Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been prepping for a section hike on the Appalachian Trail. So I’ve been going through my packing list and my gear and deciding what to bring and what to leave behind. Of course this means I’m thinking about my pack weight. What things do I really need and what things would be nice to have? So I made a list of the “luxury items” that I carried on my Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 2022, and wow! No wonder my pack always felt so heavy… I’m definitely not an ultralight backpacker! At some points on the trail, I was carrying every one of the luxury items I have listed below. I swapped some things out during my hike, but each one of them brought me some comfort and good memories and were totally worth the weight.
Taking a break on a ridge in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
Sit Pad: Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Pad
I love this sit pad! It’s super lightweight (only 2.7 oz) and I use it all the time when I’m backpacking. I like to pull it out when I stop for my lunch break and roll it out for a little place to stretch out and relax. It’s thin, so it’s not super cushy, but it offers plenty of protection from pointy rocks and scratchy weeds. I also use it when I get to camp at night as a place to sit and do my nightly stretches. The pad is long enough that I can use it as a little yoga mat. When it’s time for bed, I fold it in half and place it on the ground in my tent vestibule so I have a mat to step out onto in the morning. When it’s really cold, I put it underneath my sleeping pad for a little extra warmth. And when I sleep in shelters, I put it under my sleeping pad to protect the pad and muffle the noises my pad makes when I move around. I’ve even slept in shelters on just the foam pad before. It’s not very comfy as a standalone pad, as it’s only ⅛ inch thick, but it’ll work in a pinch! The only downside to my thinlight foam pad is that I’ve used it so much that it’s missing a few chunks here and there. Probably time for a new one!
- Inexpensive, $22.00
- Very thin
- Not very durable
Camp Shoes: Bedrock Sandals Cairn Pro II
I’ve had these Bedrocks hiking sandals for a few years, and I literally wear them everywhere! Walking the dog, gardening, shopping, going out for dinner, hiking, swimming, boating…pretty much every day as long as there is no snow on the ground. They’re super comfy and I love all the adjustments you can make for a perfect fit. They’re very flexible and form fitting, so they kind of move with your feet. The traction on the soles is awesome, even on wet rocks and in mud, and they actually stay put! I’ve never had any issues with my feet sliding around in the shoes. So when I started my thru-hike on the AT, it was a no-brainer to bring these as my camp shoes. As soon as I got to camp each night, I took off my hiking shoes and put on my Bedrocks. It was so nice to be able to air out my feet especially if my socks and shoes were wet. When I lived in Illinois, I hiked in these frequently, as the trails were very flat and mostly soft dirt or mulch. I tried to hike in them on the AT, but found the terrain to be too unpredictable with lots of jagged rocks and roots. I preferred to keep my feet protected in my trail runners so I didn’t have to worry as much about where I stepped. I did use them for a few water crossings on the AT, but I pretty quickly decided that it was too much effort to remove my hiking shoes for every water crossing. So I mostly just crossed with my trail runners on and dealt with the wet socks and shoes. But as a bonus, I found these sandals were great shoes for town days, too, and I didn’t have to feel ridiculous walking around town in wet, smelly trail runners.
- Great fit
- Great traction
- Pricey at $130
- No protection from rough terrain
Games: Cards, Dice, Magnetic Chess Set
I didn’t originally plan on carrying any games during my thru-hike, but I met my now boyfriend while I was on the trail and we both loved to play games. I picked up a deck of cards in the hiker box at Mountain Crossings in Georgia and we played Rummy almost every night. We kept a running score all the way to Katahdin, and I think he beat me by a couple thousand points… At some point, we picked up a set of dice to play Farkle and Yahtzee. And later we ordered a magnetic chess set on Amazon. I loved playing chess during our lunch breaks! One, because I could actually win at chess, and two, because it forced us to take a nice long break at lunch.
- Doesn’t take up a lot of space
- Fun entertainment
- Easy way to make friends at camp and at hostels
- Can be heavy, depending on what you bring
Battery Powered Fan:
This might be my favorite luxury item, because it is such a luxury! I got this portable, rechargeable fan from a trail magic stop in the heat of the summer. I got really excited when I saw it on the table and Jinx, the trail angel, insisted that I take it with me. For a few weeks prior to that, I had been daydreaming up some ways to get a fan in my tent because it was so hot and humid at night, I could barely sleep. I always sleep with a fan at home; I like the cool breeze and the white noise. So this little fan was a perfect addition to my pack. It’s pretty small and runs quiet, has 3 different speed settings, and can be charged with a micro USB cable. I get 2-3 nights on one charge if I run it on the lowest fan setting. I like to set it up in my tent right next to my face while I sleep. If the battery was low, I used my battery pack to charge it while it ran overnight.
- A cool breeze and white noise while you sleep
- Good battery life
- Inexpensive: $10.88
- Heavy and somewhat bulky
- The on/off button is sensitive, so it would occasionally turn on in my pack on accident
Hiking Umbrella: Gossamer Gear Lightrek Hiking Umbrella
I really debated about bringing a hiking umbrella on my thru-hike as I had never hiked with one before. I read a lot of great reviews and decided to give it a try. I actually loved having it in the early spring months of March and April when the rain was so cold. It was lightweight and big enough to keep me mostly dry while hiking. My shoes and lower legs did get wet from walking through puddles and streams, but my top half stayed warm and dry. I also liked that it provided good air circulation so I wasn’t overheating and sweating like I do in a rain jacket. I never came up with a good way of attaching it to my pack and tried to rig it with a few different straps, but it would wiggle out of place from time to time. I do know that they also sell clips to hold the umbrella, which is something I might try in the future. There were also a few occasions when I used it as a windscreen for my pot or to block the wind while I sat and took a break. The material of the umbrella is very thin, but surprisingly tough. I wasn’t gentle with it, and it often got brushed against tree branches and rocks. After about 1000 miles, it got one small puncture wound. I didn’t keep it for the whole thru-hike though and ended up sending it home later in the summer because I found that I actually enjoyed a summer drizzle to cool off. But I think for the cooler months, it’s a nice luxury to have.
- Stay warm and dry in cold rains
- Doubles as a windscreen and sun protection
- Material is thin but surprisingly tough
- Lightweight, 6.3 oz
- Reasonably priced: $39.00
- Can be tricky to rig to your pack
- Can’t see very far ahead of you while hiking with the umbrella up
Cork Massage Ball: Rawlogy Travel Cork Massage Ball
For something that weighs practically nothing, this cork massage ball is a pretty good luxury item. I kept one in my clothes bag for my entire thru-hike and pulled it out every night to massage my aching feet and legs. This was especially helpful when I got plantar fasciitis in Pennsylvania. I still keep it around the house for rolling out sore muscles and tight spots.
- Lightweight and small
- Great for massaging tight muscles and feet
- Inexpensive: $15.97 for 2.4 inch ball
- Small size makes it easy to lose
Bluetooth Headphones: Pixel Buds- A Series
Usually when I go on day hikes, I don’t take headphones with me. I enjoy listening to the sounds of nature. But on my thru-hike, I actually found these bluetooth headphones were a really nice luxury to have. I liked having the option to listen to music, a podcast, or an audio book while I hiked, especially when I was doing a really long day. Music helped to power me up some steep climbs and to finish out the last few miles of a 20 mile day. And when I just got bored of the green tunnel, I could zone out for a few hours with an audio book. Sometimes at night, I used headphones to watch a downloaded movie or show on my phone. I had actually started my hike with a wired pair of headphones and my rechargeable bluetooth headphones, and ended up sending the wired pair home. The wired headphones were always getting tangled and the wires got in my way while I was hiking. I liked being able to just pop in one of the bluetooth headphones while I was hiking and keep the other ear open to listen for animals or other hikers. And sometimes if I had good cell service, I could use my headphones to make hands-free phone calls while I continued hiking. As an added bonus, my hiking partner and I could each take one headphone when we hiked together and listen to the same thing. He always hiked a little faster than me, and the headphones stayed connected even when we were hiking about 50 ft apart from each other. The battery life was really good on these, especially when I used one headphone at a time. I could usually get 3-5 days to the next town and recharge when I charged my other devices.
- Rechargeable, good battery life
- No wires to get in the way while hiking
- Hike with one headphone and have one ear open to stay alert to surrounds
- Share headphones with a hiking partner
- Heavier than wired headphones
- Easier to lose an earbud than wired headphones
- Pricey: $79.00
I started my thru-hike in Georgia in March, so I carried a lot of extra layers for the cold weather. On town days, I was able to wear one layer and wash the rest pretty easily. Later into the summer, I reduced my layers and found that I didn’t have much of anything to wear while I did laundry in town. Most hiker hostels offer loaner clothes, but that’s not an option if you’re staying in a motel or hotel or just stopping in town for resupply and laundry. After a couple of times of wearing my rain gear, I decided to buy a one-piece romper on Amazon to wear in town. It turned out to be one of my favorite luxury items! It was so nice to change into something clean and comfy when I got into town and not have to worry about finding something to wear. I could put on my town clothes and go run all my errands while my hiking clothes were in the laundry. And I got so many compliments on my cute romper!
- Soft, stretchy, comfy, and cute
- Makes town day chores easier
- It has pockets!
- Inexpensive: $29.99
- Cotton fabric- not for hiking in
- Drawstring is just for show, the waist is elastic
Other Miscellaneous Items That I Really Didn’t Need but Carried Anyway:
I carried some other items on and off during my thru that some hikers might consider luxuries. Sometimes, they were just little town splurges that I didn’t want to throw away and buy again in the next town. And some items were things I carried as necessities that others might label as luxuries.
- Journal and Pen: I tried using a small outdoor journal, but it wasn’t big enough for my writing style. I ended up carrying a full size notebook and pen in a gallon ziplock bag for most of my hike.
- Town Toiletries: Small hand lotion, travel size deodorant, disposable razor, mascara. I picked these things up here and there while in town. I felt bad about throwing them away after just a couple of uses, so I would carry them through the next few towns. I would eventually try getting my pack weight down and end up ditching them, only to buy them again in another town. I never used these items while on trail, but they were nice luxuries to have on town days.
- Small pocket knife: I know a lot of people don’t carry a pocket knife on trail, but I liked having one mostly for cutting blocks of cheese and salami and occasionally opening packaging or cutting rope. I justified the weight by keeping it in my fanny pack and out of my backpack.
- Inflatable pillow: I started my hike with a pillow and then in an attempt to reduce my pack weight, I sent it home. I used my clothes bag for a while, but it was so uncomfortable. I ended up “borrowing” my hiking partner’s pillow that he was going to send home and then kept it for the rest of my hike. I think a pillow is more of a necessity for me than a luxury.
- Extra foods, drinks, and spices: I am a firm believer that food is fuel for the body and the soul. I often packed foods that just made me happy, which were often heavy. Maybe a couple cans of soda, some sweet pastries, or a shaker of cinnamon to add to my cocoa. Food and drinks can be luxuries, too!
- Hanging air freshener: Of all my luxury items, this one is a little bougie! I found a cute little hanging air freshener, like the kind you’d put in a car, at a gift shop in Monson, Maine. I grabbed it and decided I would have a nice smelling tent for the final 100 miles to Katahdin. I hung it in my tent and put a little ziplock bag around it, so when I packed my tent, I could zip it in the bag and retain the scent. Then when I got to camp and set up for the night, I would pull the ziplock off and release the fresh, floral scent. Seems silly now, but it was so nice to step into my clean smelling tent at night after 2,000 miles of stench!