From researching gear to educating yourself about how to handle tick bites or black bear encounters, preparing yourself for an Appalachian Trail thru-hike is no easy task. Being unprepared for this monumental adventure would be a shame, not to mention dangerous.
For the last year, I have been eagerly anticipating my upcoming 2017 Appalachian Trail thru-hike. My personal research and preparation has been both thorough and obsessive. However, excitement is a fantastic motivator, and I can only hope that other potential thru-hikers are blessed with the same inspiration!
That said, I am no expert about Appalachian Trail thru-hiking. I have done a lot of hiking and camping, but I am fully aware that this is a whole new ball game. This article is based on my personal planning process, and things I have learned from others who have completed thru-hikes on the A.T.
Enough babble, let’s get to the tips:
- Get your basic questions answered:
The first thing I did was look up The Appalachian Trail online. I started devouring information, and taking notes. I was curious, so I typed some of my questions into a search engine and set my mind to exploring the results. Here are a few to get you started:
- How long does it take to hike the Appalachian Trail?
- How much does it cost?
- Do I need permits to hike?
- Are there water sources along the trail?
- Is it safe on the Appalachian Trail?
What I found out is that there are so many sources of great information about the Appalachian trail out there. All you need to do is look. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Appalachian Trials websites have been some of the greatest resources to me, over the last year.
2. Start budgeting:
So you’ve made this plan to thru-hike this amazing long-distance trail. Now you have to get down to business. I would recommend starting with the financial planning.
To make a budget, you’ll need a savings goal. To find my savings goal, I researched the average overall cost of an Appalachian trail thru-hike. The answers I came up with ranged from $2000 to $9000, including gear. Hikers’ budgets vary, but these are the main things to account for: food, trail town lodging/dining, health insurance, and gear.
After making my savings goal, I needed to get organized. I made an outline of what my budget would look like for the next year. I made sure to account for every bill and potential bill in the outline. Then, I added my “Appalachian Trail piggy bank” to each month’s budget plan.
The main thing that helped me, is making my “A.T. piggy bank” a priority. It’s not always easy, but putting away a little bit of A.T. money, each month, needs to be as important as paying your regular bills. I would also recommend including a section for gear saving, because having the gear you need is just as important as having enough money for the trip.
To get you started, here is a sample outline:
Overall A.T. savings goal: $______.00
1 Month pay: $______.00
Car insurance: $______.00/mo
Health insurance: $______.00/mo
Backpacking gear: $______.00/mo
A.T. piggy bank: $______.00/mo
Total saved for A.T.: $______.00
The Clever Hiker says that one major reason why people don’t complete Appalachian Trail thru-hikes is that they run out of money along the way. If you are on a tight deadline, it makes sense to get organized with your finances. This will not be a cheap adventure, but I believe that it will be worth any expense!
- Become an expert on everything trail-related
There are so many things to learn about before embarking on this adventure! Plus, how much water you’ll carry, and how many miles you’ll hike in a day, are things you will only find out when you are actually on the Trail.
One thing that makes me feel more comfortable about going on this trip, is to become knowledgeable about what I am doing.
Here are some ways to educate yourself:
- Follow adventure blogs related to hiking, camping, and backpacking. To get you started, check these out: Appalachian Trail Girl, Appalachain Trials, and Section Hiker. Or take a look at this list of great hiking blogs.
- Read the stories of fellow adventurers. To find people who are actually thru-hiking long distance trails, take some time to peruse Trail Journals.
- Listen to Appalachian Trail podcasts like Sounds of the Trail, The AT Radio Show, and The Pox and Puss Podcast.
- Watch YouTube videos like crazy! Here are a few that I enjoy: Homemade Wanderlust, Between the Blazes, and Will Wood.
- Tailor your social media feeds to your thru-hiking interests. You can do this by adding backpacking-related users to all of your social media accounts. To find like-minded users, type keywords and phrases like “backpacker” and “hiking” and “Appalachian Trail” into the search boxes. One user will lead you to another, and so on.
- Make a before-and-after plan for your thru-hike.
It is important to figure out how to leave your life behind for six months, and what the heck you will do when you return to it. Deferring student loans, finding a long-term pet sitter, canceling bills, quitting your job (or taking a leave of absence), and moving out of your apartment are just a few of the things you might have to do before you leave. Coming back is another story. You’ll have to have a place to stay, when you return… and you might just need a job!
- Don’t get overwhelmed… Take one step at a time.
Preparing for this adventure has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster for me, so I can imagine it could easily become that for other potential thru-hikers, as well. My best advice is to start jotting things down. There are so many things to remember. Getting your ideas on paper is one way to make sure you don’t forget anything.
Here are some of the lists I recommend making:
- What is going in my pack?
- What do I need to take care of at home, before I leave?
- What is my mail drop schedule?
- What towns/hostels/restaurants should I keep in mind?
- What are my trail goals?
- What do I need to purchase before I leave?
Zach Davis, author of The Good Badger and Appalachian Trials, says that mental preparation is just as important as financial and physical preparation. I have not yet thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, but I’ve been on some pretty big travel adventures. I can say from experience that getting into the right mindset is vital. You never know what’s around the next corner, so you might as well be ready for anything!
Appalachian Trail FAQs by the Appalachian Mountain Club
Here’s What Happens to Your Body When You Hike The Appalachian Trail by Robert Moor of Buzz Feed
Appalachian Trail: Thru Hiking by Trail Quest
Planning for an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike by Deb Lauman of Go Backpacking
Planning an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike by Andy Somers of White Blaze
How did you plan for your Appalachian Trail thru-hike?
I would love feedback! Feel free to leave your comments, questions, and suggestions below.
If you need me, I’m just Two Tents Down!