hiking the appalachian trail - the complete guide for beginners in 2021 - trailheads

hiking the appalachian trail - the complete guide for beginners in 2021 - trailheads

Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is certainly not a leisurely walk in the park. This 2,193-mile stretch of land, nature, and wildlife is not for the faint of heartit requires thorough research, rigorous preparation, and exceptional fortitude and resilience. Despite how intimidating that may sound, beginners can scale the Appalachian Trails numerous mountains and treat themselves to some of the most gorgeous views on earth. That journey begins with a single step: reading this resource page.

These are just some of the things you need to know: the trails history, the hike sections, how much money to prepare, gear needed, safety guidelines, and accommodations. If you want to read other specific sections, the table of contents has links you can click for faster navigation.

Take note that the information in this resource page will change from time to time to accommodate updates, ensuring that the content remains relevant and accurate. While this resource may not be the most exhaustive work on thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, this should provide you enough helpful information to make your preparations. For clarifications, comments, and other concerns, please don't hesitate to contact us.

Traversing 14 states, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, or the Appalachian Trail, is one of Americas most famous long-distance footpaths. The whole journey is 2,193 miles in length, showcasing the grandeur of nature including breathtaking valleys, meadows stretching as far as the eye can see, many mountain peaks and miles upon miles of forest. The Trail was opened to the public in 1937 and now accommodates short-term hikers, section hikers, and thru-hikers.

The Appalachian Trails history, just like its geographical coverage, is long and full of remarkable changes. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the proposal for the hiking trail was first presented in 1921, but the Trail was not technically completed until 2014 when a final major stretch was formally acquired and received permanent protection. To this day the Trail continues to evolve as more land is acquired or routes are slightly altered, often for conservation or sustainability reasons. In 2020 the Trail will officially be a few more miles in length than in 2019.

In 1921 a man named Benton MacKaye introduced his proposal for a hiking trail that would traverse the Appalachian Mountain range. Being a regional planner, he dreamed of a long-distance trail that would challenge hiking proponents of his day. Not a fan of the changing pace of life during the 1920s, MacKaye thought of the Trail as a way to reconnect with the land- a Utopian Refuge of sorts. He also wanted to establish self-sustaining camps near the Trail so visitors could appreciate the peaceful humility of mountain living.

It was said that the inspiration for the project dawned on MacKaye while he was perched on a treetop at Stratton Mountain in Vermont. One would guess that the inspiration came from the view, but colleagues describe MacKayes vision as more political and philosophical than pragmatic, largely influenced by the significant changes that transpired after World War I.

The Industrial Revolution brought about rapid economic growth, but the United States was still reeling from the effects of World War I. The clash between rural values and urban values culminated in the rise of the temperance movement and the Prohibition era, and the rise of gangsterism.

In 1925, several years after making his first proposal public, MacKaye and a few people who shared his dream established an organization dedicated to bringing his vision to reality. MacKaye and his followers held the Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC) to present a more concrete plan. They wished to create a walking trail that ran from Georgia to New England. The ATC would eventually become what we know as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, though the name would not be changed until 2005.

As one could expect from a project of this proportion, the path to its realization had its share of challenges. The project lagged initially due to lack of support. The group had succeeded in connecting the pioneering paths in the north, but little had been done in the south.

By the end of the 20s, a man named Arthur Perkins, a retired Connecticut Judge, took control of the project. Perkins in turn introduced Myron Avery to the effort. Avery ultimately succeeded Perkins in the leadership of the ATC and would become a very important name in the history of the Appalachian Trail.

But there was one major problem: Avery and MacKaye, the original founder, held contrasting views on the future of the Trail. While MacKayes vision was more philosophical and romantic, Averys was more practical. Avery was responsible for much of the actual construction effort and he pared back the project. It would no longer include the camps and farms that MacKaye had envisioned for reintroducing people to a life lived off the land. It would be simply a trail and its purpose would be to walk and experience the natural world. By 1935, MacKaye started to halt his personal involvement in the project and left Avery as the main overseer. Avery proved to be instrumental to moving the project forward, completing a footpath that stretched from Georgia to Maine two years later in 1937.

One of the major hurdles was legislative in nature. Congress authorized the Blue Ridge Parkway as an extension of Skyline Drive, displacing 120 miles (193 kilometers) of the Trail in the North. Avery famously referred to the event as a major catastrophe in the history of the Appalachian [Trail]. (Source)

Another was natural. A hurricane wreaked havoc in New England and rendered hundreds of trail miles impassable. Land disputes with private owners whose properties were traversed by the Trail also started to cause trouble. The lack of progress was further exacerbated by the Second World War, when many people were being drafted and resources were limited.

For these reasons, not much was accomplished during these tumultuous years until Earl Shaffer became the first man to hike the Appalachian Trail all the way through in 1948. Previously, thru hiking was thought impossible. Even the founders of the Trail had not foreseen the Appalachian Trail being hiked in its entirety. By breaking the myth, Shaffer inspired fellow hikers to take interest in this new challenge and the caretakers were inspired to renew their efforts on the project.

Much of the 50s and 60s were dedicated to refining the Appalachian corridor. But as urbanization started to creep into many of the previous rural areas, the ATC once again faced issues with encroachment. This time, the ATC sought legislative backing. These efforts were led by co-chairs Stanley Murray and Murray Stevens, who took over the organizations leadership after Averys passing.

Thankfully, their efforts were not in vain. In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson successfully made the Appalachian Trail the first national scenic trail under the National Park System by passing into law the National Trails System Act. Under this new law, the entire Appalachian Trail would be considered federal land. Despite this success, the long process of acquiring the Trail land and giving it protection took almost half a century.

Gene Espy completed the Trail in 1951, becoming the second person to thru hike the Trail. He wrote a book called The Trail of My Life, which moved more people to undertake the challenge. By 1969, 59 people had completed thru-hikes. But it was Ed Garveys book in 1971 that really sparked a surge in thru-hiking by raising public awareness of the Trail. After completing the Trail in 1970, Garvey inspired thousands by sharing his story in Appalachian Hiker. Here, he related not only the personal thoughts and emotions he experienced during his journey, but also practical information that benefited readers interested in following his footsteps.

The reality of how long it takes to hike the entirety of the Appalachian doesnt dawn on some hikers until they see in full detail how far the Trail stretches. This satellite image renders a birds-eye view of the staggering task that thru hikers are excited to undertake.

The Appalachian Trail crosses 14 U.S. states, from Georgia to North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and all the way to Maine. Overall, the Trail is 2,193 miles (3529.291 kilometers) long.

Many successful thru-hikers will agree that the Maine stretch is perhaps the toughest of the entire trail. Prepare to go through the infamous Mahoosuc Notch, the hardest mile of the Appalachian Trail, and the Hundred- Mile Wilderness that courses through the rugged state. Another well-known feature of the Trail is stream crossings without bridges, which you should traverse with care, especially when there are forecasts of rain or when the snow is thawing in the spring.

The New Hampshire part of the Trail, especially through the White Mountains, will test your endurance. Crossing Franconia Ridge and the Presidential Range is difficult. The New Hampshire Trail varies from 400-6,288 feet in elevation. But the hard work is worth it, because this is the state where you spend the most time above the treeline, promising scenic routes across ridges with uninterrupted vistas and stunning sunsets. This part of the Trail is a popular training ground for many hikers planning their thru hikes or preparing for other tough international expeditions.

Vermont is one of the easier parts of the Trail. Youll create fantastic memories of walking through a verdant forest (or, if youre passing through in the fall, gorgeous orange foliage), rolling hills, and fields. 100 miles of the AT in Vermont is shared with the Long Trail which runs from Massachusetts to Canada and is one of the oldest long distance hiking trails in the country. It was one of the very first trails to be incorporated into the Appalachian Trail. This section of the Trail is best used in late summer and early fall. In spring months- particularly in April and May, the rain can pour heavily on your path. Vermont has earned the nickname Vermud among hikers

Passing through the Massachusetts section of the Appalachian Trail treats you to dramatic landscape views atop the states highest point, Mount Greylock. Said to have inspired Herman Melville to write the literary classic Moby-Dick, Mount Greylock stands at an elevation of 3,491 feet (1 kilometer). The Trail runs through hills and valleys and even small towns. Youll be predominantly surrounded by nature, but without the distinct remoteness of the Maine wilderness

Georgia brings much to your Appalachian Trail wilderness experience. The Trail can sometimes be rugged, albeit navigable. Your journey will most likely start or end in this state atop Springer Mountain making it a memorable and emotional stretch of your journey regardless of the challenges it holds.

The Appalachian Trail runs through Kent, passing within two miles of our TrailHeads Headquarters. Connecticut is the gateway to New England. Unlike in the south, much of the Northern Trail does not have switchbacks. Switchbacks can make long climbs easier as you gain elevation more slowly. In Connecticut, though you may not go as far up, youll be headed straight up. The Trail passes over Bear Mountain, the highest peak in the state. There is also a wheelchair-accessible section of the Trail in Falls Village.

Sharing Tennessees state border for 224.7 miles (362 kilometers), the North Carolina part of the Trail stretches 5,498 feet (1.7 kilometers). This section contains the highest parts of the AT including Clingmans Dome - half in North Carolina and half in Tennessee, which rises to 6,643 feet. Remember you will need to secure a permit for hiking the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

In Bear Mountain State Park, you will pass through the lowest point of the Trail, which is at 124 feet (38 meters).The Trail passes within 30 miles of New York City and some hikers will choose to briefly leave the Trail and get a lift into the City for some urban adventure.

With elevation of up to 6,625 feet (2 kilometers), the Tennessee part of the Appalachian Trail will have you traversing incredibly high mountains. The Trail continues for 160 miles (257 kilometers) more, sharing North Carolinas state border. You will need a permit for hiking the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Be sure to secure one as you are planning your hike.

Despite being fairly close to civilization, New Jersey provides most hikers with the feeling of adequate off-gridness. The terrain is diverse; it has wetlands, bogs, steep slopes, flatlands, etc. New Jersey begins one of the sections of trail where you are more likely to encounter black bears. (Another hotspot for bear activity is in the Smokies.) On the off chance you meet a fuzzy new friend you should know how to keep your cool and make sure you have equipment to keep your food safe at night

Just like in Maryland, passing through West Virginia is a walk through history. The Appalachian Trail in West Virginia crosses through Harpers Ferry, home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the location of John Browns Fort, a Civil War museum, and several remarkable 19th-century structures.

If youre thinking of stopping in town, you will find refuge in several private bed-and-breakfasts, inns, and hostels. There is no camping allowed in the town, but there are some campgrounds nearby.

Ridges run through most of the Pennsylvania pathway of the Appalachian Trail, and they feature both rocky and flat arteries. Pennsylvanias nickname in the hiking community is rocksylvania. The southern part of these miles may allow leisurely walking and is probably the easiest of the whole trail, but the northern parts present some challenging descents. A fun part of the Pennsylvania trail is getting to the Half Gallon Challenge where thru hikers try to eat an entire half gallon of ice cream.

Virginias portion of the Appalachian Trail is the longest of any state. Fortunately, the path is dominated by easily navigable farmlands and flat paths. The combination of majestic scenes and leisurely trail makes it perfect for those who are still testing the waters in hiking.

Maryland is one of the most historical parts of the Appalachian Trail. Maryland is rich in civil history and is the location of the original Washington Monument. The hike is moderate in difficulty. The best months to hike through the Maryland section of the Trail are from the middle of April to the middle of June or from September to October.

Where you stay during your hike will depend on many factors. What kind of accomodation is available depends on the state you are in and whether camping is permitted or not. For example in the Smokies you are required to stay in shelters due to high wildlife activity. This is part of the reason why you must obtain a permit for hiking this section.

You should pack and prepare for a variety of accommodation, meaning even if you intend to make a lot of use of shelters you should have a tent along in case you need to spend a night camping. You should also consider having a bit of cash on you as the occasional shelter has a small fee, or sometimes hikers opt to spend a night in town at a motel to take a brief break from the Trail.

Part of the development of the Appalachian Trail has been the setting up of shelters where hikers can rest during their journey. Currently, there are 260 such shelters, distributed along the Trails 2,193-mile length. Usually, you can find one roughly every 8.5 miles (13 kilometers). Some can be farther apart and are located a few miles from the Trails main path

You can easily recognize these shelters- often made from wood, usually resembling small log cabins, and typically a lean-to style with three walls and an open front. The wooden floor is elevated a couple of feet from the ground to prevent damp from seeping in to prolong the life of the shelter. Some can look like small barns, while some can resemble custom-made homes.

These shelters can typically house up to eight people, and hikers can occupy them on a first-come, first-served basis. However, some parts of the Trail require you to secure reservations. In some areas, special permits, registrations, and payments have to be made in order to have the use of the shelters.

A durable, lightweight tent is a staple for every Appalachian Trail hiker. It is one of the most important investments you can make. Secure one that can get you through wet and snow, sun and rain. Whether youre a flip-flop hiker, section hiker, or thru-hiker, a great tent ensures adequate protection, shelter, and rest on days when you need to camp out. Learn more about choosing the perfect tent for your Appalachian Trail journey here.

Harpers Ferry in West Virginia, which can be accessed via the Amtrak trains that travel daily to and from Washington, DC. Union Station or the Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC). There are two trains operating every day, morning and evening, no weekends.

There are various transit points for anyone whod like to arrive at an access point of the Appalachian Trail by bus. However, they are not available in all 14 states. If youre traveling in cities without bus transits to the Trail, you are better off using a car. You can either rent, get a lift from a friend or use a rideshare service, to take you to the trailhead.

There is a special sort of community that develops while on the Trail. Hikers might start out on their own, but they will often form groups and friendships with others walking a similar pace. When a group like this forms it is known as your tramily.

A rite of passage and distinguishing element of the AT community is taking on a trail name. Hikers rarely refer to one another by their given names. Instead those who are thru hiking will adopt a new moniker of their choice. It often has something to do with your personality, appearance, or particular aspect of your identity while on the Trail. You can choose your own trail name or ask another hiker to come up with one for you

But the Trail community is wider than just those who are thru hiking it in a particular year. There are Trail Angels (practitioners of trail magic), and Ridge Runners - employees for the ATC who frequently hike and take care of a particular stretch of trail, Caretakers who for periods of the year live in and look after particular shelters, and many volunteers who work to protect and maintain the Trail so it can be used for generations to come.

In the simplest terms, Trail Magic can only be described as a tradition of gratitude. Trail Magic is the small acts of generosity and kindness that one individual gives another on the Trail.

Throughout the years, hikers from all walks of life have shared their own stories of receiving kindness from strangers. They talk about finding food items left at a shelter, a cooler filled with water or beer at a trailhead, being offered a ride into town or a place to stay for the night. This culture of selfless giving inspires those who have been helped to help in return, creating a cycle of generosity.

The term Trail Angels refers to individuals who directly give assistance to hikers during their journey. They may be ridge runners, hiker-feeding organizers, or a kind stranger who gives you a ride to the next town.

The Appalachian Trail became the extraordinary beloved path that it is today because of the incredible men and women who put in the time and effort to build and protect it. At the heart of the Appalachian Trail community are the volunteers who tirelessly contribute to trail-related work including maintaining the pathways and the shelters and manning the visitor centers.

If you wish to become an AT volunteer you can explore the opportunities here. Many States have their own club dedicated to preserving their stretch of trail. And there are frequent work days led by the clubs that are open to the public.

If you want to spend a day away from city noise or the minutiae of your everyday routine, a day hike through a portion of the Appalachian Trail is what you need. Take a leisurely stroll or a whole-day hike, either alone or with a partner or group

Since the Appalachian Trail has a fair number of road crossings and entrances it is not hard to find a section that can be done in a day. A lot of people choose to hike out and back along the A.T. to experience particular peaks

Some people do this in preparation for hiking the entire trail. Others with time constraints prefer this shorter alternative to the months-long journey of thru-hiking. There are some people who complete the Appalachian Trail by section hiking a different portion each year

Encompassing the states of Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, the Southern Mountains present the first notable challenges to the Trails NOBO thru-hikers. The terrain is characterized by wooded mountains, grasslands, and beautiful, scenic pathways. The Southern Mountains contain the highest climbs of the Trail, but due to the use of switchbacks they can be easier than the steep ascents found in New England

Situated in the Virginias is the site of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters. This section of the Trail runs through two states, Virginia and West Virginia, which are, respectively, the longest and the shortest parts of the Trail. Passing through the Virginias means passing through tall ascents and descents, and navigating ridges, as well as some pleasant ambles.

The Mid-Atlantic features low-elevated terrains through wetlands and ridges, rocky terrains, and farms. The Mid-Atlantic is also characteristically remote compared to other sections of the trail, although thru-hikers do pass by interstates, freeways, and towns at certain points. The Mid-Atlantic trail section covers Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

NOBO hikers will find their final, yet arguably most difficult challenge in the mountains of New England. If you are hiking southbound, this part offers a challenging start. From Vermont through New Hampshire and Maine, steep ascents and descents, muddy trails (especially during fall and spring months), and rocky slopes will put your skills to the test. But the effort is not without the reward of notable lake scenes and stunning mountainscapes that will pull you forward and refresh your morale. While much of the Appalachian Trail is referred to as the green tunnel due to the amount of time spent in the forest, the White Mountains of New Hampshire allow you to peak out above the treeline and enjoy some truly epic vistas.

If youre a beginner in hiking, you are better off finding an alternative route around the Mahoosuc Notch, considered the most difficult mile of the entire Appalachian Trail. Prepare to pass through this rugged wilderness over colossal boulders. Only the most seasoned hikers are encouraged to do this day hike

This challenging ascent gains an elevation of more than 4,000 feet in just 5 miles through rocky ridges. But it is also, undoubtedly, one of the most scenic and astounding mountains to climb. Baxter Peak on Katahdin is the Northern Terminus of the A.T.

Hikers can expect a steep rock face at Mount Madison, which is almost 3,000 feet high and reaches that elevation in only 2.6 miles of path. It is recommended that you start your hike as early in the day as possible

The lowest elevation point of the Trail can be found before climbing the steep, rugged assault of Anthonys Nose. Anthonys Nose itself can be completed within a day or even an afternoon since its very short, but the difficult terrain presents a great challenge.

You will pass through the ridgelines that weave through the Cherokee National Forest and traverse the remaining miles to Cross Mountain. You are likely to pass and stay at the highest shelter on the AT, the Roan High Knob Shelter.

A staggering 7,000-foot ascent is rewarded with amazing waterscapes and scenic vistas. Past the Three Ridges Wilderness, you will find the Hanging Rock Vista, Chimney Rock Vista, and Flat Rock Vista. Camping is easy on the waterside.

A few days of forest hike through waterfalls and over mountaintops highlight the Taconic Highlands hike. This route can also be experienced through day hikes accessed from Route 41 in the Housatonic Valley.

If you love the water, passing through the rich waterscapes along this route will surely be a treat. The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area offers plenty of hiking routes in the area aside from the AT.

The Blue Mountains Trail is home to Hawk Mountain, famous for migratory raptors that grace the wilderness every fall. Hikers are serenaded with marvelous farmland sceneries and the sheer beauty of the cliffs, Bake Oven Knob, and Pinnacle

The Springer Mountain Trail takes you close to the original AT footpath, the Benton MacKaye Trail. The peaks of the mountain forest conclude in a grassy montage and descend into spectacular oak valleys.

The rugged mountainscapes that dot the Presidential Range make it one of the most reputably difficult of the short hike trails. The Kinsman Range and the terrains of Mount Washington and Mount Moosilauke create a network of arduous and dramatic passes that inclement weather can make less navigable. However, the views are as rewarding as they are difficult to get to.

This section is an easy trail that is highly recommended for beginners or hikers who just want a leisurely time ambling through nature. The wildlife you will encounter is plenty and diverse, and there are shops nearby. The Trail also presents fewer climbs.

Flip Flop hikers complete the full trail, but they do it in a nonlinear fashion, completing a section and then getting transported to the start of another section moving up and down the Trail in any number of ways until they have been through all the sections. Though there are any number of possibilities to divide up the Trail some popular flip flop routes have developed over the years. Flip flop hiking is less common, but it helps you avoid crowds on the Trail since many people will start within a fairly short time frame at one of the traditional terminuses.

When to hike: beginning of April. This is recommended for those who want to get started early and have plenty of time on their hands to finish the thru-hike. It is an easier start to your thru hike.

Appalachian Trail hikers are guided by trail markers that help them stay on track throughout their journey. These markings, called blazes, are distributed at fairly regular intervals from one another. If a hiker fails to see any blazes or other trail markings for more than a quarter of a mile, they are advised to retrace their path until they can see a trail marker again

Blazes are vertical rectangles two to six inches in length. Blazes marking the main Trail are painted in white on tree bark, rock surfaces, and signposts to guide hikers along the Appalachian Trail.

Blue blazes mark anything on the Trail thats not part of the official route. In most cases, these side trails lead to a water source, an awesome bit of scenery, a shelter or campsite. Sometimes, they can also signify an alternate route where you can rejoin the main Trail some miles up or down the path

Blaze marks on parts of the Trail situated above the tree line may not be easily seen when theres fog or snow. In these areas rock cairns sometimes signal hikers where the path leads and help them to avoid getting lost.

Parts of the Trail pass through towns and residential areas. This can make it easy for you to continually resupply along the way. However, there are a few remote sections, such as the 100-mile wilderness in Maine, where you will have to carry extra supplies. There are other towns that dont have many options to re-supply. In these areas consider having a friend or family member send you a pre-prepared re-supply package to the local post office. This is referred to as a mail drop. Some businesses, particularly outfitters along the Trail, will also accept re-supply packages, but you should call ahead to ask.

Bring a map or compass. The Trail is marked, but you never know when an emergency may warrant the need for accurate direction. Or if you prefer a more modern approach there are also apps such as Guthook Guides that can provide trail maps, stats and updated information on water sources and shelter details.

Make use of bear containers to keep your food safe. Some states will allow you to hang a bear bag instead. Check the regulations in each state you are passing through. If you encounter a black bear, keep calm, and speak in a loud, monotone voice to encourage the animal to move on.

Dont agitate snakes when you encounter one. Act calm and walk away, or let it pass. There are some venomous snakes who make the Trail their home. In general acquainting yourself with the types of wildlife you may encounter and how to recognize them is helpful before setting out.

The Trail is not just long but also, in critical parts, difficult. It pays to travel light. Dont bring extra gear. The Trail does vary some in climate so you may want to send extra clothing home in hotter areas, or have warm gear in specific re-supply boxes that you can pick up as you go. You will learn what is and isnt necessary for you as you hike. Dont be afraid to go through your pack and send extra gear home or leave it in hiker boxes for others who may need it.

The weather is one of the most challenging factors even for seasoned hikers. Plan your journey beforehand, and preferably, trek during months when the weather is good. When you can, check the forecast before leaving shelter each morning so you know what to expect from the day.

There are a lot of ascents and descents. The Appalachian Trail was designed to bring people to the mountains, so when there is a choice between going around or going up, the path always goes up.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park requires hikers to present a permit and pay a small fee for overnight use. Shenandoah National Park also asks for a permit, but no fee is required. Baxter State Park requires a free permit if you are a long-distance hiker.

A backpack that has all the right features isnt the only thing you need when packing. Knowing what to pack and how to pack correctly all ensure that your travel load is as lightweight as possible during your trip.

The items you use while hiking should be placed in your backpacks pockets. Items you use on your break (e.g., toiletries or lunch) should be situated at moderate-access areas like the front pocket or the top pouch. Meanwhile, things that you will be using only at camp should be located in the middle or at the bottom of your pack.

Keep your lighter gear at the bottom and top internal cavities; the heavy ones, in the middle of the pack. By properly distributing the weight of your pack, you prevent it from straining your shoulders and hurting your back.

Remember that you will be carrying your backpack throughout your journey. If you are thru-hiking, thats an incredibly long time to be carrying a pack that gives you back and muscle pains. When purchasing make sure you get the right fit and learn how to adjust the straps properly for the correct placement. Always carry your pack on both shoulders and use the chest and hip straps to help distribute weight.

According to a survey conducted among 150 hikers in 2016, the average base weight of their packs was 20 pounds 5 pounds. Base weight is everything you have in your pack at all times, essentially your gear. Water and food will bring your pack weight up and down as you consume and re-supply.

There are some hikers who define themselves as Ultra Light who do everything they can to trim down their load, from cutting off excess fabric on their backpack to trimming down their toothbrush handle.

Anyone can hike the Appalachian Trail regardless of prior experience in hiking. However, that doesnt mean you should start the Trail unprepared. It can be tough for first-time hikers who have to learn trail knowledge in theory. You should do proper research and, if possible, training prior to your thru hike to help ensure your own safety and the safety of others on the Trail.

There are many different ways to train physically for an AT thru-hike. Some hikers practice hiking smaller trails first to improve their stamina. However, you can also engage in other training methods:

You may want to do some mental training as well. On the Trail you might be on your own for fair stretches of time. Meditation is a very good option for some. It has you practicing your breathing and taking control of your internal world. As well as developing calm you will also need to be confident in your ability to problem solve. Practice how to be self-reliant when using your gear, know all the SOPs when encountering wild animals, and what to do in an emergency.

A typical AT hiker consumes anywhere between 2,500 and 4,500 calories on a daily basis. The number varies with every individuals weight and metabolism. On the Trail, you are advised to eat as much and as often as you can to keep up with your daily walking ritual.

When youre out on the Trail youre likely to hear the term hiker hunger which develops as you progress in your thru hike. Hiker hunger is both the continual day-dreaming about, and urge to eat food all day long, and the ability to actually eat massive amounts - much more than would ordinarily satisfy you. Many hikers keep snacks that they can munch on in the pockets of their backpack to eat between meals.

Hikers on the AT typically wont have difficulties finding water to drink, though there are some states where longer water carries may be necessary during dry spells. AT maps and guidebooks readily list the location of common water sources. Some hiking apps also have information on water sources - since apps like Guthook Guides can be updated by current hikers you may get more recent information than in a guide book, which will help you know what sources are flowing and which have gone dry. You should also check for updates from the ATC who sometimes give information on particularly notable trail conditions on their site or via their social media.

The locations of shelters are usually close to springs, streams, lakes, and riversall of which are naturally abundant along the Appalachian Trail. When possible it is better to choose a flowing water source rather than a stagnant one. Choose springs, streams, and rivers over lakes and ponds when possible. Always treat and purify the water before you consume it.

The average cost of hiking the Appalachian Trail per month is roughly $1,000. You spend this on gear expenses, trail outlays, accommodations (sometimes), and the necessary conveniences you get from some towns you pass through. Mostly you will spend it on food.

Buying brand-new gear or upgrading your existing equipment entails spending a fair amount. Prepare to spend anywhere between $1,000 and $2,000 or more for gear. Since a lot of hiking gear is long lasting equipment it is often possible to find secondhand gear as a less expensive option.

There are also hiker boxes along the way. Some shelters, outfitters, or hostels have a box where hikers can leave behind equipment that they have found they no longer need, sometimes including partially used fuel canisters. Hikers are welcome to look through and take whatever they need, so remember to ask if there is a hiker box when youre re-supplying.

Most gear expenses will be paid for before beginning your hike. Month to month- if you packed correctly - you should be spending relatively little on gear. Youll need to pick up new fuel for cooking, occasionally it will be necessary to replace something that breaks and possibly youll have to buy a new pair of shoes along the way, but most of your gear you should already have.

On average, a hiker spends $50 to $100 a day when staying in towns they pass through on the AT. This is money spent on hostels and inns, restaurants, restaurant meals, laundry services, transportation etc.

You may encounter black bears on the Appalachian Trail. They are not commonly seen, and they rarely confront people. Sightings of black bears are more common along certain sections of the Trail, such as Shenandoah National Park and parts of New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Bears dont often come into contact with humans unless they are in search of food. At shelters and camps youll be less likely to experience an encounter if you are careful about how you store your food supply. Use bear boxes when available and bear canisters or bear bags when they are not. Practicing proper care with your food storage along the Trail will help keep both you and the bears safe.

If you come across one while you are walking on the Trail remember to stay calm. Most bears and other creatures will hear or smell you and move off well before you arrive. If you are hiking alone or are nervous about wildlife you may want to consider making an occasional deliberate noise. Talk or sing to yourself or carry a bell.

Other large mammals on the Trail include deer, elk, and moose. While it is absolutely incredible to see any of these creatures in person you should be cautious when confronted with any animals. Just because the teeth and claws are not as sharp does not make an animal less dangerous when provoked.

Aside from these, bobcats, chipmunks, river otters, beavers, squirrels, woodchucks, foxes, boars, racoons, porcupines and coyotes all call the Appalachian Trail home. Popular bird species along the AT include the ruffed grouse, raven, mourning dove, eagle, wild turkey, wood ducks, warbles, hawks, and owls.

You should have a healthy respect for all the wildlife you come across. Remember that while you are on the Trail you are passing through their homes. By being cautious you are protecting both yourself and the animals.

The Trail has earned the nickname the Green Tunnel for a reason. The Appalachian Mountains are home to expansive forests with a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees. There are miles of woodland dotted with sprawling acres of fir and spruce, sugar maple, buckeye, beech, birch, red oak, and white oak in the North. Southward, you will find vast forests of poplar, hickory, walnut, and sycamore. The western slopes of the Smokies have hemlocks, and chestnut oaks.

The Appalachian Trail is renowned for its distance. However, to those who are unfamiliar with the challenges and athleticism involved in backpacking, the Trail can be misunderstood as just a really long walk. Outsiders believe that the length constitutes the bulk of the difficulty and that there is not much danger. But that is not the whole truth.

Certain sections of the Trail present risky obstacles that even the most seasoned hikers find difficult. You need to be careful of dehydration and practice proper health and sanitation to avoid health problems while on the Trail. While most people you encounter on the Trail are friendly, you should practice basic safety precautions. It is important to be aware of what you might face on the Trail for your safety and for the safety of others.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) is encouraging hikers to get the COVID vaccine as soon as possible. As a result of widespread vaccinations and A.T. states relaxing COVID restrictions, the ATC has resumed the 2,000-Miler recognition program as well as the distribution of A.T. 2021 Hangtags. They do recommend continuing to social distance and carrying a mask to wear when social distancing is not a viable option. They also suggest avoiding large groups of people, not sharing food, washing your hands frequently and using personal shelters over A.T. ones even if they are available. Many shelters and visitor centers have reopened, but not all of them. You can check the status of shelters here: https://appalachiantrail.org/explore/plan-and-prepare/hiking-basics/health/covid19/a-t-restrictions/.

As with any activity a person undertakes there are some health risks associated with hiking the Trail. Since on the Appalachian Trail you will be further away from professional medical care than usual its in your best interest to be familiar with the most common health hazards hikers may encounter and what to do should you experience them.

You will be passing through areas that have high populations of ticks, mosquitoes, and black flies. It helps to have bug repellant and in your first aid kit consider having some kind of bite treatment. Of these annoyances, ticks are the biggest worry.

Ticks are present in all 14 states of the Appalachian Trail. Ticks thrive in areas with an elevation below 2,000 to 2,500 feet. They are especially common in the months of May through July and in the states of Virginia and Vermont. Ticks live close to their host populations, which include mammals like rodents, and deer and sometimes even birds. Youll find them in areas with lots of brush.

It is unlikely you will contract rabies, but since you will be closer to wildlife than usual know that foxes, bats, raccoons, and other small animals can be carriers of rabies, a viral disease that results in inflammation of the brain in humans and other mammals.

To protect against rabies keep a healthy distance from wildlife - which you should attempt to do anyway - and in particular do not approach animals who are acting outside of the normal behavior patterns for that species. For example do not approach nocturnal creatures who are out during the day.

Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea. Norovirus can be transmitted by contact with an infected person, contaminated surfaces, or by consuming contaminated food or water sources.

If you are sensible and cautious you should be able to easily avoid most of the health hazards the Trail has to offer. Should you become sick seek medical attention at the nearest town.

The shelters distributed along the length of the AT have their own privies. If you need to go before you reach any of the shelters, the SOP is to dig a six-to-eight-inch-deep cathole where you can dispose of and bury your waste.

Most hikers will only have the opportunity to shower when they pass through towns and stay in inns or hostels. If you feel like refreshing in the backcountry, you can use wipes or sponges. Wash yourself at least 200 feet away from any water source to avoid contaminating drinking water.

Hot Springs is as cozy as it sounds. Rich in local history and teeming with natural charm, this beautiful town along the AT tempts some hikers to spend a day or two to explore its music, nature, and great food.

The characteristic friendliness of this AT town is what makes Damascus a favorite among AT hikers. Be sure to visit Hey Joes Tacos for special burritos before you go on your way. Damascus hosts a celebration called Trail Days each year.

This quaint little town in Virginia has that small-town feel to it that many hikers from big cities love. Check out Mings for delightful eats and Stanimals 328 Hostel for a great stay.

Monson is a lakeside town with a great, friendly vibe. Its the first town SOBOs reach and the last town NOBOs can stop at before completing the 100 Mile Wilderness. Coming from either direction youll be looking to resupply here.

Lots of hikers love to spend a day at this lovely New Hampshire town. Its home to Dartmouth College, which means food and beverages are plentiful. This New England hub just makes it hard to turn down a zero day.

Mount Airy is the boyhood home of Andy Griffith of the Andy Griffith Show and is rumoured to be the inspiration for Mayberry. Bluegrass and acoustic music are a large part of the towns culture and history.

Many of Americas country music legends come from Pikeville. It must be the surrounding nature or the plentiful activities you can enjoy on a nice day in this majestic Kentucky town. Check out great food at Blue Raven.

If theres one thing to love about Chestertown, its the charming, friendly locals. Dont forget to stop by the Bullhouse, a restaurant that serves comfort food influenced by Latin American cuisine.

Be careful when stopping at Walhalla as you may decide to postpone your hike. This lovely South Carolina town is blessed with the most amazing natural sites and waterscapes. If that does not charm you into staying, then the steak at the local Steak House will. Hit the Esso Club for a fun time.

Bramwell is just one of those places that will make you yearn for small town America. Situated beneath Pinnacle Rock State forest, this all-American town maintains its grace and charisma. Dont miss the famed Bramwell Oktoberfest, renowned among connoisseurs of mountain music and craft beer.

Stratton is a ski town, perfect for days spent learning a new sport or taking a side hike to the summit. Visit the popular swimming hole at Pike Falls, and perhaps embark on a paddling adventure at the Batten Kill River.

A southern city home to the hilltop Lynchburg College is located east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. While youre here, dont miss Texas Inn, where you can get a taste of their classic Cheesy Western burger, which is an absolute delight.

Well admit it. Were rather partial to our quaint hometown. Kents main street is an easy distance from the Trail. You can grab a bite at one of Kents many restaurants. Theres a public bathroom with a shower that hikers can make use of and youll also find a hiker box in town.

Spring Creek Tavern and Inn is located right on the Trail, offering hikers, rafters, and tourists a quaint little place to enjoy a nice break with great food and excellent atmosphere. The tavern features outdoor seating overlooking Spring Creek. Overnight stay is available just above the tavern.

A small-town brewery with a big-city spirit, Damascus Brewery offers a great selection of beers that will quench the thirst and curiosity of passing tourists and thru-hikers. Of course, the fun time is never complete without great music.

The Devils Backbone Brewery is renowned among thru-hikers as a place of generosity. Once you arrive at Reeds Gap, call up the brewery, and itll send a shuttle to pick you upyoure home! Help yourself to gracious amounts of food and award winning beers.

Sarges offers a homey selection of beverages with an undeniably formidable character that is very accommodating to passing hikers. The people are amazing, the beer is great, and the place, unforgettable.

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