Here are some helpful things females should consider before hiking the Appalachian Trail…

Lightweight Backpacking

Because of our physical makeup, it is difficult, but not impossible, for women to carry heavy backpacks.  Therefore, consider carrying less weight in your backpack by paying attention to the weight of each item in your pack. It might sound hard to believe, but each ounce of weight really does matter because it all adds up.

A good guideline is to keep the backpack weight to 25% of your body weight. For instance, a 100lb person can safely carry a 25lb pack. Here’s the formula below:

[Maximum Backpack Weight = Your weight X .25]

The weight of your backpack will fluctuate during your trip as you will send home cold weather clothing. Your backpack will probably be a little heavy starting out and lighten up within a few months.

Besides food and water, your heaviest items will be your tent, sleeping back, and backpack. Starting with these items, select the ones that best fit you but it should also be at the lowest weight possible. Here are some ideal weights for these items:

  • Tent: A single person tent should be around 3 lbs.
  • Sleeping Bag: A cool weather 0 degree sleeping bag should weigh around 2 lbs and a warm weather 40 degree sleeping bag should weigh less than 2 lbs.
  • Backpack: A good goal weight for the backpack is about 3-4 lbs.

A pack made for a woman

Finding a backpack that fits

Shop around and don’t settle. Talk to your local outfitters and get help with getting the right fit. The backpack fit is critical. Some manufacturer’s design backpacks specifically for women. If you are a female that is short, look at extra small backpacks to fit your frame.

For more information about backpacks, click <HERE>.

Staying Fresh and Clean

There is an ideal cleanliness that us females have. When we are on the trail, that ideal has to shift. Within 2 hours of heavy backpacking, you will begin to smell like a skunk just like the men folk. No amount of deodorant will cover it up. Don’t worry about it. Seriously! It’s part of the experience. There are somethings you can do to freshened up:

  • After setting up camp, use a handy wipe to clean your face, arms, and legs. It will instantly help you feel fresher. Note: Handy wipes must be packed out with your trash.
  • Carry a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer and splash a little under your arms. Avoid carrying deodorant and soap. When you get to town, use the soaps that hostels/hotels provide and just forget about your special conditioner back home.
  • Wear a super thin pantiliner and change it out daily. It’s like changing undies. Note: Pantiliners must also be packed out with your trash.

    Stay clean with feminine wipes

  • Use feminine wipes daily. Note: Like everything else, these wipes must also be packed out.
  • Use underwear that is made of breathable wicking materials like nylon and avoid cotton underwear. Carry at least 2 pairs of underwear, one for hiking and one for sleeping. Keep your sleeping underwear dry at all times and never wear it hiking. (Note: An unconventional place to find wicking nylon, mesh underwear is Victoria Secret. Look for 5 for $27.50 sales or use a free panty coupon.)

Lotions, Potions, and Notions

Leave those lotions, potions, and notions at home. It’s tempting to take your deodorant and your favorite moisturizer, but they take up valuable space and contribute to the overall weight. If you are still tempted to take these items, do some practice hikes (6-8 miles) with a fully loaded pack just to make sure it’s worth it.

A pocket knife with tweezers

Some toiletries are necessary like sunscreen for fair-skinned individuals and bug repellent when summer hits. Other items that will come in handy include a small comb, nail clippers, tweezers (built into your pocket knife), and a razor. Some people send themselves packages in town with their toiletries (nail clippers, deodorant, razor, etc.) and just keep bouncing the package to the next town.

The notion that you have to look perfect on the trail should be left at home too. Hairy legs and hairy underarms are part of the hiking experience.

For more information about which toiletries to carry, click <HERE>.

The Menstrual Cycle

You have two options, stop the menstrual cycle during your hike or deal with it. If you want to stop your menstrual cycle while you hike, talk to your doctor about options. If you want to deal with it on the trail, here’s some advice:

  • Carry just enough pads/tampons that you would normally use during your cycle. Note: These items must be packed out.
  • During hiking, if you can tolerate it, use a medium or large pad. Your cycle might be heavier than normal yet last fewer days than normal.
  • Use something like Carefree Intimate Wipes every time you change your pad/tampon.
  • Get some practice hikes in while you are menstruating to see how well you can tolerate it.
  • Take it easy on those heavy days. You might feel weak during your menstrual cycle and a few days afterwards while your body is recovering from blood loss.

Sitting on the Toilet

Females are masters at squatting and hovering over toilets in public restrooms. However, on the trail, there will be times that your legs are too tired to hover and you will just have to succumb to sitting on the pot. Here’s some tips to help ease the transition.

You will get used to privies

  • Before entering a privy, wear a bandana or Buff over your nose.
  • Upon entering, breathe out of your mouth only. It really helps.
  • Use a little hand sanitizer like Purrell on the seat. The hand sanitizer will clean it and evaporate nicely.
  • If you are going to bird nest it, use just enough toilet paper to cover where you will sit. Warning: In windy conditions, that toilet paper might not hold in place.
  • Relax and read the privy walls for amusement.

If you can’t learn to tolerate sitting on the toilet, you can always go in the woods. Privies are designed to reduce impact though, so if you can get use to it early on, that is the best option. For more information, read <How to Poop in the Woods>.

Hitchhiking

Please don’t hitchhike alone. Hitchhike with another person. When hitchhiking, you should take a good look at the driver and make a judgment. Listen to your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, then just wave them on.

If you find yourself alone and needing to go to town, wait for another hiker, call a taxi, or hike to town. It really is different for women to hitchhike alone compared to men. That’s not to say that men do not get solicitations, but if a woman is physically attacked, escape is her only option as opposed to overpowering the perpetrator.

Hiking Alone and Personal Safety

Hiking alone can be peaceful. A lot of individuals hike alone on the trail. Some, who start out alone, find others to hike with. If you are a Northbound hiker starting out in the spring, you will see many hikers in the beginning. Along the way, hikers tend to spread out. Southbound hikers starting in the summer, will also see a lot of hikers in the beginning but much less than Northbounders. Southbounders will enjoy more solitude on the trail.

Hiking alone can be peaceful

You will meet a lot of fellow hikers in shelters and in town. Most people on the trail are friendly, but on occasion, there are some individuals whose behavior can be off putting. Ridgerunners and fellow hikers let others know about odd characters on the trail. Just be aware and maintain communication with fellow hikers.

If you are hiking alone on the trail, here are some overall safety tips…

  • Get to know a network of hikers around you – know their names and make sure they know yours.
  • Have a clear plan for the day and let other trusted individuals (e.g., family, hiker friends) know where and when your next town stop will be. In the event that you get lost or injured, you will have people that can track your whereabouts. For more information about getting lost on the trail, click <HERE>.
  • If you feel like a male is a little too interested in you, it’s best to state your boundaries. If a male is giving you the creeps, put some distance between yourself and him and tell others. Females tend to keep these things to themselves, but talking to others does help you to work through it and it alerts others. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed when it comes to your safety.
  • Social media makes it easy to stalk individuals, especially if you are updating your location frequently. Make sure your privacy settings are on and that only your friends and family can see your posts.

    Hiking with someone during obstacles is helpful

  • Consider hiking with a fellow hiker during dangerous sections of the trail. Sometimes having another person is helpful when you have some obstacle on the trail (e.g., crossing a river when the water is running high). It’s not uncommon to meet fellow hikers at a shelter and hike out as a small group the next day or leap frog with hikers during the day. It can be fun and helpful to hike with someone.
  • Learn to trust your instincts. If something feels wrong to you, it probably is. Women have a knack for picking up clues and connecting the dots, so listen to yourself if you are questioning something in your environment. Keep your cool and act accordingly.
  • Be prepared overall by having the right gear and knowing how to use all of your equipment. Then trust in your ability to succeed.
  • If you are worried about your personal safety on the trail, consider taking a self-defense class and/or a wilderness survival workshop.

Physical Change

Women usually look quite fit and strong after a thru-hike. Women tend to drop fat and gain muscle. Don’t be surprised if your overall weight increases as a result of more lean muscle mass. Many women and men drop enough weight during their hike that they have to buy new clothing along the way.

Staying Warm

Make sure your sleeping bag fits you by buying a bag made for women. You don’t want to waste energy trying to warm a bag that’s too big for you. It’s worth the extra money to have bag that fits and one that’s lightweight. For more information about sleeping bags, click <HERE>.

Shelter Life

A cozy shelter

Sleeping in a shelter can be challenging at first. Expect to see and hear mice. Shelters will mostly be occupied with males. Expect snoring and an abundance of bathroom humor. There’s no privacy in a shelter so you will have to change your clothes in the privy or out in the woods. For more information about shelters, click <HERE>.