Backpacking the Appalachian Trail for the First Time + Gear List

It's far too beautiful out here. Everyday is so different; you never know what to expect. You never know who you'll meet, or what outrageously stunning view you're going to see next. 7 min read.

The miraculous Laurel Falls. Photos from & by Hannah Kiermayr. Graphics by Blisters & Bliss.

Hey, there! My name is Hannah Kiermayr. I’m 21 years old.

The name of my game: backpacking. In the past, I’ve been on multiple backpacking trips that have ranged from a weekend to a week and a half in length, but never have I attempted a *gulp* thru hike. I am currently attempting a northbound (NOBO) thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. I started on top of Springer Mountain in Georgia and hope to trek the entire stretch of 2,189.9 miles, all the way up to the top of Mt. Katahdin in Maine. I started April 13, 2017.

My Trail Name: Pearl.

I was given the name when a few hikers observed how often I had been brushing my teeth (which was a normal amount at the time). Another hiker named Lakes, to this day, claims that I am a ‘pearl of wisdom’. I’m not sure about that one, yet they still reassure me that this is the case.

I am currently at Mile 823.4, about to head to Shenandoah National Park. I do have to say that it has been a journey and a half already. I feel like a badass; I’m a whopping 1/3 of the way there. Wahoo! Editors Note: Since writing this, Hannah is now passed Mile 2,000!

Before I begin, I want to note that there is SO much to say about the Trail, and that there is no way for me to squeeze it all into one article. With that said, I have decided to focus on my initial experience out here on the AT. I’m also including my gear list!

A lovely meadow in Southern VA.

Alright, so why did I decide to hike the AT?! I just graduated from college. I may not have been there to walk at my graduation ceremony, but I sure was walking (well, hiking) that day. In fact, I remember exactly where I was. I had just climbed out of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Anyways, I couldn’t think of a better time to pursue such a journey! It was the fall semester of my sophomore year that I committed to the idea of thru hiking. I wanted to immerse myself in an adventure; I wanted to immerse myself in Nature, a place where I have always felt at home.

The beginning was tough. Physically and mentally. I was sore and tired; I had never hiked so much in my life. My pace was slow; the miles were adding up much slower than I wanted. I missed my family and friends; I had to say goodbye to the last four years of my life. I was constantly putting on cold, wet clothes in the morning and packing up my soggy tent; it had rained almost everyday at the beginning of my hike. The climbs were difficult and the weather was brutal. At times, the Trail was unforgiving.

To this day, not once has quitting the Trail crossed my mind. It’s far too beautiful out here. Everyday is so different; you never know what to expect. You never know who you’ll meet, or what outrageously stunning view you’re going to see next. I was patient. I was getting stronger. The miles were adding up. The weather was finally chilling out. I was meeting an incredible amount of people. Everywhere has been so lovely and serene. I was (and still am) loving everyday out on the Trail. Even the “worst” days, I’d consider, were still worth it when I’d lay down in my tent at night.

The beginning was tough. Physically and mentally. I was sore and tired; I had never hiked so much in my life.

We woke up at around 4 a.m. to catch the sunrise on McAfee Knob.

The Grayson Highlands, what a stunningly beautiful place.

I have to admit, hiking from Georgia to Maine sounds gruesome. 2,189.9 miles?! Inconceivable! It’s easy to overwhelm yourself with the idea of having to hike this amount of miles. Seriously, taking one day at a time is IMPORTANT. Be patient. The miles will add up.

Now, onto my gear list. My gear list is below. There are so many pieces of gear out there, and I think that it is really important to say that an ideal collection of backpacking gear is what works best for you. Everyone’s packs are so customized to their backpacking lifestyles. No pack is the same out here, yet we are all out here doing the same thing, and that’s pretty damn cool!

Gear List

ULA Circuit Pack (lined with a contractor bag)
2 1L water bottles (I prefer SmartWater bottles. They last forever!)
Sawyer Squeeze and 2L Squeeze Bag (for ‘dirty’ water)
Shelter/Sleep Setup
Big Agnes Flycreek UL 1 tent + footprint
REI Joule 20 Degree Down Sleeping Bag + dry compression bag from SeaToSummit
Thermarest Z-Lite Sleeping Pad
Salomon X-Mission 3 (for hiking)
Teva Sandals (for camp)
2 pairs of Darn Tough socks (1 pair for hiking and 1 pair for camp)
15 L dry bag (to hold food)
PocketRocket 2
MSR Titanium Kettle
SeaToSummit Titanium Spork
Trekking poles (a.k.a. life savers)
Duct tape
Paracord + carabiner (to tie bear bag)
Multi-tool (Swiss Army Knife works great!)
Awol’s AT Guide
Headlamp by Black Diamond Storm
10 L dry bag (to hold clothes)
1 pair of shorts (for hiking)
1 tank top (for hiking)
3 pairs of underwear (Exofficio is top notch!)
1 sports bra
1 long sleeve shirt (for camp and cooler mornings)
Down jacket
1 pair of Icebreaker wool leggings (for camp)
Raincoat (can also be used as an insulating layer)
1 Headband
(I had also kept another long sleeve thermal and a pair of hiking pants until after I left The Smokies. I sent them home after I made it out.)
Travel-sized toothpaste
Body Glide
Diva Cup
Bandana (I use this as my pee rag.)
Toilet paper (You don’t need a whole roll; just enough for a week at a time.)
Travel-sized hand sanitizer
Travel-sized pack of wet wipes
First Aid (Keep a minimal amount.)
Medical tape
Antibiotic ointment
Alcohol pads
Nail clippers
Safety pin
Tick spoon/key
Anti-inflammatory (Ibuprofen/acetaminophen)
Antihistamine (Benadryl)
P.S. I like to organize some of my belongings in Ziploc bags.


trail magicThis was a memorable day. The exhausting 19 mile stretch into Pearisburg was something I had been dreading since the night before. I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and had to begin my day. I had no choice; I only had 3 granola bars left in my food bag (2 of which I had for breakfast) and some almond butter. It was around 11 a.m. when I hit Docs Knob, the shelter before my last climb of the day. I had taken advantage of the last privy for the next 8.5 miles and signed the logbook. As I began to write in the logbook, “Headed to Pearisburg,” I hear someone yell out, “TRAIL MAGIC!”. I pop my head out of the shelter and see a guy holding a cooler, and was followed by 4 other guys holding many other goodies. They told us to start a fire; they explained that they had brought some hot dogs (and the fixings that go with such a meal), along with a mini keg of micro brewed oatmeal stout, a variety of chips, ice-cold sodas, and a whole watermelon. A gaggle of alumni thru hikers had decided to hike out a birthday party and wanted to bring it out on the Trail to share. It’s times like these that it’s almost indescribable the feeling you get when presented Trail Magic. One thing’s for sure: it got me up that last climb. My logbook entry for the day ended up noting, “Headed to Pearisburg…Trail Magic just arrived…gotta go! -Pearl”.

I’d like to conclude this article with some of the best advice I’ve been given on the Trail thus far.

Listen to your body
Don’t be afraid to go slow and steady
Never quit on a rainy day
The Trail provides
Practice detachment/be open to change and advice
Do your best to promote and practice Leave No Trace/Leave a place better than you had found it
Bury your poop (Please!)
Hydrate at the source
Embrace the suck
Hike your own hike
Keep on trekkin’, my friends!

Hannah Kiermayr, social introvert. Novice Backpacker. Outdoor Enthusiast. Appalachian Trail NOBO 2017. Follow her thru-hike on Instagram @goinghannahnas

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