What is the Big 4?  The Big 4 are the following items:

  • Pack
  • Shelter
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Sleeping Pad

These Big4 items are generally the heaviest items that a hiker carries.  Additionally, each of the Big 4 items can be of significant expense on their own. Below is a short discussion on some basics of each of the Big 4 as they relate to the Long Trail.  Each type of item could have thousands of words written about.  Rather than create a huge gear focus on this site, I will keep it somewhat brief and make some recommendations for those who do not have gear yet.

Sleeping Pads

Most folks use a sleeping pad on the Long Trail.  Since there are not a lot of thorny bushes, the use of an inflatable sleeping pad works quite well (though carrying a patch kit is still recommended).  Unless you are hiking in late fall or winter, you will be able to use a standard pad that isn’t designed for cold weather.  Sleeping pad pricing is all over the place, from $10 to well over $100.  Pads that are inflatable tend to cost more.  A lot of folks find the expense is quite worth it as they sleep so much better.  I personally enjoy my NeoAir quite a bit.  The nearly 2″ cushion removes the poke of any stones or twigs that lie below.  The list below has some recommendations.  The NeoAir, ProLite and Z Lite are ones that I own and have used for at least several hundred miles.  If you are aiming for the lightest, consider a small NeoAir, Air Beam or a partial Z Lite.  The NeoAir, Air Beam and Klymit pads can pack down very small. If you are aiming for least expensive, consider the Stansport…especially if you sleep soundly on any surface.

Inflating Sleeping Pads

  • Therm A Rest NeoAir X Lite – $97-130 // 8-16oz
  • Therm A Rest ProLite – $60-80 // 8-16oz
  • Gossamer Gear Air Beam – $78-99 // 4.1-13.9oz
  • Klymit  – $60-115 // 6-26.5oz

Non-Inflating Sleeping Pads

  • Therm A Rest Z Lite – $45 // 10-14oz
  • Therm A Rest Ridge Rest – $15-30 // 9-19oz
  • Stansport Pack-Lite Camping Pad – $10+

Sleeping Bags/Quilts

One of the nice parts of hiking the Long Trail is the diversity you will find.  Not only in the views, but also in the temperatures.  Even when doing a thru-hike in the summer, don’t be surprised if you encounter a very chilly night in the mountains.  The first time I hiked the lower 100 miles of the Long Trail, I encountered my coldest night in a month of backpacking (on the AT) near Manchester Center.  This was in late July and I ended up starting the morning hiking with several layers of clothes on because I was so cold.  Depending on the weather and the location where you set up camp, the temperature can be quite different.  A 30F degree sleeping bag will be suitable for most folks hiking the Long Trail in the summer or early fall.  If you  get too hot, you can always unzip the bag a bit and let in some air, and still have a bag that will be comfortable if the temperatures drop.  I have used bags or quilts from Montbell, Marmot, and Katabatic for extended mileage.  All have been good quality, and I’d purchase any of these again.  Below are some suggested bags in 30F + degree temperature rating.  If you are looking for a premium, very light weight quilt, go for the Katabatic.  If you are trying to hike as inexpensively as possible, check out the Ozark Trail bag – I haven’t used this personally, but have had friends who were very surprised how decent this bag was for the price.

  • Montbell – 650 down  – $199+ / 31oz (reg)
  • Montbell – 800 down – $299+ // 24oz (reg)
  • Katabatic – Palisade – $460+ // 17.5oz (reg)
  • Big Agnes – Horse Thief – $250+ // 27oz (reg)
  • REI – Flash (Mens) / (Womens) – $260+ // 26oz (reg)
  • Ozark Trail – $80

If you tend to find yourself sleeping a bit colder than others, consider a silk sack liner.  Those will boost the temp of a bag a bit without adding significant weight.  You can also leave it in your pack on the warmer nights – Grand Trunk Silk Liner


Backpacks have come so far since I first threw one onto my back in high school.  My first pack was an external frame from an Army surplus store, and I purchased an internal frame pack a couple years later.  Similar to footwear or clothes, packs can be a very personal thing, simply because they need to fit well.  The perfect ‘fit’ becomes less of an issue when you have very light loads in the pack.  At any rate, there are a lot of options these days.  I (or my wife) have used packs from ULA, North Face, Gossamer Gear, MEI, as well as DIY kits from Ray Jardine.  On the AT, PCT, and CDT, one sees a lot of ULA packs.  The ULA packs handle a good amount of weight, so if you have not embraced the ultralight philosopy (gear weight under 10 lbs) they are an excellent choice.  Secondly, the packs are very much designed with the practical features needed on a long distance hike.  Gossamer Gear and Mount Laurel Design both make packs that are geared towards the lightweight and ultralight hiker (these packs do not have an internal frame).  Both companies make packs that are solidly built and in high use on the long distance trails.  While I haven’t used an Osprey pack personally, they are quite commonly used pack and worth checking out.  There are many different sizes and versions of packs by all of these companies. I’ve listed a few that I’ve used or have had a chance to check out at length.

ULA Circuit – $225 // 41oz (med) // comfortably handles up to 35lbs

ULA Catalyst – $250 // 48oz(med) // comfortably handles up to 40lbs

Gossamer Gear Gorilla – $235 // 26oz (med) // comfortably handles up to  30lbs

Mount Laurel Designs Prophet – $190  // 16oz // comfortably handles up to 25lbs

Osprey Exos 48 – $190// 37oz (med)

Osprey Exos 58 – $220 // 38oz (med)


Over the years of long distance backpacking, I have used a variety of shelters: tents, tarps and hammocks.  I have also “cowboy camped” many nights.  Along the Long Trail, there are many shelters which you can sleep in.  However, it is a good idea to have tent/tarp with you in case the shelter is full, or if you choose not to sleep in the shelter.  Most backpackers prefer to use tents, so that is what I will focus on here.  There are a variety of different styles of tents on the trail…from single-walled to double-walled, from free-standing to requiring a hiking pole, from single occupancy to multi occupancy.  My wife and I have used a Six Moon Design Lunar Duo and liked it, and I’ve used a Zpacks Hexamid for over a thousand miles and liked it as well.  The Yama tents are very intriguing to me, because of the weight as well as design.  Several friends who have used the Big Agnes and Tarptents and like them a lot as well.  The below tents which have a large presence on the long distance trails.

 Free Standing Tents

  • Big Agnes: 1 Person – Fly Creek UL1 – $319.95 // 33oz
  • Big Agnes: 2 Person – Fly Creek UL2 – $349.95 // 37oz
  • Tarptent by Henry Shires: 1 Person – Moment DW – $295 // 34oz
  • Tarptent by Henry Shires: 2 Person – Double Moment – $349 // 52oz
  • REI: 1 Person – Quarter Dome 1 – $219 // 42oz
  • REI: 2 Person – Quarter Dome 2 – $299 // 57oz

Tents Requiring At Least One Hiking Pole

  • Six Moon Designs: 1 Person: Lunar Solo LE – $180 // 30oz
  • Six Moon Designs: 2 Person: Lunar Duo – Outfitter – $160 // 57oz
  • ZPacks: 1 Person: Hexamid Solo – $360 // 14oz
  • ZPacks: 2 Person: Hexamid Twin – $415 // 20oz
  • Yama: 1 Person: Cirriform DW-1 – $250+ // 17oz – 27oz
  • Yama:  2 Person: Cirriform DW-2 – $340+ // 24oz – 38oz