Exactly what you need & nothing more: ultralight gear for Appalachian Trail thru hikers
Text & illustrations by Tyson Perkins
Early summer 2014, my girlfriend, Kendra Jackson, and I took on our second 5000-footer together—Mount Katahdin. Soon after waking up the day of our ascent we met a 20-something New York City-based mountain guide, Peter. A veteran thru-hiker, he had a wealth of knowledge about backcountry travel and the Appalachian Trail. He taught us about shelters that set up with trekking poles instead of your common tent poles, trail names, “Trail Magic,” “Zero Days,” “Nero Days,” “Hiker Hobble” and cleaning yourself with baby wipes. We immediately got overly enamored and stoked on this magically ridiculous world and decided to hike the “AT.” Fast travel to the summer of 2015, and Kendra and I began taking on adventures such as the Mahoosuc Range between New Hampshire and Maine in a weekend and returning to work on Monday.
On our first forays into the wilderness, we took awkward thrift store backpacks and a beaten-down double sleeping bag. We cooked dinner on a heavy propane stove right near our Walmart dome tent. Needless to say we had a ton of fun using terrible gear, but knew there had to be better options out there. Through my job as a tent maker at Hyperlite Mountain Gear, I gleaned a ton of ultralight knowledge from the owner, Mike St. Pierre. The more I learned, the easier our trips became. And, more importantly, we enjoyed our backcountry adventures even more. And now’s the time. We’re taking all that we have learned since 2014 and heading out for our Appalachian Trail thru hike. In this blog post I detail our planning, preparation and gear.
We really enjoyed planning the logistics of this trip, regularly geeking out over Excel spread sheets and line art graphs (Kendra developed the one published to the right) and the ultralight Appalachian Trail Gear we planned to take. We’ve meticulously categorized and sorted all our mail drop supplies along the AT, and we’ve mapped out our post office stops and planned out how we will meet up with Kendra’s parents in Shenandoah National Park. Everyone needs to take breaks, and we have come up with a plan to take some without compromising our March 4th to July 22nd timeline. If we stick to the plan, we’ll hike 16 miles a day on average. We’ve developed a “bank” system. Essentially, any miles we do over the 16-mile average we add to the bank, and once we have a days worth of miles in it, we can take a full day off. Also, we built in two full Zero Days. And, we planned our food and gear very carefully…
Home-made dehydrated meals or Mountain House? Nalgene® or a SmartWater bottle? Eucalyptus or almond soap?!?! There are so many choices, some of which are easy to make, and some that seem like you are perpetually leaving something behind. Will I need a footprint for my shelter? Will down be a superior sleeping bag choice? These are things that we will not find out until we really take them out and put them to the test. Gear is really fun. Planning what to take was actually my favorite part of this whole endeavor.
Here is a quick breakdown of our ultralight gear for Appalachian Trail thru hikes:
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo II Shelter System (29.9oz)
(his) Feathered Friends Osprey UL 30 (25oz)
(hers) Feathered Friends Egret Nano 20 (31oz)
(his) Sea to Summit Coolmax Liner (9oz)
(hers) Sea to Summit Reactor Compact Plus Liner (8.1oz)
2x – Neoair Xlite (24oz)
Vargo Triad Alcohol Stove (With 8oz flip-top bottle) (2oz)
Vargo Windscreen (1oz)
(his) Leki Cristallo (18oz)
(hers) L.L Bean Ridgehiker Powerlock (19.8oz)
**We’ll go into details about their clothing in a future post, soon!**
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Cf8 Stuff Sacks (Nano for the stove, Small for the GoPro, Small for the water pump andLarge for the Echo II Insert and Extra Large for the Echo II Beak & Tarp)
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Roll-Top Stuff Sacks (Small for small items and toiletries and Large for food and cookset)
2 Hyperlite Mountain Gear Large Stuff Sack Pillows
Hyperlite Mountain Gear CF11 Pack Pods (coming soon…)
(his) Black Diamond Cosmo Headlamp (3.2oz)
(hers) Petzl Tikka+ Headlamp (3oz)
GoPro Hero4 Silver (5.2oz)
GoPro attachments (12oz)
Solar Battery Bank (3.5oz)
(hers) iPhone 4 (4.8oz)
(his) iPhone 6 (4.5oz)
Deck of cards (3.3oz)
Dr. Bronners soap (2oz)
Total Weight: 296.3 Ounces (18.5 lbs)
Why did we choose these things? We extensively tested each piece of gear more than once, with the exception of the alcohol stove. We made this last-minute change because it meant huge weight savings. My parents graciously bought me an MSR Whisperlite International on my last birthday, and we used it religiously. It lights up on super cold nights, and when you get stuck at high elevation. However, we decided to leave it behind because we won’t be consistently cooking at high elevations, nor will it be extremely cold in the night. The Whisperlite is a workhorse; it burns like the hammers of hell. So we did lose a couple minutes on our boil time with the alcohol stove, though we feel the weight savings is worth it. In the final hour we also decided to leave our Nalgene® water bottles at home and just use a couple SmartWater 1L. We saved a bit over 5oz per bottle. Yea, we’ll take that.
Next step… Kendra and I carefully divided the gear so that each persons’ base pack weight would be less than ten pounds. Because we are going so ultralight, we felt comfortable carrying a few luxuries. This weight may alter if we decide to pick up something extra, or drop something we find we don’t need along the way. And that brings us to…
Why two heads are better than one for ultralight thru-hiking:
Not only can we divide and lighten our pack weights, but Kendra and I have also devised a way to divide tasks to be more efficient in camp along the Appalachian Trail. When we arrive to camp in the evening we have exactly three things in mind to take care of: A stable shelter, a warm meal and dry sleeping bags. After we batten down our Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo II Shelter System, I will begin priming the Vargo Triad alcohol stove, whilst Kendra fluffs the two Feathered Friends sleeping bags and inflates our Therm-A-Rest Neoair Xlites. This is a system that works well for us; dividing and conquering these chores allows optimal efficiency in time and energy expended. We practiced this over 200 miles of backpacking the last year in the New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest, and in our wicked good home state of Maine. We are now ready to take this mentality to the Appalachian Trail and complete it, in its entirety from Springer Mountain to Mount Katahdin.
This Two Person method is very efficient and practical for a bunch of additional situations, especially on the AT. Here’s how:
- 1) Dryness: Staying dry is super important to us, so we have devised a plan to avoid getting wet. One person will carry just the Insert from our Echo II system in one drawstring stuff sack. The other person will carry the Echo II Tarp and Beak in their backpack, also in a separate drawstring stuff sack. It will also be easier to break down and set up the system in the rain with two people without compromising our Insert or other equipment.
- 2) Water: We use a water pump (more on this in a future blog post), and it works really well for two people. One person can pump, while the other person manages water containers or navigates the business end to a more favorable spot.
- 3) Food: Buying in bulk for two people is always cheaper.
- 4) Lodging: Rooms are less expensive, showers have more bang for their buck, and we can tell each other when we totally smell too bad to go ask someone for directions.
About me: When I was born I was given the name Tyson Perkins, and since that day it has been approximately 23 years. I’m a tent maker for Hyperlite Mountain Gear, and I’m also a rock climbing instructor at our local gym, Evo Rock and Fitness. When I’m not at those places I’m usually found bouldering outside or hiking around the White Mountains.
You can also read more trip reports from Kendra on AppalachianTrials.com.