With the holidays upon us, most of the 2015ers are getting their gear research finished and updating their wish lists with the gear they’d love to have on their AT thru hike. As someone who was in your shoes a few short years ago (and who worked in a hostel doing pack shakedowns for a season in 2013), I’d like to give you some advice as to what gear you can skip adding to your list, as chances are you won’t need it anyway.
A solar charger for your electronics
Doesn’t a solar charger sound cool? You can charge your phone up every day and keep the battery full for those Kodak moments you’ll be sure to have every single day! In reality, the Appalachian Trail is called “The Green Tunnel” for a reason. You’re actually not going to be spending much time in direct sunlight, which is how these things get their charging power in the first place. I would say more than half of the people on the trail in 2012 that had these chargers sent them home at Neel Gap (only 30 miles in). I would say by Damascus, VA (mile 470ish) 99% of people had sent theirs back home. In Maine if we hadn't convinced hikers to send them home in their initial pack shakedown in Millinocket, I would say most, if not 99% or so, had sent them home in Monson. If you’re turning off your phone at night and keeping it in airplane mode during the day, you can easily get 5-7 days on a full charge from going into town (I've done this on an iPhone 4S and an iPhone 6; NoKey has done this on a Galaxy S3 and S5). Trust me, you don’t want to be the guy who is always on his phone in camp at night anyway. If you really think you need the extra power for your devices, consider getting an external battery pack that can hold a full 2 charges for your specific device.
Rain pants are good for pretty much one thing on the AT - an extra layer to keep you warm, especially when it’s windy or chilly. I know, I know, you’re probably thinking that warm and dry sound like a good thing… but the fact of the matter is if you hike in rain pants you’re going to sweat. You’re going to sweat and that moisture you’re repelling from the rain is pretty much canceling itself out. A good rain jacket will really be all you need most of the time. Rain ponchos that also cover your pack are starting to become wildly popular due to their breathability and double usage (always a big plus with thru hikers) and can be found online with a simple google search.
Bear “anything” - bell, canister, spray, etc.
The bears we have here on the east coast are black bears, which are normally very afraid of humans. While there are always exceptions to this, black bears are often smelling you and hiding from you before you even ever see them. If a product has the word “bear” in front of it, chances are you aren’t going to need it on the Appalachian Trail. Granted, a bear canister is required for camping in Georgia between Jerard Gap and Neel Gap, but this short stretch can easily be done in one day by even the most fresh-footed new thru hiker. The ATC is also starting to recommend hikers carrying a bear canister from Springer to Damascus, but I honestly don't see this catching on for thru hiking. Canisters are heavy, cumbersome, and often don't hold the amount of food you need it to on a long-distance hike. Bear spray is just added weight and a bear bell is just annoying to all the other people around you. The bear line, while useful, is seldom used correctly by hikers anyway. If you’re planning to keep using your bear line to hang your food and toiletries, I highly recommend learning to use it and do a proper hang by watching videos on YouTube. Otherwise, maybe look into getting an Ursack for your food bag if you’re really concerned about protection from animals. I've found that on trail the most common animal "attack" on a food bag is a mouse or a squirrel in the middle of the night.
Deodorant and most first aid items
If you’re going 5-7 days between a shower, you’re going to stink anyway -and everyone else stinks too. This is just a fact of doing a long-distance hike. Trying to put on deodorant isn’t going to help that set-in hiker funk that comes from wearing the same clothing day in and day out. Save yourself the melting stick and leave it at home. While you’re at it, I’m pretty sure 90% of your first aid kit can go home too. While when you’re first starting out some Second Skin for blisters could be great, but Band-Aids can all be left at home. Duct tape/Gorilla Tape and Leuko tape will be the only thing that comes even remotely close to sticking to your skin during a long day of hiking. Other than ibuprofen and the occasional emergency Benadryl, pretty much all other over-the-counter meds can stay home too. Obviously, if you’re taking prescription meds you should always bring those. If you've bought a pre-assembled first aid kit and there are items in there you don't know how to use, chuck them. (And if you want to know how to treat a few common hiking injuries, check out a post I wrote back in November 2015 here.)
This sort of goes along with the deodorant. You think it’d be nice to have an extra set of clothes to hike in, but in reality extra weight on your back isn’t worth it. For my thru hike, I wore the same outfit to hike in every single day with three pairs of socks rotated - right side out, the next day inside out. I’d leave the dirty ones inside out in my clothes bag and put on a clean pair for day three. This way, I could get away with only doing laundry every 6 days at the minimum. I had a dress I’d wear in town while I was washing my one set of clothes and three pairs of socks. Obviously, you’ll have a layer for cooler days at the beginning and possibly at the end of your hike, but an extra set of clothes, sleeping clothes, etc. can all be left at home. (If you want to see an example of the clothes I carry for a thru hike, please check out my gear list here).
When it comes to long-distance hiking, the mantra “hike your own hike” is oft-repeated and the same goes for this blog post. If you’re willing and able to carry the extra weight from some of the items listed above then by all means go ahead and carry them. These are just some of the things I saw nearly all thru hikers ditching in the first 100 miles, both northbounders and southbounders. Of course, every hiker will have their luxury item they just won’t part with, be it a pillow or a titanium trowel to dig cat holes. I hope this list has helped you to narrow down your gear for your upcoming long distance hike.
Special thanks goes out to 2012 Hiker Trash Anonymous for helping me to confirm the items listed in this post.