Hiking the length of the Appalachian Trail is a dream for many hikers and non-hikers alike. It is a test of physical and mental endurance that many say brings great personal satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. The trail is approximately 2,165 miles in length, and it runs through 14 states from Georgia to Maine. It typically takes five to seven months to hike the length of the trail in one season, and it requires a great deal of preparation to complete. If you think you might be interested in learning more about tackling this famous hike, here are some things you need to know.
From Maine to Georgia
Since you will spend several months hiking the trail and won’t have access to many basic amenities (unless you’re willing to shell out for a hotel every night – if there’s one nearby), you will need quite a lot of basic equipment and gear to make your hike successful. Here is a list of basic necessities:
• Sturdy boots
• Sleeping bag and pad
• Tent and tarps
• Cooking gear
• First-aid kit
• Personal hygiene items
• Water filters
• Sturdy pack
For each of these items, the features or brand you select will depend a great deal on personal preferences and on the type of hike you are planning. Remember that temperatures on the trail can range in the teens or lower during the spring and fall and in the higher elevations, and can be quite hot and muggy during the summer. Conditions on the trail are often quite rough and wet, as well. There are detailed recommendations for each of these items from experienced hikers and trail guides, which can be found on numerous blogs and Web sites.
Most hikers carry four to seven days’ worth of food in their pack at a time. To replenish these supplies, they will visit a grocery store or restaurant at stops along the trail, which is quite close to many businesses in the towns through which it passes. However, there are some spots along the trail where finding stores or restaurants can be difficult. Many hikers choose to send “food drops” to themselves at designated times and locations. You will need to arrange for a “support team” that will be responsible for sending these items as needed. However, many hikers report missing food drops (because of schedule delays and other mishaps) or of receiving food drops in locations where food was already plentiful from local businesses. Be sure to get recommendations from experienced hikers or trail guides about the best places to schedule food drops.
There are more than 200 shelters spaced evenly along the length of the trail, which are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Depending on the size of the shelter, it can accommodate anywhere from six to 25 hikers. These simple structures feature three walls and a roof, and many hikers find them convenient when they don’t want to set up a camp site. However, most hikers do rely on their own camp setup. Packing appropriate gear for the weather will defend against hypothermia or heat exhaustion, and repellents are available for any animals that could become a nuisance.
All hikers are encouraged to physically train before beginning the trail, no matter the level of fitness before beginning. Typically, hikers report that they are able to walk about eight to 10 miles a day when they begin the trail and most work up to 20 or 25 miles a day by the time they finish. However, the trail is quite steep and unpredictable at times, and inexperienced hikers are prone to injury when they begin, if they have not taken the time to adequately prepare for the challenge.
Total costs for hiking the trail will depend a great deal on personal choices and obligations. You will need to plan to cover all expenses you will incur over the time it will take you to complete the trail. This will include not only expenses for food and other supplies, but it will also include obligations such as car payments, student loans, or other debts that are still accruing while you are on the trail. Hikers report that they spend an average of $2,000 to $4,000 just on expenses for hiking the trail (food, shelter, and so on). Consider this and any other financial obligations you have when you plan for your total budget.
A thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail can present many challenges for hikers of all levels. However, with a little planning, realizing this goal is attainable for everyone. Take time to read accounts and recommendations from others who have hiked the trail and from official guidebooks, and make the right preparations.