Weather on the Appalachian Trail: 10 Things to Prepare You For Your Thru-Hike

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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:

Appalachian Trail Hiking: The Ultimate Guide to Starting the Appalachian Trail

For more information on how to get to the AT and when to go.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail: 10 Logistical Ideas to Help You Plan

This article will provide insights on how to make your adventure easier.

Weather on the Appalachian Trail: 10 Things to Prepare You For Your Thru-Hike

This one is essential, especially when choosing when to summit.

The Most Essential Weather Gear to Wear on the Appalachian Trail

Your gear could be the difference between completing the trail and not!

Performance Gear Essentials for the Appalachian Trail

An overview of clothes to wear.

How to Finish the Appalachian Trail Without Breaking a Sweat

For help getting back home. We wish you the best of luck on your journey! 

 

This article is going to address the diverse types of weather we experienced while hiking the Appalachian Trail. Because you are hiking both in the mountains and at sea level, the weather is diverse. Here are the top 10 weather considerations you need to understand so you can be prepared to complete your thru-hike.


Table of Contents


1.   Timing Your Hike

2.   Choosing the Right Base Clothes and Gear

3.   Understanding the Weather on the Appalachian Trail

4.   Dealing with Wet Weather on the Appalachian Trail

5.   Hiking in the Snow on the Appalachian Trail

6.   Lightning on the Appalachian Trail

7. Wind on the Appalachian Trail

8. Hot Weather on the Appalachian Trail

9.   Using Websites to Check the Weather on the Appalachian Trail

10.  Determining the Weather Without the Internet on the Appalachian Trail


 

1.   Timing Your Hike

The time of the year in which you hike will directionally determine the weather that you are going to experience. However, since this is a six-month journey over 14 states with varied elevations, you will need to be prepared for all types of weather. As with other parts of life that we cannot control, we cannot control the weather; we can only respond to it. But that does not mean we can’t be prepared. I wrote a post called What You Need to Know to Hike the Appalachian Trail to help you answer the question of when to hike the Appalachian Trail.

 

2.   Choosing the Right Base Clothes and Gear

When it comes to preparing for the weather and being outside, the gear you wear helps to improve your success. We purchased gear that was integrated and could be layered. Check out these two blog posts to see the performance clothes and our external weather gear clothes we wore.

 


3.   Understanding the Weather on the Appalachian Trail

Many different weather permutations can occur on the AT. You need to be prepared for all of them, but that can get overwhelming fast. To simplify things, we broke down the weather into four categories:


      I.         Cold weather: Temperature-based

     II.         Wet weather: Rain or snow

   III.         Windy weather: More than just a breeze

   IV.         Hot weather: Heat, humidity, and sun exposure

 

 In theory, the two extremes most commonly experienced on the AT are:

  • Wet, cold, and windy

  • Wet, hot, and windy

 

When we were preparing for the Appalachian Trail, we made sure we could handle these two weather extremes. In general, from a timing perspective, the wet, cold, and windy happened at the beginning of the trail in April and at the end of our journey in the New England states and high mountains. The wet, hot, and windy occurred in the middle. Regardless, we were prepared for all four types of weather because each of the four categories could be extreme by itself.

 

4.   Dealing with Wet Weather on the Appalachian Trail

Wet weather on the trail is hardest from a gear/clothing perspective. This is because it takes time for your equipment to dry. An often-overlooked issue is when there are multiple days of rain. If your clothes or gear cannot dry out, you must put them back on wet. If you’re wearing wet clothes, you run the risk of hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat. If your core body temperature goes below 95 degrees, it could cause respiratory or heart issues up to and including death.


 

When we were hiking in the Smoky Mountains, it rained for several days and we were unprepared. Both of us became sick and hid away in a hotel for a few days to recover. During that time off, we purchased new rain gear that could handle multiple days of weather. Two weeks later, it rained for a couple of days again on our hike, but this time, we were prepared. When we arrived at the shelter that night, there were 10 sets of eyes looking at us, completely worn out and miserable from the weather. While we were worn out too, we weren’t miserable. Unfortunately, this is an example of when someone might consider quitting the trail.

 

Pro tip: When you know it’s going to rain, you can book a room at a hostel or hotel and sneak inside for the night. Once you get there, hang up all your equipment as soon as possible to make sure it dries before you head out again.

 

5.   Hiking in the Snow on the Appalachian Trail

Let me start by saying that it did not snow on us when we were on the trail. It was wet, windy, and cold, but it didn’t snow. We started on April 13th and finished on October 6th. We strategically picked that period with the idea that avoiding the snow was ideal, if possible. However, if you start at an earlier date in Georgia, your chances of snow will increase. On the other hand, a couple of days after our summits on Mount Washington in Massachusetts and Mount Katahdin in Maine, it did snow and it delayed the hikers who were behind us. Regardless, we were still prepared with rain/snow and warm gear to wear.

 


Because Mount Washington is so high (6000 feet) and due to its position, it is considered one of the most extreme and severe places for weather. In 1934, Mount Washington recorded winds at 231mph, and it has hurricane-force winds 110 days (about 3.5 months) per year. This is not to scare you, but to encourage you to be realistic in your preparations.

 

6.   Lightning on the Appalachian Trail

Lightning, especially on ridgelines, can be extremely dangerous. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, four people have died on the Appalachian Trail after being struck by lightning. Familiarize yourself with this article from the ATC on what to do during a lightning storm.

 

7.   Wind on the Appalachian Trail

Most of the times that we experienced high winds were in the New England states with the high peaks. Since we were northbound thru-hiking, this was the last third of our adventure. It was cold and windy, but we had wind jackets and rain gear that protected us. Regardless of the temperature, high winds can be a problem because of the force behind it. The Beaufort scale provides a rating for wind speed. We determined that around 30-40mph winds on a high mountain would have us considering waiting it out.



8.   Hot Weather on the Appalachian Trail

Hot weather is serious when hiking the Appalachian Trail. Climbing high mountains with a heavy pack in hot weather is strenuous. You need to stay hydrated, monitor that you have regular urine output and that it’s light yellow in color. Your body may also have difficulty regulating temperature well. Here are a couple of things to consider: 

  • Sunburn – Some areas of the AT are at high elevations without tree cover, so you need to make sure you can cover up with clothes, an umbrella, or sunscreen, especially if you sunburn easy.

  • Heat cramping – This occurs from high activity in high heat with salt depletion, which is both painful and immobilizing.

  • Heat exhaustion – This occurs when the body can no longer regulate heat. The person has heat cramps along with cold and wet skin due to the body trying to sweat and cool off. When we were on the trail, an experienced hiker had heat exhaustion and needed an ambulance. Luckily, he was near a road to be picked up.

  • Heat stroke – Going beyond heat exhaustion, heat stroke is a life-threatening condition where a person cannot cool down and body temperatures rise to 106 degrees.

 

We made sure we stopped in the shade every four miles to take a break, eat, stretch, and drink water/electrolytes.



9.   Using Websites to Check the Weather on the Appalachian Trail

You must know the weather so you know how to prepare for it. We relied on a couple of different strategies.

  • AT Weather – Our most used website was atweather.org, which gives you the option of picking the trail (both the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Coast Trail are listed), the state, and the location based on a shelter. I added this website to my home screen on my phone to make it easy to access often.

  • Local weather app – We always looked at both our local weather and the above website to help give us several points of view. The local weather gives you an hourly perspective, which is helpful when rain is in the forecast.

  • Mountain Weather Forecast – We used this website when we made it to New Hampshire and Maine so we could see the specific weather on those mountains. Because you will be hiking on 4000-foot mountains or higher, knowing the weather is especially important in deciding when to summit.

  • NOAA Snow Analyses – If you want to research current and past snow maps and data, go here

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park Weather – Another suggestion is to look at this NPS site for Tennessee and North Carolina when you’re in the Smokies.


10.   Determining the Weather Without the Internet on the Appalachian Trail

What if you do not have access to the Internet, which is common on the Appalachian Trail? We used birds to help us. According to birdinformer, when the birds become quiet, it means that a storm is coming. On the other hand, we knew we could take off our rain gear when the birds started chirping again.

 

The other option is to look at the clouds. According to Instructables, you can read the weather based on the types of clouds. Go to their website to see examples of clouds and how to determine which clouds indicate rain.

 

Understanding the weather and being prepared for it is essential when hiking the Appalachian Trail. The more prepared you are, the more likely you will be in succeeding with your thru-hike of these 2,194 miles (about 3530.9 km). On the other hand, not being prepared could get you injured, push you to quit...or worse. We made mistakes on the trail and we got sick, and it cost us time and money to be stuck in a hotel. Make sure you also read about the performance clothes and weather gear we wore so you know what to look for when making your purchases.

 



Here is the complete list of the Appalachian Trail guides:



 

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