Laughable: I started an AT thru-hike with a 4-lb stove system

The pack that walks like a man. At the start of my Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 2002, I was way overloaded. On its own, my stove system weighed over 4 pounds, or about 8x the weight of my current setup.

The pack that walks like a man. At the start of my Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 2002, I was way overloaded. On its own, my stove system weighed over 4 pounds, or about 8x the weight of my current setup.

For a reason I’ll share at a later point, last night I looked up the stove system with which I started my Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 2002. It was my second backpacking trip ever and I didn’t know much — and it shows.

The entire kit weighed more than four pounds. In addition, I also started with 16 oz of white gas (a full 20-oz bottle), not knowing that this amount would last for 3-4 weeks.

My AT kit is laughably heavy (8x!) versus my current stove system, The Cadillac. Ironically, it’s also $40 more expensive than what I consider to be the finest solo backpacking stove on the market. As a college student with limited funds, in retrospect I would have been better off with The Dirtbag, which can be assembled for just $30.

If you review the starting gear list, you’ll notice many other bad choices and regrettable omissions, too, like a pump water filter and the absence of real rain gear. (At the time, I did not understand the difference between “water-resistant” and “waterproof.”) My finishing gear list looks almost nothing alike.

Here is my stove system, for some Monday morning laughs:

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Posted in , on January 4, 2016


  1. Kurt Westenbarger on January 4, 2016 at 10:35 am

    My early years of backpacking are full of practices that would be ludicrous today but were just what we did back then. I remember doing a 5 day summer trip in Montana’s Beartooth Wilderness in the early 80’s with a total pack weight over 85 lbs. It included a Coleman Peak One multi fuel stove (A tank even then), Three cookpits a skillet plate and cup, Bannock mix, pancake mix, maple syrup, loads of flyfishing gear, a self sewn Frostline Tent, syn 0° bag, Blue Jeans with leather belt and huge metal buckle, and who knows what else all loaded on huge coleman backpack with stuff hanging off everywhere. Of the very few things I carried then that I would carry today – Margarita Mix as it’s a perfect blend with summer snow.

    Thanks for sharing Andrew. Triggered some memories.

    • Kate on January 5, 2016 at 9:22 pm

      Seems like I should know you Kurt! My first backpacking trip was also to the Beartooth Mountains (in the late 70s), in jeans and carrying a Coleman Peak One Stove (which is a reliable beast I still use on canoe trips to this day.) Too funny–live and learn.

  2. Will T. on January 4, 2016 at 10:51 am

    I wasn’t heading out for a thru-hike of the AT, but my first backbacking trip I loaded up my 2 burner coleman stove, one of the big green propane canisters along with a heavy duty frying pans and pot, We all have to start somewhere, I guess. I still managed a 20 mile day through the Cascade mountains somehow.

  3. CJ on January 5, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    As someone who is just getting into backpacking from a horse packing and hiking stand point I have found the information you and other long-distance hikers/backpackers to be invaluable in not making mistakes with gear like this.

    Horse packing allows slightly more leeway with weight and bulk but it many of the backcountry skills are the same. I’m still debating whether to use my tiny butane/propane powered stove or to try a homemade alcohol stove for my first backpacking trip. As a small female it is a necessity, not a luxury, to keep my pack weight as low as possible so while the Snow Peak Giga is easy to use and efficient, the fuel makes it a lot heavier!

    Thanks for the informative website.

  4. Mark Messonnier on January 5, 2016 at 6:20 pm

    Before 2013, the last time I had gone backpacking was 1992. Back in 1992, my North Face Snow Leopard was stolen and I replaced it with a Mountainsmith Elite 5000 that never hit the trail. The best things that happened to me in backpacking were first, a son (born in 2006) who loves camping, and second that big, heavy pack being lost while being refurbished in 2012. Needing to replace that pack, I discovered all this lightweight backpacking gear! No more 50 pound plus loads for me, though I have burned through a bit of cash getting to where I am now. I’ve learned a lot from Andrew Skurka and Philip Werner, and while I blend a bit of “stupid light” and “stupid heavy”, I’ve found my own less-laughable, sweet spots.

  5. Andrew L. on January 5, 2016 at 7:34 pm

    The reason I got into UL backpacking was due to a brutal trip I took to Skyes Hot Springs in Big Sur, CA. It was my first solo multi-day backpacking trip, and I didn’t realize the difficulty of the terrain when I began the trip (mistake #1). I ended up carrying 40+ lbs up and down the side of a mountain for 10 miles in 98 degree heat.

    I over-packed on almost everything, since most of what I owned was purchased for 2-person car camping, and I was doing this trip solo.

    While the hot springs were magical, the trip there and back was miserable and did some significant damage to my knees. I’ve since cut total weight by ~75% and couldn’t be happier. It’s good to learn from ones mistakes and I’ve enjoyed the gear education/transition to UL.

  6. Chelsey on January 6, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    My very first backpacking trip, I brought a Subway sub with me. It was just an overnight, but still… This was also before I got serious about it. By trip 3, I realized that I wanted to do it more often and started thinking about logistics. I still cringe when I think about that sub, though.

    • Andrew Skurka on January 6, 2016 at 5:01 pm

      For an overnight trip, or even for the first day of a longer trip, I wouldn’t fault anyone from bringing real food. Not a huge mistake in my book.

      Now, if you’re still eating an orange on days 6, 7, and 8, I might start to ask questions.

  7. EricF on January 6, 2016 at 8:53 pm

    Turns out I come from a line of ultra light backpackers, none of that big heavy stuff for us. My dad has some pictures of a one-day Whitney summit that he and a couple of college buddies did in 1953. They are all wearing leather work boots, blue jeans and long sleeve wool shirts. They had one canvas day pack (they probably called it a gunny sack) for the three of them containing a pbj sandwich for each and a Brownie camera. They got water on the trail (where they found it above Trail Camp is beyond me) and ate their sandwiches up top. Ah, the good ole days.

  8. ArgeyMum on January 9, 2016 at 5:50 am

    Oh My GOSH!!!! I came across your website, not because I am a hiker, but because my husband and I and our two kids (9 and 6) are travelling the world this year. We didn’t take our own pillows because I deemed them bulky and unnecessary… and now after weeks of crappy pillows made from clothes and the dodgey pillows you get in cheap accommodation, I’m wondering if I have made a mistake. I wondered about buying a pillow for my husband and I might be worth it. So in all diligence I was googling “how to attach a pillow to backpack” (we are on minimal packing) and your blog was one of the first things to come up… AND NOW I AM ADDICTED and wanting to do a few weeks hiking as part of our year away!!! 🙂 You are amazing!!!


  9. Adam on January 13, 2016 at 7:32 am

    That was a fun little retrospective! I’m only a year into backpacking myself, but this winter I’ve been thinking about my gear a lot and measuring things with a scale down to 0.1 ounce. I have builds at 7, 11, and 18 lb I want to try this spring. (These builds don’t include a stove due to my special dietary needs, which conveniently allow me to not cook at all; I can live on dried meat, pemmican, and occasional in-town produce. We’ll see whether it’s a problem psychologically, though.)

    I went back and looked at the first build I used on a 3-10 day CDT section last year, and realized I’d measured in POUNDS. My list was like, eh 3lb here, 0.5 lb there, I was just ball parking it…in pounds. I also brought a bunch of stuff I hadn’t listed like…liquid hand sanitizer. I calculate it now at somewhere around 60 lbs. Climbing the rockies with that weight is what really motivated me to make things lighter 😛

  10. jonathan on January 18, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    Not to nitpick, but your starting and ending gear lists have a few discrepancies. There is no food or water listed on your ending gear list, which makes comparing pack weights for the two lists difficult. I say this as a 1991 and 1994 2-time thru hiker, who trudged the 2k+ miles in ill fitting danner mountain lights the first trip and lead filled but ever so comfortable custom boots from Limmer and Sons for the second. I’m old and fat now, but AT gear lists continue to fascinate me. BTW, I hiked with my wife both trips and my pack weight was around 45-50 lbs in the cold weather and more like 30 in summer. Enjoyed reading your post! I am (or was) The Six Foot Hobbit, GA->ME 1991 and 1994

  11. Chris on February 7, 2018 at 9:10 pm

    Andrew, so I have the same Whisperlite and a DragonFly too. Is there any backpacking situation you could see them being useful? I can see car camping to heat water faster than my Coleman briefcase style 2 burner propane stove, or ‘expedition base camp’ situations. I have an alcohol stove and a basic Primus propane screw on burner already for backpacking.

    Basically, should I just sell one or both of them to fund other outdoor gear purchases?

    Great site, lots of great info. Thank you.

    • Andrew Skurka on February 8, 2018 at 7:14 am

      There is just one instance where I think a liquid stove makes sense: winter trips in which you can’t or are too cheap to buy gas canisters. For example, I used a liquid fuel stove in Alaska, because I could easily buy gasoline in native villages, but not gas canisters. Or, some large organizations use liquid fuel stoves to reduce fuel expenses, because white gas is less expensive than canister gas.

      Otherwise, however, you should just sell them.

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