Are you planning for the backpacking adventure of a lifetime?
You’ll need to plan for more than just equipment and an itinerary.
Conditioning your mind and your body is only the first thing to start prepping for.
Check out these ten tips for helping you conquer an Appalachian Trail thru-hike.
These 10 Tips Will Prepare You To Conquer an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike
Table of Contents
1) Research and Logistics
Before you go crazy scheduling time off or start haphazardly impulse buying unnecessary equipment, there’s a lot you need to know about this monumental trek. The very first question you need to ask yourself is: “Do I have any backpacking and hiking experience – especially for over a week?”
Even if the answer is yes, there’s still so much more to consider. There’s the physical demands involved, like hiking for 12 miles each day with a heavy backpack through mountainous terrains; extreme weather conditions, financial considerations including thousands of dollars, dealing with wildlife and so on.
You’ll need to familiarize yourself with things such as the 14 different states where the 2,184 miles long trail spreads across – from Mount Katahdin, Maine to Springer Mountain, Georgia. You’ll also need to take into consideration the time needed (usually 4.5 – 6 months) and how you’re going to stay focused.
2) Gearing Mind and Body
Along with planning what time of year you’ll start (which means thinking about the seasons you’ll be hiking in) you’ll need to make 100% sure that you understand the mental and physical demands of such a long and varied hike. There’ll be times when you’ll miss the mod cons and everyday life if you’re going for the wrong reasons.
The number one thing you must do is start practicing long hikes way before you go. At least a week at a time (or weekends) will help you get in the groove of the physicality and mental condition required. Stay in shape, practice eating the way you plan to eat on the trek and learn basic medical and survival techniques.
Even if you plan to trek with others, learn how to be comfortable in your skin with your own thoughts. Get used to being in a variety of conditions whether climbing, wading deep rivers, walking through rocks, ice, snow and mud – you get the drift. Prepare your body and mind way in advance to make sure you’re ready when the time comes.
3) Weather and Wildlife Preparations
Not only will you need to prepare for the various temperature changes and climates, there can be precipitation such as rain, snow, ice and high altitudes. There’s also storms to consider, including lightning and other anomalies such as tornadoes and floods. Also, look out for poison ivy.
Remember that if you start from the South, the weather will get colder as you approach the North. Be prepared to learn how to treat basic conditions that might affect you on the trail, like hypothermia, heat exhaustion, dehydration, wounds, allergies, blisters and so on. Research locations and their conditions, as mentioned previously. When it comes to animals on the trail, the standard ones include snakes, spiders, bears, ticks, mosquitoes and other bugs.
- Related: Interested In Hiking The Appalachian Trail With A Dog?
- Related: How To Keep Mosquitoes Away When Camping (5 Easy Tips)
To keep bears and mice from coming for your food, hang it up and don’t cook near your tent. If you try to steer clear of wild animals, they’ll usually stay away, but it won’t hurt to have a light bullhorn in your pack.
4) Gear and Equipment
It goes without saying that you’ll need to keep your pack as light as possible. A rule of thumb is to carry less than a quarter of your body weight. You’ll need to practice carrying it to make sure that it sits right and that you can handle it without breaking your back.
Aim to carry enough food for 5 – 7 days and water for 3 days. (You should be able to fill up along the way or in town.) If you’re a first time hiker, it’s especially important to learn all you can, so try to travel with seasoned hikers and/or attend a few classes etc. Basic gear (apart from hiking boots or shoes and waterproof clothing) will include:
- Backpacking Backpack
- Backpacking Tent
- Sleeping bag and pad
- Bag liner
- Portable stove and cookset
- Medical kit and alcohol (not for drinking!)
- Water filter
- Knife and spoon
- Flashlight and batteries
- Toilet paper
- Duct tape for all kinds of repairs
- Trekking poles
- Phone and portable charger
- Bug repellant
- Compass and map (although there are markers on the trail)
- GPS Tracker (optional)
- Hand sanitizer
- Personal hygiene items
- Survival knife
- Multi-function watch
- 50 feet of lightweight rope
- Matches and a lighter
- Water bladder (for carrying water and showering)
Note: For a full list of gear, see our article: This Is the Only Gear List You Need For the Appalachian Trail
The following video is about how to pack light for the Appalachian Trail:
5) Financial and Food Preparations
Most conservative estimates state that you’ll need to budget for – all told – approximately between $1,000 to $2,000 per month. This includes fees, food, gear, medical supplies and other sundries. You can cut costs down if you reduce the amount of time you eat at restaurants or stays in hotels here and there.
If you’re wondering how the budget pans out after buying your gear and equipment in the beginning (even though you’ll still need to replace stuff – including boots and socks), the average amount you’ll spend is approximately $2 per mile on an Appalachian Trail thru-hike.
When it comes to food, plan for around 4,800 calories per day which equals 2.5lbs of food per day. Try to reduce the amount of water weight in your food and pack items such as nuts, chocolate, jerky, dried fruit etc. If you like to fish, make sure you’ve researched the local laws and other associated factors.
6) Communication Preparation
Whether you decide to go it alone or hike with others, making sure that you have the capacity to contact help when needed is very important for your safety. It helps to register with authorities before you leave, as well as your family and friends – by giving them your detailed itinerary.
You might not be able to count on your phone working everywhere, so if you haven’t been able to make contact while on the trail, do so in the nearest town. Aim to touch base every week and try to respond to your family/friends if they text or call while you’re busy on the thru-hiking the A.T..
Having a home base where someone can assist by sending care packages, alerting you of any possible dangers or weather patterns is an ideal way to make sure you have contingencies. You might need emotional support or a new pair of boots.
If it all gets too much, remember that you can always turn your thru-hike into a section hike, where you can stop over in a town for a few days to regroup and recharge your batteries before getting back on track. To prevent getting heatstroke or hypothermia, try to plan your hiking from early morning to before sunset.
Knowing how to set up camp – whether using a tent or not – is key to ensuring that you have proper shelter. Practice using all your gear, which includes repairs, so you won’t be caught short while on the trail. Before you start a fire, check out this guide to make sure you don’t break any rules or start a forest fire.
Be prepared to come across a variety of different sections, such as a day of climbing over rocks or finding a safe way across a river. Again, having the right frame of mind goes a long way to keeping focused. If a difficult day gets to you, stop and meditate. Remember why you set out in the first place.
8) Medical and Personal Issues
Seeing as you won’t have the same luxuries you have at home, like access to a shower, you might find that you can go a day or two without proper bathing – however it is important to keep yourself relatively clean. Chafing can be a nightmare – especially when you’re hiking, so keep personal areas of your body as clean and dry as possible to prevent chafing.
Of course, you will sweat and you will have other bodily functions on a daily basis. Moist wipes might be handy, but a small washcloth and water can be sufficient. (If female, remember your “feminine” hygiene needs for those times of the month!) Don’t forget that you’ll need to ventilate your feet and keep your skin protected.
Having the right medical supplies is a great help and it’s crucial to make sure that you’re prepared for typical injuries associated with hiking, such as cuts, abrasions, blisters, rashes and other annoying or sometimes near death experiences. Know how to treat a snake or spider bite – as well as other nasties.
9) Memorize Trail Etiquette
Remember to be polite when you come across other hikers. Even if you’re there to trek on your own, you’ll never know when you might need someone – for assistance or at least to deal with loneliness – which is why you should try to trek with someone else or a group.
On the other hand, you’ll need to keep your wits about you when camping near areas or towns where the crime rates are high. Try to stay away from these areas, even if it means straying a little or staying in a hotel in a better area for that night.
Pick up after yourself and don’t leave trash lying around – especially food, which attracts animals. Follow the correct procedures for starting and extinguishing fires. Remember to leave the trail exactly how you found it and respect Mother Nature by keeping the damage to the flora and fauna to a minimum.
10) Prepare for an Adventure of a lifetime
If you plan correctly and give yourself at least six months to prepare, you should have an incredible experience that will stay with you forever. Take lots of photos and if you keep a blog, post regularly to entertain others, stay in contact with loved ones and to have an awesome record to revisit in the future.
- Related: 3 Best DSLR Cameras for Wildlife Photography
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Remember, there will be times on the trail where you might grow quite despondent – especially on long stretches. A week is a long time when hiking, so imagine a four to six month trek outside of your comfort zone. Always keep your initial enthusiasm for your trip in mind and use the experience as a kind of therapy.
Many express a deep change in themselves after a long and rewarding trip from the “real world” – where a lot of soul searching and contemplation has taken place. Use the trek for personal goal setting – in keeping with your personal evolution and appreciation for this wonderful Earth. You won’t regret it.