Walking Across America, or any other country, takes the right kind of equipment. You will need to consider the time of year you plan on starting, the areas you will be walking through, and the duration you expect your trip to take.
If you are planning on walking across the United States, like we did, you should plan on your trip taking anywhere from five to seven months (give or take). With that being said, no matter what time of year you start or the route you plan on taking, you will face similar challenges that we did just in different circumstances.
Whether you are preparing for you own walk across America or just curious about what sort of gear you would need for a long cross country adventure, this blog will help give you a few bits of information to help you out in the planning process.
By clicking on the links in this blog you’ll get some great gear for your next adventure while helping us with our adventures at no extra cost to you.
Backpack Vs. Cart
How you carry your gear will be the first decision you will need to make. If you aren’t supported (someone following you with your supplies) then you’ll have two choices, backpack or cart. With us having two people and two dogs in our group to worry about, it was a no brainer to go with a cart. If you’re traveling alone you may want to consider a backpack. Here’s some things to consider with each option:
Cart Pros: Plenty of storage space, great for groups of people (and/or pets), easy access to gear, less stress on your body, and more maneuverability (should you need to bail off the road).
Cart Cons: Less camping options (not easy hopping a barbed wire fence), repair time (flat tires, broken tire axles), noticeable and hard to hide (for stealth camping), more expensive than a backpack, and more difficult road walking situations (hard to lift the cart up and down, less road shoulder space, narrow fit on bridges).
Backpack Pros: Less expensive than a cart, easier road walking in tight spaces, tons of camping options (easy to throw your bag), easy to hide, and less repair issues.
Backpack Cons: Less storage space, more difficult to access gear, and harder on your body.
For the stand alone reasons of the cart being easier on our body and allowing us to carry all of our gear for two people and two dogs, the cart made complete sense. Traveling alone? It may be worth weighing the pros and cons of each option. We will say this, you will have MANY more options for stealth camping if you go the backpack route and while it may be harder on your body, your body will adjust.
If you’re considering buying a cart, make sure to check out places like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and used outdoor equipment shops near you. They can be super expensive and buying used is a great option. Because we couldn’t find anything used near us we ended up going with a new Thule Double Wide Chariot stroller, and while it was expensive we feel we got every penny worth! It is still in great shape after our walk and we will use it for our next.
Day in and day out of walking can take a toll on your body. This makes your sleeping situation all the more important. You’ll want gear that’s going to hold up over the long haul, and you’ll want it to be as light and compact as possible.
Complete transparency, this is going to be your most expensive category. We chose what we felt was the middle of the pack when it comes to weight and price, and we’re happy we did. There are a lot of options out there so do your research and always check local outdoor store sales in your area.
Your tent may be the most important piece of gear you’ll take with you. Size, color and the season of your tent will all be things to look for when picking the perfect tent for you.
- Size: Make sure you have something you’ll be comfortable in but also something that’s not too big. The bigger your tent, the more likely you could get noticed when you’re camping on someones property. Also, the bigger the tent, the more it will weigh. There are plenty of options out there that are under 2lbs. This seems to be a good threshold.
- Color: Keep in mind that you are trying to be as incognito as possible. A bright color will be easier to see than a dark color. You’re not looking for anything super colorful.
- Season: This was one of our bigger concerns as we knew we were going to face a lot of different weather situations. When it comes to the numbering on tents, 1 usually stands for summer and 4 usually stands for winter. We ended up going with a 3 season tent that was right in the middle of the pack. If you want more information, this CampingHabit blog has all the info you’ll need.
After doing our research, we ended up going with the Nemo Hornet 2p tent. It held up so well on our Walk Across America that we still have it and just used it again on the Colorado Trail.
Picking the best sleeping bag can be a bit tricky. We started our walk by trying out the Exped Duo sleeping bag, but after the weather started to get a bit colder it wasn’t getting the job done. We then transitioned to a Nemo sleeping bag because we loved the tent so much and it’s been our go to sleeping bag ever since.
There are a ton of options out there, but the main thing to think about is what kind of weather you’ll be in most, again try to keep your sleeping bag as light as possible.
We really like the Nemo Disco 15 sleeping bags because they’re compact, have air vent zippers to adjust your sleeping bag temperature, pillow pockets, and are mummy bag style so you can really trap in the warmth.
If you don’t plan on being in super cold temperatures, I would still recommend at least a 30 degree bag. You can always add in a liner option as well which we will talk about below.
Grace gets super cold at night so even with the fifteen degree bag she was still getting cold some nights. We invested in some Sea to Summit Liners which help add on an extra 10-25 degrees of warmth to your bag.
If you plan on being in cold weather, especially if you have a 30 degree rating or above sleeping bag, you may consider an extra layer of comfort for those extra cold nights. They can get a bit pricey, but well worth it for a good nights sleep.
We haven’t found the best sleeping pad option yet, but a sleeping pad is something you won’t want to skimp out on. Originally we had tried using the Klymit Insulated Double V sleeping pad, but with two dogs bringing in sticks and goat head thorns, we kept having issues of holes in the pad.
After two long weeks of sleeping on the bare tent bottom we decided to go with the simple fold out pads that you can find at your local Walmart. These ended up getting the job done, but we know there is still a better option out there for us to find.
Bottomline, get a sleeping pad!! Your body will thank you.
Ready for some good news? The best pillow option out there that won’t cost you an extra dime is your jacket! If you bring a puffy jacket with you, which we will talk about in the clothing section, it will fold up perfectly into a pillow!
If you don’t want to use your stinky jacket at the end of the day we also tried out the Therm-a-rest compressible pillows which were a super solid option for weight and size. Once again, there are hundreds of options of pillows out there so look into finding the best one for you and your budget.
Another concern about our walk was making sure we had the right clothing. We started our walk in October from California and ended in May in South Carolina, which meant we dealt with a little bit of everything weather wise. The biggest lesson we learned is that it’s all about LAYERS. From your underwear to your coat, it all matters. Here’s what we found worked best for us:
We are VERY biased here and can’t recommend anything but the HOKA Challenger ATR 6 GTX. To date they are the best overall shoes we’ve found for walking long distances and after trying out other shoes none of them compare. The HOKA Challenger ATR 6 GTX are cushiony, water proof, and even have heavy duty bottoms so you never need to worry about slipping on wet surfaces.
You will go through several pairs of shoes on your trip, we went through 6 pairs each. The number of pairs you go through will depend on how you walk, what surfaces you’re walking on, and how often budget wise you can afford to replace them.
You will encounter rain and the last thing you want is to be is soaking wet lying in your tent trying to get dry. We have yet to find the perfect rain gear, mainly because it’s so dang expensive, but look for vented rain gear options so you can continue walking without overheating and sweating while you walk. You also want to make sure to have both a rain jacket and bottom!
We used our Marmot rain jackets on the walk and they worked pretty well, but we felt that after a couple hours of rain they began to soak through. On our last hike, the Colorado Trail, we tried out an even cheaper option which was Frogg Toggs. The Frogg Toggs also worked pretty well, but once again they soaked through after a few hours.
If you have the budget rain gear is an area we would highly recommend spending a bit more money on! Outdoor Research seems to make some pretty legit stuff like this!
Base layers are going to be the pieces of clothing that are closest to your body. These include underwear, leggings, thermals, and shirts.
- Underwear: The problem with going commando is that everything gets dirty so quick. I am sold on the Smart Wool underwear being the best option out there, but Grace hasn’t found the perfect pair for her yet. I would highly recommend checking out Smart Wool or another wool underwear company. Wool handles sweat really well and I can usually get 3 days of walking in before I need to change them out. We each had between 3-4 pairs in our cart.
- Leggings: Grace had a pair of Smart Wool leggings, but I didn’t buy a pair because I didn’t want to spend the money. In hindsight I wish I would have, it would have kept me a lot warmer than I was.
- Thermals: Similar to the leggings, we didn’t use thermal tops. Once again, a long sleeve thermal would have pretty nice to walk in during the mornings or put on at night during the winter.
- Shirts: When it comes to shirts I’m a big Smart Wool person. They haven’t failed me yet so I have no reason for changing. For the same reason as the underwear, Smart Wool or another wool product is great with sweat and I usually can get 5 days out of a shirt easy. Bring at least 2 shirts. Grace is still on the hunt for her favorite shirt to hike in.
The main objective is finding something that is both warm & easy to pack. It’s going to really weigh down and take up space in your cart or backpack if you’re lugging around a ten pound winter jacket.
We each carried a puffy jacket, a quarter zip jacket, and our rain jacket. Puffy’s are great because they are extremely light weight and will keep you very warm while doubling as a pillow. The quarter zip jacket was nice to walk in when your body temperature was in between warm and cold.
The Puffy Jackets we are currently sporting are the Outdoor Research Helium Down Hoodie and the Patagonia Micro Puff. The Outdoor Research jacket is great for outdoor adventures, but the Patagonia Micro Puff was as warm as I would have liked.
We found that having a pair of convertible pants (shorts or pant) and backup shorts worked great. When the winter months came we did upgrade the shorts to an outdoor style winter pant, but that will just depend on the timeframe of your walk. If you buy a pair of leggings then you may be able to avoid the winter pant completely.
After trying out a couple different style of convertibles my go to’s are the Kuhl Renegade Convertibles. Kuhl is a bit more pricey but if you’re putting them to use everyday you’ll want a good quality pant. Grace went with the Outdoor Research Cirque II Pant.
Ditch any sock you have and start stocking your sock drawer with Darn Tough socks. The first time we bought a pair of Darn Toughs we knew we would never buy another pair of socks again.
They are made out of wool, similar to our underwear and shirts, so they stay good for a very long time. Darn Tough makes all styles of socks depending on the activity you’re doing and we seriously can’t get enough of them. Our favorite style of theirs is the Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Sock.
Darn Tough also will allow you to send your socks back at anytime if you have holes, threading issues or anything else that may be happening. We haven’t done this because we have had zero issues with our socks, but it’s nice to know they have the option.
Our biggest advice would be to have a hat for those bright sunny days and a beanie for the cold ones.
We tried out the big straw brimmed hats at the beginning of our walk and while they covered us from the sun they were a bit big and ended breaking over time.
This category is very dependent on what you expect to do during your trip. For us, we planned on recording and capturing as many moments as we could, thus making us have more electronic needs. If you want to be self reliant on charging your devices we highly recommend some sort of solar panel and power bank combo as well as the proper charging cords for your devices. Here’s what we took with us on our walk:
Between walking in the dark and packing up your gear early in the morning before the sun comes up, you’ll want to have a headlamp light source. We tired to avoid walking in the dark as much as possible because of how dangerous it is. That being said sometimes you just have to walk in the dark.
There’s a lot of different options out there depending on your budget but our go to so far is the Black Diamond brand which seems to be right in the middle of the ball park budget wise.
We recommend getting a headlamp that gives you both normal light and red light options as well as has a usb charge port option. There’s nothing worse than needing your headlamp and having your batteries be low on juice with no spare batteries
We also brought a small Goal Zero lantern with us which was nice for inside the tent some nights. The Goal Zero Crush lantern is reasonably priced at $20 and can be charged through it’s own solar panel. This lantern comes with us on every adventure!
A GPS isn’t really necessary but because we wanted to make sure we could get ahold of our parents and let them know we were alright we ended up taking the Garmin inreach mini. It’s a bit expensive, but if you’re planning on spending a lot of time in the outdoors and want an extra sense of safety and security it may be worth the investment.
For the most part you shouldn’t run into a lot of areas without cell coverage, but if you’re traveling alone or plan to walk some barren stretches on your walk it may make sense to have an extra GPS device in case of an emergency.
That being said, if you have a new iPhone we heard that they now offer the SOS capability even if you don’t have service.
A definite must! If you plan on using your phone or even a laptop you will probably not be running into a plugin to charge your phone every time you need it. A solar panel paired with a battery pack is a great way to always have power to charge your phone, headlamp, and any other electronics whenever you need to.
We went with the Goal Zero Nomad 20 solar panel and it saved us plenty of times. We also found out later that Goal Zero has an even smaller version, the Nomad 10, which will save you space and a little bit of $ too. There are cheaper options for solar panels but because we spend so much time outdoors and know that Goal Zero is a reputable brand we spent a bit more here.
Your battery source is another piece of equipment worth spending a little more money on. You can find cheaper options on Amazon, but most of the time the more you spend, the more likely it will hold up over the long haul.
We have tried two different options for a battery source, both of which worked out great.
The Goal Zero Sherpa 100 AC is in $300 price range. What we like about it is that we can plug it directly into our Goal Zero solar panel, fast charge the battery pack plugged into an outlet at a gas station, and it will charge our smart phones up to seven times on a full charge. You can also get your laptop fully charged with this device which is hard to come by. There are usb and usb-c charge ports so you can charge any device and even multiple devices at the same time. It’s a bit bigger than a standard battery pack but if you’re pushing a cart it will take up very little space.
Another great option, which we found laying on the side of the road, is the Anker Portable Charger. I’m not exactly sure what size of charger it is but I think it compares to this. This battery charges up quick, is about a third the size of the Goal Zero Sherpa, costs $50 compared to $300, and will still charge your phone about 3-4 times. (This probably isn’t your best option if you plan on charging a laptop)
A commonsense bring along for all of your electronics. When we do our next walk across America we will go for a durable combo charging cord like this. We had so many cheap charging cords from gas stations fail us and it became cluttered with a different cord for every piece of equipment.
More so for a cart, safety lights with a flashing setting are an extra layer of defense against distracted drivers. If you double up and have your headlamp going alongside some flashing red bike lights, you’ll make it really hard not to be seen.
Attach two or three of these to your cart (or backpack) and keep them charged up in case you ever need them for nighttime or early morning walks.
Any adventure can bring some unwanted situations. Cuts, scrapes, blisters and bee stings are all things that might happen to you and although minor at first they can turn into big problems down the road. At the bare minimum make sure to have the following supplies with you:
This was recommended to us by our friend Thomas who also walked across the US. It comes in handy big time for blisters and if you need to hold anything together temporarily it will get the job done. Most Walmarts carry it or you can order on Amazon.
We actually didn’t have this on our walk but boy do we wish we did! We learned about it while we were on the Colorado Trail from our friend, Hugs. Toss out your ibuprofen for aches and pains and find yourself some of this good stuff. In our opinion it works much better than ibuprofen and will help with pain, soreness, and inflammation.
Definite must for any adventure. You never know when you might get an allergic reaction and you can use it for your dogs as well if needed.
Basic first-aid supplies. Cuts and scrapes will happen and if you’re not one for “rubbing some dirt on it”, you’ll want to have a few bandages of each size handy.
Our go to bandage is Welly because of their colors and heavy duty casing you can store them in.
Any sort of cut needs to be cleaned and if you’re miles away from clean water and soap this will help you reduce any chance of infection.
There are a few tools you’ll need to bring with you. Some of the tools below are specifically for a push cart so if you plan on going the backpack route just skim past them. The rest of the tools we recommend for everyone to bring and found all of them extremely useful throughout our trip.
For protection purposes and in case you need to fix any of your gear we recommend getting a Leatherman. We only carried a knife and had plenty of moments where a multi-tool would have been helpful.
I’m thinking about getting this Leatherman with a nifty carabiner, knife, plier and screwdriver option before our next trek.
These two items should be in everyone’s pocket at all times! To save on space take an old card of some kind and wrap your duct tape around it. You’ll be surprised how much duct tape you can wrap without taking up any space!
Tire Repair Kit (Cart)
You’ll need some sort of a bike tire repair kit. You don’t need to spend a lot of money here, just get something that has tire levers and patches. Here’s a good kit for under $10.
Slime Tubes (Cart)
Don’t even bother with normal tire tubes. These slime tubes are nearly indestructible and you’ll hardly ever need to replace them. Always make sure to have a couple spares handy just in case you need them.
Tire Pump (Cart)
Another purchase you can get for around $15. Stay away from the big bulky pumps and go for the small handheld pumps.
Would you like a free downloadable gear checklist for your upcoming adventure? Simply fill out the form below and we will send it right your way!
The other category has some of our favorite gear. These are things you may or may not want to take with you depending on your needs. Unless you plan on eating all cold food or relying on gas stations the one item we would recommend to anyone, even if you’re not going to walk across the country, is the Jetboil. This was great for cooking food on the side of the road and it’s an item we think everyone should own in case of an emergency.
We needed something to cover our cart at night for camouflage and to protect it from rain and snow. If you decide to carry a backpack, the tarp may not be as important to you because you can store you backpack inside of your tent at night. That being said, we found plenty of instances throughout our trip where the tarp was extremely helpful.
The picture above is Grace with our Aqua Quest Tarp. It was a bit more expensive than your standard tarp but it gets down to the size of a rolled up t-shirt and is super durable.
Pepper Spray or Bear Spray
Bear spray was our main source of protection on the walk. We often got asked if we were carrying a gun but with every state having their own gun laws and the chance of accidentally pulling the trigger inside of our push cart a gun was a hard pass.
The bear spray may have been a bit aggressive looking back, but you never know what you might run into! We also carried a small thing of pepper spray inside of our cart for a backup.
For our next walk across America we are looking to bring the Byrna as our “defense” incase we need it. Honestly though, just use your noggin and you’ll be safe. The world is not as dangerous as it’s made out to be for the most part.
Like we mentioned above this is a great investment for everyone. It runs off of the small butane/propane mixes and will get you hot water within minutes! The Jet Boil is super small and they come in all different styles of cook systems. It’s great for heating up water for oatmeal, coffee, or your dehydrated meals.
We have had ours for three years now and it still runs awesome besides the ignitor going out. Try not to leave them outside in the rain and bring an extra lighter just in case!
Your new solution for saving money at the laundromat! The Scrubba is essentially a stuff bag designed for washing your clothes. It’s super easy to use, small, and will allow you to do laundry anywhere as long as you have water and soap.
One Last Thing
Please, please, please, please, please do us a favor! Wear one of these cheesy bright green vests! We can’t tell you how many times we credit these for saving our life and it is such a heartache when we see friends on their own long walk or bike ride not wearing one…
We know how overwhelming it can be preparing to take the next big leap. The gear you take with you is just one piece of the puzzle and we hope this overview helped you out in a few areas and can help give you a little peace of mind.
If you aren’t planning a big trip we hope you found this blog entertaining and resourceful. There’s a lot of great gear options here!
Did you like this blog and want to see more? Make sure to put your email in below and click “Keep me in the loop!” We have a lot more information coming out and will be walking across the United States for a second time spring of 2023!
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