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We completed our northbound thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail (AT) in 2022 and it was one of the most difficult and rewarding experiences of our lives. The difficulty is not only from the number of miles but also the terrain, obstacles, steep ups and downs – and the weather! We started the AT on April 13, 2022 and finished on October 6, 2022. We put this Appalachian Trail series together to get you from the start to the finish successfully.
Here is an overview of the series:
For more information on how to get to the AT and when to go.
This article will provide insights on how to make your adventure easier.
This one is essential, especially when choosing when to summit.
Your gear could be the difference between completing the trail and not!
An overview of clothes to wear.
For help getting back home. We wish you the best of luck on your journey!
Because there are many variables when going on such a long journey, we wanted to provide some lessons we learned. Here are ten considerations to help you plan your AT hike.
Table of Contents
1. Getting Off the Trail to Do Chores
Chores off the trail can be broken down into three parts: getting to the hotel/hostel, doing laundry, and resupplying food. Our goal was to simplify these tasks to make completing them as efficient as possible so we could spend more time resting.
However, a little honesty first: We never went into town, resupplied, and then left. If we went into town, we stayed overnight. The pull of a shower and a bed was too strong. Similarly, we never took a zero (no hiking miles) on the trail. If I’m on the trail, I’m going to hike. Finally, we tried to limit our zeros at hotels, although sometimes you just need it and that is okay. We decided it was better for us to do a nero (some hiker miles) of around 5-8 miles the day we were going into town and then leave the next morning.
2. Hotels and Hostels
Deciding when to go into town is based on food. We planned the amount of food on where we were going to stay next. This does not leave room for error because if we did not hit our mile deadlines, we could run out of food, although we never did. When staying at a hotel, we look for our ability to do laundry and resupply in the same location. A bonus was if the hotel included a free breakfast. Another bonus was if the town had a restaurant (and a place to get a beer), too. Quality Inns are a good option for this reason. Don’t forget to inquire about a thru-hiking discount. We found most places offered one. Another option is staying at a bed and breakfast. Some establishments offer a free shuttle to/from trail and also to resupply.
Food is one of the biggest logistical problems on the trail. You will be able to purchase food at gas stations, supermarkets, Dollar General stores, and Walmart, but choices may be limited. Depending on the location, you may have all these options or only one. Unfortunately, there will be times when the stores are not close, so you will need to hitchhike, take a shuttle or bus, walk, or take a taxi. We typically bought and carried between 4-7 days of food. The first day back on trail is always the worst because your hiking bag is the heaviest, but this is life on the trail.
Another idea is to have food sent to the hostel/hotel. We ordered from Amazon and Walmart for our supplies to reduce costs, reduce our chores, and ensure we got the food we wanted. To do this, reserve the next place and make sure it allows a mail drop. Instacart may be another resource, but we never tried this option. Because the Appalachian Trail is in rural areas, this may not be possible.
4. Eating on the Appalachian Trail
Here is what we ate on the AT and how we were able to get mostly everything mailed. We are creatures of habit with our food, so repeating was not an issue. We wanted the right food nutritionally and this is how we did it.
Protein bars and protein powder were our friends, but they are heavy. You are working out all day, every day, so we wanted protein to reduce hunger and build muscle. I ate two protein bars every day. Personally, I like Cliff Builders protein bars and Liza likes Power Crunch Bars.
Dehydrated meals are a good option. We liked Peak Performance and Mountain House Pro to ensure we were getting our protein and calories. We split these dinners every night. Sometimes if we needed extra calories, we would add a packet of chicken.
Oatmeal is a great breakfast. We bought the protein version and mixed in peanut butter and protein powder. We prepared this the night before as a cold soak using water.
Trail mix was my go-to snack and I never tired of it; unfortunately, this is heavy and does not come in small bags. I would purchase a large bag and just carry it. Liza liked to eat dried fruit like banana chips and coconut
Lunch was variety of anything we could find to eat and enjoy. Typically, we ate a chicken or fish package with mayonnaise on a wrap with cheese, or a peanut butter sandwich with honey. We would also have packets of cracker sandwiches like Lance’s Captain’s Wafers.
If we didn’t have access to power bars, we would supplement with Snickers bars. But to be honest, we actually preferred power bars.
Bonus: When you go into town, pack out a sandwich the next day for lunch. Our bellies smiled whenever we did this!
There are no Ubers, Lyfts, or taxi cabs and you probably won’t have service anyway. Getting off the trail and getting back on wasn’t easy. We used buses and shuttle drivers, or we hitchhiked or walked.
Shuttle drivers: The shuttle drivers are your expensive friends. Do not fight with them. They are part of their own network and cover large areas. You may need them again in another town or they could call other drivers and warn them about you.
Hitchhiking: It is one of the biggest reliefs when a car gives you a ride when in need. Looking back, I am still grateful for the angels who stopped for us. There are two ways we were able to hitchhike:
The typical way of putting out a thumb
Approaching a stopped car and asking if they were going in our direction. We let them know we would pay. They always refused our money even when we insisted.
Yes, you need to be careful when you get into someone’s car; unfortunately, there are times when there is no other way. Be careful, stay alert, and make sure you get in with your bag at the same time. If you can, try to hitchhike with someone. If a driver stops and you feel uncomfortable about it, you can politely refuse and walk away.
6. Exercise and Stretching
We hiked (almost) every day – why would we do other exercises? Unfortunately, men lose most of their upper body strength from hiking every day. Doing push ups helped to keep or build my upper body strength. I did 100 push ups six days a week as soon as I could after waking up. I do not regret it and still do them. Start slow and build up over time.
While there’s an opportunity cost to taking a break, it also means that you get a rested body, clear mind, and the mental fortitude to continue the trail. When we stopped to rest, we tried to stretch, drink water, and relax. If you need it, take the break.
7. Going to the Bathroom on the Trail
We used a bidet from www.hellotushy.com. There are other travel bidets, but we felt this was the best because it had both the spout and container combined. The other ones have just the spout which you add to your water bottle, but I was worried about contamination. Having a bidet ensured our comfort and cleanliness on the trail. This was my luxury item and I’ll use it whenever I travel. Liza loved her Circe Care Pee Cloth and highly recommends it over other brands.
8. Bears, Bears, Bears…
We saw bears on the trail and it was exciting. We never felt in danger or had any evidence of them coming into our campsite. We followed the rules of putting everything into our bear bags (including toothpaste) and hung them using the PCT method. We also cooked away from our tent, but halfway through the trail, we changed our strategy and we ended up wishing we started this way.
We purchased an Ursack sack along with odorless bags. Inside the Ursack sack, we used our ultralight Dyneema food bags because they are waterproof and the Ursack sack is not. We bought the 30L AllMitey Bear and Critter sacks, but for one person, you need a 10 or 15L sack.
Why did we switch? It is much easier to hang the Ursack bag, especially at night when you are exhausted. What started out as a potentially 30-minute ordeal turned into a leisurely five minutes. The Smoky Mountains is the only section where Ursack bags must be hung using the PCT bear bag method.
9. Bugs, Bugs, Bugs…
The mosquitoes were not as bad as we expected. Normally, Liza will be bitten proportionally more than me, but neither of us got too many bites. We had purchased bug repellent, and if you decide to purchase a bottle, we would recommend getting a lotion instead of the spray because the spray leaks and can ruin your equipment. My DEET exploded in my bag and ruined my phone. Even though the mosquitoes weren’t bad, the gnats, on the other hand, were relentless. I was grateful that I had sunglasses to protect my eyes and a Buff to protect my ears from them. When it was really bad, I put on my bug net.
10. Special Notice for Hiking in Pennsylvania
Bonus tip: The mile marker to cross the Mason-Dixon line into Pennsylvania is 1,067 and has been given the name Rocksylvania for a reason. You are in Pennsylvania for 230 miles, but with so many rocks on trail, it feels endless. Since we changed our shoes every 500 miles, this is a perfect time to switch. Consider getting shoes with hard bottoms. I did not do this and wore trail runners the entire time; however, this was something that I thought about every step of the way. Change back to trail runners afterward.
Going on this long adventure is complicated because of so many moving parts. The better you manage them, the more time you’ll have to relax and recover. We never considered leaving the trail despite the tough days. I think it’s because we were able to get these things done simply and efficiently. You are part of a long line of hikers who have journeyed on this beautiful trail and completed it. Great luck with your adventure and if you find other ideas, please come back and share them.
Here is the complete list of the Appalachian Trail guides:
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