As an employee at Mountain Crossings, a huge part of my job is to tear through all the possessions of Appalachian Trail thru hikers and tell them what to give the boot. We call it a shake down. Sitting at mile 31.7 on the AT, the employees of the outfitter and hostel are well known for offering up their former thru hiking experience to those who ask.

gear shakedown

A sampling of the typical items hikers ditch

Some hikers walk in ready to drop the excess weight out of their packs and listen with a sense of relief. Most commonly, folks want to carry less, but are hesitant to make moves towards lightweight backpacking. Sometimes it calls for tough love and a good amount of honesty. At the end of a shake down, there is always a pile of suggestions pulled to the side waiting to be boxed up and sent home. It just takes a little bit of courage to follow through.

gear shakedown

One of the bigger weight drops of the season: sending 16 pounds home

For those who won't be walking through the shop at the base of Blood Mountain, here are some common tips and tricks we use to help folks lighten up with out breaking the bank.

1 - Multi Use Is Key

If you have to drink coffee, your cook pot can most definitely second as your coffee mug. If you have to trim your nails, your nail clippers can open any packaging. An all-around use, biodegradable soap can be used as your shampoo and body wash for showering, your laundry detergent when washing clothes by hand and your dish soap when cleaning your cook pot. Your clothes bag is a pillow. There is no need for items whose uses overlap that of another item. Scrutinizing what is necessary and what is luxury in an unbiased way will help you see the potential for multi-use items in your pack.

2 - Less Is More

Someone once told me "you carry what you fear," and never have I seen the truth in that more than in doing multiple shake downs a day. Bear spray, GPS devices,

emergency blankets or bivys, oversized knives, and redundant clothing. All of these things are a reaction to fears about a hiker may have about their surroundings and all are unnecessary items to carry. If you pack in a way as to be prepared for every possible bad situation, you will end up carrying the kitchen sink as well. Prepare for the inevitable (small scratches and upset stomachs) and leave the rest at home. Hiking in bad weather? Learn how to prepare for rain!

gear shakedown

Shakedown in action: Carlie sorts through a hiker's gear

3 - Creativity Goes Far

Let's face it. Ultralight backpacking gear is super expensive! You could easily spend as much as a thru hike takes in collecting up all the lightest gear. But what for? You can do well enough splurging for a few big items and then dirt bagging your way through the rest of it. Cut corners on a pack cover by lining your pack with a trash compactor bag. Drop the weight and price of water bottles by using SmartWater, Gatorade or other 1 liter bottles instead. If you can't afford a lighter pack at the moment, just take the lid or brain off of your current pack. If your pack is a small capacity, you can always rig up attachments with shock cord.

mountain crossings

After a particularly busy weekend, boxes wait for UPS to bring extra gear back home!

This post was contributed by former Trail Ambassador Carlie "Rainbow Braid" Gentry and Editor

May 18, 2015 — Brian Fryer