Eight Tips to Prepare for Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Hiking the Appalachian TrailThe Appalachi­an Trail is the longest hik­ing-only foot­path in Amer­i­ca and every year a few thou­sand hik­ers make the deci­sion to walk the 2,187 miles of trail, but not every­one makes it. More often than not, these hik­ers don’t pre­pare in advance for the walk in the woods that is an over­all ele­va­tion gain equiv­a­lent to climb­ing Mount Ever­est 16 times. If you pre­pare your body, head, and gear in advance, you might be one of the few hun­dred that actu­al­ly make it to the end.

Gear up Your Body
The best way to train for a big back­pack­ing trip is to do a lot of back­pack­ing. If you can’t get away, load up your pack with gear as heavy as what you plan to car­ry on the AT and go for some long day hikes or wear the pack around work and your apart­ment. Don’t for­get to train men­tal­ly as well as phys­i­cal­ly by visu­al­iz­ing your suc­cess. Bonus: Tell every­one on social media your plans so you’re held account­able and can’t wuss out.

Think Out­side of the Pack
You know you need a com­pass and a map and a water bot­tle, but there are oth­er items that you’ll need to make room for in your packs such as dia­per cream and sun­block. Yes, it rains quite a bit on the AT with lots of trees and cov­er, but when you’re walk­ing 8–10 hours a day in the out­doors, you’ll be hap­py you brought the SPF30. The oth­er cream—diaper cream—is for your butt, as advertised.

Rain Gear
Make sure to pack rain pants and a rain jack­et. Wear shorts, but when the wet stuff starts com­ing down, pull the rain pants over them and keep on truckin’. Remem­ber to keep your cute cot­ton hood­ies at home; wet cot­ton can be worse than wear­ing noth­ing and can con­tribute to hypother­mia, a poten­tial­ly fatal threat.

Portable Water Filters
There are a few water faucets, pumps, and spig­ots on the trail, and nat­ur­al water sources are list­ed in guide­books and AT maps, but make sure you car­ry enough just in case the springs dry up. Before gulp­ing water from the bab­bling brooks treat the water with portable water fil­ters, dis­in­fec­tant drops, or even by boil­ing the water. The AT is not an ide­al place for a case of the runs.

©istockphoto/Joel CarilletFood
You won’t be hav­ing any sal­ads or steak cook­outs on this hike unless you’re also drag­ging a cool­er. Car­ry lots of snacks, includ­ing things you can stow in your pock­ets and munch while you’re hik­ing. You’ll have more ener­gy if you snack often com­pared to if you eat only big meals. Ener­gy bars or mix­es of dried fruit, nuts, and choco­late bits work well.

Invest in the Best Back­pack Mon­ey Can Buy
Don’t grab your old pack that’s been in your clos­et since your Boy Scout days; get a pack specif­i­cal­ly for this trail. Dura­bil­i­ty and weight are impor­tant, but the fit is the most impor­tant cri­te­ria for a pack.

Sleep­ing Gear
Car­ry a small tent or a hammock—it’s a per­son­al choice—because shel­ters on the trail are first to come first served. As for your sleep­ing bag, it’s advis­able to bring a sleep­ing bag in the 15–20-degree range. You can get by with a 30-degree bag although it can be frigid dur­ing those long Geor­gia nights.

A Good Attitude
Whether you make it 20 miles or 2000, it’s all in the way you look at your jour­ney. Enjoy the great out­doors; thank the pow­ers that be that you’re not sit­ting in your cubi­cle only dream­ing of this daunt­ing trail. Be appre­cia­tive for the peo­ple you meet and who help you set up your tent. Be grate­ful for how far you make it, it’s about the attitude.