The Most Essential Weather Gear to Wear on 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.

 

Hiker crossing river

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! 

 

Now, let’s get to this blog post on the right gear to wear on the Appalachian Trail. Determining the right gear to wear is vital to your success in completing your thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail. You will get all sorts of weather on the trail - cold, rain, wind, and sun - and you need to be prepared. But first things first, how to manage during tough weather conditions.


Table of Contents


1. Maintaining a Positive Outlook When Thru Hiking

2. Choosing the Right Rain Gear for Your Thru Hike

3.  Coping with Wet Shoes on Your Thru Hike

4.  Managing the Wind on Your Thru Hike

5.  Dealing with the Cold on Your Thru Hike

6.  Moderating Sun Exposure on Your Thru Hike

7.  Testing Your Gear in Advance

8.  Sending Gear Home


 

1. Maintaining a Positive Outlook When Thru Hiking


Two hikers reaching third of the way on appalachian trail
We were ecstatic making it to the 1/3 sign.

Yes, the weather will affect your thru-hike. The weather will vary, and it will test you mentally. You will need to surrender to the fact that it will be difficult. While it is essential to have good gear, your positive attitude and how you work through difficulties is the true determinant of completing your hike. If you remain positive and do not try to fight what is happening, you will be more successful. Alternatively, if you fight it, you will be defeated and may end your trail early. There are multiple reasons why people quit the trail, and trying to fight the realities of the trail is one of them.

 

For example, it rained hard on us in Georgia, but the positive aspect was it kept the temperature cool, the bugs away, and the water sources plentiful. Georgia has the best water except for Maine. If you only focus on the difficulty, you will miss the positives.

 

With that said, on to the thru hiking gear overview.

 

2. Choosing the Right Rain Gear for Your Thru Hike



The "right" gear are the items that work for you. There are many permutations on gear and each one could be correct. Here is a list of the types of rain gear we saw the most on the Appalachian Trail: 

  • No rain gear: According to a Ranger, she never wears rain gear with the belief that performance clothes will dry faster than her rain gear. Additionally, because rain gear tends to be hot, you’re sweating under your clothes, making them wet. Of course, this only works in a warm climate.

  • Rain pants and jackets: Rain pants and jackets shed water, but they have saturation limits and can be hot. This is a scenario of “you get what you pay for.” The more money you spend potentially increases the saturation limits and breathability while decreasing weight. How quickly your rain gear dries is also a crucial factor, especially if it rains again the next day.

  • Rain poncho: The poncho covers your head, upper body, and bag, but you need to purchase one that won’t blow open. This is also a scenario of “you get what you pay for” as indicated above.

  • Rain kilt: Aptly named, the rain kilt covers the bottom part of your body down to your knees, depending on your height.

  • Umbrella: A lightweight umbrella can be attached to your bag, but you need to be careful of overhead branches, trees, and wind when using it. We used our umbrellas during quick rainstorms. While we loved the idea that we could attach it to our bag, it never really worked for us.

  • Rain gloves and socks: These keep you warm but have saturation limits. We wore rain socks when our shoes were wet the next day.

  • Rain cover: Another layer of protection for your hiking bag.

 

So, with all these options, what did we use?


We chose a combination of items to complete our rain system, keeping in mind that we'd need to be prepared for multiple days of rain in a row. Our main rain gear was a Dyneema poncho and Dyneema kilt from Zpacks. We also added a baseball cap to increase our visibility when wearing the poncho hood. The poncho from Zpacks was designed as a ground cloth; however, we never used it for this purpose.

 

What is Dyneema? Dyneema is a carbon-based fiber that is expensive. A standard poncho and a Dyneema poncho are vastly different in price but a Dyneema poncho is worth every penny. It is easily the best waterproof, most durable, and lightest-weight material on the hiker market. When it got wet, we wiped it down and hung it to dry – and it dried within a NOTICEABLY brief time. Zpacks does an excellent job explaining what it is.

 

We purchased rain pants and a rain jacket from Zpacks as well. We mostly used this gear when it was cold and rainy at the beginning and the end of our trip. We also wore this gear when we had to do laundry. We started with an umbrella as well, but we sent it home even though we did find it useful for blocking the sun.

 

3. Coping with Wet Shoes on Your Thru Hike


Our shoes always got wet and there was nothing we could do to keep them dry. However, some people believe that rain socks will at least keep your feet warm. We purchased rain socks, but I sent my socks home as I didn't think they worked for me and just used my merino wool socks. However, Liza believed in them and thought it was worth the extra weight. If your shoes are wet, take out your insoles and put towels inside to dry them out.


 

4. Managing the Wind on Your Thru Hike


For wind, most people use their rain gear, but we purchased ultralight wind pants and a jacket from enlightened equipment. We wore them to manage the mosquitoes, too. In retrospect, for wind, I would have only purchased the wind jacket, not the pants.

 

5. Dealing with the Cold on Your Thru Hike


For the first 500 miles and the last 500 miles, we had our cold-weather equipment in our hiking bags. To stay warm, we purchased puffy pants, a jacket, booties, and a hat from enlightened equipment. We only wore our puffy clothes when we were eating dinner or sleeping in the tent. Some mornings, we wore our puffy jackets, too; however, within the first two miles of the day's hike, we took off our cold clothes and were in the clothes that we would spend the rest of the day wearing. In retrospect, I would not have purchased the puffy hat because I wore my hooded puffy jacket and merino wool hat which were warm enough. Rain gloves were good in Maine when it was very cold in the morning.

 

6. Moderating Sun Exposure on Your Thru Hike



The Appalachian Trail is called the “green tunnel” because of the beautiful tree cover on the trail. One of the great benefits of doing the AT is its protection from the sun. While most of the trail is covered, there are times when you are above the tree line and exposed to the sun. As a result, we purchased hiking glasses from Oakley called Oakley Prizm Trail to protect our eyes. The bonus was that it helped keep the bugs out of our eyeballs!

 

Our umbrellas were rain and sun protection. We did not use our umbrellas often for the rain, but we did use them for sun protection. As stated above, in the end, we sent our umbrellas home, deciding that it was not worth the carry for the limited use. We also wore balaclavas around our necks and bought sunscreen for our faces and arms.

 

7. Testing Your Gear in Advance


It is important to test your gear in advance to see if it works and how you can combine different items comfortably. Before deciding to hike the Appalachian Trail, we went on several hikes over the years and tested our weather gear along the way. Fortunately (or unfortunately), gear improves, and new things are constantly being created, so don’t be afraid to alter your gear if needed. This includes changing your gear while on the trail.


Testing your gear also helps you learn what works and potentially see ways to improve or change its initial intention. For example, we added mini carabiners on our rain covers to get them on our bags quickly if it started pouring rain at once.

 

8. Sending Gear Home


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

 

Our clothing weather system is integrated. We purposely made sure we could wear our puffy gear with the wind gear as a middle layer and finish with the rain gear on top for both our pants and jackets. When it was hot and wet, we used our Dyneema ponchos and kilts. Having all these barriers solved the issues posed by the wet, wind, cold, and heat for us. I would keep the same strategy except where indicated.


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.