A Guide to Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail Hiking: Tips for Thru-hikes

Gearing up for several months on the trail is an exercise that will challenge even the seasoned trip planner. There are dozens of important details that, if overlooked, can cost you precious time and energy, or in a worst-case scenario, derail your trip. One of the most important decisions you'll make is deciding what gear to bring. "Ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain," is a common backpacking mantra, reminding those who travel with all of their possessions on their back that trimming your pack weight can greatly affect your livelihood.

Ultralight backpacking is an obsession for many thru-hikers, but it's a difficult balancing act. Don't feel like you have enough thru-hiking experience to achieve that delicate balance between having enough gear to survive on the trail and not being weighed down with a too-heavy pack? It might be worth your while to consult with an expert before heading too far down the trail. For example, Winton Porter, an unofficial Appalachian Trail guru who runs a gear store at Walasi-Yi in northern Georgia, provides an exhaustive, item-by-item analysis of what's in your pack with the aim of helping hikers to trim the weight of their packs [source: Gorman].

When outfitting yourself for any kind of long-distance hike, your feet are one of the most important things to address, because they're the point of impact between you and the trail. And if your feet aren't happy, it's likely that you won't be happy either. People wear all types of different types of footwear on the trail (some even go barefoot), but whatever type of boots you choose, you should make sure they fit properly so that you don't suffer from blisters -- a hiker's worst enemy. When you hike long distances your feet tend to swell, so most experts suggest trying on boots later in the day, when your feet are somewhat swollen. And don't forget to bring the same heavy socks and sock liners that you'll use on the trail. You may even find that you need to buy boots that are half a size too big to account for swelling [source: Gantenbein].

One of the other logistical items that you won't want to forget is food and water. Water spigots are rare along the Appalachian Trail, so you'll need to bring a portable water filter so you can purify fresh water along the trail and avoid dangerous diseases and infections, like giardia. When you're walking all day, you'll burn a lot more calories than you would if you were sitting in an office, and the only way to get that energy back is by eating. But of course you can't carry five months worth of food on your back all at once. If you're hiking at an average rate, you'll pass near a town or business every three to seven days where you can refuel and buy more food. But many thru-hikers like to have more control over their food supply, and they can by mailing themselves (or having someone else send them) packages that they can pick up at post offices along the way.