Practical Light Gear List Appalachian Trail


Update April 2016: I successfully completed this hike in 3 days.
See my trip report 10 Pound Backpack to Hike 100 Miles.
That’s the total weight of everything in my backpack—gear, food, water, and stove fuel. I used that 10 pound backpack to hike 102 with 22,000 feet of elevation gain of the Appalachian Trail through Shenandoah National Park in 3 days. No fair weather hiking, it was more late winter than early spring conditions—rain, sleet, light snow and hard freezes at night. I think I am very close to dialing in a Light Pack that is also supremely efficient at covering long trail miles. I used most of the gear listed below.

Practical Light Gear List Appalachian Trail

Practical Light Gear List Appalachian Trail
Just how light can you go on backpacking gear for the AT and still be an efficient hiker…

I believe this “5 Pound Practical Ultralight Backpacking Gear List” is very close to the lower weight limit of gear to efficiently walk long days on the AT (section hiking or through hiking) without sacrificing comfort, functionality or miles hiked per day. For me Practical Light is sub 12 pound total pack weight (gear, food, water & fuel) to do a ~100 mile section of the AT without resupply.

Overview of Practical Light Gear List Appalachian Trail

2016 Sequel to 2.4 Pound Extreme Ultralight Backpacking on the AT
This spring I am going test my “Practical Light Gear List Appalachian Trail” by re-hiking my 2.4 Pound Extreme Ultralight Backpacking on the AT in Shenandoah National Park. The objective in 2016 will be to answer the question, “*What is Practical Light on the Appalachian Trail?” Well, at least answer the question for me. I am already close to dialing-in this final kit. I tested a beta version of this new kit last Fall on an AT section hike from Harper’s Ferry WV to Pine Grove Furnace PA. I was very happy with the results. I was pulling 25 to 30 mile days without a lot of effort, and I was not lacking in either comfort or functional gear. Stay tuned for a a post hike trip report this Spring…

Summary of changes from ‘07 to 2016

  • Pack under 12 pounds to hike 100 miles with food, water and fuel included. This should not compromise comfort or happiness. But also, my gear should maximize trail miles covered per day. That is, the lightest pack is not the only factor to efficiently hiking the most miles per day. For my other considerations see: *But what exactly is Practical Light on the Appalachian Trail?
  • More durable pack – less time fiddling around trying not to rip pack. More pockets to minimize hiking time lost when diving into the main pack body for something in the middle of the day. Inherently near-waterproof = less time dealing with rainproofing pack and gear in iffy weather.
  • Warmer quilt – to assure a good night’s sleep and full recovery from a long day of hiking. Trimmer dimensions, lighter fabrics keep weight similar to ‘07 quilt.
  • Hammock Camping = more miles per day than ground sleeping. For my rationale on why hammock get you more miles per day see: Hammock Camping Part I: Advantages & disadvantages versus ground systems
  • But! I realize that there is nothing wrong with ground sleeping—it’s a great and very light system. And I know that I am unlikely to convince many (most?) backpackers to depart from traditional camping on the ground. So I’ve included excellent, light ground sleeping gear on the list below.
  • Upgrades to new lighter/better equipment not available in ‘07. Sprinkled in a few more (light!) creature comforts – to keep me sane and happy on the trail.

5 Pound Practical Light Gear List

Click here see it full page, as a Google Sheet

5-lb-practical lighweight

. Click on gear list table image to see full gear list sheet

Why we hike the AT. Glorious sunset from MacAfee Knob. [Photo Karan Girdhani]

Why I hike the AT. To view glorious sunsets like this one from MacAfee Knob. My primary goal is not to cover the most miles per day. [Photo Karan Girdhani]

Discussion of Practical Light Gear for the Appalachian Trail

It’s been almost nine years since I wrote 2.4 Pound Extreme Ultralight Backpacking on the Appalachian Trail in ‘07. Now when I look to optimize my gear, my primary objective is to maximize trail miles with the minimum of effort—not to get the lowest possible pack weight. I call this “Practical Light.”

*But what exactly is Practical Light on the Appalachian Trail? Obviously the interpretation of “practical” is key. We’ve all heard the term “Stupid Light” bantered around but what is the opposite? Smart Light would work as an opposite but it implies a level of hubris some not want to take on. Practical seems a more humble word. Nobody is going to say you are arrogant for just being practical.

For me “Practical Light on the Appalachian Trail” is:

Practical Light on the Appalachian Trail is the gear and food that will maximize trail miles (dawn to dusk hiking) with the minimum of effort for an AT section hike or through hike. (Emphasis on efficient.)


Obviously a very light pack is still a significant contributor towards that goal, but it’s not the only one. Other factors that I consider for maximizing trail miles are:

  • This is not a suffer fest! My first priority is to enjoy myself—that’s why I am out there—not just to cover trail miles. It just turns out that I really enjoy hiking dawn to dusk (as long as I am hiking at my own moderate pace).
  • How well can I sleep and recover from a dawn to dusk day of hiking?
  • Will my gear allow me to camp where I want when I reach the end of my optimal hiking day? I.e. I do not want to be being tied to camping at just AT shelters or the few other areas with flat campable ground.
  • Carrying enough food and the right food to sustain dawn to dusk hiking. 1.7 lb per day of nutritions, high calorie food.
  • Minimizing water carried (while still staying well hydrated). Key here is to filter and drink at the source.
  • No “high-futz/fiddle factor gear” that would reduce my available hiking time

If I compromise any of these to lighten my pack, my gear is no longer practical. That is, I am likely to hike fewer miles per day by cutting weight in this manner.


While my 2.4 pounds of gear worked fine on ’07, I believe that a few more pounds of gear and food would have allowed me to hike even further and enjoy the trip more.

A change in perspective: In ‘07 I only covered gear but did not include the food and water I carried. In this iteration I will include considerations on food and water and include their weights—since this is what will actually be on my back . E.g. I will carry a 3 oz water filter. While that will increase my base pack weight over ’07, my total pack weight will be less since the filter allows me to drink immediately from water sources. I do not intend to carry a drop of water on the trail.

Dutchware Half-Wit Hammock

For my 2016 Hike I will be taking a hammock very similar to this Dutchware in 1.0 Hexon but less the bug netting. It’s incredibly comfortable, ensuring a good night’s sleep. The drab hammock colors, and camo Hammock Gear under-quilt keep me unobtrusive. If I am 100 feet off the trail, I am essentially invisible. [Photo: beta version of this my AT kit last Fall on an a section hike from Harper’s Ferry WV to Pine Grove Furnace PA]

Highlights of Gear Changes for 2016

Sleeping  To: Hammock camping  From: on the ground with a foam pad

New Old Rationale
Dutchware 11 ft. Single Layer Hammock – Hexon 1.0 fabric N/A Hammock camping = more miles per day & more comfortable! See advantages of hammocks
Hammock Gear Phincubator Under-Quilt, (60″ no need for pad under feet) 800fp down, 0.67 oz fabric GossamerGear Foam Sleeping Pad (Torso) Underquilt serves same purpose for a hammock as pad for ground sleepers. More comfort than a full-sized NeoAir
Hammock Gear “+30” Burrow Top Quilt. Trimmed dimensions, 800fp down, 0.67 oz fabric Jacks R Better Stealth (down quilt) Jack’s is still a great quilt. HG is a bit lighter, and I can wrap it around me in camp. I also spec’ed the HG quilt to be warmer so I’d sleep well.
Hammock Gear Cuben Hex Tarp Oware 1.5 cuben Cat Tarp More coverage to keep gear dry in the rain and cut optimized for hammock use


Bottom line: For me hammock camping equates to more miles hiked at the end of the day vs. sleeping on the ground. Why? Sleeping in a hammock dramatically increases suitable campsites on the AT. With a hammock all I need to camp is two trees—the ground below is largely irrelevant. That means I can hike until dusk without the risk of being in un-campable terrain. (Since much of the AT is sloped and rocky it’s not suitable for ground camping. So if I were ground sleeping I would likely need to stop hiking sooner than dusk to camp. I.e. I need to stop at the last shelter or campground that I could comfortably make before dark. Thus I might miss an hour or more of available daylight to hike.) There are many more advantages to hammock camping like a great sleep each night that allows me to more fully recover from a long day of hiking, and the option to avoid crowded, noisy, and heavily impacted campsites. Read more here: Hammock camping article. Hammock Camping Part I: Advantages & disadvantages versus ground systems

And there is nothing wrong with ground camping! If I were to ground camp, my sleeping system would remain quite similar to my ‘07 trip. Although I would use some model of NeoAir for a ground pad. Just getttin’ too old to get a great night’s sleep on a thin foamie! And as with the hammock camping, I would spec’ out a warmer quilt so that I would be guaranteed a good sleep. But with newer, lighter fabrics and trimmer dimensions that warmer quilt weighs less than my ‘07 one. Oh, and I would also take a down vest to wear around camp.

mld burnPack
To: 11 oz Mountain Laurel Designs Burn in Cuben. More durable, more pockets, inherently waterproof
From: 3.8 ounce spinnaker fabric pack: Gossamer Gear Whisper

While the Gossamer Gear Whisper Pack performed fine and I didn’t rip in ‘07, there were a few things that made me look for a similar pack but with more durable fabric and more pockets. 1) the Whisper’s pack fabric was so delicate that I was always looking out not to snag it on something; locating a soft, non-sharp place to put it down and sometimes resting it on the top of my feet when I couldn’t quickly find one. This fiddling takes away hiking time and distracts me from enjoying other things. 2a) while still light, the two quilts for hammock camping (top and bottom) takes a bit more volume in a pack than a single quit/sleeping bag–the Whisper is not quite up to that storage. 2b) even with sufficient volume, I would have my reservations that the seams will hold with such delicate fabric when I stuff two quilts into a pack. 3) the pack had no side pockets to store food and a water bottle, etc. in a more accessible location. Digging into the main pack added fiddle time that took away from hiking time. 4) the Cuben Fiber on the MLD Burn is inherently near-waterproof = less time dealing with rainproofing pack and gear in iffy weather.

NB. Gossamer gear now makes the 9 oz Murmur pack which addresses most of these issues except for pack volume. Altho the volume is fine for ground campers with a single quilt, it’s a bit small to store two quilts for hammock campers. And it is not as waterproof or durable as a cuben fiber pack.

pat-down-vestWarm Camp Clothing  To: a down vest From: nothing! (or rather a quilt worn in camp as a poncho)

Since my quilts are now non-poncho versions (although I can still wrap it around me in camp like a blanket). I have have added a down vest for walking around/being more mobile in camp and for early starts on cold mornings.


Midway on the AT. From my section hike last fall where I evaluated a beta kit of Practical Light Gear for the AT. With a few exceptions, I will use most of that gear this Spring.

Sunrise from my hammock, Shenandoah National Park.

Sunrise from my hammock, Shenandoah National Park.

20 replies
  1. Michael
    Michael says:

    This is a two year thread, but I’ll weigh in. I have returned to my Kelty, circa 1978 , external frame pack. Tried the running shoe footwear, not the right thing after nearly wrecking my ankles on scree. Depending on the snow level, I wear Pivettas or Sundowners, refurbished and re-soled- Dave Page is the best cobbler in the world. Some of the best hikes are near my home-Oakland redwoods, I can leave my house, walk 12 miles in the afternoon and evening, and stealth camp in parkland. Illegal in the eyes of authorities, but since I leave no trace, it seems harmless. What I’ve learned from this lightweight business is to eliminate much of the prescribed clothing for every situation- ( I wear a cotton denim shirt to wear hiking and my Carhardt shorts), eat Spartan-John Muir food- tea, bread, oatmeal, and maybe dried fruit. Same in the Sierras, except I always bring a poncho and a rain jacket. Most of what creates pack weight are “toys”. Leave the phone, camera, and tent. Wear a bug net to carry a bug tent with a poncho “hooch” for shelter. Wear wool- shirt, trousers, and hat in camp. I learn from the lightweight crowd, but a pack to carry your gear and sturdy boots make my hikes more pleasurable.

  2. Henrik
    Henrik says:

    Thanks Alan, I’ll go with your suggestions. What about bottoms, such as Icebreaker leggings 200s or 260s? Would you take them or make do with just hiking pants? I’m probably making the mistake of thinking about ‘what ifs’.

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      The short answer is, just take the hiking pants. The following is an excerpt from Why You Won’t Freeze or Starve Ultralight Backpacking:

      Extra shirts, pants and base-layers are a poor choice to stay warm
      Your money and gear weight is better spent on buying a warmer down bag and jacket. Or even down pants, down hat and down booties. All of these are far warmer per ounce than extra shirts, pants, and base-layers. And you only need one 6-10 oz fleece/wool mid layer garment.

  3. Henrik
    Henrik says:

    Great post. Very helpful. Just a few questions about layering and reducing pack weight. Most of the hikes my wife and I do are 3-season above treeline in Australia (especially Tasmania) and the Scandinavian Arctic. Duration of hikes are usually 10-20 days per hike, averaging 25 km/day. I get by with the HMG windrider 2400 without any problems, but because of age and one bad knee I’m still looking for ways to cut grams. The big three are fine (no chance of hammock camping, unfortunately), cooking gear is the same as you have recommended and getting an XLite women’s mat was also a great suggestion of yours (much better than my XTherm, which is mostly overkill for 3-season hikes). What top layering set up would you recommend? Would you carry a mid-layer or additional long-sleeve wool top or make do with just the one top, plus the vest and rain jacket if chilly or wet? Why no wind-shirt? What about a long-sleeved insulated jacket, like the MH Ghost Whisperer or similar?
    Thanks again for a brilliant site!

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Great Q’s Henrick, not time to answer all of them tonight. More tomorrow. But for now I will answer about the wind shirt. For about the last 3 years, I mostly don’t carry one. I find that inexpensive fleece garments like the North Face TKA 100 Glacier 1/4-Zip to be warm and fairly wind resistant. At the point that it is not warm enough in cold wind, I can wear my rain-jacket as a shell. This works remarkably well for me. Note: that more open fleece like Patagonia R, are not wind-resistant, and do not work as well as warm wind-barrier as the less expensive denser fleece. And if the weather warrants yes, I will bring a jacket like the MH Ghost Whisperer altho I usually prefer the warmer Western Mountaineering Hooded Flash Jacket. I make an assessment before the trip start as to whether I’ll bring a down vest or down jacket an how warm a one.

      OK, looking like I am going to answer the whole thing. My go-to layering system for moderate to cool temps, is the LS wool shirt on this list SmartWool NTS lightweight zip T, the TFN TKA 100 Glacier 1/4-Zip fleece pullover, and one of the down vests and jackets I just mentioned (these are chosen based on the expected weather). On warmer trips I’ll use a nylon LS shirt (also on the list)

      Best, -alan

  4. Friar Rodney Burnap
    Friar Rodney Burnap says:

    I am a light weight backpacker, that uses external frame backpacks . . .I am not out in the woods to see how fast I can hike through them . . .I don’t have a mileage goal. If I hike 2 miles today and tomorrow hike 15 or 20 that is backpacking to me . . .
    To me ultra light backpacking seem silly, because now, for many ultra light backpacking is about the weight or the lack there of and not so much about the beautiful environment your are in. The Backpacking community would do great to go back and read the Complete Walker series again . . .and relearn the finer things that Colin Fletcher could teach us about the fine art of walking . . .Friar Brother Rodney

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      I agree completely. Job one is to enjoy “the beautiful environment your are in.”
      In the first few parts of my post I write :

      • “Fun: And last but certainly most important is enjoying the trip. Yes, I had fun. Sometimes more “fun” than I wanted, but for the most part I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The Blue Ridge put on a spectacular show with weather fronts rolling through.”
      • “But more important, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I was warm, happy and comfortably cruising along one of the most spectacular ridge lines on the east. The kooky weather made for great entertainment and some spectacular views.”

      I just happen to most fully appreciate “the beautiful environment your are in” as I walk. I find walking and taking in the environment as complimentary. The more I walk the more I see and enjoy.

      May your hikes bring you equal pleasure. Warmest, -alan

    • Ryan Keane
      Ryan Keane says:

      I love Colin Fletcher, but at least by his 3rd edition (the copy I own), he was already mostly using an internal frame pack and was pretty excited about a lot of the ultralight innovations coming out, and that was 1984! He even recommends potentially hiking on just 30g of spirulina per day as your whole food source. It’s all about the walking and appreciating nature when I’m in the woods and mountains, but it’s all about the gear when I’m sitting here wasting time on my computer. :)

  5. Jake
    Jake says:

    Great work as always Alan. Just curious about something – any insight as to why you’ve opted for the HG Hex tarp as opposed to one of their tarps with doors?

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      I own both. Both are good tarps. Given that weight is a significant consideration for the exercise, this is not a winter list, and that I will be camping in trees where there should not be strongly windblown precip, I think the standard Hex is fine. And the hex has enough coverage to adequately deal some drifting precip. Again both are great tarps. Were I planning to be in a more exposed area, or winter camping, I would take the tarp with the doors. -a

      • Jake
        Jake says:

        Good to know you own both and your reasoning makes total sense. Of the HG tarps with doors, do you own the Winter Palace or the Standard?

        I’m looking at investing in the Standard Tarp w/ Doors, Winter Palace or the Hex at present for year round use you see. I’m leaning towards the Standard tarp w/ doors for the sake of versatility, weight and cost effectiveness. Ideally I’d buy a couple tarps but one tarp to rule them all is the most sensible move at present due to budget constraints. Perhaps a modular option could be interesting too – i.e a Hex w/ removable doors? This could add to the undesirable fiddle factor though.

        If you have any additional thoughts your input would be much appreciated!

        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          I own the one with doors. And you are right, if you were to get one tarp this would probably be it. We can take this conversation off-line and I will tell you about a great method to easily keep those doors neatly out of the way when not in use. all the best, -alan

        • Jake
          Jake says:

          Both the Winter Palace and Standard have doors – but I will drop you a message on your facebook page now. Thanks a lot! :)

        • nate
          nate says:

          Hi Alan,

          I too have the Hex tarp with doors. I would really like to hear about your method for keeping the doors out of the way when not in use. Would you mind sharing it here, or should i contact you directly as well? Thanks.

        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          Haven’t forgotten about the tarp doors. This week’s post took a bit longer than expected. I have raw pics of the tarp doors, just need to edit them and put the explanatory text together. Thanks for your patience. -alan

        • nate
          nate says:

          Thanks Alan. I’m a new visitor to your site. Great info. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and knowledge.

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