Highlight’s Top 5 Thru-hike Essentials

A thru-hike is an undertaking like no other. Spending 5-7 months on a long trail requires thoughtful packing, mental preparation and the ability to go with the flow. You’ll spend months on your gear list only to find what really works on trail and what doesn’t. Trust in the process and you will literally walk better and camp better every day.

My lessons in gear were learned the hard way and the fun way. If I had to narrow it down to five basic items that kept me safe, sane, and happy, this is it.

Top 5 Thru-Hike Essentials

1. Sawyer water filter

A water filter is a given but the art in which you execute filtered water is totally a personal preference. Everyone has a method to this all-time favorite camp chore. So often I spent my time with a Sawyer pouch or Smartwater bottle hands-on approach. Disappointingly, pouches puncture or water bottles show their wear after a few hundred miles. It took me exactly 2.170 miles to perfect my setup. Adding a Cnoc 2L pouch in Marion, Virginia and then a Sawyer coupling at Mountain Crossings, I finally nailed it.

I wanted a hands-free gravity system at camp, multi-tasking while I set up my tarp and hammock. I would simply fill and carry the 2L Cnoc on my way into a shelter or campsite, set up the hanging contraption and continue on with other priorities like catching up the trail family. Occasionally look over and the liter was full for cooking use or to quickly guzzle.


2. Ultrathon Insect Repellent

As a SOBO, a big concern are the mosquitoes and black flies in Maine, but with this lotion I survived and thrived. It only takes a pea-sized amount to start being effective. I dab it lightly around my face, neck, ears, and any exposed body parts. Re-apply as needed or as you sweat it all off. This stuff is potent. I prefer lotion over DEET spray any day. At some point everyone stopped carrying bug repellent and you’ll decide when that time comes. Until then, don’t mess around and pick up some Ultrathon.

Shop on Amazon: Ultrathon Insect Repellent 2 oz.

Shop on REI: Ultrathon Insect Repellent 2 oz.

3. Long Titanium spoon


I lost or broke at least 4 plastic spoons on my hike. Tired of breaking Light My Fire sporks, I used plastic ones from fast food joints. Until one day, Bubbles was gifted a beautiful hand-carved wooden spoon, courtesy of Jim Tabor, The Barefoot Carver. She passed on her titanium spoon to me and I used it the rest of the trek. With the long handle you can scoop out the nooks and crannies of a salmon packet or a Knorrs Select. Plus, this titanium gem won’t snap scooping out peanut butter or near-frozen Nutella. For added security, I attached a hot pink zip tie to the handle so I’d easily spot it should I leave it around the campfire. I never thought I’d say this, but I won’t camp without this spoon.

Shop: Optimus Titanium Long Spoon or Toaks Titanium Long Spoon

4. Trekking Umbrella


I didn’t carry an umbrella until Pine Grove, Pennsylvania. That’s 1,194 miles into my hike. I stuck to a rain jacket and a hat, sometimes a poncho. Three months in and with Hurricane Florence on the horizon I thought I’d finally give it a try. Hot Rocks had an umbrella early on and always arrived to camp dryer than anyone. You’ll learn a lot from other hikers and this is one tip I’m thankful for. Attach the umbrella to your shoulder strap or simply carry it and hike without sweating your ass off in a rain jacket. In Harper’s Ferry I ditched my original Dollar General umbrella and opted for a lighter, smaller, $7.95 Wilcor umbrella from the local outfitters.

Shop: Unfortunately I couldn’t find a retailer for the Wilcor umbrella, but this looks like the next best option Fidus Compact Umbrella

5. Highlighters aka a luxury item


Ah, my creative outlet. My namesake. While this is totally my own personal example, the idea here is a luxury item. Carry a ukulele for awhile, a deck of cards, a Frisbee, whatever. Have fun with it. Play around. Bring something to build comradery.

You’re going to have these memories for the rest of your life. Look back fondly at the journey and remember how great it was to wake up in the woods and know that you had fun with it.

Happy trails,


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