Learn More

Food, Water & Gear

What you carry with you on your hike depends on how far you’re going, where, and when. Planning is key for a successful time on the Appalachian Trail (A.T.).

Hiking-friendly foods

If you’re out for the day or the weekend, you can probably pack whatever foods you like best, including fresh fruit or a deli sandwich with the works. But since these spoil quickly or are heavy due to their high water content, they’re not good for extended backpacking trips.

atc_rp14224_dsc_4778-lpr

Breakfast

Instant oatmeal or grits, powdered milk and breakfast cereals that won’t crush easily, and toaster pastries are quick favorites.

atc_rp3049_photo-lpr

Lunch

Crackers and cheese, tuna and chicken in foil packets, tortillas, pita bread or bagels, and peanut butter, nut butters and other spreadable items are popular lunch options.

atc_rp3049_photo-lpr
atc_rp4383_jesse-nebus_derek-harris_tommy-freeman_jaala-spencer_devin-rodgers_2012_by_jaala-spencer

Dinner

Dried foods like pasta that can be boiled and prepared on portable stoves are popular with hikers. Tuna or chicken in foil packets can add protein, or textured vegetable protein (tvp) can be used. Some instant foods require only that you boil water.

atc_rp7592_img_0794

Snacks

Carry lots of snacks, including things you can stow in your pockets and nibble while you’re hiking. You’ll have more energy if you snack often compared to if you eat ​only big meals. Energy bars or a mix of dried fruit, nuts, and chocolate bits work well.

atc_rp7592_img_0794
fire-2915539_1920

Campfires

Building campfires to cook is not the best strategy. Backpacking stoves are more convenient and reliable in wet weather, and minimizes your impact on the environment around you. In some areas, campfires are prohibited.

atc_rp15708_20170726_111817-lpr

Pack In/Pack Out

Be sure to pack out all your garbage, including items such as apple cores and orange peels. Don’t burn garbage in a campfire; it rarely burns completely and may produce harmful fumes.

atc_rp15708_20170726_111817-lpr

How much should you carry?

Backpacking burns a lot of energy. However, novice backpackers on the A.T. often make the mistake of carrying too much food. An overly heavy pack with excess food can take the fun out of backpacking. When deciding how much food to carry for your trip, keep these tips in mind.

  • Avoid canned foods or foods high in water weight.
  • 1.5 to 2 pounds per day to start can be adequate in most circumstances if your food is high in calories, but if you are doing big miles or rugged terrain with a lot of elevation gain you will probably need more. On a long-distance hike you will develop a bigger appetite and may also need to carry more.
  • In cold weather, when you need more calories to stay warm. Carry 2.5 pounds per day.
  • In winter or early spring, carry enough food for an extra day or two in case you are stranded by a snowstorm.
  • Many lightweight backpacking staples can be purchased at a grocery store. You need not rely on expensive, prepared “backpacking food” sold at camping stores, although these products can offer convenience and variety.
  • Dehydrating your own food can provide you with nutritious and lightweight meals and snacks, but is labor and time-intensive.
atc_rp16270_katina_daanen_2017_by_kdaanen-lpr

Resupply on the Trail

For longer trips you can either buy food along the way or mail it to yourself using a “drop box” or a “bounce box.” Explore these options in the food resupply section of the thru-hiker portion of our website.

Gear needed for the Trail

If you’re backpacking and plan to camp out, we suggest you consult a good “how-to” book for details about what to carry, or that you talk to an experienced hiker.

​Don’t forget that some items can be shared with a partner to lighten the load!

Day Hike: 10 Gear Essentials

Hiking with Dogs in Mt. Rogers-Grayson Highlands

Navigation: In addition to planning ahead so that you know the terrain you expect to cover and how the Trail is marked, you will want to pack a map and a compass and have the knowledge to know how to use them. If you bring a GPS, bring extra batteries, and know how to use it. Bringing a guidebook can also help orient you along the way by describing landmarks, etc.

Insulation: Year-round, carry a long-sleeved shirt, wool/fleece-lined hat, a rain jacket or poncho. These ensure you can regulate your temperature when the rain sets in or the wind picks up. Layers like a fleece sweater or jacket, long pants, and gloves are essentials to your backpack when you’re hiking anytime beyond the height of summer.

Hydration: Whether you use water bottles or a tube hydration system, have the capacity to carry at least 2 quarts. A water purification system like iodine, bleach, Aqua Mira, filters, or UV light are recommended since they neutralize or eliminate viruses, bacteria and other naturally occurring entities that could be harmful to hikers.

Nutrition: Pack enough snacks to fuel your body for the exertion of your hike. Pack one extra snack for use in the event of an emergency that keeps you on Trail longer than expected. Make sure to carry a plastic bag to pack-out anything you don’t consume, like apple cores, excess food, or food packaging.

Illumination: Carry a headlamp and extra batteries in case you stay out longer than intended.

Items for the Elements: Sunglasses, sunscreen, insect repellent, and sun hat are all essentials for a safe and enjoyable trip.  Insect repellent will save your sanity on Trail, and the protection from the sun will preserve the youthfulness you gain by time spent outdoors. Be particularly aware that pre-treating clothes and gear with permethrin is another wise defense against ticks.

Bathroom stuff sack: In your stuff sack pack: tissues, trowel, hand sanitizer*, and a resealable plastic bag. If you pee and use toilet paper (TP), pack it out in the resealable plastic bag. If you poop, dig a hole 6’’ – 8’’ with your trowel 70 steps from the Trail and 70 steps from water, and then put the dirt you took out of the hole back on top using a stick. Step on it to make sure it’s all in there tight so wildlife won’t discover it.

Personal first aid kit: Things you might carry include: adhesive bandages (e.g. Band-Aids), moleskin, gauze, elastic bandage (e.g. Ace bandage), sports tape, anti-diarrheal, antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic cream, tweezers, etc.

Small emergency kit: In packing for the unexpected it can be easy to bring too much, but being prepared for the unforeseen is also part of the responsibility of heading into the outdoors. Things you should consider carrying in your emergency kit include: duct-tape, cordage, knife, whistle, repair kit for stove/mattress, needle and thread.

Appropriate Footwear: Shoes that are broken in and comfortable can prevent hot spots, blisters, and greater foot injuries.

Beyond the Ten Essentials:

  • Pack cover or a contractor garbage bag as a pack liner
  • Trash bag
  • Watch
  • Trekking Poles
  • Backup water treatment
  • Knowledge of:
    • Location regulations (call the local ranger station for whatever land you’re on)
    • Weather forecast
    • Terrain and distance of your chosen hike

Backpacking and Overnight Hikes: 10 Gear Essentials

Navigation: Planning ahead so that you know the terrain you expect to cover and how the trail is marked is an important first step for hiking. You will want to bring a map or guidebook and compass and know how to use them so you can navigate in the field. If you bring a GPS, bring extra batteries, and know how to use it. Bringing a guidebook can also help orient you along the way by describing landmarks, etc.

  • ATC Databook: The most basic and compact of all the guidebooks. A consolidation of the basic information from all 11 A.T. guidebooks into a lightweight table of distances between major Appalachian Trail shelters, road crossings, and features the annual official source of the length of the A.T.
  • ALDHA’s Thru-Hikers’ Companion: Basic information for a 5-6 month thru-hike, includes elevation profiles, distances between major Appalachian Trail shelters, road crossings, features, and provides maps of towns and communities near the A.T.
  • The A.T. Guide (AWOL): The most popular Trail guide for thru-hikers on the A.T.  Includes: landmarks, mileages, and elevation profiles. Maps of 88 towns. Coordinates over 200 trailhead parking areas with GPS coordinates. Symbols for quick identification of services.
  • Guthook’s Trail Guide Apps: Premier hiking trail guides for smartphones. Thousands of points of interest, ranging from water sources and campsites to views and places to visit. Virtual trail registers, and interactive elevation profiles that locates the hiker on the profile thanks to GPS. Instantly updating trail information and points of interest. Also provides maps of towns and communities near the A.T.

Insulation: Year-round, carry a long-sleeved shirt, wool/fleece-lined hat, a rain jacket or poncho, and a sleeping bag. These ensure you can regulate your temperature when the rain sets in or the wind picks up. Layers like a fleece sweater or jacket, long pants, and gloves are essentials to your backpack when you’re hiking anytime beyond the height of summer. Carrying a sleeping pad will insulate you from the ground and generally improve a night’s sleep outdoors.

Hydration: Whether you use water bottles or a tube hydration system, have the capacity to carry at least 2 quarts. A water purification system like iodine, bleach, Aqua Mira, filters, or UV light are recommended since they neutralize viruses, bacteria and other naturally occurring entities that could be harmful to hikers.

Nutrition: Pack enough meals and snacks to fuel your body for the exertion of your hike between town resupply points. Pack one extra meal for use in the event of an emergency that keeps you on Trail longer than expected.  In your “kitchen” be sure to include your camp stove, fuel, pot, utensil, matches or a lighter, and a plastic bag to pack-out anything you don’t consume, like apple cores, excess food, or food packaging. The ATC recommends that a bear canister as the most effective method of protecting your food from bears and other critters and keeping yourself and bears safe from the consequences of bears becoming habituated to human food. Otherwise, please use cable-systems or bear boxes wherever they’re provided, or properly hang food and “smellables” using a 50’ nylon cord using the PCT method for bear hangs.

Shelter: While three-sided shelters or lean-tos are located at varying intervals along the A.T. and offer a great overnight place to stop, use of them is on a first-come, first-served basis, thus not guaranteed.  Backpackers on the A.T. should always carry a tent, tarp, bivy, or hammock. (Note: During the COVID-19 pandemic, hikers are advised to avoid using shelters due to the difficulty of social distancing and the potential contracting or spreading the virus on shared surfaces. Many shelters are closed during the pandemic).

Illumination: Carry a headlamp and extra batteries.

Items for the Elements: Sunglasses, sunscreen, insect repellent, and a sun hat are all essentials for a safe and enjoyable trip.  Insect repellent will save your sanity on Trail, and the protection from the sun will preserve the youthfulness you gain by time spent outdoors. Be particularly aware that pre-treating clothes and gear with permethrin is another wise defense against ticks.

Bathroom stuff sack: In your stuff sack pack: tissues, trowel, hand sanitizer*, and a resealable plastic bag. If you pee and use toilet paper (TP), pack it out in the resealable plastic bag. If you poop, dig a hole 6’’ – 8’’ with your trowel 70 paces (200 feet) from the Trail and 70 paces from water, and then put the dirt you took out of the hole back on top using a stick. Step on it to make sure it’s all in there tight so wildlife won’t discover it.

Personal first aid kit: Things you might carry include: adhesive bandages (e.g. Band-Aids), moleskin, gauze, elastic bandage (e.g. Ace bandage), sports tape, anti-diarrheal, antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic cream, tweezers, etc.

Small emergency kit: In packing for the unexpected it can be easy to bring too much, but being prepared for the unforeseen is also part of the responsibility of heading into the outdoors. Things you should consider carrying in your emergency kit include: duct-tape, cordage, knife, whistle, repair kit for stove/mattress, needle and thread.

Beyond the Ten Essentials:

  • Pack cover or a contractor garbage bag as a pack liner
  • Footprint (if using a tent)
  • Watch
  • Trekking Poles
  • Backup water treatment
  • Knowledge of:
    • Location regulations (call the local ranger station for whatever land you’re on)
    • Weather forecast
    • Terrain and distance of your chosen hike

*Note that most hand-sanitizers have been proven ineffective against norovirus. The ATC recommends the use of biodegradable soap and water to ensure the effective killing of the virus.


atc_rp10343_img_1015-2-lpr

Hope for the best weather, but pack for the worst

Clothing to protect you from cold and rain is a must, even in midsummer and especially at higher elevations. Synthetic fabrics such as polypropylene and various acrylic blends as well as wool or silk help protect you against the dangers of hypothermia.

atc_rp10343_img_1015-2-lpr
atc_rp15329_dsc_0101-lpr

Avoid Cotton Clothes

This is particularly true in chilly, rainy weather, which can strike the mountains at any time of year. Wet cotton can be worse than nothing and can contribute to hypothermia, a potentially fatal threat.

atc_rp12917_piyatida_miles_2016_by_paul_miles2-lpr

Layer Your Clothes

Since hiking will make you sweat, no matter the weather, shedding layers enables you to regulate your body temperature more effectively than choosing between keeping a heavy jacket on or taking it off. Various synthetic materials can provide a base layer and a mid-layer and/or insulating outer layer; wool or silk are other options for a base layer and down is the warmest option for an outer layer but must be kept dry. A lightweight raincoat with a hood is essential. A hiking umbrella can also help keep you dry and make hiking in the rain more pleasant.

atc_rp12917_piyatida_miles_2016_by_paul_miles2-lpr
atc_rp4262_dsc00403-lpr

Footwear

The most important thing is that shoes fit well and are broken-in. Nothing spoils the fun or ends a hike quicker than blistered feet. On a day hike, broken-in tennis shoes can be a better choice than brand-new boots. When carrying a backpack or hiking on rocky terrain, more substantial hiking shoes or boots may be desirable, but some hikers walk the entire ​A.T. in running shoes or cross-trainers. Remember, the heavier your pack, the more substantial a shoe you will need. Shop for boots in the afternoon as feet swell throughout the day. Thru-hikers can expect their feet to expand over the course of their hike, so if between sizes, choose the larger size.

Finding water on the trail

Water faucets, pumps, or spigots are rare. Reliable, natural water sources are listed in guidebooks, and springs and streams are marked on most official A.T. maps. Most, but not all, shelters are near a reliable water source. Some springs and streams dry up during late summer and early fall, so plan carefully.

Water Safety and Treatment

Water in the backcountry and in water sources along the Trail may be clear, cold and free-running, and may look, smell and taste good, but can still be contaminated by microorganisms, including Giardia lamblia and others that can cause diarrhea or stomach problems. Go here for detailed information on water treatment methods and their effectiveness in removing pathogens, as well as information on less common treatment methods that are not listed below.

atc_rp3899_dsci0253-lpr

Boiling Water

THE GOOD: The most certain treatment to destroy Giardia and Cryptosporidium is to bring water to a rolling boil for at least one minute. If you are above 6,562 feet, boil water for at  least three minutes. Boiling will also destroy other organisms causing waterborne diseases.

THE BAD: This method is time-consuming, requires additional fuel, and may affect the taste of water.

atc_rp9786_img_4620

Portable Water Filters

THE GOOD: Filtration can be used as a pathogen reduction method against most microorganisms, depending on the pore size of the filter, amount of the contaminant, particle size of the contaminant, and charge of the contaminant particle. Use a filter that has been tested and rated by National Safety Foundation (NSF) Standard 53 or NSF Standard 58 for cyst and oocyst reduction (Absolute greater than or equal to 1.0 micron filter.)

THE BAD: Only filters that contain a chemical disinfectant matrix will be effective against some viruses.

atc_rp9786_img_4620

Iodine, Chlorine or Chlorine Dioxide

THE GOOD: Disinfectant tablets or drops can be used as a pathogen reduction method against microorganisms.

THE BAD:​ Contact time, disinfectant concentration, water temperature, water cloudiness, PH, and other factors can impact the effectiveness of chemical disinfectants. The length of time and concentration of disinfectant varies by manufacturer and effectiveness of pathogen reduction depends on the product. These chemicals are either completely ineffective or at best, moderately effective at killing the protozoa Cryptosporidium.

Combined Water Treatment

THE GOOD: If boiling water is not desired or possible, a combination of filtration and chemical disinfection is the most effective pathogen reduction method in drinking water for backcountry use. For short trips, take a supply of water from home or from other treated domestic sources.