Thru Hikers Checklist (Printable PDF and Editable)

Thinking about doing longer thru-hikes? How does a week or two on the Pacific Crest Trail sound? Maybe completing the whole 2190 miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail is on your bucket list?  

These trails, amongst others like the Continental Divide Trail and the Ice Age Trail, take weeks if not months to complete end to end. You can do just parts of them but the point of these treks is that they are multi-night backpacking trips, not casual day hikes and as such, you need to pack smart and light when thinking about attempting these trails – or parts of them. 

People vary on their levels of comfort, need to be clean, sleeping temperatures and comfort as well as how wet they can tolerate being and how often they need to refuel and their basic camping ability, so any thru hikers checklist will never work for all people. 

Use our essentials thru-hiking packing list as a guide for items you’ll certainly need on the trip and then research, trial, and use the gear so you are comfortable with it before buying and setting off on months of glorious life-changing trekking. 

You don’t need to go super mega ultralight in the beginning but you will need to significantly offload a lot of normal backpacking gear to save your knees, feet, and sanity. It’s almost a given that you’ll start off with too much gear, but with practice and experience, you’ll be able to offload gear over time, and then you’ll know what you can live without and what you can’t!

Welcome to the world of thru-hiking!

Shelter

  • Tent, poles, stakes/pegs, mallet, rainfly, or tarp
    drag edit delete
  • Footprint
    drag edit delete
  • OR Hammock with a rain fly and bug net
    drag edit delete
  • Add new

Related: Looking for a tent that holds up in the cold? Check out our list of great four season winter tents.

Sleeping

  • 15-20° Sleeping bag
    drag edit delete
  • Sleeping bag liner
    drag edit delete
  • Stuff sack to keep your sleeping bag dry
    drag edit delete
  • Sleeping pad
    drag edit delete
  • Inflatable pillow
    drag edit delete
  • Add new

Walking

  • 40-65 liter internal frame backpack
    drag edit delete
  • Hiking pole. (can double as a tent pole too)
    drag edit delete
  • Guide book for your thru trail
    drag edit delete
  • Boots and / or trail runners
    drag edit delete
  • Add new

Cooking

  • Canister camping stove
    drag edit delete
  • Extra stove fuel, lighter
    drag edit delete
  • Firestarter – just in case
    drag edit delete
  • Cooking pot
    drag edit delete
  • Spoon
    drag edit delete
  • Multi-tool or Swiss Army knife
    drag edit delete
  • Dishcloth
    drag edit delete
  • Water purification system
    drag edit delete
  • Resealable plastic bags for food storage.
    drag edit delete
  • Stuff sack for food
    drag edit delete
  • Add new

Eating

  • Multi-use cup/bowl/mug/pot
    drag edit delete
  • Knife and spoon
    drag edit delete
  • Water bottle
    drag edit delete
  • Water bladder
    drag edit delete
  • Add new

Wet weather protection

  • Rain and wind jacket
    drag edit delete
  • Waterproof pack cover
    drag edit delete
  • Add new

Clothing

  • Wool or synthetic base layer – that you literally won’t take off
    drag edit delete
  • Fleece or down mid-layer
    drag edit delete
  • Insulating jacket, top layer, down or synthetic
    drag edit delete
  • 1x Hiking bottoms. Synthetic
    drag edit delete
  • 1x Rain and wind jacket
    drag edit delete
  • 1x Rain pants – check your guide to see if you’ll need them on your trail
    drag edit delete
  • 2x underwear, 2x socks, 1x sports bra
    drag edit delete
  • 2x Socks. Merino wool. 1x for camp, 1x for walking, 1x thick pair for cold nights
    drag edit delete
  • Woolen gloves, if it will be cold
    drag edit delete
  • Beanie. Merino or synthetic
    drag edit delete
  • Plastic bag for dirty/wet clothes
    drag edit delete
  • Stuff sack to keep camp clothes dry
    drag edit delete
  • Camp clothes: Wool polyester or synthetic leggings and a spare top
    drag edit delete
  • Camp shoes/sandals to give your feet a break
    drag edit delete
  • Add new

Toiletries

  • Toothbrush
    drag edit delete
  • Toothpaste
    drag edit delete
  • Antibacterial soap
    drag edit delete
  • Small quick-dry towel
    drag edit delete
  • Hairbrush
    drag edit delete
  • Toilet paper
    drag edit delete
  • Toilet trowel
    drag edit delete
  • Medications
    drag edit delete
  • Waterless hand sanitizer
    drag edit delete
  • Anti-chafe
    drag edit delete
  • Add new

First Aid Kit

  • Antiseptic wipes
    drag edit delete
  • Antibiotic cream
    drag edit delete
  • Gauze pads
    drag edit delete
  • Ibuprofen or preferred painkiller
    drag edit delete
  • Antidiarrhea tablets
    drag edit delete
  • Antihistamine
    drag edit delete
  • Sewing needle with dental floss for thread
    drag edit delete
  • Blister tape
    drag edit delete
  • Duct tape (works as a bandage, splint, covering)
    drag edit delete
  • Add new

Personal Protection

  • Sunglasses
    drag edit delete
  • Insect repellent
    drag edit delete
  • Sunscreen
    drag edit delete
  • Chapstick or lip balm
    drag edit delete
  • GPS subscription
    drag edit delete
  • Add new

Lighting

  • Headlamp
    drag edit delete
  • Spare Batteries
    drag edit delete
  • Add new

Luxuries

  • Smartphone/phone case and power bank
    drag edit delete
  • Notebook and pencils (pencils write on wet-ish paper)
    drag edit delete
  • Downloaded books, star charts, and field guides
    drag edit delete
  • Camera
    drag edit delete
  • Deck of cards
    drag edit delete
  • Add new

Useful things

  • Watch
    drag edit delete
  • Parachute cord
    drag edit delete
  • Emergency beacon
    drag edit delete
  • Tent pole repair
    drag edit delete
  • Compass or navigation device
    drag edit delete
  • Credit card/cash/Identification
    drag edit delete
  • Bear Spray
    drag edit delete
  • Head Net
    drag edit delete
  • Whistle to attract attention
    drag edit delete
  • Add new
Hiker with a large backpack of equipment looks over a forested hill vista
Get the lightest internal frame backpack you can find that will fit all your gear.

Hints and tips for the first time thru-hikers

Hiking clothes

  • Never wear cotton clothes. Cotton absorbs moisture, is a poor insulator, doesn’t wick away from your skin, and retains odors longer. 
  • Keep one set of dry clothes exclusively for camp. You’ll feel better, offend fewer people and lessen your chances of hypothermia. 
  • Wool or synthetic fabrics are best for hiking. Down, wool, or synthetic for camp. 
  • If you hike in shorts, make sure you have a pair of long wind pants for those cold windy parts of the trail. 
  • Cold weather gear really is needed for the first and last 500 to 600 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
  • An umbrella could be very useful in the rain and in the sun when crossing wide-open spaces. 

Hiking footwear

  • There is a trend for thru-hikers to wear trail runners for part or all of their trips. Boots are better for heavy packs, rocky terrain, and ankle stability. Trail runners dry out faster are lighter and give hikers fewer blisters. Well and truly break in any shoes before you set off on long hikes. 
  • Buy your shoes a size too big. Your feet will swell.
  • Camp shoes should be the lightest thinnest flipflops you can find to save weight and space.
  • Waterproof shoes and boots take a LOT longer to dry out than NON-waterproof footwear. Good to know. 

Sleeping

  • Make sure your sleeping bag will compress enough to take up as little room as possible in your backpack. 
  • Treat your sleeping bag to waterproofing before you leave if you’re worried about its water resistance.
  • Always bring a tent or shelter. Even though there are huts along many of these trails, they are often full by nightfall.
  • Inflatable and combination sleeping pads are a bit more expensive than foam pads but more durable and less bulky in the long run. 

Personal Safety

  • Get a GPS subscription so you know where you are and so does your family even when cell phones are out of range. 
  • Get a really comfortable headlamp, 120 lumens or higher if you plan to do a lot of night walking. Get one with simple settings you can work in the dark and a red mode. 
  • Getting Gaudia is not much fun so make sure you get a water purification system and don’t take the risk. 
  • More hikers get sick from sharing food and items than from not treating water properly. 

Thru-hiking is not something you should be doing on a whim. Trails that take weeks or months to complete need to be worked up to and the people who have the worst time, tend to be those who are completely unprepared with lots of initial enthusiasm and no real experience. 

If you are a camper already, start doing some multi-day hikes and get some experience with your gear and what you can personally handle, hiking and weight-wise, and work up to these longer, more challenging trips. 

The more multi-night hikes you do, the more you will be able to refine your gear and be able to work out what works for your level of comfort and what your body can handle. The best way to make decisions about gear is to use it in the field!

This list has been compiled to give you an idea of how much (or how little) you will need to do these months-long trails and to start you thinking about planning and working towards knocking over one of your own personal ambitions!

Imagine how you’ll feel walking out of the Appalachian Trail on your last day having completed every mile of the 2190 miles of it!

Happy Hiking! 😊

Next up: Backpack feeling too heavy? Consider going ultralight! Find out how with our ultralight backpacking checklist.

Author at Wilderness Redefined camping website

Kara grew up in New Zealand where camping in the backyard as a child turned into multi-night trips in the National Parks as a teenager and then a full blown backpacking adventure for a year in Asia, by herself in her early 20's. Camping, bush walking, car camping and road trips still feature heavily in her current life style. She lives right next door to a World Heritage National Park on Springbrook Mountain and highly recommends having them as next door neighbours!