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2004 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike

What is it:

The Appalachian Trail spans roughly 2,174 miles across 13 states from Georgia to Maine.


Most people who hike Northbound start the AT in March or April and take 5 to 6+ months to hike it. It is best to finish before mid-October when the snow starts in New Hampshire and Maine.

I started late, May 17th due to having just graduated college that year. I finished in about 5 months, October 7th 2004.

What is it like:

The AT is notoriously wet and can be muddy and rocky in some sections. Some hikers get sub-freezing temperatures and snow near the beginning if they start early. Others get snow at the end if they finish late. The middle states are hot and humid in the summer.

Trail towns and resupply are generally about 3-5 days apart. The longest section, the "100 mile wilderness" in Maine can be done in 6 or 7 days.

Logistically the AT is one of the easiest trails because there are many other people around to help, and resources are not far apart. The AT has lean-to style shelters every 5-10 miles so you don't always have to camp, and water sources are generally plentiful. The AT is a very well established trail, most of it is well marked and easy to follow. You can get by without a map or compass.

Physically the AT is quite challenging. It can be steep and rugged, and it constantly climbs up and down hills and mountains, often for no reason at all. Most of the trail is under tree cover but there are some sections that are above tree-line. It can be mentally wearing. You can walk for days under trees without much of a view, or be wet for days at a time.

What I actually carried in 2004:

When I did the AT I was a broke kid just out of school. I was into making my own gear but had not started ZPacks yet. I carried a homemade backpack and tarp-tent made of Sil-nylon. My tent was a little bit too short for me and my pack often needed repairs.

I had a homemade 20F down quilt that was a little bit too narrow, with no closure on the bottom.

My rain gear was a homemade nylon wind shirt worn under a trash bag with holes at the arms and neck. I hiked in board shorts and when it rained I got wet.

My gear may not have been particularly good, but my base weight (all gear not including food and water) of about 8 lbs was incredible at the time. I picked up the trail name "Lightweight Joe" for the AT. I could have hiked much more comfortably, and even lighter with modern ultralight gear!

What I would carry if I were to do it again today:

On the AT you need to be prepared for temperatures from a bit below freezing to hot and humid. You could get light snow. It probably will rain every other day. Some people send home their cold weather gear during the summer, and pick it up again up North.

My updated gear list could be used for the full trip without substitutions. If I were to do it again I would start at the beginning of May and plan to finish in September, to avoid most of the freezing weather.

I feel that this list is *pretty light* without making many compromises in comfort.

Updated Applachian Trail Gear List:

OuncesPacking System
2152L Arc Blast Backpack
1Pair Shoulder Pouches
1.5Pair Belt Pouches
OuncesShelter System
14.3Hexamid Solo Tent w/ solo groundsheet
2.28x Carbon Tent Stakes w/ stake sack
OuncesSleeping System
18ZPacks 20F Reg, Long Down Sleeping Bag
.9Medium Dry Bag
8Neoair Xlite Pad, size small
OuncesCooking System
3.3.6L Evernew Pot
.2Titanium short handle spoon
.5Lightload Towel
.4Mini-Bic Lighter
.2Homemade Alcohol Stove
.58 oz fuel bottle
1.4Roll top Blast Food Bag
OuncesWater Storage
1.51 Quart Powerade Bottle
1.51 Quart Powerade Bottle
1.32L Sawyer Bladder
1.3Sawyer Mini Filter
OuncesMiscellaneous Items
5Pentax W60 Waterproof Camera
12x Spare Camera Battery
1.5Pak-Light w/ homemade headband
.7Wenger Esquire Pocket Knife
.5Silva Compass / Thermometer
.3ZPacks Travel Toothbrush
.8Travel size toothpaste tube.
.3Credit Card, License, Cash in Wallet pouch
.950ft 1.75mm Z-Line cord (repairs, bear bag)
.44x Mini-D Carabiners
.2Mechanical pencil, paper for notes
.3Chap Stick
.01Ear plugs
OuncesGear Repair
.63x strips of Cuben Fiber Repair Tape
.16x Large safety pins
.1Sewing Needles, dental floss thread
OuncesCarried Clothing
4.5Challenger Rain Jacket
1.9ZPacks Rain Kilt
1.0Challenger Rain Mitts
.9ZPacks Fleece Hat
1.9ZPacks Wind Shell Jacket
8.9ZPacks Climashield insulated Jacket (coming soon)
1.7Medium Pillow Dry Bag
OuncesWorn Items (Not part of base weight)
10.2Columbia Silver Ridge II Zip off pants
7.3Champion long sleeve, breathable shirt
.9Ultamax Triathlete low cut socks
3.5Patagonia boxers
3.9ZPacks Pointy Hat
1.5Velocity Visor
23Teva Grecko Sandals
7.3ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff
OuncesTotal Base Weight
112.47 lbs .4 ounces (3.1 kg)

The 52L Arc Blast backpack is large enough to hold 5-6 days of food in addition to this gear list. On a longer section I would lash my tent to the top of the pack to free up more space inside for food. The pack's frame helps it comfortably carry up to 25-30 lbs, which is more than I would ever need on the AT. I store most of my small miscellaneous items in the shoulder pouches and belt pouches.

I chose the Hexamid Solo tent because it is the lightest option. The AT has shelters every 5-10 miles and I would likely use those some of the time, especially when the weather was the worst. The removable floor on the Hexamid tent would be useful for sleeping on dirty shelter floors, garage floors, under park pavilions and other odd places that you may end up sleeping on the AT.

The Solplex, Altaplex, or Duplex tents would also be good choices.

I chose a 20F sleeping bag because it can occasionally get below freezing or snow. There are also nights when you are soaked, or when the air is saturated with water and it feels colder than it is. On hot nights I would just partially cover myself or sleep in my jacket alone.

I chose a rain kilt over pants because it is warm more often than it is cold on the AT, and it is never bitter cold during the summer months. I chose a rain jacket over a poncho because it is more comfortable, and it rains all the time on the AT. It can also be worn on laundry day.

I chose an alcohol stove because it is lightweight and fuel (Heat gas line antifreeze) is easy to come by at most gas stations. I mainly cook simple things like instant noodles, mashed potatoes, and the occasional cook-in-the-bag meal.

I normally don't use any water filtration or treatment at all, but the Sawyer Mini is so light it is worth having for the nastiest water sources. I did get sick a few times on my thru-hikes due to not treating any water.

My clothing system is arranged such that I can and would wear every item at once when needed. All my clothing is synthetic, quick drying, and stays warm when wet. I do not carry any "change" of clothes and I sleep in the same clothes I hike in.

Some people like to add sleep clothes or town clothes but that is more weight.

I hiked all of my thru-hikes 100% in sandals. Sandals aren't for everyone, but they keep my feet cool, dry and comfortable. You do have to be a little more careful and light on your feet.