Taking on an Appalachian Trail thru-hike is a huge commitment and one that should not be taken for granted. In my opinion, preparation is the key to having a good hike. That being said, I also think that it is important to not overdo that aspect of it. Some of what makes the journey is the fact that there are unknowns in your long walk. I have had some time to reflect on our thru-hike in 2018 and come up with what I think are some important bullet points for your thru. Here are 10 Things to Know about an A.T. Thru-hike
- No matter what anyone tells you, they are wrong. This is like saying the only constant is change. You can read every blog there is, and watch every video out there about hiking the A.T., and it will not matter. Your tastes are different than mine; your body is different than mine; your hike will be different than mine. When you get to a place on the trail, anywhere on the trail, how you feel about that spot will depend 100% on when you get there, who you are with, how good of spirits you are in, the weather, if you are in pain, etc. Don’t let anyone tell you how the trail will be; don’t let their influence change how you feel about the hike. Let your own experiences shape the hike, not theirs.
- It is going to be awesome. You will find something on a thru-hike that will change you, and it will be great. Sometimes that greatness comes at a cost, and sometimes it is easy. It will be a roll of the dice. You will meet someone that you make a connection with, or maybe you will be alone. Both can be amazing. You will witness kindness and strife. Both will change you.
- People suck. You will run into people on the trail that creep you out, annoy the hell out of you, talk all the time, complain all the time, create drama around themselves. Ghosts will wake you up in the shelter at midnight, setting up their sleeping bag, and again at 4 a.m. when they leave. Locals will drink, make noise, litter, and make you feel uncomfortable at some of the shelters. My advice is don’t be one of those people, be positive, and give people space. Be considerate of other people that are trying to sleep. They don’t care that you are trying to make 40 miles a day. Don’t camp near towns or roads if you can help it, especially on Fridays and Saturdays. No bullshit, try not to. Lastly, on bad weather days/nights, you can always make room for one more at a shelter.
- People are amazing. You will meet people that will change your life on a thru-hike. Other hikers will become family. Trail angels will appear at just the right moment to change a horrible situation into an amazing one. People are what make the trail work. People will help hold you up when you feel down. Be one of those people on the trail. Help whenever you can, pick up the trash when you see it, carry someone’s load if they can’t, make them laugh when you can. Let them have a moment without intruding. Always be grateful for people that help.
- Your gear does not make your hike. Knowing how to use what you have is more important than what you have. Knowledge is power. Good gear can help you, but it will not make or break your hike. People have been and will continue to hike this trail with little to nothing. You will make or break your hike, making the right gear choices is very personal only you can decide what you want. Don’t bring too much stuff; bring only what you need. Bring what you need; don’t freeze because you did not want to carry a couple of extra ounces. You will pack your fears; make sure you do some self-checks on the trail, and if you are not using something, consider getting rid of it. The more simple something is the better it works.
- It will hurt. You will be in pain at some point on the trail. You will have hiker hobble in the morning. You will be cold. You will be wet. You will be hot. Your lungs will be on fire. Your legs will hate you. Your shoulders will hurt. You will be hungry. You will not sleep well. You can get through all of it. Listen to your body. If you need to recover, take some time to do it. Stretch when you can. Eat healthy real foods and lots of ice cream. There is pain, and there is PAIN. Please know that one can lead to the other and know your limits so you don’t really hurt yourself. Vitamin I can help with the rest.
- It will feel great. There will be days that you feel unstoppable. Nothing can beat that feeling when you crest a huge climb after passing 10 other hikers on the way up, and you can keep going all day. You sleep as you have never slept before. Your mind begins to let go of all that everyday garbage you carry with you back in real life. You don’t hear anything but nature all around you. You feel and smell the earth, wind, and sun on you like you never have before. You realize that you have hiked over 2000 miles.
- You are what you eat. You can eat anything you want on the trail if you are making decent miles. Eating a bag of Sour Patch Kids every day will catch up to you and make you feel like crap eventually, and your body will start to fail. Eat good food and you will perform better; you will feel better.
- Keep Your momentum going. If you are rolling, keep rolling. The pull to stay in town for a zero is strong sometimes. Sometimes you stay in town and you then don’t feel like leaving, and it is really hard to get back into the groove. Then you become city soft, and you have to beat yourself into submission to get moving again. Towns are cool; the trail is cooler. You may remember some cool hostels, etc. when you look back. But the vast majority of your good memories are going to be about the trail, not about where you took zeros. To be honest, there are some really, and I mean really shitty, hostels on the A.T. If you went to them any other time, other than on a thru-hike. You would be like hell no! Some to them look like opium dens you would see in a movie. If I had to change one thing about my thru it would have been this, I would not have stayed at many hostels. Sometimes you just have to slow your roll because you need to resupply, or you missed a shuttle into town, or it rained 14 inches in a day and the trail is a raging river. But keep moving if you can.
- Don’t believe the hype. People will try to get you all worked up about Rocksylvania, “the Virginia Blues”, the hardest mile, Vermud, and whatever other crap they can come up with. It does not matter. Whatever is in front of you, you will have to hike over it, or through it, if you really want to get to the end. So there is no point in worrying about it and letting someone else’s perspective get in your head. Hike it! The only things you need to focus on are food, water, weather, and shelter. Everything else is irrelevant if you plan on finishing.
I hope that this will help you focus on what you really should be focusing on with your hike. Also, I hope that it will help you gain an understanding of what the trail may throw at you without giving away or spoiling some of the great things that are coming your way. I have written a more comprehensive guide that goes more into specific details about the trail. Also, we have written our whole blog about our thru-hike, and what we experienced.
We’re Melony and Travis LaCoss. Better known on the trail as Stretch and RamboJuice, hiker trash bloggers, photographers, and all-around dirtbags.
A few years ago, we took a giant leap away from our conventional lifestyle to backpack in the United States. After spending 5 months on the Pacific Crest Trail, we started our blog Hikerlore to share stories and provide useful information to backpackers, hikers, and outdoor travelers.
We plan to hike as much as we possibly can. During that time, we’ll write articles about our experiences and share photographs. Some of our posts will be narrative in nature, others will review backpacking gear and offer advice to hikers. Recently, we bought an old service van and converted it into a sweet travel van.
We are adventure seekers who hike national scenic trails, visit national parks, and travel around in a van blogging about outdoor travel. We have thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail (2,200 miles), Florida Trail (1,100 miles), and half the Pacific Crest Trail (1,400 miles). Our adventures have led us to over 50 national parks and monuments.
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