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Backpacker Magazine

American Classic: Hiking the Appalachian Trail

In this ultimate guide to the country's favorite footpath, you'll find our picks for the best hiking and camping, and a complete plan for thru-hikers. Plus, meet a man who has made it his job to help AT hikers.

CARRY LESS
Turn ultralight into ultra-comfortable.

THE WEIGHT GAME
Zealous gram-counters achieve pack weights that are startlingly low. Don’t join them in a race to the bottom. Winton Porter, who may be responsible for outfitting more successful thru-hikers than anyone else on the planet, says the ideal weight for a fully loaded pack, including food and water, is 25 pounds in the summer, and up to 35 pounds during shoulder seasons. These loads encourage a good balance between on-trail and in-camp comfort.

Key strategies for cutting pack weight

  • Downsize: If you’re carrying more than you need of anything–excess fuel or sunscreen–you’re carrying dead weight.
  • Eliminate: Trowel, chair kit, pillow, an extra mug or bowl, War and Peace–are they really necessary?

APPALACHIAN TRAIL GEAR ESSENTIALS

Footwear

  • Wear lightweight shoes; add after-market insoles for improved support. Replace worn-out shoes every 250 to 400 miles.
  • Don’t buy replacements in advance. Your shoe size will increase during the trek, and you may want to switch models entirely.
  • Top picks Vasque Velocity VST GTX ($120, vasque.com); Montrail Continental Divide GTX ($120, montrail.com

Backpack

  • Your pack (empty) should weigh less than four pounds.
  • Capacity should be about 3,000-4,000 cubic inches.
  • Top picks Granite Gear Meridian Vapor ($195; 2 lbs. 14 oz.; granitegear.com); Gregory Z55 ($199; 3 lbs. 5 oz.; gregorypacks.com)

Tent

  • Don’t forgo a tent, but make it minimalist. Many thru-hikers prefer their own wilderness refuge to crowded or loud shelters.
  • Top picks Solo hikers: MontBell Crescent 1 ($229; 2 lbs. 1 oz.; montbell.com); two-person: Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 ($320; 2 lbs. 14 oz.; bigagnes.com)

Sleeping bag

  • Don’t try to hike the whole AT with one bag: It’ll either be too heavy in the summer or not warm enough in the shoulder seasons.
  • Top picks GoLite Adrenaline 20 for spring and fall ($325; 1 lb. 13 oz.; golite.com); Mountain Hardwear UltraLamina 45 for summer ($170; 1 lb. 8 oz.; mountainhardwear.com)

Sleeping pad

  • First, decide what you need to sleep well, then get the lightest version. No sense saving a pound if you’re sleepless at night, exhausted all day.
  • Top picks Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite ($35; 15 oz.; thermarest.com); Big Agnes Insulated Air Core ($65; 1 lb. 6 oz.; bigagnes.com)

Stove

  • Alcohol stoves are popular on the AT, since they’re ultralight, require zero maintenance, and fuel is easily found at hostels, as well as hardware stores and gas stations.
  • Canister stoves are also a good choice, as they burn hotter, are only negligibly heavier, and canister fuel is widely available at hostels and regularly spaced outfitters.
  • Top picks Alcohol: Trangia Westwind ($25, 7 oz.; campsaver.com); canister: MSR PocketRocket ($40; 3 oz.; msrgear.com)
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