Guest Post: Preparing radio and trail gear for a once-in-a-lifetime, epic through-hike

We’re excited to welcome Bryce Bookwalter (KD9YEY) as a guest contributor on!

I had the pleasure of meeting Bryce at the 2024 Hamvention, where he shared his plans for an ambitious hiking adventure next year. Knowing he wanted to incorporate radio into his journey, I asked if he’d be willing to bring us along by sharing updates on his preparations and experiences on the trail.

To help fund his adventure, Bryce has started a GoFundMe campaign, which you can learn more about at the end of this post. Additionally, please note that some of the gear links below are affiliate links that help support at no extra cost to you.

Bryce, take it away…

Backpacking Booky: A Quest to Hike the Appalachian Trail

by Bryce (KD9YEY)

The dream is formed, and it always seems so attainable. It’s as easy as the desire to walk in the woods and explore the beauty of nature. To find community with the world around you and discover your reflection is no different than the hills and streams that stand steadfast against time. I feel like anyone who wishes to pursue a long hike starts with these feelings and lofty ideas of what the trail will be like and the experience they will have…and then you realize you’re going to have to poop out there.

Hello, my name is Bryce Bookwalter and in 2025 I am attempting a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. This has been a goal of mine since I was in my freshman year of high school in 2005 and first learned about the trail.

I was in Front Royal Virginia at the time and one weekend we went hiking and our trail passed by the A.T. I remember hearing that this same trail traveled all the way from Georgia to Maine and it blew my mind.

I wanted to hike it right then, and I still want to hike it today. Life happens of course, and I had to let the dream go for some time. I have found myself in a unique time of my life recently where I will be between schooling and a new job and I realized that if I don’t hike the trail now, I may never get the opportunity again. My education has been off and on throughout the last decade and 5 years ago I ran out of my GI Bill that I received from the Army. With only 2 semesters remaining until I received my degree, I started doing construction to save money to return to school. 5 years later I have returned to Indiana University, and I am now 1 semester away from finally receiving my degree in Community Health. With this milestone accomplished, I have decided that before I start another job I need to try and complete my long-time goal of hiking the A.T.

It is an interesting turn of events that brought me back to the love of backpacking. It would seem an illogical path to say that Ham Radio is responsible for my rekindled passion for the outdoors, but this is in fact the case. Two years ago, my stepdad Joe (W9NVY) got into Ham Radio, and I decided to at least get my Technician License so that we can communicate through the local repeaters. Later that year we both participated in the GOTA team for a local Field Day club out of Indianapolis. After working to set up the antennas and operate for 24 hours, I was hooked on HF!

Since then, I have received my General License and am currently working on my extra. I learned about Parks on the Air and discovered that there is a whole side to this hobby that involves preparing gear, packing it, and carrying it into the wild to set up and operate remotely. This speaks to me in so many ways. Not only do I get to play radio, which I love, but I also get to add hiking and backpacking to the mix.

I am a gear junkie! I will admit it openly. I love researching gear and seeing what works for others and obtaining gear and putting it to the test in the field. This harkens back to some of my favorite aspects of the military and Civil Air Patrol before that.

Civil Air Patrol days.

So, let’s talk gear! When preparing for a thru-hike, there is a lot to consider. You’re not just planning for a weekend outing but for a 4–6 month long adventure. It’s hard to know what to take…and even harder to know what NOT to take. There is a saying that I agree with that says, “Backpacking is the art of knowing what NOT to take.” This is so true.

There are different levels of backpackers, from conventional to ultralight.

Conventional backpackers can find their packs weighing 30-40 lbs. or more. Ultralight typically have their base weight (weight without food and water) down to under 10 lbs. I find myself somewhere in the middle. I lean towards lightweight, but I certainly do not consider myself an ultralight backpacker. Especially considering I will be carrying radio equipment with me along the trail.

The journey of finding the right gear is a constant process, though I believe I have narrowed the list down considerably. So, I will break my gear down into two sections: Backpacking Gear and Radio Gear.

Backpacking Gear

Pack: I went with the Osprey Atmos 65L backpack. At around 4 lbs. this pack is considered to be on the heavier side.

However, in my opinion this pack carries that weight incredibly well. I have worn a lot of packs over the years, and this is by far the most comfortable I have used. There is a mesh backing that provides air flow and their patented “Anti-Gravity” system makes even the heaviest of loads feel lightweight.

The 65L pack has plenty of room for everything I will need, and in all honesty, it is probably quite a bit more than I will need. I like having the space however, and not having to cram and smash everything together to get it to fit is a plus. Osprey also provides a lifetime warranty on all their products which makes purchasing them well worth the money.

Tent: I am a huge fan of the company Nemo Equipment. I have been following their development from when they first started. I was in the Army at the time, and I used their airframe bivy tents when I would go out on long-distance longboarding trips.

Since then, they have become a mainstay in the backpacking community and when it came time to decide on a tent to use, their name was the first to pop into my head.

After doing some research I decided on the Nemo Hornet Elite Osmo tent.

At under 2 lbs. this is also a go-to for many thru-hikers. There are many reasons as to why I chose this tent. The weight and quality of this tent are superior to many other options, but I also wanted a free-standing tent.

This means that the tent can hold itself up without the need for trees or trekking poles. With hammocks, you must have a tree available from which to hang your hammock straps. With trekking pole style tents, you always must have ground that is suitable for holding in a tent stake. With a free-standing tent, you are always able to set up a shelter, regardless of the terrain. Over the course of 2200 miles I want to eliminate as many variables as possible and knowing that my tent is always able to be set up gives me peace of mind.

Sleep System: As stated before, I tend to go with Nemo products when possible. I am currently using the Nemo Forte 20-degree mummy bag and the Nemo Tensor insulated sleeping pad. I used these on several hikes over the winter where the temps dropped well below freezing overnight.

These two worked very well to keep me warm and comfortable. It should be stated that a sleeping bag’s temperature rating is a survival rating, not a comfort rating. They also require insulation from the ground to be able to achieve that temperature rating. So, some form of insulated sleeping pad is required for cold weather camping. The Nemo Tensor works incredibly well. It has an R-Value of 4.8 and weighs 1 lbs. 11 oz. This was perfect for keeping me warm and it is remarkably comfortable!

The Nemo Forte is a great sleeping bag as well and it is my go-to for cold weather camping. At 3 lbs. 14 oz, it is a bit heavy for what I will want for the A.T.

I have decided that I will be using a quilt instead of a sleeping bag for the A.T. I am not sure which quilt I will choose yet, but the weight savings of a quilt and their versatility makes it an attractive choice. A quilt is basically a sleeping bag that has the bottom removed from it, making it more like a blanket. With less material they end up weighing less and provide about the same amount of warmth and comfort as a mummy bag, when paired with a sleeping pad.

The last thing for the sleep system, and many consider this to be a comfort item, is a pillow. I am a side sleeper and have trouble sleeping without a pillow. So, I use a Nemo Fillo Pillow. It is lightweight and works well for my needs.

Cook System: Many thru-hikers choose not to cook and instead do a “cold-soak” where they put their food in a plastic jar and let it soak in water until they are ready to eat. I am one who desires hot coffee in the mornings and so I will be bringing a cook system of sorts with me. This is subject to change, but for now, my plan is to carry a canister of fuel, an aluminum cup, and a lightweight stove I got from Amazon.

The BRS 3000T is a compact, super lightweight (26g!) stove that works very well, and I have used it for all my backpacking trips so far. The MSR Jetboil system is also an attractive choice and I have seen firsthand how quickly it can boil water. This is an advantage because you end up using far less fuel than you would with other stoves. I do not have one yet, but it may be worthwhile before the A.T. If weight becomes too much of an issue though, the cook system will be one of the first things I ditch.

Rain Gear: This is an area where I believe I was overthinking a bit. I tried Frog-Togs, I tried plastic rain ponchos (sweat bags!), and finally I decided to try a proper rain jacket… and I will never go back! I have an REI Ranier rain jacket that works incredibly well.

When I wear it in the rain, it keeps me cool and dry. What else can be said about it?

As for water protection in my pack, I simply keep everything inside in a trash compactor bag. These are durable, lightweight and waterproof. Rather than trying to fight nature and keep my bag from getting wet, I just let it happen and make sure that everything inside is stored inside a waterproof bag.

Shoes: Ah yes, the debate between hiking shoes/boots and trail runners. Trail runners have become the norm for thru hikers in recent years. They are super lightweight and rugged enough to handle the terrain. However, I believe they serve ultralight hikers better than anyone carrying a bit more weight. There are also so many brands and designs that finding replacements on trail can prove difficult.

For these reasons I have decided to use Merril Moab 3 hiking shoes. These are relatively inexpensive, quality, durable, and common. This means I can find them pretty much anywhere that hiking shoes are sold, they will last a decent number of miles, and it won’t break the bank to replace them a few times on trail. There is a waterproof version of these as well that I will specifically avoid. Mainly because your feet are going to get wet…it happens…and I would rather them not hold the water in the shoe but allow it to leave and dry out easier.

Clothing: This is where things get gross. For thru-hikers, one pair of clothing is typically used for the entire trail. I will be wearing running shorts, and a non-cotton button down shirt. These will be used every day for 4-6 months while on trail. I will also have a pair of camp clothes that consists of a T-shirt and a pair of grey pajama pants. 2 pairs of Darn Tuff socks (1 to be worn, the other to be washed and drying tied to the pack), and 2 pairs of underwear (worn and washed just like the socks).

A lightweight “puffy” jacket (REI Down Jacket). “Buff” neck gaiter. Baseball cap. And that’s it! People tend to overpack clothing while on trail, which makes sense considering how often we change our clothes in the regular world, but while on trail…you are hiker trash! It’s time to embrace it and live minimally.


Trekking Poles: So far, I use a $35 pair from Amazon (Trekology), and they have worked great. I find trekking poles to be very useful for going up and especially down hills. They are also excellent for dodging vegetation, holding up rain flies on tents, crossing streams, and many other things. They also collapse easily and can be stowed for long road walks.

Other: First aid kit, lighter, knife, poop kit (biodegradable wet wipes, trowel, hand sanitizer).

Comfort Item: I play the bagpipes with a pipe and drum corps in Bloomington Indiana and while carrying a set of bagpipes on the trail is entirely impractical, I do have a penny whistle that is keyed the same as a bagpipe. This whistle weighs only a couple of grams, is durable and cheap, and allows me to play my favorite tunes. It is something I take with me on every backpacking trip, and it will be making the 2200-mile journey with me on the A.T.

Radio Gear

Radio: I have landed on the QRP Labs QMX as my radio for the A.T. This is a result of consulting several hams and hearing their recommendations. The QMX works well for me because it is compact, lightweight, and within my budget.

Ideally, the Elecraft KH1 would serve my needs perfectly but they have a long lead-time and and are way outside of my budget. The QMX will work well for me though and I am grateful to be able to have it as part of my kit.

My primary operating mode will be CW and I am spending the next year learning CW, and I am aiming to be proficient by the start of the A.T. An advantage that the QMX has is that it is also able to do digital modes like FT8. I believe this will be very useful on evenings when I am too tired to do CW but still want to activate a park or summit.

Antenna: I am still in the process of trying different antennas out, but I am leaning towards a Packtenna 20m EFHW.

They are durable, lightweight, and perfect for what I will need for this journey. I will add about 50’ of heaving line to my kit so that I can hang the antenna from nearby trees. Heaving line is lightweight and doesn’t get tangled in trees and is excellent for this purpose.

Power Supply: This has not been decided yet and I am currently in discussion with a manufacturer about a lightweight battery that will allow for 5-6 activations between charges. Luckily, CW requires very little power so the battery that I will be using should last a long time and not weigh very much.

Electronic Misc: To charge my phone and headlamp battery (if it dies between resupplies) I will be carrying 2 NB10000 Gen 2 Power Bank by Nitecore. This gives me enough battery supply for 5 full charges of my phone and a little extra for emergencies. Rather than having another item to charge I decided to use wired ear buds which will allow me to listen to music/podcasts/books and to have a headphone option for doing POTA/SOTA. I also carry a USB-C cable and spare micro-SD cards for picture and video storage.

That’s a lot of information and it is of course subject to change as I learn more and experience life on-trail for weeks on end. I believe that this is a decent starting point, however, and it took hours of research and field testing to get here. I am very excited to set off on my journey and very nervous! Not only for the effort of hiking the trail, but also the stress about life at home while I am gone.

Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as simply walking in the woods for 5 months. I also must spend money while away, and simultaneously not make any money during that time. This is a double hit on my home life. My wife supports my dream, but it is going to be very difficult to make it happen without help.


That is why I started a GoFundMe to help raise funds for my goal of hiking the AT. The money I have now is going towards my mortgage and other bills at home for while I am away. Any money I raise is going directly towards the costs associated with hiking the trail itself. I have never done online fundraising before, and I will admit it feels a bit odd. But it never hurts to try, and I am comfortable with admitting I cannot do this without the help of others. So, if you can help and feel like doing so, please consider donating to my GoFundMe and helping me achieve the dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail and performing POTA/SOTA along the way!

Thank you in advance for any help I receive, and I look forward to getting you in the logbook while on trail! 73!

Support Bryce at:

16 thoughts on “Guest Post: Preparing radio and trail gear for a once-in-a-lifetime, epic through-hike”

  1. This is quite the goal for sure. The Packtenna is an excellent choice but for QRP power there’s much smaller options to choose from. Looking at the prices of some of the stuff you’ve chosen I can see why you started a GoFundMe page. Well good luck on your adventure, sounds like an awesome goal. I’m sure others will contribute ideas here, as there’s some very knowledgeable people that participate in this blog.

    1. Thanks for the input! I am still finalizing my gear list and trying out different options. I agree, quality gear isn’t cheap and it takes a lot to be able to make a 2200 mile hike successful.

  2. Sounds like a real adventure!

    As someone who will be traveling in the next few weeks, I think we can trim the saying to “_ _ _ _packing is the art of knowing what NOT to take.”

    Which QMX are you bringing, Lo, Mid, or High band version?


  3. I’d recommending upgrading to a more durable trekking pole with a cork grip. The EVA foam just doesn’t hold up and the cork grip feels less sweaty compared to the EVA foam on a hot day. Also, if you’re committed to carrying radio gear, you might consider shaving weight in other areas (like your pack and sleeping pad) to make up for it. If you haven’t put together a good spreadsheet with *everything* and the weight, here’s starting point:

    1. This is incredibly helpful, thank you! I have considered cutting weight in several areas. Cost is the main issue preventing me from lighter options. I am keeping my eyes and ears open for discounts and used gear though!

  4. Bryce, as an AT section hiker who has completed a bit over 40% the trail, I’m excited for you! The trail is a special place… definitely my happy place. That said, I have not yet operated while out on the trail. Its not that I don’t want to, its just I know you have to make time to do it. After a day of hiking, I realize I am more concentrated on getting my chores done and hitting the sack. When I wake up, I am concerned about packing up and getting moving. All of this said, I will bring a radio with me eventually. I have thought A LOT about my gear. I have both an MTR-3B and a QMX. I dont think you can go wrong with the QMX after enjoying it a bit from the backyard at the QTH. It is great in that it has the option to run digital and has an swr meter (and maybe SSB in the future?). I would give yourself some options on bands though. I envision that most operating would be in the evening, meaning 40 would be the band of choice. 20 would be great for the occasional SOTA during a planned break in your day. The Packtenna 40/20/10 EFHW is a great option, but I am also a fan of the PAR EndFedz EFT-MTR 20/30/40. For hanging, I would use a dynema rock sack and dynaglide bear hanging line (Gossamer Gear). You can store the line in the bag…and you will have a bear bag hanging system too! OK, I could talk about options all day…your post got me excited! I look forward to talking to you on the bands next year! 73, Jim WU3K

    1. K6ARK antennas are a good option as well if you are concerned about weight. Ive just had issues with fluctuating SWR depending on the operating position and have had to move the antenna around to accommodate. With the others, not so much. That said, if weight is at the forefront of you mind, K6ARK is the way to go!

    2. What a great idea! Thanks for the suggestion. Excellent idea combining the bear bag with antenna hanging supplies. Multi-use items is the key to lightweight backpacking after all. Feel free to message me through my link tree with any other suggestions or comments. I am open to any suggestions and advice!

  5. Maybe not a read for Bryce, but I can highly recommend reading “300 Zeroes” by Dennis Blanchard as a record of one Ham walking the AT.

    1. Brilliant suggestion, Gareth. In fact, this was one of the first recommendations I made to Gareth when I met him at Hamvention. An excellent read!

    2. I’ll suggest one more, “A Wildly Successful 200-Mile Hike: Lessons Learned on the Appalachian Trail” by Richard Allnutt. He’s a retired flight surgeon with an interesting take on ultralight backpacking: the real reason to do it to reduce the sorts of injuries that end hikes.

      I’ve spoken (or well, texted since we were using psk-31) to both Allnutt and Blanchard. Great guys, both.

  6. An extraordinary goal and one for which many readers here will be envious. I am one of those. I’m a regular day hiker and I’ve followed a number of through hikers on social doing the AT and their journeys are compelling. One person who has been a leader in the area of long distance backpacking is Jessica Mills “Dixie”, whose YT channel and Website is well worth a look. Her gear suggestions and comparisons are extensive.
    I frequently take a radio on my day hikes but have never done so on overnight hikes due to the weight considerations. I frequently use a Tufteln 9:1 EFRW and carry an ATU-10 for it OR I use an N9SAB 20m resonant dipole. Both are super light QRP versions.
    I have done some long distance hikes in Europe and one of the tools I used to analyze my gear and pack weight is the website Lighter Pack-
    I wish you well and will be following your journey. Hopefully I can get you in the log during your walk!

  7. another book for your consideration:

    Appalachian Trail thru-hike planner

    published by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy,
    my library has the 6th edition, 2015; there may be a newer one.

    Bravo, Bryce, hope I can work you P2P sometime along the way!

  8. Bryce, I too plan to undertake an AT thruhike in 2025, and to also pack a QRP radio on the journey. At present it is an MTR-3B, although my CW requires polishing. I plan to shove off 1 April 2025 (no joke!) and to undertake a flip flop, starting northbound from Harpers Ferry, WV (although everything is subject to change). Thanks for an interesting article, and thanks to those commenting, as I have more perspectives toconsider. Best wishes! 73, John, W3HN.

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