Ultralight backpacking: Appalachian Trail thru hike attempt gear list


This summer I attempted to break Matt Kirk‘s Appalachian Trail unsupported thru-hike record. Unfortunately I was unable to complete the hike due to a torn calf in Connecticut but I am wiser because of the trip and better prepared to attempt it again in the next few years. Below is my ultralight backpacking gear list for the trip, which I don’t think is too absurd to say is the lightest and smallest pack anyone has ever attempted a thru-hike with. At only 3.5 pounds for the base weight, I used a 10 liter running vest pack instead of the traditional massive backpacks most hikers use. And if I were to do it again, I wouldn’t change a thing. Of course I sacrificed some comfort in camp but it enabled me to hike faster and further than I ever could with a heavier pack. I hope you enjoy checking out my gear choices. All weights are altered weight (meaning changes I made to the original gear) measured using a postal scale and are accurate to the 100th of an ounce. If you have any questions about why I chose something or how I liked it, feel free to comment below. And if you like this post and want to keep updated on others like it, please consider subscribing!

Ultralight backpacking, Grayson Cobb, Gear List, Salomon 10+3
All packed up!

Ultralight backpacking gear list:

All units are ounces unless stated otherwise.

Shelter:

Poncho tarp, guylines, Terra Nova Titanium 1g Skewer Pegs 2.7
Gossamer Gear polycro groundsheet-cut 1.04

Sleeping pad:

Therm-a-rest NeoAir XLite 7.4

Sleeping bag:

Enlightened Equipment Enigma 8.65

Pack:

Salomon Skin Pro (10+3 Set) 11.78
Trash bag liner 0.32

Clothing

Mountain Hardwear Ghost Jacket 1.6
Buff Original Headband 1.17
Sea to Summit Mosquito Head Net 0.68
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket 6.62
Zensah Compression Leg Sleeves 2.11

Storage

Food bag 0.58
Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Compression Dry Sack 1.21
2 Ziploc bags 0.14

Wallet

Rubber band, cash, cards, ID 0.52

Electronics

Apple iPhone 6 4.49
5 inch iPhone charger 1.06
Headphones 0.4
Black Diamond Ion Headlamp 1.24

Water

2X .5L plastic bottles 0.74
Platypus Platy Bottle 2-Litre 1.18
Bleach dropper 0.35

Safety

Sleeping pad repair kit 0.1

Hygiene

Toothbrush 0.13
Toothpaste dots 0.13
Repel 100 Insect Repellent  .5

Total

TOTAL (pounds): 3.52
TOTAL (ounces): 56.42

 

Homemade cuben fiber tarp, ZPacks, Grayson Cobb, Appalachian Trail
Not many amenities.

Ultralight backpacking, Grayson Cobb, Gear List, Salomon 10+3

There is a more encompassing measurement to determine exactly how much gear a person is carrying called FSO or “from skin out” and includes everything but your person.

FSO gear:

 Shirt

Arcteryx Sarix SS Tee 2.6

 Shorts

1″ Elite BOA Split Leg Shorts 2.37

 Shoes

Saucony Men’s Peregrine 16.4

 Poles

Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking Poles +duct tape 10.21

 Socks

Darn Tough Vermont Men’s 1/4 No Cushion 1.57
 Non-packed gear (ounces): 33.95

 Total

FSO Base (lbs): 5.648125

Read about the trip here: Day 1

Grayson Cobb

Grayson Cobb

I am a long distance backpacker, triathlete, adventurer, climber, kayaker, and lowly medical student currently living in Norfolk, VA attending Eastern Virginia Medical School and getting out for adventures on weekends.
Grayson Cobb

Latest posts by Grayson Cobb (see all)

77 thoughts on “Ultralight backpacking: Appalachian Trail thru hike attempt gear list”

  1. How did you get the Enigma below 9 ounces? The lightest weight they list at the link provided is over 10 ounces for a 50-degree short.

    1. Hey thanks for stopping by! It’s the Enigma Elite, 50, Short and slim. And then I cut off the tags and the attachments for the straps which didn’t take off much but still something.

  2. G’day Grayson,
    Firstly respect brother. It’s an audacious undertaking and packing list…. But I absolutely believe that you can pull this goal off from what I’ve read here. Also doing medicine is a honourable calling, stick with it!
    Best,
    Lawrie

    1. Cockles I’m guessing… but is there room for food in that “pack”? Also, no bivy? That poncho tarp looks quite… cozy… hope you don’t have to setup in the rain

      1. Hey Zaak, thanks for checking out my site! Yes, plenty of room for food! I’m working on a video to show it all being packed up. The tarp worked great, got a little wet but not too much of an issue. Had to set up in the rain a couple times-was a little tricky but basically had to set it up from underneath.

  3. Wonderful Spartan setup. Curious about your food and fire situation. Good luck in your med school education. I am a veterinarian who has practiced for 30 years and still love every day.

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I only ate dry food so no need for cooking. I carried a few matches to get a fire started in an emergency but I never really had intentions of using them. My backup plan for hypothermia was always to get up and hike which worked really well. And thanks for the encouragement! It’s good to hear at this point in school.

  4. Very enlightening article. I realized by digging into your list, the the season of the year matters. I think that this would be a late Spring – early Fall list, correct me if I’m wrong. I understant everything on your list, and I will probably implement some of your equipment choices and test them out before I attempt a 3.5 lb hike.

    I did not see rain gear in your list, other than the Ghost Wind jacket. I am sure that you have been caught out in a “never-ending” rain while hiking in VA, what is your thought and preparation for a rain event? You mentioned if you’re cold, you just keep hiking, I just wonder because sometimes if seems you get stuck in an extended rain over several days.

    My Arc Blast weighs 18 oz, 6 oz more than your pack rig and compactor bag for waterproofing. Yes, I know 6 oz is 6 oz, but the pack affords me more room but also the temptation to pack more stuff!

    I think I will start out with testing out your shelter system, and perhaps your eating dry meals before trying to go to your extremes! Thanks for this informative post!

    1. Thanks for checking out my page! I am glad you found it interesting! You’re spot on-if I were to use this in the summer I’d just ditch the down jacket. I use this setup down to freezing temps and then change most everything out when it gets into the 20s. I use the cuben poncho tarp for rain gear-it’s not the best for the days of rain but I love it for the warm summer afternoon storms because it breathes so well. I hope you’ll check out some more of my posts and check back in the future!

    1. Thanks man! I think hammocks are great for the Appalachian Trail. The reason I chose a ground setup was because I have yet to find a hammock/tarp combination that is lighter than just a simple sleeping pad/tarp. Let me know if you know of any lighter hammocks!

  5. Hey – thanks for the post! This is a really interesting setup.

    I’m sorry if you’ve already addressed these, but I have two quick questions:
    -Is that the torso length NeoAir Xlite? I just picked up the full and I think it’s a little under a pound.
    -What did you do for bear bagging? Did you just leave all of your ‘dry’ food in it’s original containers and hope bears/rats/critters didn’t sniff it out?

    Again, thanks!

    1. Hey Eric. Thanks for your comment and for checking out my site! The neoair is the shorty pad-that’s why it’s so light. As far as bear bagging, I use the poles and bins where bears are a problem but do exactly what you said normally. I’ve never had a problem nor have I heard of people having problems with it on the Appalachian Trail outside of Shenandoah, the Smokies, and a select few other spots. It certainly helps that I don’t cook. I hope this answers your questions!

  6. Great set-up. Although I think it would be a great idea if you posted a video of your gear with some explanation. Also, I was wondering how you set up your poncho tarp in camp when there is rain, and how long are the demensions of your poncho tarp?

    1. Hey Cameron, thanks for checking out my site! It is a great idea to make that video, I appreciate the suggestion! As for the poncho-tarp, I can set it up mostly from underneath it but still inevitably get a little wet. I just have to make sure to dry off a bit before slipping into my quilt. A little chamois or spare clothes can help speed up drying off by wiping off the water too. My most recent tarp is 4.5*8 feet. I tried to go shorter but my feet got wet :/

  7. I love this post. What was your reasoning behind going with the Salomon running pack? It is very Spartanesque and super motivating.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it! The Salomon pack had everything I needed, storage flush against my back, comfortable straps and ventilation, water bottle holders on the shoulder straps, easy access side pockets for food storage, and expandable main compartment. It enabled me to be able to not take my pack off for the entire day.

  8. Good grief! I am not only impressed, but jealous of people like you, Matt, and GVP who can go with so little! Maybe someday I’ll have a tiny baseweight…

  9. None of the latest fashion wear or well advertised equipment are substitutes for experience, intelligence, knowledge, practice, and skill.

  10. Hello again, I just had some ideas on how you could make your base weight even lighter. I’m not sure if you are acquainted with the petzl e+ lite, but it is a phenomenal headlight that weights in at 0.9 ounces or 27 grams and has a multitude of different light modes much like the black diamond ion you use. Also I think that if you switched to the Klymit inertia x-lite pad you could drop your pad weight from 7.4 to 6.1 ounces. Although the neo air is a bit more comfortable for side sleepers. Last but not least you could save some weight switching from the mountain hard wear ghost whisper down jacket to a Borah gear down jacket or a montbell x-lite down jacket. Just some thoughts. Hope you might enjoy. Still an amazing set up as it is now. Thanks

    1. Hey Cameron, thanks again for the advice man! I’ll definitely be purchasing the Petzl E+ lite. I took a look at it but decided against it for that AT trip. Most people seemed to recommend it as a sort of just-in-case light and since I was going to be doing so much night-hiking, I decided against it. But I’ll have to give it another chance for future trips! I had honestly never looked at the Borah down jacket so I’ll have to look into that! I appreciate it man, keep me posted on other gear you find!

      1. Hi, Grayson,
        I thoroughly enjoyed your informative and thought provoking video. If I may, as an owner of both the BD Ion and Petzl e+LITE, I would cast my vote for the Ion. I found the e+LITE to be perfectly adequate for camp chores but lacking in certain night hiking situations. I recall using it under drizzly conditions one night in the northern part of the Long Trail in Vermont. Although it had fresh batteries, it lacked the firepower to punch through the heavy drizzle, even at its maximum setting. The light was scattered and much of it was reflected back to me to such an extent that it was impossible to see my surroundings. Rather than risk injury due to a fall, I decided to bivouac that night. To be fair, I haven’t used the Ion in similar situations, but it does have 100 lumens (2016 model) as opposed to the 26 lumens that the e+LITE possesses. Also in the Ion’s favor, I think AAA batteries would be more readily available in any trail town than the CR2032s. I guess some folks may pack spare batteries in their resupply packages, but the USPS does prohibit the shipment of lithium batteries in the mail. Anyway, it was enlightening (no pun intended) to view the video and your gear list.

        1. Hey Craig, thanks for your comment man! I’m with you. I’ve loved having the Ion for night hiking. Can’t imagine an ounce would save me any amount of energy or time when it’d slow me down so much to carry such a weaker headlamp.

  11. I am very interested in reducing my pack weight. I noticed there was no mention of first aid kit. Do you not find a need for that? How about toe nail clippers? I could remove a few ounces from my pack if I could find a way to lighten that FAK.

    Thanks.

    1. Hey Cheri! Thanks so much for checking out my site. The only piece of first aid that I carry is a couple feet of duct tape on my trekking pole. It’s definitely dependent on the individual though. If you’re prone to blisters, falling, infections, gi issues, etc. you should consider carrying something more elaborate. But for me personally, I rarely have any problems that can’t wait a day or two until I arrived at my next resupply. I had a nail clipper in about every other resupply that I would use and then leave in the hiker box.

  12. You ever thought of ditching the sleeping pad and instead taking 2 contractor trash bags to fill with leaf debris as your mattress? Not that you aren’t already being amazing, but thought I’d share something I do to cut down on weight.

    1. Duuuuddeee. I like the way you think. For that trip is all about time and efficiency so it was worth it to carry the pad and bag but for future trips I’ll have to try out your method! Thanks for the tip and I hope you’ll consider subscribing to my posts to keep in touch!

      1. I was recently thinking about this, and I can definitely understand if you are wanting something more time-efficient that you don’t have to fill and clean out every time you go out, especially for a thru-hike. I’m a bushcrafter, but I’m trying to go lighter and lighter every single time. Just trying to find that right mix between misery and glamping.

  13. Wow! This is the lightest pack I think I have ever seen. I am very impressed, not only with you camping gear selection, but with your ability to forego all luxury items. This is a true ultralight pack. Bravo.

  14. This is such an inspiring post, thank you Grayson! I’ve been using your list and video to help me move as lightweight as I can.

    Quick question: what did you do about toilet paper and soap? Skip the washing and use leaves for wiping?

  15. Hello.

    You mentioned somewhere in your future FKT attempt you’ll carry a battery pack. I’m wondering if a second phone of the same model might be better? Then just switch the sim card once one goes flat?

    You’ll then have a backup if one malfunctions too.

    Cheers

    1. Hey James, thanks for stopping by man! That’s probably not a bad idea. If probably just still carry an external battery because it’ll get me 3+ charges whereas an alternate phone would just get me two. But I’ll certainly be considering that option for the future.

  16. The pack: ‘Salomon 10+3 Set’ on Amazon (your link above gets a 404) states that it is a ‘Hydration Pack’.

    Are the ‘2x.5L” water bottles accessories to it?

    1. Hey Andrew. Thanks for letting me know about the broken link. Here’s another link to it: https://www.amazon.com/Salomon-Skin-Pro-Hydration-Pack/dp/B00LGYT1CW It’s very similar to the Salomon skin pro 10 that apparently replaced the old 10+3. I wish that pack had been around for me! But the 10+3 had nylon non-elastic pockets so their flexible bottles didn’t work well in there. I used to normal plastic .5L bottles. Their new Skin pro 10 looks like it has those elastic pockets so it would work well with the flexible bottles. The new pack is lighter too!

    1. I don’t! Jkjk, I sleep with a headnet on and my quilt keeps me covered below that! It works great as long as it doesn’t get too hot. But with a 50 degree quilt that’s a rare occurrence!

  17. I’m superimpressed by your setup, and it inspired me to make a 435 km (just over 280 miles) thru hike with an Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20L.
    About double the volume and double the weight of your setup, but still smaller and lighter than even any of the cabin-to-cabin hiker I met on my trip. But I wasn’t in the business to break any record.
    And I got cooked food.

    I used the Petzl E-lite on my trip, but it was used almost exclusively as a camp light, were it’s adequate, but it’s crap as a headlamp while walking in the dark. The extra ounce or so of your Ion is well worth to carry.

    1. Hell yeah that’s awesome!! Well done! Which trail did you do? And yeah I was pretty happy about my headlamp choice! Those late nights out hiking it was a life saver having a solid beam.

      1. Sorry for a late answer, I forgot to click the notify button.
        I walked the Rondanestien in Norway, from Oslo to Hjerkinn, from sea to the mountains.

        There was both rain, hail and subfreeze temps during the trip, so I was grateful for everything in my pack, but never missed anything, so it was spot on!

    1. Hey Robert, thanks for checking out my site! It is correct. I made a few modifications to their stock quilt. I replaced the draw cord, removed the clips, and removed the tags. As far as I remember those were enough to get it down to my listed weight.

  18. I have the MH whisperer wind jacket and down jacket. Were they enough for you for rain/cold protection? Debating on adding frog toggs or umbrella for additional rain protection. I’m leaving for my thru in March.

    1. Hey Andre, thanks for checking out my site! I would highly highly recommend taking some additional rain protection in addition to just that. I had my poncho tarp for primary rain protection. That’s a great lightweight option but not quite as functional as a dedicated rain jacket. Good luck on your hike and stay dry!

  19. How did the tarp work as a poncho?
    I guess you used it as a cape, because there is no hood or slit for the head.
    A 0.34 Cuben is a bit frail, wad there ever any damage to it when you had to go among the blown down trees?

    1. Hey Daniel, thanks for your questions! I actually did put a hood on the poncho tarp as version 2.0. I only had one slight tear in the tarp but had patches of cuben fiber tape in each of my resupplies for that exact reason. It was a quick repair. I had to be very careful through downed trees though. If you’re going for a speed record, the .34 works fine but if you’re looking for something to hold up for months of backpacking, I’d recommend a sturdier weight for sure.

    1. I didn’t get it soaked through at any point but I did get it damp nearly every night. It dried out quickly but I think I better strategy would’ve been to extend the tarp a few inches on the sides. I love the Enigma, wouldn’t have traded it for anything!

      1. One more question, what do you think contributed more to your warmth, your pad or your bag? I am usually a cold sleeper and I am trying to decide between the xlite and a ccf pad. Weight isn’t a huge issue but I like the efficiency and simplicity of the ccf. With proper site selection, would there be a big difference in warmth between the two?

        1. I think the xlite wins over the ccf any day for comfort and warmth and compressibility but it’s hard to say how much the ~1 r-value difference would make in practice. If you’re a cold sleeper I’d recommend the xtherm. I’m a super warm sleeper so I’m not the best source on warm sleeping systems. I just know what will keep my radiator of a body alive through the night 🙂

  20. As I’m looking for ways to improve my pack weight ( 2018 AT thru), I found some great information on your website. You are an inspiring athlete, hope you have more luck and no injuries on a next AT record attempt.

    I do have a few questions if I may:
    – You use the 1gr Terra Nova pegs (I have them to), are they suited for the AT? I can only use them in perfect conditions and wouldn’t ever have thought of taking them on a thru hike?

    – My tent is a Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 with (2 walled tent) with a weight of about 500grams. I could opt to take the inner mesh tent out and use it as a tarp. It would save me 250 gram. How nescessary is a bug net on the AT? (will be hiking between march-may)

    Thanks a lot for any answers!
    Safe hiking

    1. Hey Freek, I thought the terra nova stakes worked great but I definitely had to be very careful. I often simply tied the guy lines to trees or sticks to avoid using the stakes as well. You’ll likely have to purchase another set at some point for lost pegs and broken ones too. Personally I thought being covered almost completely by my quilt and then the last little bit by a head net worked well. It all depends on the time of year and where you are. I had to pick campsites carefully for sure but it worked well for me. In the summer when I have a tough time staying under the warm quilt the entire night I take a bug net. I hope this helps and good luck on your thru hike next year!

      1. Hi Grayson, thanks for the reply! Being a European and having never set foot in the US, basic questions like these are the hardest to find information about.

        This would be my second thrue hike and at the last 700 miles of my last hike, I was able to get about 25-35 miles/day (48L pack). By reading up on all the US gear, blogs and information provided by hikers like you, I’ve been able to significantly reduce my load. My new pack is a 20+4L WAA ultra bag and I’ll by incorporating a bit of trail running to the game. (This is to sketch my situation)

        I would be hiking NOBO from late feb-early may.

        I have a few more questions and hope you are willing to share your expertise about:
        – would you know a blog post/page/… where I could find the most common and easily bought products on the trail to make a meal? I normally eat the same breakfast dinner for the whole trip, snacks during the day (no lunch break) and go crazy in towns on trail :).
        – Hiking poles… how do you use them while running? I havn’t found a way to properly store them, they keep me from getting my full speed at times (although I wouldn’t go without :)). Any tips?
        – How did you manage without any camp shoes? Or did you use an alternative?
        – Each day how much actual trail running did you do vs hiking?
        – I know the AT will be wet, how did you protect your arms from the rain/cold when using just the poncho? (I also use a Z-packs poncho/groundsheet)
        – What would you advise to be the best water treatment for the AT? I have a steripen, sawyer, tablets and purifying drops… so enough option but what would be most benificial.

        I know these are a lot of questions and take your time to answer them or some of them. I hope they could also help other future AT tru hikers :D.

        Thank you from a Belgian friend & hiker,
        Freek
        Freek recently posted…Een reis naar Japan voorbereiden begint hierMy Profile

        1. Hey Freek, Sorry for the late response man! I missed this comment.
          -I have a post about food options on the trail: http://graysoncobb.com/a-guide-to-ultralight-no-cook-backpacking/ It’s not comprehensive but might give you an idea of some options for snacks.
          -I didn’t run much on the AT but when I did I was usually descending so I used them for balance as I ran. On flats I just held them in my hand.
          -When I was awake I was hiking so I didn’t really need camp shoes. It would’ve been nice to have something dry to put on but usually it was the second I was done hiking I was in my quilt. If you’re planning on spending more time in towns it might be nice to have some
          -Probably 80+% hiking over running. It’s just too much stress to run.
          -My arms and legs just got wet. Often it was pretty chilly so I just had to keep moving to stay warm and if I stopped I would bundle up underneath the tarp.
          -I used bleach drops but any purifying drops get my vote as easiest, safest, affordable, fastest. I used the steripen my first time on the AT and loved it too but it’s heavy compared to drops and more finicky.

          I hope this helps and I’ll try to answer any other questions you have sooner! I’m excited for your hike man!

  21. Thank you for the very detailed list and the video with additional details!

    The equipment links almost all include pricing and so totaling them up was fairly straight forward: $1483. Proportionately it breaks down as ~50% for clothing, 25% for the sleeping bag + pad, approximately 10% each for the pack and shelter, and the remaining 5% spread among the rest of the items.

    Do you use the trash bag to inflate your air mattress?
    (e.g. https://youtu.be/rzBb5oBBd3E?t=45s which uses just an intact bag and your hand,
    or https://youtu.be/8fmzj81amuY?t=1m45s which is a bit more efficient, but requires a rubber band and an additional hole in the bag).

    1. Thanks for tallying that up Mark and your other comments! That is a great number to have, I feel like 1500 for all that gear is pretty affordable. I did not use a trash bag but that’s a great idea, would’ve save me a few minutes and some unnecessary hyperventilating at the end of the day!

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Adventures of a medical student