Now that you have made the decision to hike, there’s a lot to do and it can be stressful to think about, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Start small by doing at least 1 thing a day to get you closer to your journey on the AT – whether it’s reading an article or picking out a piece of gear. Take your time in prepping and enjoy the process.
Take a look at the entire AT map but don’t let it scare you!
This takes a few seconds to load, but click <here> for a pdf of the entire Appalachian Trail. This map is made by the National Park Service.
Look at your timeframe and your finances.
The typical time for Northbounders to start is March-April and for Southbounders it’s June-July. Plan on taking at least 6 months to complete your hike.
Thru-hikes can cost $4,000-5,000 for gear, food resupplies, hostel/hotel stays, and other miscellaneous expenses. Running low on money is a common reason for hikers to quit.
To save enough money, you have to really want to do this journey. After you save enough money, set up some spending guidelines for yourself. For example, you might have a limit of $20 per food resupply.
Talk to your doctor and get a physical.
Additionally, if you take medications, you can ask your doctor to write a prescription for a larger number of pills (e.g., 90 day supply) so that you don’t have to get it filled as often. In large towns along the trail, you will find the major chain drugstores such as CVS to fill your prescriptions. Your guidebook will contain this information as well.Getting a physical exam is just a good idea anyways, but it includes blood work with which a doctor can tell a lot about your health. Also, when you go to your doctor, tell them what you are planning on doing. Your doctor can assess if you are physically ready and can give you goals if you are not.
Your doctor might suggest a prescription for an antibiotic for traveler’s diarrhea which can come in handy.
For females who are interested in stopping their menstrual cycle during their hike, talk to your gynecologist about options.
Start walking anywhere.
It’s great if you can do some day hikes on a trail. If you can’t find time, just start walking as much as possible. Here are some other tips about walking:
- Walk in your hiking shoes and socks as much as possible.
- Take note of what you experience during your walk. Do your feet slip around in your shoes? Do you get shin splints easily? Are the arches of your feet sore? Are there any hot spots (beginning blisters) and where?
- Talk to a real shoe specialists at outfitters or running stores. Let them know of any injuries you might have and see if you might need additional support.
- As you build up some miles, start walking on uneven terrain.
- Wear a watch and clock your miles per hour. A good beginning pace is around 1.5 – 2 mph.
Start researching lightweight gear and lightweight backpacking
The weight of your backpack will be on your mind for at least the first month of hiking. If you start by getting lightweight items now, you will save yourself time and money later down the trail. Lightweight backpacking doesn’t mean being unprepared. It’s about making decisions to take only the gear that is necessary and finding gear that’s as light as possible.
As a starting point, read <Things You Need> for suggested items.
Before purchasing clothing, know what they are made of.
Hiking clothing should not be made of cotton or cotton blends. This is because cotton doesn’t pull moisture away from your skin and evaporate easily. Imagine a wet cotton shirt in cold weather feeling like a cold compress on your skin.
Synthetic or natural materials that wick away moisture from your skin are best. Look for materials made of nylon, wool, spandex, polyester, or polypropylene. Additionally, some manufacturers have created their own wicking materials such as CoolMax or Dri-FIT. For more information, see <Clothing>.
Start a wishlist online.
When people ask what you want for your birthday or for a holiday, email a wishlist that you have set up at an online outfitter. It’s a great way to get things like cooking gear and other less expensive items.
Try some trail meals at home.
Don’t purchase any bulk food items for your thru-hike. You will probably change your mind along the way. Instead sample some items from the grocery store to see what you might like. To see what hikers eat on the trail, see <Food>.
Designate a person at home.
Start thinking of a reliable family member or friend who could mail you things on the trail. As you purchase your gear and supplies, keep them organized and labeled for your designated person. Picture having to call home and describing to your mom what your replacement filter looks like. Just label and organize from the beginning.
Purchase a guidebook.
Hikers usually take a guidebook on the trail. The most popular one is The A.T. Guide. Depending on when it’s printed, the guidebook might take a while to get to you. For more information, see <Maps & Guides>.
If you are going to carry maps, purchase the AT maps.
This is a big purchase. Some of the maps might be on back order and take several months to get sent to you. For more information, see <Maps & Guides>.
Read books and articles about the AT and backpacking.
The <Appalachian Trail Conservancy> has an abundance of articles with facts and history of the trail. It’s an excellent resource that is up-to-date. Another excellent resource is <Trail Place> and <WhiteBlaze> where you can talk to other thru-hikers, section-hikers, and trail enthusiasts.
Start a trail journal about your planning.
Sign up at <Trail Journals> and start logging your progress and read about others who are planning their journey.