The Million-Dollar Question: How Much to Spend on Clothing for AT?

Amanda Fox13 Apr, 2015

You’ve enrolled your teenager on the adventure of a lifetime, you’ve booked the flights, and now you’re counting down the seconds until the trip starts. But there’s one more pesky thing waiting to be ticked off: getting the packing list together!

One advantage to choosing an Adventure Treks program is having gear like a tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad included in the trip price. Clothing, hiking boots, and personal items like toiletries are your responsibility, but they don’t have to cost an arm and a leg.

We at Adventure Treks have carefully constructed thorough and detailed lists for each trip, which you can find under the “Itinerary and Packing List” tab on each trip’s page. You can also watch the fun video on packing below. Here, though, we’ve simplified the list into “Worth the Money” and “Don’t Break the Bank.”

Worth the Money

  • Hiking boots

Hiking boots can make or break a trip. The key to getting the right pair is trying on multiple pairs at the store. (Buying online can save you money, but walk around the store in the boots first to give you the best idea of how they’ll fit. Plus, many stores have ramps that mimic up- and down-hill hiking.)

What to get: Three-quarter to full-height, mid-weight, durable boots made from nylon and leather. All-leather boots are hotter, stretch more, and are harder to break in. A quick note about waterproofing: Buying waterproof boots adds an extra cost, and is not required or necessary. The only exception applies to our Alaska and Ultimate Northwest students.

Popular brands: Merrell, Vasque, Montrail, Asolo, Salomon

  • Rain gear (pants and jacket)

This is one of the best clothing investments for your teen. Waterproof, not water-repellant, will protect from rain, snow, wind, and cold. It’s also important to look for a jacket labeled “waterproof / breathable”; your teen may be hiking (and thus sweating) while wearing the jacket, and the breathability will allow that sweat to evaporate without leaving your student sticky or damp.

What to get: A jacket with a hood and ventilation zips (typically near the armpits), and that’s long enough to cover the hips. Don’t worry about getting an insulated rain jacket (like a ski jacket); this rain jacket should be roomy enough to fit a baselayer and a fleece underneath. Many brands will have similar or matching waterproof rain pants. These should also be roomy enough to wear hiking pants or baselayers underneath.

Popular brands: REI, Patagonia, Marmot, Sierra Designs, Mountain Hardwear

  • Headlamp

You can find a great headlamp for under $30. Students will wear these every night and on summit attempts.

What to get: A headlamp with a comfortable strap and LED lights—they are lighter, last longer, provide more light, and are more efficient. Pack extra batteries.

Popular brands: Petzl, Black Diamond, Princeton Tec

  • Socks

As important as it is to break in your hiking boots, it’s equally important to bring the right socks. Buy synthetic or wool socks to keep feet warm when wet, dry more quickly, and wick sweat away to prevent blisters.

What to get: Mid-weight, wool or synthetic hiking socks. Make sure they come up above your hiking boots. You can also bring some lighter, thinner cotton socks to wear with your tennis shoes around camp.

Popular brands: Smartwool, Icebreaker, Darn Tough, Wigwam, Fox River

Don’t Break the Bank

  • Baselayers

Aka long underwear, baselayers are next-to-skin layers that keep you warm and move sweat away from your skin.

What to get: Light- to mid-weight, synthetic or wool (non-cotton) layers. Synthetic and wool fabrics dry more quickly and still keep you warm when wet. If you buy synthetic (polyester or polypropylene), wash before wearing, as those fabrics tend to retain odor. Wool does not absorb odor, retains more warmth than wet, and is more durable, but is more expensive.

Popular brands: Any non-cotton baselayers are fine, like Duofold (by Champion), Hot Chillys, or Columbia. If you’re willing to spend a little extra, look at Under Armor, Patagonia, Smartwool, REI, EMS, and Columbia.

  • Fleece/pullover

This is the middle piece of the layering pie: warm, breathable, and a great outer layer when it’s not that cold out. Fortunately, inexpensive fleeces (from Old Navy, for example) perform just as well as the more expensive brands, like Patagonia.

What to get: A 200-weight (mid-weight) fleece. “Windproof” jackets aren’t necessary, as the rain jacket will take care of that.

Popular brands: Old Navy, Columbia, Under Armor.

  • Gloves/mittens, hats, sunglasses, water bottle, camp chair

All are essential items, but none needs to make a huge dent in your wallet.

What to get: Plain fleece gloves or mittens. Gloves provide more dexterity, while mittens provide more warmth. A fleece beanie and a baseball cap or wide-brimmed sun hat. Inexpensive polarized sunglasses from big box stores are best, in case they fall off or get scratched up during rafting or climbing activities. Bring a sunglasses or glasses strap to prevent loss. A durable Nalgene is a good investment, but a quart-sized Gatorade bottle works just as well. A legless, REI-brand or Coleman folding camp chair will cost almost half as much as the Crazy Creek brand.

  • Toiletries

Small toiletries items will need to be packed together to prevent loss and disorganization.

What to get: Ziplock baggies to hold a toothbrush, toothpaste, etc. will do the trick.

Other money-saving tips:

  • Shop around online! REI Outlet, Backcountry Outlet, Sierra Trading Post, and Campmor all offer past-season gear at (sometimes heavily) discounted prices.
  • Check out local thrift and consignment shops. You’d be surprised at how many almost-new fleeces and rain jackets are out there for a tiny fraction of the original cost.

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