One big thing you have to think about when you hike the Appalachian Trail is where you are going to sleep. The most important thing you have to remember is that anything you bring has to be carried on your back every day.
The shelters are one option. I talked a bit about those in the last entry. You could try to do a thru-hike where you just plan on staying in a shelter every night. That would be the lightest option, because you would only have to bring a sleeping bag and a pad to sleep on. But shelters can fill up before you get there. Sometimes the other hikers in the shelter snore, and that can make it hard to sleep. Some shelters are dirty and have mice living in them. There’s also no way to protect yourself from the bugs when you sleep in a shelter.
Another lightweight option is to bring along a tarp. You’ll need a piece of plastic or Tyvek to cover the ground. The tarp will protect you from the rain if you set it up right, but bugs can still get to you and if it’s a windy night rain can blow in.
Tarp Set-up 1
Tarp Set-up 2
You also can buy all kinds of shaped bug nets. You can use a bug net under a tarp or in a shelter to protect yourself from bugs.
Bivy Sack Under a Tarp
Then there are bivy sacks. These are basically waterproof, breathable bags that fit over your sleeping bag. Most of them have a mesh area that goes over your face. A lot of hikers use bivy sacks and tarps together. Bivy sacks are super light and they keep the rain an bugs out, but there’s not much room in them to move around. Also, sometimes your breathe causes moisture to form inside the bivy sack because there’s no room for a breeze to blow the moisture away. When moisture forms on the inside of a tent it is called condensation.
Most thru-hikers carry lightweight tents. These can weigh anywhere from a pound to five pounds.
A Variety of Tents
The lightest ones tend to still have a lot of condensation, and they can fall over in high winds. The heaviest ones have bug nets, ground tarps, and rain covers. These are the most comfortable ones, but you have to be willing to carry the extra weight. Tents and tarps need to be set up on dry, flat sections of ground to be the most comfortable.
Hammock with Tarp
Another shelter option that is getting more and more popular is the backpacking hammock. Some hammocks come with bug nets sewn on top of them. There are a lot of specially shaped tarps now that are made to hang over hammocks. Hammocks can be cold because the wind blows right underneath and around them. You can get something called an underquilt to help keep you warm. An underquilt is basically a small sleeping bag that hangs along the bottom of your hammock to keep your back warm. Some hammocks are lighter than tents. Some are heavier. It depends on what materials the hammock is made out of. Hammocks also don’t need flat sections of ground. You just need two trees the right distance apart.
What would you carry if you were thru-hiking? Would you combine a few different things, or just buy a tent? Would you switch to something different once the weather got warmer?
I’ve met some thru-hikers that made their own shelters. Do you think you could design yourself a lightweight, comfortable, bug proof and rain proof shelter? What materials would you use?