Welcome back, getting ready for a long distance hike can be overwhelming ... I see alot of questions and huge range of responses daily in my Facebook group "appalachian trail hikers". I suppose the easiest way for me to do this is list from head to toe what I will take followed by the reasons behind it ... this could be awhile. Here goes.
Head to toe.
Head/neck - Beanie/shemagh and trucker hat. Normally this could be seen as overkill already but this is what I do. Beanie for camp and extremely cold mornings and bitter winds. I also use a quilt and not a normal sleeping bag so it's more for sleeping. The shemagh is a valuable multi versatile piece of gear .. blocks the sun off your neck, covers head/face and shoulders during bitter winds and isn't restrictive like some other options, a balaclava comes to mind. Since you'll range from -5 to 75 degrees in a short period of time it's a must have in my opinion. Trucker hat is simply for nice days and heat dumps when you want the sun outta your face. A simple boonie style hat works too.
Upper body is pretty straight forward.
Long sleeve lightweight synthetic paired with a merino wool t shirt for bitter cold.
Lightweight fleece and lightweight down puffy of your choice followed by a rain shell for more warming layers. The idea here is to trap warmth between each layer and you'll find its much warmer than one thick puffy jacket. Trust me. I see it every year. I carry a embrace the suck custom shirt for in towns .. that's it. "Merino midweight top that pairs with the bottoms for camp only!"
Bottom half is where I might lose some of you here ... however for me it works cause I'm a heat machine. One pair of exofficio boxers is all I've ever needed, shorts for less leg friction and movement ... pair of lightweight tights for really bitter skin numbing days.
Socks? Super easy choice. 2 pairs of darn tough and a super thick pair for camp only to go with the merino set. "In extreme temps you can wear them too but if you get them wet, you'll be sleeping naked.
Also remember, merino wool will keep its insulating properties and keep you warm when wet. So just in case that's why I choose that material for camp.
Shoes?? This is a subject I see all the time. The best answer is simply the shoe YOUR feet approve of. However there's some things to consider ...
Boots? I don't recommend unless you're carrying a heavy pack and or have weak ankles. With that said, you can't strengthen weak ankles while bracing them.
Waterproofing sounds great!!
No, it doesn't. Your feet will get wet no matter what, I promise you. It'll take longer to dry and your feet will be choked with the lack of breathability they offer.
But cavey they say they're breathable.
*cough* bullshit *cough*
You want max breathability, specially when your feet are gonna be wet no matter what. Ever wake up to wet socks and frozen solid shoes? I have, and trust me. You'll want flexibility and breathability even in the snow. I highly recommend trail runners, the brand and style is all on you.
That's all I carry, no change of clothes cept a town shirt, your job now is hiking. Short 3 to 5 day long hikes from town to town and repeat. That's all we're doing.
I won't get into the gear debate because honestly, I'm not buying or carrying your stuff. Just remember to buy the lightest and most compressible gear you can afford. I use a 48 liter pack and it's 75% food. No matter what, enjoy the experience. Lighter just means more miles between breaks and less punishment on the body. Those mountains early on are already gonna punish you. :)
10 mile days till franklin is the norm.
Embrace the suck and happy hiking.