Performance Gear Essentials for the Appalachian Trail

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We completed our northbound thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail (AT) in 2022 and it was one of the most difficult and rewarding experiences of our lives. The difficulty is not only from the number of miles but also the terrain, obstacles, steep ups and downs – and the weather! We started the AT on April 13, 2022 and finished on October 6, 2022. We put this Appalachian Trail series together to get you from the start to the finish successfully.



Here is an overview of the series:

Appalachian Trail Hiking: The Ultimate Guide to Starting the Appalachian Trail

For more information on how to get to the AT and when to go.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail: 10 Logistical Ideas to Help You Plan

This article will provide insights on how to make your adventure easier.

Weather on the Appalachian Trail: 10 Things to Prepare You For Your Thru-Hike

This one is essential, especially when choosing when to summit.

The Most Essential Weather Gear to Wear on the Appalachian Trail

Your gear could be the difference between completing the trail and not!

Performance Gear Essentials for the Appalachian Trail

An overview of clothes to wear.

How to Finish the Appalachian Trail Without Breaking a Sweat

For help getting back home. We wish you the best of luck on your journey! 

 

Choosing the best performance clothes to wear is especially important when attempting the Appalachian Trail. You need clothes to match the effort you are putting into completing the trail. There are many available options and the best ones are the ones that are the best for you.


1.   Layering and Base Clothes on the Appalachian Trail

 

Having the right base clothes and layering them when hiking the Appalachian Trail is important. On our thru-hike, the temperatures ranged from cold, rainy, windy 20s to hot and humid 90s. Therefore, wearing the right breathable fabrics, like merino wool, is key. Merino wool has some wonderful qualities: It’s good both in hot and cold weather, it dries fast, and can be worn while wet. Unbound Merino is a superior company that has good quality merino wool. We wore merino wool socks, underwear, T-shirts, and long-sleeve shirts on the trail. During cold nights, we also wore our merino clothes as a sleeping layer.

 

2.   Getting the Right Outer Performance Clothing


We wanted clothes that would stretch with our movements and dry fast but still be stylish and perform well. Hiking on the Appalachian Trail requires clothes that fit the demands you are putting on your body. The brand Western Rise has great clothing for this occasion.

 


Bottom Half

 

Some people purchase hiking pants with zippers on the legs so they can convert into shorts. We didn’t do this. We decided to have two separate items: pants and shorts. We wanted to alternate what we wore on the trail or while going into town or when doing laundry. We recommend:

 

  • Evolution Pants from Western Rise: These pants pack smaller than a T-shirt, move with your body, and are water and stain-resistant, breathable, and lightweight.

  • Eddie Bauer Sightscape Convertible Roll-Up Pants: Liza liked these pants because they were comfortable and fit properly. They are stretchy, lightweight, durable pants.

  • Movement Shorts from Western Rise for men: These shorts were amazing for the Appalachian Trail because they are super comfortable, ultralight, stretchy, breathable, and water- and stain-resistant. Because it gets hot, you need shorts to hike and swim in – these shorts are perfect for both. One of my favorite features is the hidden side zippered pocket where I kept my phone. You will look at your phone often because it is your trail guide and map when using the app FarOut, which is necessary for hiking the Appalachian Trail.

  • Smartwool shorts for women: Liza liked these shorts because they were light, breathable, stretchy, and dried fast. Another thing is they are durable, which is important when bouldering.

  • Merino wool underwear: There are a couple of options when it comes to underwear. Some people go commando by wearing no underwear. Others purchase shorts with built-in underwear liners. For me, those options did notwork. We both wore merino wool.

  • Socks: Regardless of the style of sock, merino wool or a merino wool blend is the way to go. Your feet will be wet from the rain and sweat, so you need something to handle the smell, and that will dry fast and be comfortable. Merino wool is the best for all worlds. Eventually, my go-to socks were mid-warmth ankle-high merino wool finger socks from Injinji. I have seen the Injinji socks worn as liners with mid-weight socks on top. Other times, the more popular are the Darn Tough socks. Regardless, I always had two pairs of socks with me. One pair was worn on the trail and the other pair was kept in my sleeping bag to make sure my feet were warm and dry.

 

Top Half

 

We both wore merino wool shirts and long-sleeve shirts for our tops. When we first started the trail, we wore long-sleeve shirts from Columbia (Silver Ridge 2.0 Long Sleeve Shirts) because they covered us from the sun and dried fast from sweat. Later, I wore a short-sleeved shirt with the same idea.

 

Ultimately, we hiked in a short-sleeved merino wool shirt because it is truly the best material. We also had long-sleeved merino wool shirts during the colder months that we wore at night or when it was cold in the morning. If I had to do it over again, I would only wear merino wool tops.

 


3.   Choosing Shoes for the Trail

 

Many people wear Trail Runners as their shoes of choice on the Appalachian Trail. Trail Runners are like running shoes but with a wide toe box, giving your toes the flexibility they need to get through the terrain. My shoe of choice was the Altra Olympus.

 

Whatever shoe you decide to wear, the general knowledge is to not purchase Gore-Tex or waterproof shoes. Because you are on the trail all day every day and will be experiencing a wet ground, the focus is on how quickly the shoes dry versus not getting them wet. There will be no stopping them from getting wet.

 

The other shoe you need to bring are water shoes/camp shoes. This combination shoe is a necessity on the trail because you will be crossing rivers and shoes are required. We thought the perfect shoes were Xero shoes. These are zero-drop shoes, ultralight, and can be used for camp shoes, water shoes, in-town shoes, and hiking shoes.

 

Hiker crossing river

4.   Sending Clothes Home and Getting Them Back

 

We did not wear or have these clothes with us the entire time. We tailored what was in our hiking bag based on where we were on the trail, the season, and the terrain. You can mail some of the layers home when it warms up and then have them shipped back when you need them again. We sent our cold layers home in Virginia and received them back in Connecticut.

 

5.   Cleaning Your Clothes

 

From a laundry perspective, the reason we chose these performance clothes is that they dry fast, clean easily, and can last without washing for several days. The good news is you will be staying in a hostel where they have loaner clothes while doing your laundry. The loaner clothes may not fit and will not be attractive but will be fun. When staying in a hotel, choose a place that has a laundromat or one close by. The hotels will not have loaner clothes, which forces you to either finish cleaning your clothes before going into town, waiting until you come back, or sometimes we wore our rain gear when necessary.

 

6.   Understanding the Danger of Cotton

 

It is especially important to AVOID cotton. Cotton is not good in cold, wet, hot (because of sweat) weather because it does not dry out quickly. Wearing wet clothes runs the risk of hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when your body’s heat loss is faster than its heat production. If your core body temperature goes below 95 degrees, it could cause respiratory or heart issues, up to and including death. Do not wear anything cotton while hiking the Appalachian Trail.

 

7.   Losing Weight on the Appalachian Trail

 

We lost weight. I lost 20lbs on the trail and Liza lost 12lbs. As a result, we had to change our clothes partway through to make them fit and be comfortable again. Liza had to go down a size in both her pants and shorts, which she ordered online easily and had sent to the next hostel. We did change up our shirts, too. This is all part of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.

 

Figuring out the right performance gear on the trail is essential. What you wear is a big decision and goes a long way in making sure you are comfortable. You will be wet, smelly, and dirty, so find clothes that work as hard as you and make sure they are not cotton!

 

Here is the complete list of the Appalachian Trail guides:



 

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If you are interested, we wrote a financial series to learn how to become financially independent or retire early. You may also enjoy our car camping series.