Seven things you need to know before thru hiking the Appalachian Trail

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By Robyn Smith

We know, we know. Bill Bryson didn’t make it look easy, but he wrote a book about it and now he’s famous! Well, he was already popular and one of his friends almost died during the trip, so no, you can’t just thru hike, or hike the entirety of, the legendary Appalachian Trail.

You have to prepare far in advance. Here are seven things you should know:

1. Plan for a five to eight month-long trip: The A.T. (as many hikers refer to it) spans across 14 states and covers 2,190 miles that require occasional rock scrambling, climbing and scaling. At eight miles a day, it’ll take you 272 and a half days.

2. Know your terrain before you go: There are guidebooks to this trail published every year. You should take the time to read some of them so that you have an idea of what your body is about to endure.

3. There are about 270 campsites throughout the whole trail: Depending on your speed of the day, you might not make it to one by dusk, so carry a tent or a tarp with you and learn how to pitch it by heart.

4. You may have to bury your own waste: The A.T. has a Leave No Trace policy, which asks you to bury both your and your pet’s waste if neither of you went in one of its privies.

5. It saves the worst for last: The conservancy broke the trail up into five different regions, and most hikers travel northbound, beginning in Georgia. The northernmost region, which goes through New Hampshire and Maine, has the fewest resupply stations and the toughest terrain.

6. The best inn-to-inn hiking is in Virginia: The towns are closer together in Shenandoah National Park, allowing for hikers to stay locally rather than camp out. In other areas, the towns can be 50 miles apart, so take advantage there if you can afford it.

7. Cotton is your worst enemy (besides rain): You have to prepare for the worst weather. One part of that preparation includes banning cotton from the trip — especially cotton socks. Wet cotton is not only uncomfortable, it contributes to hypothermia.

For a more comprehensive guide to thru hiking the whole trail, check out this information packet from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Good luck out there.



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