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The 14 Best Thru-Hiking Gear in 2021 That Can Tackle Any Long-Distance Trek

Best Thru-Hiking Gear
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North America is home to some of the world’s longest, most challenging, and best hikes. Epic outdoor adventure books like Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, and Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild have inspired a new generation of thru-hikers to tackle them all. Taking six months (or more) to do anything like a thru-hike can be challenging and requires serious commitment, and when tackling one of these iconic paths also takes a lot of planning and the right equipment. So to help you out, here’s our roundup of the best thru-hiking gear for anyone looking to take an extended sabbatical or just check off another section of one of North America’s epic long-distance treks.

Clothing

Salomon Quest 4D GTX Hiking Boots

Salomon Quest 4D GTX Hiking Boots
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If you’re a savvy enough packer and don’t mind living without things like a proper tent or a sleeping bag, almost anything can be considered “optional” for a thru-hike. Footwear, however, is required. A good pair of hiking boots is supportive, comfortable, ideally water-resistant (if not waterproof), and durable enough to withstand hundreds or thousands of miles of abuse. Salomon’s Quest 4D GTX hiking boots check all of these boxes. Don’t be dissuaded by the higher-than-average price tag. Good footwear is one bit of gear you don’t want to skimp on.

Fjallraven Kajka 65 Trekking Backpack

Fjallraven Kajka 65 Trekking Backpack
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The only topic more contentious among thru-hikers than the best boots is the best backpack. Here’s a secret: There is no best. It’s a matter of what’s right for you. Size-wise, we find a 65-liter backpack to be ideal for extended hikes, including thru-hikes. Here, Fjallraven’s Kajka 65 delivers. It hits the sweet spot with enough volume to pack everything you need (plus a few luxuries) but without the bloated feeling of a larger, expedition-grade alternative. The Perfect Fit Adjustment suspension system guarantees comfortable all-day wear on a variety of body shapes and sizes. Plus, multiple pockets and access points make quick work of organizing and getting to all your thru-hiking gear.

Ibex 24 Hour Long Sleeve Crew

Ibex 24 Hour Long Sleeve Crew
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One settled topic amongst avid outdoor folk is that merino wool is the single best fabric, hands-down. It’s nothing short of a miracle material. It’s all-natural, lightweight, odor-resistant, antimicrobial, quick-wicking — the list goes on. All of that makes it the perfect material for thru-hiking. Few companies do merino like Ibex. For long-distance hikers, the brand’s 24 Hour Long Sleeve Crew is one shirt to rule them all. It’s light enough to wear comfortably by itself in the summer, while the next-to-skin fit also makes it an ideal cool/cold weather base layer.

Arc’teryx Beta AR Jacket

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Every thru-hiker encounters terrible weather at some point: Blinding sideways rain, winds that threaten to blow you off the mountainside, or cold like you’ve never experienced. That’s why, like a good pair of hiking boots, a reliable waterproof adventure jacket is a must. The Beta AR Jacket has been a favorite of Arc’teryx’s stable for more than two decades. Using state-of-the-art 3D patterning, it delivers a perfectly articulated fit for various body shapes and sizes. What’s more, the triple-layer Gore-Tex Pro construction will withstand the worst Mother Nature can dish out. It’s pricier than many alternatives, but we can attest that it’s worth the added expense.

Trail Essentials

Big Agnes Sidewinder SL 35 Sleeping Bag

Big Agnes Sidewinder SL 35 Sleeping Bag
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Finding the right sleeping bag is almost as challenging as finding the right hiking boots. Big Agnes’ Sidewinder SL is made with flexibility in mind, so it suits a variety of sleep styles. Clever engineering and design features, including body-mapped insulation to minimize pressure points and optimize warmth, make it ideal, even for side sleepers. At just 2 pounds, it’s perfect even for longer hikes, while the 35-degree Fahrenheit temperature rating ensures that it’s comfortable in all but the coldest overnight conditions.

Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Sleeping Mat

Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Sleeping Mat
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Unless you’re a grizzly bear, sleeping on the cold, hard ground is rarely comfortable. A sleeping bag will only take you so far. If you’re planning to spend weeks or months in the backcountry, a good sleeping mat or pad is a must. Sea to Summit’s Ether Light XT Sleeping Mat is ideal for extended backpacking trips where space- and weight-saving matter just as much as good rest. The small and regular sizes weigh less than a pound and pack down small. The dual 30D/40D face fabric is quiet and durable, while the 4-inch thickness all but guarantees a great night’s sleep outdoors. Hikers planning to overnight in colder climates can upgrade to the Ether Light XT Extreme for the ultimate in four-season comfort.

Kelty Late Start 1 Tent

Kelty Late Start 1 Tent
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Budget-minded Kelty tends to fly under the radar among pricier outdoor brands, but its gear strikes a good balance between affordability, durability, and design. The Late Start 1 camping tent is a great lightweight shelter solution for solo thru-hikers. It delivers on all the must-haves like a reasonably roomy interior (for a one-person tent), no-see-um mesh, a 68D fabric floor, and internal storage pockets. But what truly sets it apart for long-distance hikers is the ultra-rapid setup capability. After long days on the trail, this tent is a snap to pitch, whether in the rain or even in the dark. The best part? It’s available for under $150.

Gerber Truss Multi-Tool

Gerber Truss Multi-Tool
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Of all the multipurpose hiking gear on the market, a good multi-tool guarantees the most usefulness and versatility. We love Gerber’s Truss Multi-Tool for a long list of reasons, mainly because it packs 17 tools into a durable, compact, ergonomic package. Thru-hikers will find all the essentials here, including multiple blades, scissors, a saw, pliers, and more. At less than $50, it’s practically free.

In the Kitchen

Nanopresso Portable Espresso Maker

Nanopresso Portable Espresso Maker
Wacaco

Just because you’re planning to disappear into the wilderness for weeks on end doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy a good morning coffee along the way. Wacaco’s Nanopresso is the world’s most portable espresso maker. The ultra-compact design is small enough for even the most weight-conscious backpacker, and the available carry case provides protection for miles on the trail. The kit includes all the tools and accessories for brewing a proper “cuppa” — just add hot water and ground coffee.

Readywise Backpacker Survival Meals

Readywise Backpacker Survival Meals
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There’s no way around the fact that carrying a week’s worth of food or more on your back for up to 12 hours a day is heavy. Dehydrated backpacker meals help lighten that load considerably. Readywise’s Entree Bucket includes 60 servings of its most popular entrees. These include hearty meals like cheesy lasagna, creamy pasta with vegetables, and loaded baked potato casserole that are all packed with nutrients and perfect for fueling up for long days on the trail. The company also caters to specialty diets with vegan and gluten-free options.

GSI Outdoors Halulite Minimalist II System Cookset

GSI Outdoors Halulite Minimalist II System Cookset
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Few things are more comforting than a nice hot meal after a long trail day. GSI Outdoors’ Halulite Minimalist II System Cookset is the perfect camp kit for weight-conscious solo hikers. The all-in-one set is anchored by a 0.6-liter pot and lid for making pouch meals at night. In the morning, slip the pot into the included insulated sleeve, invert the lid for a sippy top, and use it for your morning coffee. The included “foon” (fork-spoon hybrid) makes quick work of hearty meals, soups, and everything in between. Plus, the entire kit (with your own ultralight stove) nests neatly inside itself.

Electronics

Garmin inReach Mini Satellite Messenger

Garmin inReach Mini
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Disappearing into the wilderness for weeks or months on end with nothing but a backpack is liberating and exhilarating. It’s a true test of your mental and physical will. But there’s no need to be unnecessarily cavalier. Ultra-portable satellite messengers like Garmin’s inReach Mini are an invaluable lifeline for any hiker, no matter their level of experience in the backcountry, should things go very, very wrong. It allows hikers to keep their loved ones updated along the way and to call for rescue in a survival emergency.

Phoozy XP3 Series Phone Sleeve

Phoozy XP3 Series Phone Sleeve
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We all love to daydream about disconnecting completely, especially on a thru-hike. But most of us still pack a smartphone, if only for emergencies. The latest models have gotten more impervious to the elements, but it never hurts to bring an extra layer of protection. The Phoozy XP3 Series is a dedicated pouch with enough room for even the largest smartphones (like the Galaxy S10 and iPhone 11 Pro), case and all. It provides military-grade protection against drops and extreme temperatures.

Matador Camera Base Layer

Matador Camera Base Layer
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Thru-hikes provide the best opportunities for epic nature photography. For hikers that need more than just their smartphone camera, that means packing a legit DSLR. To protect that four- or five-figure investment on the trail, there’s Matador’s new Camera Base Layer. It’s a purpose-built cover-up, providing padded, watertight protection for full-size cameras. A magnetic closure allows for instant access for when the perfect flower, landscape, or wildlife pops into the frame. For thru-hikers looking to stay connected on the trail, Matador’s Laptop Base Layer provides added backcountry protection for laptops, too.

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Mike Richard
Mike Richard has traveled the world since 2008. He's kayaked in Antarctica, tracked endangered African wild dogs in South…
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