The Thru-Hiker’s Gear List

There are a lot of thru-hiking gear lists on the internet. However, because individual hikers vary so much in terms of goals, fitness, style, age and experience, a lot of these compilations don’t have much in the way of wide-ranging relevance. Equipment that works for one hiker, may not necessarily be right for many or most others.

Photo from Christy “Rockin” Rosander (ladyonarock.com)

Therefore, I thought it would be a good idea to put together a resource that documented the gear choices of a diverse, yet very experienced group of thru-hikers. And when I say “very experienced”, I am understating. The six people that have contributed to this post are amongst the most accomplished and knowledgable long distance hikers in the United States.

The group consists of three men and three women ranging in age from 29 to 78. Though the chronological spectrum may be sizeable, all six backpack in a lightweight fashion, are as tough as nails, and not coincidentally, share a contagious sense of enthusiasm and wonder for the outdoors. That’s actually why I asked them to be involved; I’ve always admired folks that irrespective of how much experience they have, never lose their childlike spark. It’s a surefire sign of a wilderness lifer.

Note: For more information on the contributing hikers, click on the names and check out their websites. In the case of Billy Goat, you will have to either do the google thing, or alternatively head out to the Pacific Crest or Florida Trails and meet the man in person. If you stay in one place long enough, he’s sure to come along eventually.

The Six Hikers

  • Kristin “Lost” Gates – The first woman to traverse Alaska’s Brooks Range. She has also kayaked the Yukon River, trekked through Lapland, completed the Triple Crown by the age of 23 and spends her winters performing backcountry operations by dog team in Denali National Park. Recently voted the female hiker most likely to have her own action figure.

Kristin “Lost” Gates (milesforbreakfast.com)

  • Renee “She-Ra” Patrick – Speaking of action figures, the “Princess of Power” is a Triple crowner, cross-country skier, packrafter nonpareil, ambassador for the Continental Divide Trail and Coordinator for the Oregon Desert Trail.
  • Christ “Rockin” Rosander –  For the past three decades, this grandma extraordinaire has covered pretty much every inch of California’s High Sierra range. When not hiking, climbing, skiing or cycling, she runs a great programme called, “Think Outside“, which teaches young kids about the Pacific Crest Trail.

Christy “Rockin” Rosander (ladyonarock.com)

  • Paul “Mags” Magnanti –  I haven’t met too many people more passionate or knowledgable about the outdoors than Paul Magnanti. Irrespective of the distance, season or environment, Mags simply loves exploring the wilds on foot or by skis. Beneath the curmudgeon-like exterior beats the heart of a softie, who volunteers much of his free time in support of trail organisations such as the Continental Divide Trail Coalition.
  • Clint “Lint” Bunting – Since 2003, Lint has hiked around 30,000 miles on America’s long distance trails. This includes completing the Triple Crown of hiking three times over. One of the hiking world’s most colourful characters, when he’s not out on the trail, he has a thriving career as a Chippendale dancer.
  • George “Billy Goat” Woodard: At 78 years young, this amazing gentleman doesn’t really need an introduction. Over the past three decades he has spent approximately 150 days a year walking America’s long distance trails. He is the Treebeard of the hiking world – in looks, mannerisms, longevity, favourite expressions (“don’t be hasty” – click on video below) and connection to the natural world.

Billy Goat waxing lyrical on the Pacific Crest Trail (youtube)

Ok. Enough with the intros. Here are the thru-hiking gear suggestions of all six hikers, along with some tips and recommendations from yours truly:

Backpack

Heavy backpacks are designed to carry heavy loads. Unless you are in training for a post-thru hike career as a porter in Nepal, go with a pack that weighs less than three pounds (1.36 kg) and has a carrying capacity of no more than 65 liters. That should be sufficient to get both you and your gear from Mexico to Canada or Georgia to Maine.

  • Kristin – GoLite jam 2 (no longer made).

She-Ra on a very snowy Continental Divide Trail, 2016 | Six Moon Designs Fusion 50 (Sherahikes.wordpress.com)

Shelter

Three things to look for when choosing your thru-hiking abode: 1. Lightweight (no more than 3 lbs / 1.36 kg); 2. Stormworthy, and; 3. Meets your individual needs in regards to comfort – four to six months is a long time to go backpacking, and about a third of that time will be spent in or under your shelter. 

Kristin during her traverse of Alaska’s Brooks Range | Tarptent Moment DW (milesforbreakfast.com)

ZPacks Soloplex | Wind River High Route, WY (ladyonarock)

Sleeping Bag / Quilt

Quality, lightweight sleeping bags (and quilts) aren’t found at the bottom of the REI Bargain Bin. Therefore, if you are going to splash out big bikkies for one item in your backpacking kit, sleeping bags are a good choice. Trust me on this one. When you are are freezing your you-know-what’s off at 10,000 ft in the Rockies or High Sierra during a June snow storm, you will be very glad you spent the extra $100-$200 on a top quality bag.

In regards to options, if you choose to go with feather down, look for something that has at least 800 fill power and doesn’t weigh more than 2.5 lbs (1.13 kg). If you would rather go with a synthetic fill, excellent lightweight quilt options can be found at Mountain Laurel Designs and Enlightened Equipment (see Bonus recommendations).

Mags decked out in his multi-use Sierra Sniveller Quilt | Pecos Wilderness, NM (Pmags.com)

Sleeping Mat

When it comes to choosing a sleeping mat, the key is to know what level of comfort you require in order to obtain a good night’s rest. If you are one of those people who can sleep on anything, go with a closed cell foam mat. If you happen to be at the other end of the “sleeping comfort” spectrum, then chances are you will require an inflatable model in order to obtain a good night’s sleep.

With the introduction of the NeoAir and other lightweight inflatable models in recent years, the weight penalty formerly associated with taking a blow-up mattress (as opposed to a foamie) is not what it was. If you are worried about getting a puncture, add a 2 oz piece of thin foam such as the Gossamer Gear ThinLight 1/8 for insurance.

NeoAir bonus feature – you can use it to paddle across lakes and slow moving watercourses | Southwest Tasmania Traverse, 2016.

Footwear

Due to the discrepancy in individual cases (i.e. foot types, pack and body weights, medical histories, etc.) giving specific thru-hiking footwear recommendations is never an easy proposition. Here are four general tips:

1:  Buy your shoes a size too big. Your feet WILL swell.

2: Of all the items in your backpacking kit, new footwear is the one that you shouldn’t buy sight unseen online. No matter how many hikers recommend you a certain shoe, until you try it on in person, you won’t know whether or not it suits you.

3:  Avoid footwear with waterproof liners, which cut down on a shoe’s breathability. This can cause your feet to sweat excessively which can in turn lead to blisters. 

4: If you choose to carry camp footwear, pickup the lightest, thinnest flip flops you can find. No sports sandals, which almost weigh as much as Trail Runners. Cheapo models that weigh less than 3 oz are widely available online or in major department stores for less than $10.

Brooks Cascadias on the Lowest to Highest Route | Death Valley, CA, 2014.

Stove

Personally speaking, when temps are regularly below freezing I carry a stove. Otherwise I go sans cooking. If you are hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, be sure to check on fire restrictions before departure (i.e. During high fire danger periods alcohol stoves may be banned). If you are interested in trying stoveless backpacking, here is a brief overview of the hows, whys and wherefores.

  • Kristin: Pepsi Can Stove
  • Rockin:  Jetboil Sol Ti (no longer made)
  • Lint:  Stoveless
  • Mags: Pepsi Can Stove or Stoveless.
  • Swami:  Stoveless, Toaks Titanium Siphon Alcohol Stove (Note: I tried the Toaks stove for the first time early 2016 and became an instant convert. Significant upgrade in fuel efficiency – I estimate 25% – over the homemade/Pepsi Can versions I had previously used).

Mags preparing an evening meal in the Colorado Rockies back in 2001 (Pmags.com).

Water Purification

All methods of water treatment have pros and cons. Filters can clog, batteries can fail and chemicals can take up to 4 hours to be effective against cryptosporidium. That said, every year multiple thru hikers have their journey either derailed or at least negatively affected by water borne diseases. While I personally believe that most of the sources on the triple crown trails are fine to drink as is, there are definitely some that aren’t. In short, carry some form of water treatment and if in doubt, treat.

Note: Good hygiene habits are of equal, or even more importance than water purification when it comes to avoiding intestinal disorders. More hikers get the trotskies from sharing food or not cleaning their hands properly, than they do from failing to purify their H2O. 

  • Lint:  Bleach
  • Billy Goat:  Cast iron gut

Yep…….be sure to carry some form of water purification.

Thru-hiking can be thirsty business (linthikes).

Insulation Layer

Regular season hikes of the PCT and CDT are generally a little drier and colder than the AT. Therefore, I’d suggest carrying a lightweight down jacket for the former two hikes, and a synthetic insulation layer/s for the latter.

The Princess of Power in her Montbell Alpine Light Down Parka (with accompanying sword) | Glacier National Park, MT (sherahikes.wordpress.com)

Pro gear models showing off the Western Mountaineering Flight Jacket and the Patagonia Nano Puff.

Outer Layer

No garment is completely waterproof given extended exposure to inclement conditions. Working on the principle that damp is better than soaked and being comfortable rather than dry is the priority, I generally look for rain jackets with the following features:

a. A good DWR (durable water repellant) finish
b. Relatively lightweight (below 10 oz)
c. Quick drying
d. Pit zips for ventilation
e. Adjustable wrist cuffs
f. Adjustable hood with a stiff brim.

  • Bonus Recommendations: Consider taking an umbrella. For a weight penalty of between 5 and 8 oz, they offer a great combo of shade, ventilation and rain protection. Not so good when it’s blowy. I put an asterisk beside the hikers that regularly carry an umbrella with them on long hikes.

Yours truly sporting the Big Bird DriDucks Rain Jacket | Cordillera Blanca Traverse, Peru, 2014.

Billy Goat’s hand written equipment choices – love the final line!

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Comments

The Thru-Hiker’s Gear List — 18 Comments

  1. Cam,
    What a brilliant idea this post is. You obviously went to a lot of work and I hope a lot of folks see it. Thanks for your efforts.
    Gerry B.

  2. Thanks so much Swami! It’s fun as a novice to read/learn from those that have gone before you and paved the way. It is also reassuring to read thru the gear choices and see that I have picked some from most everyone’s favorites. As you say, the gear we choose is personal but in the end it is almost always very close to being the same. Your site and other’s like have made my trail life so much easier. I don’t spend the time you all do on trail but want to be prepared to have a good experience. Thanks for the time you and others put into your websites. It is appreciated. Plus I am still looking forward to the Badlands, SD map set.

    • No worries at all; thank you for the kind words. I have a few eBook/map set projects I need to finish this year (including the Badlands). Can’t believe it’s April already!

      Cheers,

      Swami

  3. I’m not knocking him because I know the man has skills and knowledge I can only dream of acquiring but I will probably be carrying one of those silly “Eye-Phones” on my hikes.
    That right there is Gold!!!
    Again, thanks for the awesome list shared in such an ingenious manner.

  4. E X C E L L E N T!

    I am planning on a thru hike of the PCT in 2018 and gear is already being acquired.

    It is nice to see if I am on track with my purchases so far or what I should consider for future gear -I can not decide on a sleeping bag so all and any information like this is so incredibly useful.

    Thank you for this great gear article.

    • Hey Rob,

      Thanks for the kind words and glad you found the article helpful. Best of luck on the PCT next year!

      Cheers,

      Cam

  5. Good article, but I would never suggest buying boots 1 size bigger. The friction when your foot slides inside them, creates nasty blisters, especially when going down hill.

    • Hi Pam,

      Two points: 1. The article is about thru-hiking related gear advice. And on a multi-thousand mile thru hike, your feet do swell; 2. Unless you are thru hiking in the middle of winter, it is generally preferable to wear lighter, more breathable trail runners or running shoes rather than boots.

      Cheers,

      Cam

  6. Good article!
    A good way to stay dry in my opinion is to have a really light and breathable/wind proof, yet slightly water repellent jacket (I usually have a OR Helium but lighter can be found) combined with a poncho made of Silnylon, as the one used by Swani, integral design makes one as well.
    On long trips the DWR will wash away within a week and be totally useless so having something in silnylon which is impregnated will be a good complement, you can actually stay dry!
    That way you wear the water repellent for the light rain and wind condition and wear the poncho on top when it is pouring, there will be some condensation build up inside the poncho that will be repelled by the light jacket. Then the poncho can be usder as groundsheet for the shelter or as shelter with a bivy…

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