people’s moods down on what is supposed to be an enjoyable experience for everyone.

Final Thoughts on Items and Attitudes to Not Bring On the Appalachian Trail

Hopefully, this list has helped you start thinking more critically about what you are bringing on your Appalachian Trail hike and what you may want to leave home.

There is a lot of what I feel is “trail culture” that goes along with what is appropriate to bring, so it is important to do your research ahead of time.

The last thing you want to do is show up unprepared or, even worse, be the person known for being a “gear nut” because you have too much stuff.

Be safe, have fun, and hike your own hike!

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