Over the past two years I rode a mountain bike 2500 miles on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, with an additional 1100 miles hiked on the AT. For a total of 3300 hiking miles. What these experiences taught me was you can do much more with a lot less. With every adventure you spend time inventorying what you need and building a list of all those required items. Granted, hiking the Appalachian Trail isn’t necessarily a grid down survival scenario we all read about in dystopian novels, but there are many similarities. It all comes down to weight and fine tuning what you need.

Over the past several months I worked in a backpacking store that specializes in “shaking down” hikers and their packs. I have seen many hikers walk into the store with 50 pounds+ packs and they were quite miserable and ready to quit. Our store is at mile marker 31.7 on the AT and is the first real spot to resupply and ascertain what is or is not working. I personally have completely refitted many hikers and mailed most of their gear back home. Ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain.

Most of us may never be in a combat scenario where you are required to sustain operations with what is on your back. However, it is conceivable that your car could break down on a country road out of cell phone range and you need to hike out to the nearest major road or town. I personally have a get home bag in my car for such a scenario that will allow me to survive in a multitude of scenarios. Of course, I also carry a pistol caliber carbine in that pack and enough ammunition to reload a primary and secondary firearm. All of this under 30 pounds total weight with a non-tactical backpack built to carry it.

This first step is always to build a requirements document to define what it is you are trying to achieve. In my case it is to walk home from work, 34 miles, in a grid down scenario and driving is not feasible. Using this as my baseline I worked through what was the bare minimum needed to be able to move quickly and not stand out, while also having the necessary equipment to keep me alive if I had to spend a night or two in the woods. With thru hiking every single item gets weighed and built into a lighterpack spreadsheet. Using this spreadsheet, it is easy to see the weight add up as you add one of these and maybe two of those. This program helps to whittle those heavy items down to achieve a manageable pack weight while keeping capability. You should be asking yourself with every item, do I really need this?

The next thing to do is to put your pack on and hike with it, preferably more than 5 miles in terrain like what you defined in your requirements document. This serves two purposes: test your gear and test your fitness. It does you no good to have all this stuff and lack the ability or fitness to carry it. Additionally, if your requirement is to spend the night in the woods with this gear does it work and do you have the skills to use your gear. This serves as another gut check to help whittle down the inventory some more or maybe even invest in higher quality and/or lighter items.

This method is easy to use when also building a sustainment and patrol pack for more tactical applications. Many of the items in my get home bag would be transferred to this purpose-built pack and then supplement with additional gear for each differing scenario. Always with the mindset that ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain.

It is important to work through these plans now while the lights are still on, and no one is shooting at you. The lessons learned today may be what keeps you alive tomorrow.

This is my winter hammock thru hiking gear list I used when I started the AT in February 2021 https://lighterpack.com/r/ldyb63


Crusoe is retired from the Air Force after 30-years of service as a flight crew member.  He spends most of his time thinking about the apocalypse and how to mitigate its effects.  When not immersed in academic pursuits, he is often on a trail hiking in the mountains of North Georgia or reading with a glass of Irish whiskey and a German Shepherd by his side.   Global travel enthusiast, history nerd, Appalachian Trail thru hiker, and recovering ultra-endurance athlete.  He can be reached at [email protected]