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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.

Applachian Trail Gear List:

This is the gear list that I would take if I were to do any three-season thru-hike today. It is much better than the homemade gear I actually carried on the AT in 2004!
OuncesPacking System
21 Arc Blast Backpack
1Pair Shoulder Pouches
1.5Pair Belt Pouches
OuncesShelter System
14.8Plexamid Tent
2.18x Carbon Tent Stakes w/ stake sack
OuncesSleeping System
18.7Zpacks 20F Slim, Long Classic Sleeping Bag
1.7Medium Pillow Dry Bag
8Neoair Xlite Pad, size small
OuncesCooking System
3.3.6L Evernew Pot
.2Titanium short handle spoon
.5Lightload Towel
.4Mini-Bic Lighter
2.3Soto Windmaster Stove
1.4Roll top Food Bag
OuncesWater Storage
1.51 Quart Powerade Bottle
1.51 Quart Powerade Bottle
0No water treatment.
OuncesMiscellaneous Items
6Galaxy S9 Smartphone / Camera
6Anchor 10,000 mAh PowerCore battery
1.5Pak-Light w/ homemade headband
.7Victorinox Classic Pocket Knife
.5Silva Compass / Thermometer
.7Zpacks Travel Toothbrush
1Passport, Credit Card, License, Cash in Travel Zip
1.750ft 2 mm Z-Line cord
.44x Mini-D Carabiners
.3Chap Stick
.01Ear plugs
OuncesGear Repair
.63x strips of DCF Repair Tape
.16x Large safety pins
.35Sewing repair kit
OuncesCarried Clothing
6.2Vertice Rain Jacket
3.6Vertice Rain Pants (Optionally substitute Rain Kilt in warmer weather).
1.0Vertice Rain Mitts
.9Zpacks Fleece Hat
2Zpacks Wind Shell Jacket
8.9Zpacks Climashield insulated Jacket
1Medium-Plus Dry Bag
OuncesOptional clothing to add for colder weather
1.4Possum Down Gloves
2.5Possum Down Socks
OuncesWorn Items (Not part of base weight)
10.2Columbia Silver Ridge II Zip off pants
7.3Long sleeve, breathable shirt w/ hood
.9Ultamax Triathlete low cut socks
3.5Patagonia boxers
2.4Zpacks Trucker Hat
23Teva Grecko Sandals (discontinued model)
7.3Zpacks Carbon Fiber Staff
OuncesTotal Base Weight
1247 lbs 12 ounces (3.5 kg)