Some people choose to start hiking the Appalachian Trail with no physical preparation, whatsoever. Not me! I don’t want to find out what that’s like! I’m an avid hiker as it is, so all I had to do was add a pack to my hikes. I’m glad I did, because I learned so much from this one simple step!
So let’s get started!
Here are 6 reasons why you should practice hiking with your pack before thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail:
- It’ll give you a chance to get to know your pack.
Each pack is different. Each pack sits on your body in a certain way, and has different features. If you choose to make the first day of your thru-hike, the first day you try out your new pack, you’ll be in for a rude awakening.
You need to find how best to situate your pack on your shoulders, back, chest, and hips. You might need to adjust the pack frame to fit the length of your back. And you definitely need to adjust all the straps and buckles, so that everything feels comfortable for the miles upon miles you’ll be hiking.
Worse comes to worst, you’ll need to buy a different pack, or trade your pack in for one that’s more suited to you. There’s no way you’ll know if you like your pack, until you head out there and hike with it!
- It’ll help you build your hiking muscles.
Hiking with a thirty-pound pack is unlike almost anything else you might be doing in your daily life. You will be using a variety of muscles, some of which you probably don’t use very often.
Each hike with my pack teaches me something new! I’ve started recognizing patterns of aches, pains, cuts, and bruises. These are things I plan to address before heading out on the A.T. I figure, the more I know before I leave, the better prepared (and less miserable) I will be when I am hiking.
I plan to prepare myself with the right shoe and sock system for blisters, some yoga moves for foot pain, and some exercises to build the muscles in my neck, shoulders, back, and hips.
I’ve already started an intense core work out that I’ve been doing for a few weeks. It’s so simple, it’s ridiculous. All I do is plank for four total minutes per day. I can’t tell you how many muscles become sore after doing that plank for a few days.
To intensify the work out, try to extend the time you hold your plank for. I started with one-minute planks, and had to do four individual planks to get to my total goal of four minutes per day. From then on, I worked my way up. I hit one minute and thirty seconds, and then two minutes… and now I can do the plank for four minutes without stopping! It’s absolute torture while you are doing it, but very satisfying afterwards!
I know there are other things I could be doing, too. I am open to backpacking-exercise tips from thru-hikers and long-distance hikers. Please feel free to leave comments below!
- You’ll master your packing system!
If you’ve never done any long-distance hiking, you’ve most likely never learned the skill of expertly packing a pack with your whole life – including your home, your bed, your kitchen, your bathroom, your wardrobe, and your hobbies. It takes practice.
It took me an hour and a half to pack my Osprey Ariel 65, the first time I used it, and it was still a mess. Since then, each time I’ve packed it, I’ve gotten a little bit better, and I’ve been a little bit more organized. Now I finally feel like I have a smart, efficient, and comfortable packing system that is personalized to my needs.
I think the best plan is to avoid things like shoulder pain and unfilled space near the bottom of the pack. It can be very frustrating when you realize you need something, and then you have to dig for it because you left home with an improperly packed or unorganized pack.
Have you ever tried to get something out of your pack, and realized it’s way at the bottom, and then had to unpack the entire bag just to get to it? Yeah, that’s exactly what I want to avoid!
- You’ll find your ideal pack weight.
You might be able to carry 40 or 50 pounds on your back, but imagine carrying that same 40 or 50 pounds fifteen miles a day for sixth months. It’ll get old, real fast!
Once you’ve got your pack, fill it with the things you plan to bring on your thru-hike, and walk around with it for a few hours. If you don’t have all your gear, just fill the pack with 40 pounds of anything, and take a hike with it. Unless you are a very large, highly fit person, you’ll realize that having 40 pounds on your back is not all that comfortable!
Personally, I way overestimated the amount I would be able to carry. For the last few months, I’ve been hiking with 25-ish pounds on my back, and that’s about as much as I can comfortably carry. During my hikes, I usually feel fantastic for the first six or seven miles. After that, my neck and shoulders start to feel the weight, and the waist belt starts digging into my hips. These are all things I will need to address, but my main concern is getting rid of any unnecessary weight from my pack.
If you’re struggling to find your comfortable pack weight and fit, Section Hiker has a great article on how to find the right pack, and how to wear it correctly.
- You’ll figure out how many miles you can comfortably hike, in a day.
Once you find your maximum daily mileage, you can tentatively plot the first few weeks of your thru-hike. Of course, you’ll get stronger. As you get stronger, your maximum daily mileage will most likely increase. At that point pre-plotting your hike will be useless, but you can at least get an idea of how the first few weeks will look. You can also avoid on-trail injuries!
- You’ll figure out if hiking the Appalachian Trail is really for you.
I’m sure you don’t want to talk about the idea of failing to follow through with what you have been excited about for such a long time, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of. This type of adventure is not for everyone. Plus, it’s probably better to figure out if you’re destined to be a thru-hiker ahead of time, rather than thousands of dollars in the hole, and miserable on the Appalachian Trial.
If your once-a-week day hike with your 30-pound pack feels like torture, then six months on the Appalachian Trail might not be up your alley. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of the idea of such a wild adventure, but I am positive it will be no cake walk.
If the hiking the A.T. is anything like prepping for the A.T., then it’s not for the lazy or undecided. It has been hard work preparing for this trip – physically, financially, and emotionally. I’ve had to suck up my pride and move home to save money. I’ve had to sacrifice going to many events and activities to make this dream a reality. I’ve had to stick to a regular schedule of hiking, even if it meant that I’ve had less time for other hobbies, or socializing. I’ve had to get serious about getting my body into shape by doing a regular core work out.
I’ve also had to deal with the initial shock my family had, in response to telling them what I’m doing. After you dazzle the dreamers in your life, you will have to convince the nonbelievers that this is the right path for you. They have your best interest in mind. They will probably be nervous for you. They’ll worry about bears and psychopaths on the trail. They’ll worry about the financial implications of what you are about to do. They’ll worry about you quitting your job and not having a plan in place for when you return. They will worry about the gap that will be permanently stamped on your resume.
The good thing is, those worries are their worries. You can do this whether they like it or not. But that is ultimately your decision. The pre-Appalachian Trail hiking trips you and your pack take will help to clarify worries and doubts that YOU might be having. Those are the worries and doubts you need to focus on, and if they aren’t eased by a wonderful walk in the woods, then it might be a good idea to reconsider this adventure!
Thanks to all my readers! I am so grateful you have taken the time to stop by and read this article.
Happy holidays to you!
If you need me, I’m just Two Tents Down!
I’m Lauren! I created and run Two Tents Down. I hike for enjoyment, enlightenment, and environment. What I mean by this is that it brings me joy to walk in nature. I reach a level of calmness and mental clarity that I find nowhere else in my life, and I feel a very intense connection to nature when I am hiking.
These realizations have given me the courage and determination to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. I will be thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2017.
Post questions and comments below, and feel free to send me an email!