Stretching over 2,000 miles across 14 different states, the Appalachian Trail is one of the longest and most challenging hiking trails in the world. Hiking the Appalachian Trail will take you across varied terrains and weather conditions, and leave you exposed to various dangers usually found in the wilderness. Not only will the hike take its toll on you physically but mentally and emotionally as well. But if you’re up to it, you will certainly be rewarded with hosts of scenic landscapes, and of course, be one of the very few hikers who can boast about completing the trail. If you’re planning to take on the challenge, here are some Appalachian Trail hiking tips to help you out.
1. Learn the Trail
Take some time to learn the trail before you even think about going. The Appalachian Trail is very popular among thru-hikers so you shouldn’t have any problem with research. Read online blogs by hikers who have been there and completed the trail, and visit the trail’s website as well for any news and updates. Also, take a look at maps on the website to determine important information like the best routes, mail drop stations, shelters, and others.
2. Pack Light
This is perhaps one Appalachian Trail hiking tips that you’ll be hearing a lot, especially when tackling multi-day hikes. Any backpacker knows how important it is to keep your luggage as light as possible, but this becomes even more important for long-distance hikes. As the days wear on, you’ll be growing weaker and will tire easily with every mile you cover and every ounce of weight in your backpack will start feeling heavier than they are. So be sure to pack light and bring only the essentials.
3. Get the Right Gear
Long-distance hikes will require you to bring certain gear and equipment to survive out in the wilderness for months. Here are some of the essentials you’ll need.
- Backpacking Backpack. Choose a backpacking backpack that is sturdy and strong enough to last you through months of rigorous hiking. That last thing you want is having your backpack strap snapping off or the zippers breaking while you’re out in the trail.
- Backpacking Tent. You’ll be spending many of your nights sleeping in the outdoors. Shelters are far and few in between so you’ll want to bring your own backpacking tent for times when there aren’t any shelters available.
- Backpacking Sleeping Bag. You certainly wouldn’t want to be sleeping on the dirt while you’re hiking. This can be very uncomfortable and the problem will only get worse when it rains. That said, you’ll want a waterproof and warm backpacking sleeping bag.
- Backpacking Cooking Stove. You will need to do some cooking while you’re out on the trail, so a backpacking cooking stove is definitely a must when you’re hiking the Appalachian Trail. Be sure to bring enough fuel as well.
- Cooking and Eating Utensils. You don’t have to bring a lot of cooking and eating utensils because some of these serve various uses. For instance, there’s no need to bring plates or lunchboxes because you can eat straight out of the pot. You can also use sporks so you don’t have to bring a separate for and spoon.
- First Aid Kit. A small first aid kit is necessary considering all the potential hazards in the long trail and how difficult it is to get help out there. Be sure that you know how to use the kit and its contents as well.
- Repair Kit. With rigorous months on the trails, expect many of your things to suffer damages like tears on your pants and tent fabrics, and more, so be sure to bring a small repair kit as well.
- Navigational tools like a compass are still necessary even if the trails are marked. A paper map will also come in handy since your phones may run out of battery and you won’t be able to access your digital maps. Of course, essentials like pocket knives and flashlights will also be needed.
4. Test Your Gear
Be sure to test your backpacking gear and equipment weeks before your scheduled hike. You can do this in your backyard or preferably go on a weekend backpacking trip to see how your gear and equipment. Practice setting up your backpacking tent and sleep on your sleeping bag. Break-in those new pair of hiking shoes you got. Cook a meal or two with your camping stove. This way, you’ll see immediately what works and what doesn’t and you can make any necessary adjustments if needed.
5. Train for the Trail
Long-distance hikes are physically demanding. Aside from your leg strength, they will also test your stamina and endurance. That said, one of the best Appalachian Trail hiking tips you’ll ever hear is to train yourself for the challenging trail ahead. Be sure to spend time training your legs and doing some cardio. Aside from working out, go on a short multi-day hike and backpacking trip, preferably in a terrain similar to those of the Appalachian Trail (this will also allow you to test your gear and equipment). With long hikes like the Appalachian Trail, these exercises will certainly make the hike much more bearable.
6. Wear the Right Attire
Your hiking attire will make all the difference as you traverse the varied terrains and weather conditions of the Appalachian Trail, which is why you’ll want to make sure that you are dressed appropriately for the challenge. Below are some of the clothing essentials you’ll need when hiking the Appalachian Trail.
- Hiking Jacket. Hiking jackets should protect you from harsh rains and cold temperatures. So obviously, you’ll want a waterproof and windbreaker jacket to keep you warm, cozy, and well-protected.
- Base Layers. Your base layers will have a huge impact on your comfort while hiking. Choose base layers that have moisture-wicking abilities and regulates body temperatures so you remain dry and comfortable throughout your hike.
- Hiking Pants. Hiking pants should be sturdy enough to protect your legs from thorny bushes and sharp rocks. At the same time, they should be able to keep your legs warm during cold temperatures. Along that line, considering choosing hiking pants that can be turned into hiking shorts. Some days will be extremely hot and you’ll want a little more ventilation to keep your legs cool.
- Hiking Socks. Hiking socks are different from your regular cotton socks. They are made from moisture-wicking materials (which is important if you have sweaty feet) and have pads on the heels which helps reduce the impact on your feet while walking.
- Hiking Shoes. With millions of steps ahead, you’ll want your keep your feet comfortable and free from any injuries. This is why you’ll want to swap those heavy and bulky leather hiking boots for light and breathable hiking shoes. And don’t worry about durability because high-quality hiking shoes will last you just as long as any hiking boots.
- Hiking Gloves. You’ll be using your hands a lot while scrambling up rocks, so keep them protected from cuts and bruises by wearing a pair of hiking gloves. These can also help keep your hands warm when the cold weather sets in.
- Hat or Beanie. Temperatures will fluctuate drastically while you’re out on the trail, with some days being excessively hot and others extremely cold. In any case, you’ll want to keep your head protected, or else you’ll be suffering from headaches throughout your trip. So remember to bring a hiking hat for protection from the sun and a beanie to keep your head warm during cold days and nights.
7. Prepare for Bugs
Miles and miles of wilderness will certainly mean that you will be spending your days and nights in the company of various insects and bugs. Mosquitoes, in particular, can be very annoying. It can be really difficult to get a good night’s rest with them buzzing around your head (and taking a bite or two on your legs and arms). That said, be sure that you are well-covered all the time by wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants. Putting on some mosquito-repellant can also help to keep these nasty insects away.
8. Study Your Mail Drops
A mail drop simply means sending food (and other essential items) ahead of time to post offices along the trail so you can just pick them up and replenish your resources as you go along. There are several mail drops along the Appalachian Trail which you can utilize for this purpose. Be sure to know all of those that you will be passing by when you expect to reach them, and how much supplies you’ll need before you pick up your next mail drop. This is very important when hiking the Appalachian Trail simply because your survival depends on it.
9. Always Stay Hydrated
This should go without saying, but it bears repeating again and again because dehydration is a serious issue for hikers and backpackers. There are several places where you can refill your water bottle, but you’ll want to make sure that the water is clean and drinkable. And even if it looks clean and clear, you’ll still want to make sure that they are free from any germs and bacteria that can make you sick while on the trail. This is where a backpacking water filter will come in handy.
10. Prepare Yourself Mentally and Emotionally
The Appalachian Trail will not only test you physically but emotionally and mentally as well. So ask yourself, are you up to the challenge? Can you spend six months out in the wilderness without your usual luxuries? Can you live without your smartphone for days at a time? Are you ready to tackle changing terrains, unpredictable weather conditions, and the possibility of encountering wildlife along the trail? Can you endure hunger, erratic temperatures, and even not taking a bath for days? If you don’t feel confident about saying “Yes!” to these questions, then you’d better start training yourself mentally and emotionally right away.
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Hiking the Appalachian Trail (and completing it of course) is a life-changing experience. Spending months out in the wilderness, surviving on limited food supplies and braving the varied terrains and their dangers will help mold your character, making you more confident about yourself and more excited about pursuing new challenges. Just keep the above mentioned Appalachian Trail hiking tips in mind to ensure that you don’t run into any problems along the way that will force you to end your adventure midway.
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- Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Popular Mechanics