Below you'll find more detail on the gear that I carry, as well as information on gear that I only carry during cold weather, or just stuff that I periodicly find useful.
2 Pairs of Shorts, Nylon, With Liner: Some may prefer just one pair. Skip the $40 Patagucci shorts, and just go to K-Mart and pay $5. Consider the merits of pocketful versus pocketless shorts.
2 T-Shirts: Any material for the summer, though remember that cotton retains that lovely hiker-fresh scent. I was happy with capilene, but duofold, thermax or polypropylene are all fine, too. Silk-weight capilene is ideal for summer hiking. Ideally, you want a fabric with washing instructions reading:
3 Pairs of Socks: Thorlos' "Hiking" socks are good, as are the "Trekking" and "Lightweight Trekking" models. I used the "Hiking", since the "Trekking" models were too thick. You shouldn't wear through these over the course of a thru-hike.
1 Long-Sleeved Shirt: During summer hiking, this may be your source warmth in case of cold, so you'll want something substantial. Skip the cotton, go with one of the man-made fabrics.
Lightweight Fleece Vest: This is actually an optional item, but I'd hate to see somebody die of hypothermia in July because of me. You want the lightest, most packable one that you can get, with no accoutraments or funny fabrics. No need to get a big-name brand for this.
Tights: These are always worth carrying, even in the hottest of climates. The mornings are cold, the evenings cool, and chilly legs never made anybody too happy. I had Patagonia longjohns and Land's End ones. I sent home the Patagonias and kept the Land's Ends. They were tigher than the baggy Patagonias (I'm skinny.) Silk or synthetics, no cotton.
Gaiters: Get just the low, ankle-height gaiters. To be honest, I've never really found a use for these. They're supposed to keep rain out of your boots, but they don't, and keep out rocks and debris. I've never had a rock hop up into my boots. But they look cool, and I wore them for hundreds of miles, for no apparent reason.
Footwear: Remember, there's more than just boots for your feet. People hike in sandals, sneakers and boots. All have their merits. I've hiked in Gecko sandals, Nike Air Structure II shoes, and Asolo 535 boots. I enjoyed all of them. My repeatedly broken feet showed that I needed footwear with stiffer soles, so I switched back to my Asolos after using Nikes. If you need more ankle support, you need more shoe. But boots are inherently problem footwear, with so many seams, chunks and that Gore-Tex nonsense that they're destined to have problem. Keep it simple, kaizen.
Backpack: I could spend hours going over all of the sorts of packs, pros and cons of each and personal recommendations. I'll keep it short. I carried a Gregory Robson during cold weather and the Arc'Teryx Khamsin during warm weather. Gregory makes a beautiful pack, the Artc'Teryx was exceptional. There are lots of great packs out there. I'd recommend ignoring Backpacker's Gear Survey, because it's usually impressively wrong. Check out Trailplace's Gear Survey for the most accurate reviews. Don't forget a rain fly! No pack is waterproof.
Sleeping Bag: There are two options for bags: Have one mid-temperature bag or two extremes. I had a 0° bag and a 55° bag. My 0° was an L.L. Bean extra-long mummy bag, and my 55° was Kelty's Nomad 55. I really enjoyed both, and I recommend the Kelty quite highly for summer use.
Sleeping Pad: Just get a Therm-A-Rest. If you pamper yourself no other way, you need an inflatable pad. A good night's rest is very important. I used the ultra-light, extra-long model.
Flashlight: A lot of people carry handheld flashlights are love them. But I think of it this way: if you're up at night, you're probably doing something. And if you're doing something, it probably involves using your hands. And if you're using your hands, you want to have your flashlight elsewhere...like on your head. Use a headlamp. I used the Petzl Zoom E04. Remember that Mag-Lite makes a headband that you can slide the flashlight into.
2 One-Litre Bottles: Anything will do. I used Nalgene-brand bottles, one wide-mouthed and one bike-bottle style. They were both great. The clear ones are microwavable, too, which you will find occasionally useful. Snail-No-More'96 used a couple of one-litre Pepsi bottles. Just use whatever works.
Water Bag: The idea is to have a container to carry water in, just in case you need more than two litres at any given point. You could carry a waterbag that holds a few gallons. This is nice so that you can get a haul a lot of water up to a shelter to share, so that others don't have to make the same trip. (I was the jerk who mooched water off of other people.) Or you could carry a collapsable water bottle, like Platypus makes. These are so light, and take up so little space, that I always carried one with me. Mud Elephant'96 carried a #10 tin can, which he used to bring water up to shelters, that he swore by. Like I said, use whatever works.
One-Quart Pot: There are all sorts of fancy metals that you can get a pot out of. Campmor sells a titanium pot for nearly $50! Just get a $10 aluminum pot. It's just about as light, and then you won't be paranoid about scratching it up. Consider getting one that has a frying-pan lid. That way you can, say, boil water for hot chocolate while eating a bowl of cereal. This is all you need -- no bowl or plate.
Spoon: Just a spoon.
Lighter: For the stove and fires.
Matches: You never know.
Iodine or Bleach: Whether or not you carry a purifier, you'll need to carry one of these as a backup. One tablet of iodine per litre or two drops of bleach will do. Remember that neither is good for long-term use. If you dislike the taste of iodine, add a little vitamin C or just let the bottle sit open.
Bandanas: Carry two or more. They keep your hair our of your eyes, pre-filter (and sometimes just plain filter) your water, soak up sweat, serve as your towel, washcloth, emergency loincloth, pot-scrubber, sling, bandage, rope, patch, bathing suit top/bottom, glasses cleaner...I once sat in a shelter in '96 in the Shenandoahs with Totin' Chip, Jayhiker & Wooden Nickel and came up with 100 uses for the things. Don't leave home without 'em.
Tarp: If you're on a long-distance (read: distance measured in hundreds) hike, expect to use the shelters. If you're hiking off-season, expect to use the shelters. In these cases, and if you don't mind the shelters, just bring a tarp. But if you're not out for long, or if you're hiking in the summer, bring a tent. If you do need to tarp it, just tie it up at an angle, so it forms a wedge. Sleep. These are also good in case you get caught in a big, unexpected thunderstorm. I sure ain't gonna throw up a tent, surrounding myself with lightning rods. I've spent many a happy hour under thunder-shaken tarps. I've also begged many a tent use on days when I didn't quite make it to a shelter. Plan carefully.
Duct Tape: Don't ask questions, just bring about 10 feet of it. Wrap it around your water or fuel bottle.
Journal: This is not optional. Bring it. Don't forget a black ink pen.
Batteries: How else you gonna use that flashlight? Always have backups.
Candle: For when you use up those batteries. Even better, read by it at night instead of wasting batteries. Bring a short, fat one.
Pocketknife: Get one with the toothpick, tweezers, blade and bottle opener. (The bottle opener makes a better can opener than the can opener does.) You'll need the knife to spread peanut butter, cut cheese and rope. The can opener for the occasional beans or soup, the toothpick for, well, picking your teeth, and tweezers for ticks.
Rope: Bring 30 feet of it. Skip the parachute cord and the twine, just bring climbing accessory cord. Whip and fuse the ends.
Money: Always have it.
Toilet Paper: Ditto.
1 Dozen Band-Aids
LOTS OF Ibuprofen
Any Medication You Need
Stove: If you decide not to use a fire every night (fires can be messy, and aren't especially good for the environment), bringing a stove is a great option. Your choices basically come down to Coleman-fuel, alcohol, or cartridge-based stoves. The cartridge stoves work well, but they're bulky, and often hard to find fuel, so I skipped that. Alcohol stoves are great, but they offer no real advantage over Coleman-fuel-based stoves. I used the MSR WhisperLite, and I see no reason to ever use anything different. It's light, it worked 1-3 times daily, without any cleaning, without fail.
Fuel Bottle: Should you decide to carry a alcohol or Coleman-fuel stove, a bottle is good. (Unless you want to carry it in your mouth.) I started off with two 22-ounce fuel bottles, but I quickly went down to one 11-ounce bottle. Even that lasted for many days when just cooking dinner, but I didn't care enough to buy a smaller one. If you're going to cook 2+ times per day, use a 22-ounce fuel bottle.
Rain Jacket: In the summer, which is what this is written for, you really don't need a rain jacket on most of the Applachian Trail. Usually, I would just strip down to shorts and get wet, which was fine. But sometimes, like if you're dashing out of the shelter in a downpour to get water, you just don't want to get wet. You could be like The Umbrella Lady'9? and carry a bumpershoot, which is a wonderful idea. I'd recommend, however, carrying a small, light, waterproof (as opposed to resistant) jacket for those few times when you don't want to get wet, but won't be hiking for long. So skip the 3-Layer Gore-Tex, the Triple Point Ceramic, and the Membrain, and go with something like polyurethane coating, 2-layer Gore-Tex or good-old-fashioned plastic. There ain't nothing wrong with wearing a poncho for around-camp duties, or even a trash bag. Just don't spend much if you don't plan on hiking in it.
Hiking Stick: Hiking sticks are not for everybody. I'd never used one before leaving Springer in April 1996. I used one made by Cascades Designs, which quickly became stripped of its protective covering and bent. Wingfoot donated enough money to my hike to permit me to buy a pair of Leki "Super Maliku" poles, which are adjustable and have spring-based shock absorption. They seemed a little over-the-top at first, but they were wonderful, keeping weight off of my knees, helping me vault over puddles and preventing a lot of falls. I recommend them highly, but there's no need to spend $120 on poles. A pair of sticks or ski poles will work quite nicely.
Water Filter: There's really no such thing as a good water filter. I used the Pur Hiker, which I disliked to an extreme point. There's a filter made by Ray Jardine, of PCT fame, that I don't know the name for, that's quite light and works well, and costs something like $20. Any other filter is over-priced, seldom-working, and a waste of time.
Tent: There are lots of kinds of tents that will work quite nicely. Sierra Designs makes one of the most popular trail tents, the Clip Flashlight. It's light, well-constructed and reasonably priced. I used Kelty's Windfoil Ultralight, which was well-priced, well-made, and not exactly ultralight. Bring a tent if you'll be hiking during the thru-hiking season or if there's potential for cold weather.
Walkman/Discman: Many people -- myself included -- believe that music is a distraction from hiking and the outdoor experience. But many people don't go for the concept of the outdoor experience, and are just looking to achieve a goal. I carried a Discman to listen to at night, but it broke after a day. (Not for any reason that I could associate with backpacking.) Remember that CD players will probably skip, and if they have Electronic Skip Protection then they'll go through battieries quickly. A radio is good to hear weather, though it's often to know how local it is. Just don't bring speakers, and be certain to keep it quiet in shelters. Nobody wants to hear your music.
Compass / GPS: Some people say that you just have to have a compass, just in case. I sent mine home by Day 4. If you do carry one, try and find a small, round, 1/2" wide one from a science store or box of Cracker Jacks. The GPS is overboard, but if you're feeling wild, and want to play with a cool toy, you could always bring one to play with. You'll need a map with USGS markings to make it useful.
Pager: Pager service is pretty good along the trail. Some people rely on them in order to be able to get away for 6 months. Be sure to keep it on vibrate and out of sight. You can just check it every now and again. Be discreet.
Cellphone: I carried a phone with me every step of the way. It was highly useful at many points. I used it to call for rides to town when I couldn't hitch one, to make reservations at motels, even to call a cab from Katahdin. (It was a Sunday, the park was empty, and I had no food.) Remember, don't use your phone around others, don't even show it to others, don't leave it on to ring, and get a disposable-battery adaptor. You may find it hard to recharge. The StarTAC Micro is your lightest option, though a little pricy at $995. I used the flip-phone with 6 AAs. The reception is quite good in most places, but the service is abysmal south of Virginia. Don't depend on it, but it's great to have.
Laptop: Sure, at this point they're a little much. But a Windows CE, a Newton or a Pilot can be wonderful. You can program in your itinerary, trail guide information, food drop inventory and dates, finances, maps, journal, even download e-text from the Guttenburg Project. With a PCMCIA cellmodem, you can even communicate from the trail. Remember, NEVER use it around other hikers (though in towns, I wouldn't sweat it), never use it at a volume where it's audible, and it's probably best not to mention it to others. (Clearly, if you've been hiking with somebody for a while, there comes a time where it's just fine to mention that.) A laptop is a useful tool, and will soon become an accepted and frequently-seen item on the trail.
Hat: Hats really help keep the rain and sun out of your eyes. If you wear glasses, they're especially nice. While a baseball cap is great, I carried OR's Seattle Sombrero. Gore-Tex, crushable and wide-brimmed, it was great.
Camera: A camera is great for capturing some of the beautiful views and grungy people that you'll meet. The fancier the camera, the heavier that it will get. I just carry a disposable camera or a digital.
Sunglasses: These are great for some of the ridgewalks and glaring field walks. While they won't be used often, they're an item you'll be glad to have when you need them. Neat, expensive, fancy sunglasses are nice, but remember that you run a risk of losing them.
Clock or Watch: I carried a watch in a side-pocket, but I never used it. Some people find that they hike better if they have a time schedule, but I found it oppressive. What would have been good is an alarm, since I habitually slept in. Think light, think Indiglo, think digital.
Space Blanket: Some people carry these as an emergency-backup structure. They weigh a few ounces, are no thicker than tinfoil, and made of a highly reflective material. The idea is that you wrap yourself in it to prevent hypothermia in an emergency. Carrying one couldn't hurt; I skipped it.
Sandals: These are great at the end of the day, or for a foot-break during lunch. They give you something to wear if your boots are wet, or rubbing you wrong, or as backup shoes in case your shoes are wet. I had some with me for most of my trip.
Repair Equipment: You may not need it, most people never do. I didn't. Despite, I carried fabric and screen patches, superglue, fishing line, duct tape, twist ties, copper wire, and my stove repair kit. All of this weighed just a few ounces, but offered peace-of-mind. You may never need any of it but the duct tape.
Cup: I carried a cup for all of three weeks. I never found much of a use for it, so I sent it back. I drank hot chocolate and kool-aid out of my nalgenes.
Bug Repellent: I've never hiked in bug-infested areas during bug season, so I can't say much on it. I've never bothered with the stuff. Those who have hiked in Maine in June or New Jersey in July are born-again DEET lovers. Remember that DEET will kill Gore-Tex, and probably render you sterile. But it's worth it.
Mace/Pepper Spray: A lot of people (mostly females) told me that they carried this for protection, from both dangerous rides while hitch hiking and threatening wildlife. Remember that both are illegal without a license in New York.
Earplugs: These are wonderfully useful devices. Whether your hiking buddy snores, that bird won't shut up, or you don't care to hear the bears tearing your sheltermates to shreds, you're bound to find a use for these. And at a fraction of an ounce, why not?
Book: You'll have a surprising amount of time to sit around and read. I got a lot of reading done while hiking, and it's well-worth the wait. If you bring one, make sure it's a small paperback. When finished, pass it on to another hiker or leave it in a shelter.
Maps: I didn't carry maps for much of the trail. While the profile maps are great to have, contours are useless. Some people like to know where they're going and how they're getting there, and it's them that like the maps. Maps for the whole AT are over $100, which is why I skipped it.
Hacky Sack: I carried this little ball with me the whole way. It was the lightest diversion that I could think of to provide some sport along the trail.
Knife: Not to be mistaken for a pocketknife. My friend George gave me a piece of advice the day before I left: "Always carry a big knife." So I did, a 7" long steel diving knife in a quick-release casing. I kept it duct taped, upside-down, to a packstrap at chest level, like the river guides do. I never used it for anything more than slicing apples, but I was glad to have it. I don't know what it's for, but I wouldn't be caught without it. Remember that double-edged knives are illegal in many states.