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Appalachian Trail Hiking Clothing: 5 Essential Items

Words by Tyson "Tenderfoot" Perkins

Not All Technical Clothing is Created Equal on the Appalachian Trail.

Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and into Pennsylvania. Looking at the maps in the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s main building in Harper’s Ferry made it apparent that we have put a solid dent into our journey. At this point, it’s more than a little obvious what is and isn’t working out when it comes to our Appalachian Trail clothing kit.

After making it just about halfway on the Appalachian Trail I thought I would take a good look at the technical hiking clothes I use day in and day out.

But first, a little catching up…

Lays’ parents joined us for a short stint through the Shenandoah National Park, where it rained more often than not, but it was okay because of the waysides offered at almost every 15 miles. There, we fueled up on their bounty of affordable cheeseburgers and tall beers. Since then we have done a 26 mile slack pack in eight hours, sweated profusely in the humid air and caught up with some old friends we lost during our Trail Days endeavor.

What has (and hasn’t worked) so far—clothing-wise

Ultralight backpackers setting up tent

#1 Ghost Whisperer (Mountain Hardwear)

At 8oz., this jacket is incredibly light and it kept me warm in 15-degree nights in the Great Smoky Mountains. The perfect addition to my hiking clothing collection, it packs down to about the size of a water bottle, and the best part is it has treated down. Extremely water repellent, the down is protected by a very thin, yet strong layer of rip stop nylon, which is also coated in a DWR (Direct Water Repellent) to prevent saturation. In the chilly Maine winter before I came down to Georgia to start my thru hike I used this down jacket in tandem with a hard shell layer on the outside to make a very efficient winter jacket system.

#2 Helios Down Vest (Feathered Friends)

My Feathered Friends Helios Down Vest just arrived in the mail, and I am stoked to wear this bad boy when it gets chilly again. It’s a 900+ Fill goose down vest with comfortable Lycra lined armholes and waist. All held in with a soft, yet durable Pertex Endurance shell. Perfect for when the temperature drops in the mountain evenings, but you don’t want the full coverage of a down jacket. Sidenote: I sent home my Ghost Whisperer and replaced it with this.

Tyson Perkins looking at horses

#3 Essence Rain Jacket (Marmot)

This stripped down rain shell is totally void of extra zippers and pockets, making it a lightweight and simplistic shell that will keep you dry without weighing you down. The patented breathable NanoPro MemBrain material keeps water from soaking through along with the help of a hefty coating of DWR. The seams are also precisely taped for ultimate sealing, and the waterproof zipper rejects all incoming moisture. The adjustable hood fits very well (works especially well with a ball cap or brim of some sort) but can also be cinched down ultra tight to prevent any leakage near the neck or chin. The cuffs of the wrist on this jacket have no adjustable features to them, but that hasn’t caused an issue thus far. My only suggestion to the design is to add a double tabbed zipper on the chest pocket so the jacket could be folded into it’s own single pocket. It makes the jacket unbelievably small to pack, and it’s just screaming for this feature! This is a bomber lightweight rain shell that does its job to an outstanding measure without the bells and whistles we think we need.

#4 Precip Rain Pants (Marmot)

If you walk onto the soft grass of the backyard of some picturesque hostel on the edge of the trail after a muddy rain storm and take a peek at the clothes line, you will see at least three pair of Marmots Precip rain pants hanging out to dry for the next wet endeavor. These are no doubt one of the most common Appalachian Trail clothing popular with thru hikers, and for a good reason. Very affordable coming in at under $100, they have been virtually waterproof on every occasion I have used them, and they also substitute as my only real pair of pants. Aside from these bad boys I only wear a pair of black Nike basketball shorts (I plan to switch to the La Sportiva Pace running shorts if they ever get them in stock!). They have an adjustable elastic waist belt, calf zippers and an adjustable leg cuff with clasp. To get a great breeze on a warm, but rainy day I usually leave the legs unzipped, and only wear my Exofficio boxers under them. On each side of the waist is a zippered pocket, along with one on the back right for storage. The pants are a small luxury I like to take on for the weight, but it’s also worth not getting caught wrapped in a newspaper waiting for my clothes to be washed in town.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Stuff Sack and plastic bag

#5 Mutant Running Shoes (La Sportiva)

I’ve already mentioned these in a previous blog, but after putting 850+ miles on my first pair of La Sportiva Mutant running shoes I figured I would give them another shout out. When I got my second pair ordered and sent out I was ecstatic to slide my feet into them. When I first purchased these I imagined going about 400-500 miles in them before they totally turned to dust. Come mile 500 they did start to show their age, but they clung on for dear life. I caught my toes many times on sharp rocks and slid the mesh over jagged points, which eventually shredded the sides and opened the front of the toe. However, I wore these and got all the way to mile 867 without a single blister. Not one. Even though they call me Tenderfoot, I do have extremely strong feet. No callouses or blemishes on them, but I don’t owe that to genetics. I’m hoping my second pair will get me back into the heart of New England and maybe a little beyond.


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