The 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.
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.
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.
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.