Perhaps you were inspired by Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods or by Cheryl Strayed’s account of her transformative trek in Wild. Thru-hiking is most commonly associated with long-distance routes like the Appalachian Trail (AT), the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). Taking six months (or more) to do anything can be challenging and require a serious commitment, and tackling one of these iconic paths also takes a lot of planning and the right equipment.
Here’s our roundup of the best thru-hiking gear for anyone looking to take a long sabbatical or just check off another section on one of North America’s mega treks.
Personal note: I have been backpacking since the early 1980s (as a Boy Scout) and have used a vast array of gear over the last three plus decades. This particular gear list is from which my niece and I will pull from as we prepare to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail this summer.
Boots are the foundation on which all great hikes are built upon. Choose the wrong footwear and you could be in for a miserable experience. While some claim that they are trail ready right out of the box, I highly recommend spending ample time breaking them in before hitting the trail.
Founded in 1932, Danner began making work boots in the midst of the Great Depression. The United States-based brand became the only domestic manufacturer of hiking boots in the 1960s. These heavy duty, waterproof boots are designed for the most rugged conditions. Note: My first pair of hiking boots were Danner and they survived for over a decade with heavy use.
This waterproof, lightweight trekking boot is certain to be a favorite right of the box. The brand is handcrafted in Europe, where hiking is a way of life. Note: I have used LOWA boots across three continents and have never been disappointed in the performance or in the quality craftsmanship.
The brand has been making boots since 1964 and has been a staple in the outdoor space since. The lightweight, waterproof Breeze is designed for extended overnight trips and would be ideal for thru hikes when carrying lighter loads.
Located near the Dolomite Mountains in Northern Italy, the brand was founded in 1964. This lightweight, yet rugged waterproof boot is ideal for carrying heavy loads over challenging terrain.
When spending multi-days and weeks on the trail, I prefer to wear a little beefier boot to help with trail conditions while carrying heavier loads. The Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX is better designed for traveling lighter and faster — think of it as a trail running shoe with more ankle support. This waterproof option is ideal for ultralight backpacking where comfort is paramount.
At under two pounds, these waterproof shoes are designed for fast pursuits under a variety of conditions while carrying lighter weight (much like the Salomons above).
Backpacks are like boots: they work best when properly fitted. They come in all sizes, from ultralight to “carry everything but the kitchen sink.” Here are some choices that cover the spectrum from minimalist to just shy of expedition packs.
On a personal note, my first internal frame pack was the Lowe Contour IV. The Diran features the all-new V-TRAX carry system which is a simple, hook and loop, back-length adjustable back panel. Note: My niece is testing the Lowe Diran 50:60.
Gregory’s best-selling pack series has been fully redesigned for 2018. The Response A3 Suspension automatically adapts to your body and to the terrain. The pack is also available in 65L and 85L models.
This ultralight thru-hiking pack weighs less than half of other packs on the list. At just over 2.5 pounds for the large model, Exos is loaded with features to get you from start to finish. Minimalist hikers will love the backpack’s strippable features. Note: My niece is testing the Osprey Eja 48L.
It’s easy to dial in to your proper fit with a pack that is available in six sizes. Mystery Ranch packs are crafted by the same man that created Dana Design packs. At just over 5.25 pounds, this nearly bombproof backpack features a light Adventure Frame, two vertical external torpedo pockets, and a removable lid. Note: My niece is testing the Mystery Ranch Stein 62.
Another minimalist pack in the list, the Scream weighs just under 3 pounds. Though built for ultralight pursuits, the pack is constructed of tear and abrasion resistant fabrics. Dual side panel mesh pockets will accommodate most 32-ounce water bottles while an internal hydration sleeve fits up to 3L bladder.
The Aircontact back system is designed to lighten heavy loads by keeping the weight close to the back while providing excellent ventilation. Although it is one of the heaviest packs in this list, the excellent fit paired with the Cariflex hipbelt will help you carry hefty loads with ease.
Conditions can change and it’s nice to be able to retreat to the safety of your own shelter at the end of a long day on on the trail. Tent technology has evolved; today’s lighter fabrics and poles make carrying a tent an advantageous option.
This lightweight, two-person, free-standing tent has a double door and double vestibule for easy access. The hubbed poles and color-coded webbing make for an “almost” foolproof setup. It also comes equipped with a footprint and gear loft.
With a total packed weight of just over two pounds, this is the lightest tent in our roundup. For those looking for an ultralight option and don’t mind foregoing a freestanding model, this is the perfect tent.
While a little heavier than the other picks on this list, this spacious tent may be worth the extra weight. The single pole setup is quick and easy while the arched center pole assists in shedding precipitation and providing maximum headroom height.
Clocking in at under four pounds, this freestanding tent features trapezoidal vestibules to provide ample storage room. The high-positioned pole hubs help create more livable space (this is ideal when inclement) weather keeps you tent=bound). The overhead Light Pockets utilize special light-diffusing fabric to cast an even glow throughout the tent.
This tent is available as the 2Lite Trek or 2Lite ($338). The Trek, our favorite of the two, utilizes trekking poles to complete setup, eliminating 4 oz of weight. Both tents are under 3 pounds (including stakes), but since most thru-hikers bring trekking poles, you might as well save the extra ounces with the Trek for extra food.
Named after a lake in northern Sweden, the Anjan is a strong, tunnel-shaped design that features a single mesh door. At under 4 pounds, the inner and outer tent are linked for simultaneous pitching. An optional footprint can be left attached.
Sleeping Bags and Pads
Nothing feels better than slipping into a warm sleeping bag tucked away in your tent while the rain methodically pelts your shelter. Pair the sleeping bag with a comfortable, insulated pad and the stage is set for a relaxing night’s sleep.
This 35-degree Fahrenheit, 800 fill power hydrophobic European goose down bag features Pertex Quantum inner and outer fabrics to ensure maximum loft while keeping the bag weight at a minimum. The standard length bag weighs just 580g (1.28 pounds).
The spoon-shaped design provides extra room at the elbows and knees and is ideal for side sleepers. At under 3 pounds (standard length), the 650 fill power hydrophobic down bag also features Thermo Gills, which allow the sleeper to vent body heat without allowing cold drafts into the bag.
Available in synthetic (40 degrees Fahrenheit) and down (20 degrees Fahrenheit) options, this fully customizable bag system allows the user to adjust for a custom fit. Paired with the liner, the temperature rating increases by 20°F (so 20 degrees Fahrenheit for synthetic and 0 degrees Fahrenheit for down).
This 20-degree Fahrenheit, ultralight mummy bag carries the same name as the popular jacket and is insulated with 900-fill power goose down. At under two pounds (even for the long), this bag also features a six chamber hood design to maintain loft around the head, baffle spacing specially designed for maximum warmth while minimizing weight, and QShield Dpwn, which maintains maximum loft while resisting moisture.
This 35-degree Fahrenheit bag is now lighter and 10 percent more compressible with 700-fill ProDown for warmer expeditions. Additional features include a vaulted footbox and pad loops, which allow attachment of the bag to a sleeping pad.
What’s not to love about this sleeping pad? In addition to the 3 inches of cushioned loft to insure a comfortable night’s sleep, you can choose from a range of options including: insulated or non-insulated, and six different sizes based on your personal preferences.
When I graduated from a closed cell-foam pad almost 30 years ago, it was to a Therm-a-Rest pad. That pad weighed well over 2.5 pounds. The technology has come a long way and the company claims that the ProLite is lightest and most compact self-inflating mattress available. The ProLite (which clocks in bettern 9 ounces and 1 pound, 8 ounces) weighs half of what that original mattress did almost three decades ago for the same thickness. (Note: I still have that original pad in my gear closet.)
This compact cooking set contains two 1.3L pots (one of which contains a heat exchanger), a transparent strainer lid, and lockable tongs. The burner is integrated with the wind guard. All that is required to begin cooking is to remove the wind guard from the pot, connect the gas, and light it up.
An all-in-one cook and eat kit is ideal for solo backpackers. The pot does double duty as your eating and drinking utensil, as well as the home for the 4-ounce fuel canister. If you’re looking for a little bigger option or have a partner for your adventure, consider the MSR Trail Lite Duo.
This nesting set includes two pots (1.2L and 2.7L) with lids, two insulated mugs, and two bowls. It’s a great option for dual backpackers but can be pared down for solo adventures.
Neatly packed in a rugged stuff sack that doubles as a wash basin, this nesting solution contains a 2L pot, frying pan, two insulated mugs with Sip-It tops, two bowls, and a pot gripper.
A 12-piece integrated kitchen set like this one can be utilized to cook gourmet backcountry meals or pared down to work with solo adventures.
Water Filtration System
Just fill, hang, and let gravity do the work. Water can be consumed directly from the reservoir or used to refill another bottle with an filter rate of 2 liters per minute.
This microfilter kit features modular components that allow it be be utilized as a gravity filter in camp or a pocket-sized filter while on the trail. The two reservoirs are marked to discern between clean and unfiltered water.
What’s more stable than two legs? Why, four of course. Trekking poles are advantageous when traversing diverse terrain and provide that extra stability for carrying weight. The LEKI folding carbon poles are lightweight and pack down easily for storage or transport. The SpeedLock 2 provides a 20cm adjustment range