How to Pack Lightly When Backpacking: From the Annals of the Appalachian Trail Hikers

We made the mistake of packing too heavily the first few times we backpacked the Appalachian Trail here on the East Coast of the United States. My son and one of the twins are my only true backpackers in the family. No one else wants to carry the world on their backs for a few days. Because we were family campers first, we brought sleeping bags, change of clothes, raincoats, windbreakers, a fully-stocked medical kit, a second pair of shoes. Okay, you get the idea. We thought we needed all that in addition to a pup tent, flashlights and food and water.
Much too much to carry
while backpacking the A.T.

            Nope! Not from what we observed of other thru hikers along the trail. Some of them carried nothing more than a backpack and small mat. No sleeping bag. No tent, no shoes dangling from their packs. There are a few shelters, three-sided structures with a roof, along the AT, but they are at least 20 miles or so from each other. The Appalachian Trail crosses through or comes close to a few towns where hikers can buy supplies. The trail also cuts through state campgrounds where hikers can wash up and stay overnight if they’d like.  
            I and my merry AT hikers can’t cover 20 plus miles in a day or two. Okay. Maybe it’s just me. I can’t make it that far in a day or two—or even three. Not carrying about a 30-pound pack on my back. We plot our course beforehand; park two cars at parking lot access points along the AT, one at the beginning of our journey and one at the end. We usually do between 5 and 7 miles a day.
            Water weighs a ton. At least it feels that way! But water is essential when hiking—especially backpacking. There are a few natural water sources along the trail and the trail cuts through some national parks. There is always fresh water available at parks. Friends of the AT Hikers leave gallon jugs of drinking water where the trail crosses roadways.
Our pup tent sleeps 3 long people.

We always carry too much food. I guess I’m always worried about my children being hungry. You would think that anyone would be hungry exerting all this energy hiking the rocky AT. The truth is, many times, you’re too hot and tired to eat a lot.

            Sometimes a few nonperishable packaged food items are sealed in plastic containers to keep animals from smelling anything and left by the cross points in the road by Friends of the AT Hikers. We’ve contributed a few items as we passed these checkpoints too, if only to lessen our loads. Sometimes you can find nonperishable food items at the shelters in bear boxes, heavy metal boxes with latches to close them so bears or other wild animals can’t access the food even if they can smell anything. We’ve left pull-top canned foods here.
            But through the years, we learned to cut down on the things we carry on the trail. We hiked in the same clothing for a few days. Maybe a pair of socks and undies to change. No extra shoes. A rain poncho doubled as a bed mat. No sleeping bags. A washcloth to soak when we found cool streams.
            I hope you found this short post helpful. The whole reason to go camping with the family is to enjoy each other’s company while traveling and seeing this beautiful world of ours. Have fun on your next camping or hiking adventure, no matter where you go. Feel free to share any hikes you’ve been on. Just leave a note in the comments section here at Camping with Five Kids. It would be truly appreciated. Life is full of adventure. Go out and find yours!
            Please note:
            I will not be posting on Camping with Five Kids in July or August 2020. I am moving and have much to do. Thank you for your understanding. Have a beautiful season, whatever it is. See you in September!

2 thoughts on “How to Pack Lightly When Backpacking: From the Annals of the Appalachian Trail Hikers”

  1. I guess that makes sense. I would assume it would be beneficial to travel with those items, but it makes sense that it would weigh a lot. Great post as always. Good luck with your move!

  2. Thank you, Michelle! We don't seem to realize how heavy the objects we feel are essential can be. It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Camping with Five Kids. Have a beautiful summer, my dear!


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