Gear list: West Virginia & Appalachians in May

My guiding season starts this Friday in West Virginia, where Alan Dixon, Joseph “Stringbean” McConaughy, Ron Bell, Matthew Bright, and I will be leading two consecutive intro-level 3-day trips (May 10-12 and 13-15).

Seneca Creek National Recreation Area encompasses Spruce Knob, the state’s high point, and is not far from other popular backcountry areas like Dolly Sods and the Cranberry Wilderness. If you have hiked elsewhere in the southern Appalachian or Allegheny Mountains, it will feel familiar: lush hardwood forests at lower elevations, thick guard spruce at the highest, and occasional open meadows.

Expected conditions

Gear selection should be driven primarily by:

  1. Your trip objective; and
  2. The environmental and route conditions.

For planning purposes, we assumed normal springtime conditions for this location. When an accurate short-term forecast becomes available, we will tweak our kits.

  • Temperatures. For the month of May, a nearby weather station at Canaan Valley reports average high and low temperatures of 68 F and 42 F. Our location is a little bit higher (3,000 to 4,800 feet), and therefore cooler.
  • Precipitation. The same weather station reports 6.1 inches of rain in May, and Spruce Knob should receive a little bit more.
  • Daylight. We’ll have ample daylight, since we’re just 6 weeks away from the longest day of the year.
  • Footing. The dirt trails can become muddy.
  • Vegetation. At the lower elevations, we’ll be shaded by a thick hardwood canopy. At high elevations, we’ll find guard spruce. The understory is not prohibitively dense.
  • Navigational aids. Trails will be primitively signed, at least in the higher use corridors. Visibility will be very limited, besides for the occasional meadow.
  • Sun exposure. Between the tree canopy and likely rainfall, sun exposure is a low concern.
  • Water availability. Topographic maps depict regular and perennial streams and springs, except atop ridgelines.
  • Problematic wildlife. We found no reports of bear/human food conflicts. Rodents may be an issue at high-use campsites.
  • Biting insects. It’s peak tick season, which is a serious matter. Mosquitoes will be out but manageable.
  • Remoteness. A road is never more than a few miles away, but this is a lightly inhabited area — we will not have cell service, and we’re several hours from the nearest medical facilities.
  • Natural hazards. In heavy rains, Seneca Creek can swell.
Seneca Creek

Backpacking gear list: West Virginia in May

The applicability of this gear list goes well beyond 3-day trips in Seneca Creek. It could be replicated successfully for any springtime trip in the southern Appalachians (e.g. Appalachian Trail, Smokies, Blue Ridge, Shenandoah, etc.), possibly with small tweaks to comply with local regulations or conditions.


Here’s a big picture look:

The weight and cumulative cost are both on the high side:

  • These should be physically easy trips for me, and intentionally I’m packing luxuries like sleeping clothes, a bridge hammock, and a decent camera. I wouldn’t be surprised if my pack weighs more when I leave the trailhead — if it’s rainy, I’m going to bring an 8-oz umbrella and 1.5-lb group tarp; and for role-modeling purposes I may keep my food in an Ursack.
  • Keep in mind that I get a lot of gear for free. If I had to pay for everything, I’d shop the sales and I’d seek out more economical substitutes.

Full list

To make this list more viewing-friendly, open it in new window.

If you like the look and organization of my gear list, consider using my 3-season gear list template.

Questions about my selections? Leave a comment.

Disclosure. I strive to offer field-tested and trustworthy information, insights, and advice. I have no financial affiliations with or interests in any brands or products, and I do not publish sponsored content

This website is supported by affiliate marketing, whereby for referral traffic I receive a small commission from select vendors like Amazon or REI, at no cost to the reader.

Posted in on May 8, 2019


  1. Doug on May 8, 2019 at 11:56 am

    Role model?! Good job!

  2. Bart on May 9, 2019 at 10:23 am

    Just a comment Andrew.

    It’s GREAT to have someone with your experience who’s willing to even discuss gear.

    In listening to the other hiking superstars, I’ve gotten the impression that they’d rather go through a tax audit, than talk about the gear they use.

    Contrary to their belief…choosing the right gear is ACTUALLY important.

    • Andrew Skurka on May 16, 2019 at 8:58 am

      That’s an interesting observation, but I don’t follow other hiking superstars enough to say if I agree with you or not. The ones from my generation (e.g. Trauma and Cam) have had plenty to say, with books or website content. Maybe the newer Instagram stars and vloggers are different. What are they not saying that you wish they would?

  3. Bart on May 16, 2019 at 11:23 am

    It seems like every times Anish is asked about her gear, it’s like pulling teeth.

    Jennifer Pharr Davis specifically asks to NOT be asked about what gear she uses.

    Yes, Cam is great, and I’ve adopted many of his philosophies about gear.

    Andrew, it seems like if you were to change your YouTube channel to weekly lessons similar to Dixie of Homemade Wanderlust, or Darwin…sheesh, you’d have like 300,000 subscribers.
    If they can get 180,000 subscribers, then I KNOW you’d get double.

    You could also do stuff like shakedowns of people’s gear in your guided groups.

  4. Kevin O’Leary on May 17, 2019 at 3:24 pm

    Hi Andrew, I’ve been following your adventures for years. I live in Pasadena, CA and hike the Sierras as often as I can. Just read the article in the SF Chronicle about your Yosemite High Route, which is now on my bucket list!!
    I agree with Bart in that I wish you would put out a vlog, ala Dixie. As your time is valuable and weekly might not be an option perhaps monthly? I’m not one that makes knee jerk reactions regarding my gear, however as I’ve gotten older I have made the move to UL backpacking. With your wealth of experience and knowledge in this area I’m certain you’re sharing it would be appreciated by all of your followers. Hope to see you on a trail someday.

  5. Bart on May 18, 2019 at 11:11 am

    Maybe throw in sit down chat-sessions with Anish, Stringbean, Cam, Lint, Billygoat, etc.
    That’d be super interesting.

    It seems like that new awareness by the public would make your guided trips explode.

  6. Bob S. on May 22, 2019 at 12:26 am

    I live in deer tick infested area where 50% of ticks carry Lyme so I added a tick removal tool to my basic first aid kit. It’s way easier than trying to tweezer them off.

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