Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is an enormous undertaking that requires ample preparation. The last thing you want to do is hit the trail without your mind, body, and gear being ready! Here are our top ten tips to help you prepare for a successful Appalachian Trail thru-hike:
HIKER HACK: Before getting to the list, here’s a tip to save some dough on your AT Thru-Hike. When buying new gear, I highly recommend becoming a member of the REI.com Co-Op. A 10% rebate on REI purchases and occasional bonuses will cut your overall thru-hike costs. REI also treats thru-hikers well and may replace gear if it fails you on your hike.
- Budget wisely. You’re going to need some money. Stops along the way for food, showers, and the occasional warm bed or cold beer will quickly eat up your cash. Create a budget and stick to it. If you need some help with budgeting, make sure you check out our Budgeting Tool for Planning an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike.
- Pack light. You probably already know that the less weight you have on your back, the better off you’ll be. While we’re not suggesting that you leave the really important things behind, we are telling you to carefully consider what you think is “important”. As a general rule, plan to carry less than 25% of your body weight. We built a pretty nifty Backpacking Gear Checklist with a weight calculator that will help you correctly plan your pack weight.
- Get fit. The best way to train for a big backpacking trip is to, you guessed it, do a lot of backpacking. If you find it difficult to slip away for weekends at a time, load up your pack with gear as heavy as what you plan to carry on the AT and go for some long day hikes. While running, cycling, and other activities are certainly great forms of exercise, they are no substitute for spending some serious time on your feet with a heavy pack.
- Know why you’re out there. While thru-hiking the AT is obviously an enormous physical challenge, it’s also a very serious mental one. At some point you’re going to be cold, tired, and asking yourself why you’re doing it. You’d better have an answer.
- Line up a support person. You’re going to need some help from someone back home at some point during your thru-hike. It may be physical support, in the form of shipping you a new pair of shoes when yours give out, or mental support telling you to get your butt back on the trail. Get that person on board for you before you leave.
- Prepare “bump boxes”. Bump boxes are packages containing things you’ll need to replenish in your pack that you mail to yourself in towns you’ll travel through. Bump boxes can include gear you’ll need to restock, a fresh set of clothes to wear in town, or just about anything else you think might give you a lift on your journey.
- Bring duct tape. Ah, duct tape. People joke about how duct tape can fix just about anything – and they’re right! Wrap a few feet of duct tape around a hiking pole or water bottle so you can quickly repair broken equipment on the trail.
- Practice with your gear. Before you hit the trail, make sure you’re well acquainted with your gear. Be sure that your pack fits you comfortably and that you know how to start your stove. You don’t want to finish your first day of hiking and realize that something important is broken!
- Plan for a varied diet. One cannot live on Ramen alone. Those noodles that tasted so amazing on the first day of your trip? They won’t be so appealing if they’re all that you have to eat for weeks on end. The more variety you can add to your food, the more likely you’ll be to want to eat it.
- Visualize. Visualization is one of the keys to reaching any goal but in this situation it’s even more important. Spend some time truly imagining yourself arriving at Mount Katahdin and you’re much more likely to actually do it!