While preparing and planning for my own personal Appalachian Trail thru-hike I have seen this request over and over again. So instead of just saying that you can best budget ultralight gears, I put it all together on Amazon as an idea list for anyone to use to grab the gear essential to starting out on a budget but cutting as much weight as possible.
Some caveats, I didn't list out clothing other than the clothing I prefer, this is down to personal preference. Everything is outlined with details below to explain my decision and the reason why the gear will work for a beginner.
When I first started this process, to appease my wife, I started building my gear to limit the overall cost as I am a prudent adult. If I wanted to be able to thru-hike I would have to save and pinch pennies where I could to ensure I wouldn't be shut out until after I retired.
Considering that is 20 years out still I wasn't wanting to wait until then for the AT. So I started to devise the best plan on Amazon I could which would allow me to save through automatic deposits of $25 per paycheck into a gift card allotment that I save to purchase each piece.
I would suggest anyone short on overall financial independence consider this as it will allow me to purchase almost everything within the year without hitting me hard in the finances.Josh
This should be a personal preference as some people prefer pants, some shorts, and other athletic undergarments. I list out a few of my personal favorites below that I love to use, check them out and find what works for you!
After this you are really down to personal preference or needs as each will have their favored items which will fulfill their needs and requirements. I would say that you should look at getting some merino wool clothing once you can save up a little more as they absorb odor and hold heat more.
This is where you can drop some serious weight out of most equipment you will purchase for your backpacking gear. Consequentially this is where you may spend the largest amount per item to provide that serious weight drop.
While there are many ultralight backpacks available but in most cases, they are exceedingly pricey for a beginner to sink the money into when you aren't sure of your longevity. I have found one which I love and has been durable for me which is the best of both worlds, inexpensive and ultralight!
Our Choice: Black Orca LITE Roamer
Our Runner Up: NEVO RHINO Hiking Backpack
This amazing backpack is made of high quality durable lightweight Nylon with durable zippers. It is very well assembled and has good stitching in all the places where you want and need it most. It also comes with a rain cover in a hidden pocket for a quick setup when a storm hits you on the trail.
The Black Orca became my choice late in 2019 as it is very light in weight where the average for a 40L would come in around 3-5 lbs in most standard packs. This is a large saving in weight from your main item which will allow you to focus on adding weight to some of your luxury items later.
This is a very personal choice, you can go lighter than a tent by using a tarp cover or hammock. Personally, I haven't changed from my love of a tent for having a space that is enclosed from the elements and gives me a personal space I don't get from tarps or hammocks.
Our Runner Up: LanShan 2 pro Tent (Single Wall)
The weight, reviews, and price to weight are amazing for a tent that can fulfill the needs of the starter to ultralight backpacking. The 3F UL Lanshan tent has become a mainstay and weighs at approximately 2 lbs 8 oz which will get you well on course to your ultralight pack.
Our runner up is the same tent but is a single wall version which gives you almost 6" more head and foot room internally but at the cost of the extra wall. Single walls may need some adaptation as they are very prone to condensation build up.
Please note that this tent does require a trekking pole unless you switch to the little heavier 2 person tent version.
When choosing your sleeping system you will find that you have more options than you would initially think. While searching for myself I found something I loved more than a mummy bag or sleeping bag. I found sleeping quilts, I fell in love with them and now it is all I want to use.
Our Choice: Black Orca Featherlite 3 Season Quilt
Runner Up: TETON Sports LEEF Lightweight Mummy
The Black Orca Featherlight features a nice hook-and-loop sealed foot box which can be unclasped for use as a top quilt if wanted. It is also a 3 season viable camping sleeping quilt suitable for temps from 41°F ~ 59°F temperatures.
This quilt weighs in at only 2.2 lbs and is a very small size and form allowing for more pack space for additional items while helping to maintain a lower pack weight for those looking to save space and weight.
While I was searching for a good bag or quilt I found 2 options and they are a little different in weight from one another, I figured I would provide the second option down here as it is lighter and was endorsed by a coworker.
Some people are young and can get away without a pad for a while, me I'm older and wiser and know that a pad can mean a lot of difference to your body over months camping. I would suggest if you are thinking of passing and not purchasing that you lay on the ground outside for 5-7 nights and see how sore you slowly become, this should change your mind!
Our Choice: Klymit Static V Insulated
There is the choice of an insulated versus the uninsulated for this pad which can save you a little weight and money on the planning. For myself, I would rather have the extra heating provided from the greater R-Value provided than save a little money.
The R-Value on the insulated pad comes in at 4.4 which means it helps keep you from losing heat to the ground much longer than the uninsulated version which has an R-Value of only 1.3. The insulated pad weighs in at only 25 ounces, if you wanted to lessen this you can look to this which costs a bit more but is significantly (2/3 the weight) lighter at 18.6 ounces in weight.
Now I haven't used trekking poles much yet as I am working on my skills in preparation for my thru-hike. These poles have come from my purchase based on family and friends' recommendations. They are very sturdy and work well so far for someone who isn't very coordinated. Me.
Our Choice: Foxelli Trekking Poles
Looking for trekking poles where I wouldn't bust my bank left me with about 4-5 options. Out of those only 2 used cork handles which I prefer from testing as they absorb sweat so my hands won't get slippery.
These also were one of the overall lightest at 7 oz and built out of carbon fiber poles which can help lower or reduce arm fatigue. Trekking poles can allow you to also move faster and further and use less energy.
This is something that can't be overlooked on a long hike where frequent water sources are available but need filtering or boiling. This is where Sawyer comes in handy as you can fill a dirt water bag and send it through the sawyer into another bottle to filter on the go.
Our Choice: Sawyer PointOne Squeeze
I know there are other Sawyer models along with other manufacturers. I have had previous experience with the Sawyer and it hasn't let me down when I needed to filter water. I have read that the Mini and others can plug up faster and allow less water to filter, I suggest staying with the Squeeze.
This definitely gets skipped for many hikers and backpackers but shouldn't be. The trowel is useful to ensure you are faithfully following Leave No Trace Practices correctly. This is crucial as more and more people, including you, are lining up to hike the trails, let's make sure to leave them in good shape.
Our Choice: TheTentLab New Improved Deuce 2
This is our choice as it is pretty simple, small, and very lightweight. I use my spare leukotape on the handle to give my hands a break and keep the tape handy for any blisters.
An excellent aid to leave no trace backpacking – it really helps you doo-doo the right thing. Its large scoop makes a mockery of tent stakes or trekking poles for digging. Use the length to gauge if your cat-hole is deep enough.
Now bugs I think is something we can all agree upon is a horrible thing. I know no one who wants ticks or mosquitoes attacking them relentlessly. This is why I recommend purchasing Permethrin as it is long-lasting for hiking thru-hikes while killing bugs that come in contact!
Our Choice: Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent
Permethrin is effective against the Yellow Fever Mosquito, which can transmit the Zika Virus. It also lasts up to 6 weeks (or 6 washings) which will last a long time on the trail before re-application will be necessary. It also won't stain or damage your clothing, fabrics, plastics, finished surfaces, or outdoor gear.
Everything I list out below is something that many people may decide they don't want or need, or you may have it already from previous uses. Some of us, myself included, don't carry stoves with them preferring to cold soak foods instead for easier days and have warm food while in town.
Alright, you can definitely find a log or stump or rock to sit on. I prefer a little weight incurred to give me a nice rear rest especially over many days of continuous hiking, what doesn't bother you day 1 may be very aggravating come day 5-7.
Our Choice: Therm-a-Rest Z Seat Cushion
I don't think I will be doing much night hiking and will still pack this along just in case something goes wrong. I would rather have this light headlamp then to find myself trying to use my phone or lighter. Plus our choice features no batteries and charges with the same charger you would pick up for your electronics.
Our Choice: Nitecore NU25
A cooking system is where I have been waffling back and forth on as I am researching a lot on cold-soaking food preparations instead to save me the weight and fuel as it is just extra weight. If you want to be able to cook on the trail then the combo together below is ultra-light and will make it easy to carry with you without weighing you down.
Our Choice Stove: BRS-3000T Ultra-Light Titanium
Our Choice Container: TOAKS Titanium Camping Cup 450ml
Approximate Budget For Gear Haul: 500-600
I hope this guide gave you some good hints at choosing gear and that it doesn't have to break the bank to manage to go ultralight and be successful on the trail! I covered all the primary needs for a thru-hike and hope that I gave you something you may not have thought of until now.
Please let me know if I have missed anything of importance or if I could add more useful information to any items. Feel free to share this with everyone you know in real life or online who is thinking about any kind of hike from day to thru-hike!