Thru Hiker season on the Appalachian Trail has begun with more and more people setting off every day. If it’s your first time here, I thru hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2017 and these are some of the top tips I learned and think you would find useful.
5. Listen to your body
This may seem obvious but I think learning the feelings of your body is definitely something that takes time. You need to know when to push it and when to rest. The conventional wisdom says to start out slow at 8-10 miles a day, but focus on listening to your body. If you hike 8 miles with no pain by noon and want to do a few more, go for it. If you hike 6 miles and that knee pain is getting worse, call it a day. Every mile you hike you will hopefully be getting stronger and smarter! You have to understand the difference between hiker soreness and true injury looming. Listening to your body also means wearing sunscreen, you will burn. Learn from my mistake, this sunburn is from March!
Most hikers have blisters at some point on their hike, for me I had them for the first 500 miles. I learned to deal with them, but my advice is that if you aren’t on a very cheap budget then simple gear fixes can easily remedy your problems. My problem was a combination of my socks and shoes. My shoes were too narrow. I switched from New Balance Vazee Summits to Altra King MTs and the wider toe box left me blister free. Hiking with Darn tough socks would cause blistering in prolonged wet conditions (Read: most of spring), I switched to lightweight running socks and they disappeared. I didn’t experience any blisters the rest of my thru hike. When you do get blisters, duct tape over them will help the pain.
Chafing is another issue that I found most hikers run into at one point or another. As with blistering it is easily fixed by making some gear changes in most cases. I had chafing that was caused by my Ex Officio Boxer briefs riding up (especially when wet) I switched to the loose fitting boxers and went commando to save weight and eliminate any chance of chafing. If you get chafing, then I suggest Body Glide or in a pinch deodorant. Though, you are more likely to find Body Glide than deodorant on the trail.
Taking full rest days is important, I was suffering some major knee pain from Neel’s Gap to Franklin. I took it slower doing some 8 mile days but for the most part I hiked through it. Finally in Franklin, I took a zero and magically I felt significantly better. As a general rule, I tried to zero weekly, and nearo twice a week. Ultimately this will depend on your hiking style.
4. You have too much food
You are about to step onto the first steps of the Approach Trail and your pack just weighed in at 30 pounds, you say “But my base weight is only 13 lbs.” Food is heavy, and you are more than likely carrying too much. It takes a lot of energy to hike everyday but your hiker hunger isn’t going to set in for a few weeks so cut it down. You might say “Oh, I’m not going to resupply at Neel’s Gap, its too expensive.” Well, you’re going to get to Neel’s Gap and buy pizza, a burger, and candy bars regardless. Neel’s Gap isn’t terribly expensive for the 2-3 days of food you are going to need anyway.
From Springer to Neel’s Gap you don’t need much, you’ll be eating as much as you do now. Before you buy your food just truly ask yourself how hungry you would have to be to eat it. If the answer is VERY, then skip it. I may do another short post with some typical resupplies in the beginning.
3. Everything weighs something
You likely quit your job already and have nothing to do but obsess over the Appalachian Trail. Focus that energy somewhere positive and take some time to go over your gear. You are going to hike and hear people say “Oh those stuff sacks don’t weigh anything.” I’ll tell you it all adds up. When you make 16 one ounce decisions you save a pound. Even if you don’t have the budget for any fancy new lightweight gear you can still save a few pounds. Feel free to send over your gear lists on the contact page and I’ll go over it for you. If you’re looking for some more reading head over to our article here!
Common weight saving tactics
Take a look at your backpack, I’m sure there is plenty of straps, hoops, and do-dads that you will never use. Cut them off. You’ll probably end up saving 5-6 ounces. If you don’t think you’ll use the brain of your pack, cut it off. I did and never looked back.
All of the little bags that all of your gear comes in could get throw away or tossed into storage. Only a pack liner and food bag are really necessary. Estimated weight savings of up to a pound.
Rain cover – No. Pack liners actually keep you stuff dry, so go get a trash compactor bag and get rid of that rain cover for your pack. Your pack is going to get wet either way!
Town clothes… I had 1 pair of shorts, 1 T shirt, 1 Pair of socks, and a nylon windbreaker for the summer. Everything else is luxury, you do not need anything more than what you wear. But please just leave the cotton at home, that hoody is a bad idea, and so are those sweatpants.
2. Take pictures of the people you meet
This isn’t really a practical tip, but one so that you can better remember your journey. You’ll hike with a ton of different people, and since you may only spend a few days with them it is easy to forget their names and what they look like. Taking a picture will help you look back on your trip more fondly. FYI – You will remember the first two weeks of the trail better than the following months.
1. The trail is a mind game
Two Thousand One Hundred and Eighty Miles. It’s a long hike, no matter how you look at it. It is going to take you a few months regardless, so you may as well enjoy it the best you can. You are about to enter into the honeymoon phase, where the trail can do no wrong. It is mysterious, beautiful, and amazing. You are out there with other individuals who willingly put themselves into this situation so they are equally as excited as you. How many times does that truly happen in life? When you are with people who truly want to be doing the same thing as you.
The honeymoon phase will end. It always does. After that, it becomes a test of your inner self, no matter how much you love hiking there are going to be days that suck, you are going to face illness, and other setbacks. How you handle those is going to be what determines if you finish or not. You need to stick to it, if that means hiking with an amazing group of people or finding internal motivations to keep you going. Never lose sight of what put you on the trail and you will get through it. The worst day on the trail was always better than a day going to the office.