How to Prepare for Hiking the Appalachian Trail

This article was co-authored by Thomas Churchill. Thomas Churchill has been leading hiking and backpacking trips across California for the last five years as a Stanford Pre-Orientation Trip Leader and Adventure Program Guide. Most recently, Thomas was a Hiking Leader for 3 months at Stanford Sierra Conference Center, leading day hikes in the Desolation Wilderness of Northern California.

There are 11 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

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The Appalachian Trail is a path located in the eastern United States. The trail is, at 2,190 miles (3,510 km) long, the longest hiking-only footpath in the world. It extends on a north-south axis through 14 American states– from Georgia to Maine. [1] X Research source It can take 5-to-7 months to complete the entire trail, but you can also do multi-day hikes and even day hikes. [2] X Research source No matter how long you choose to hike the Appalachian Trail, it’s critical to properly prepare for your journey. By plotting a course and packing essential gear, you can prepare to hike the Appalachian Trail.

Creating a Hiking Plan

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  • Get yourself an official guide to the Appalachian Trail. It’s always a good idea to have a trail-specific guide with you in book form. They often contain maps and tips and can be very useful if you have questions or need something and don’t have access to a computer or cell phone data.
  • Look at online guides from different sites including the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Trip Advisor. These sites often offer great additional tips that may not be in a book. You can also take copies of these tips with you or even photograph them with a tablet or smartphone for lighter bulk in your gear.
  • Ask any friends or family members who have hiked the Trail for tips. They may also have friends who can offer advice on having the best experience.

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  • Do the entire length of the trail if you have 5-7 months free. In addition, you should also be in excellent physical and mental condition as a hike of this length can test the reserves of even the strongest people. [3] X Research source
  • Try a shorter hike if you don’t have as much time or aren’t in optimal condition. One of the great things about the Appalachian Trail is that you can do easy section hikes that range anywhere from two days to two weeks. [4] X Research source
  • Go for a day hike if you just want to get out and enjoy nature, don’t have a lot of time, or aren’t in the best condition. Remember, even though the Appalachian Trail isn’t Mt. Everest, a day hike will still require that you walk at a higher elevation for more than a few hours.

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  • Look at the map of the trail to get a good idea of the different sections. Consulting the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and other guides can give you a good idea of the length of each section. Depending on your conditioning and experience, you can figure 7-12 miles a day. Less experienced and well-conditioned hikers should plan to hike no more than 7-8 miles per day, which will allow for time to rest and take in nature.
  • Consider factors such as overnight stays, buying supplies, and potential emergencies when mapping your route. If you are doing a longer hike that requires overnights, plan to stay at campsites, shelters, or in bigger towns that have hotels. You’ll also need to make sure you map places with water sources as well as where you can buy food and other supplies.

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  • Think about the time of year you are planning to hike. The East Coast is prone to extreme changes in weather and your hike may encounter floods, mud, snow, or even insect plagues. You might consider changing the section you hike or direction of your route depending on the time of year.
  • Make sure your contingency plan includes what to do in case of a physical emergency such as a leg or arm break or a serious case of the flu.
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  • Consult the Appalachian Trail’s interactive map to locate parking options and their proximity to trailheads. [6] X Research source
  • Schedule an A.T. Shuttle one to two weeks in advance of your arrival. Each section has different shuttle providers. Consider scheduling a shuttle at the beginning of your walk so that you can walk back to your car without being set on a rigid schedule.
  • Consider accessing the Appalachian Trail by rail, bus, and air services, especially if you’re going on a longer hike. You may need to schedule a shuttle in conjunction with these types of transport, but it will spare you leaving your car in one spot for a longer period of time. [7] X Research source

Packing Essential Gear

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  • Make sure your pack size is right for your expected travel time. You can easily carry a pack of fewer than 40 liters (2400 cubic inches) for a day hike, one of 40-70 liters for a 2-4 day trip (2400-4200 cubic inches), and at least 70 liters (4200 cubic inches) for journeys of 5 days or longer.
  • Recognize that style is less important than fit when it comes to comfort. You want about 80% of your pack weight carried by your hips. Your pack should have chest and hip straps to help offset the strain of pack weight on your shoulders. Ask a professional at an outdoor store if you have questions about the best pack and fits for your body.

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  • Pack cover to keep your pack and gear dry if it is raining
  • Pack liners to keep liquids in your pack from seeping
  • Packing cells to let you separate and organize your gear inside the pack
  • Waterproof bags or containers to keep electronics and/ or clothing dry [9] X Research source

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  • Invest in a water bladder. This is the easiest and most environmentally friendly way to carry and drink water. You can get a bladder, which comes in various sizes and will fit in your pack, at an outdoor store.
  • Get water treatment tabs to make water safe for drinking. The Appalachian Trail has different water sources along the entire path, including springs and streams. However, these are often rife with pathogens that can cause serious illness. You can get different types and flavors of water treatment tabs at outdoor stores. [11] X Research source
  • Pack enough food for at least two days if you are doing a day hike; a supply of 4-7 days for multi-day hikes; and more for longer sections. Aim to pack lightweight and non-bulky foods that offer high amounts of energy such as dehydrated refried beans, rice, and noodles. Include snacks that you can munch on throughout the day such as energy bars, jerky, or candy bars. You can also get powdered beverages including coffee and sports drinks.
  • Make sure your route plan includes stopping to refuel at restaurants or local grocery stores. This will also give you a chance to get fresh fruits and vegetables, even if just for a daily treat.
  • Get some garbage bags in which to throw away packaging, food, or other items. The Appalachian Trail has a Leave No Trace policy, which includes not leaving any trash. You can get rid of trash at designated sites or when you buy supplies.

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  • Multi-fuel camping stove
  • Fuel
  • Matches or a lighter
  • Cookware including a lightweight pot, pan, and lid
  • Plate, mug, bowl; remember that you can always use a mug as a bowl to cut down on weight
  • Utensils
  • Dish soap and sponge, though many people just use water [12] X Research source

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  • Base layer to wick moisture from your body or insulate you even when it’s wet outside
  • Middle layer like a fleece or down jacket/ sweater; sometimes called the “soft shell”
  • Third layer that is weather and windproof; often called the “hard shell”
  • Hat
  • Gloves
  • Hiking pants or shorts; legs that zip off are an excellent option
  • Underwear
  • Hiking socks and sock liners to prevent blisters
  • Hiking boots [13] X Research source

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  • Tent or hammock
  • Tent footprint or tarp to prevent tearing or holes at the base of the tent
  • Climate-appropriate sleeping bag
  • Silk sleeping bag liner for added warmth and cleanliness
  • Sleeping mat for comfort and keeping you warm against the ground [15] X Research source

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  • Latex or nitrile gloves
  • CPR microshield mask
  • Multi-use tool or knife
  • Tweezers
  • Scissors
  • Thermometer
  • Malleable splint
  • Irrigation syringe to flush and clean wounds
  • Safety pins
  • Cotton swabs
  • Bandages and sterile dressing pads
  • Anti-septic towelettes
  • Cleansing pads with lidocaine
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Moleskin
  • Sunscreen
  • Aloe vera gel packets
  • Oral rehydration salts
  • Pain reliever
  • Antihistamines
  • Anti-diarrheal
  • Paper and pencil to note symptoms and medications or aid administered [16] X Research source
  • List of your medications and any health conditions such as diabetes

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  • Flashlight or headlamp and batteries
  • Compass
  • Whistle or signal mirror
  • Trowel for digging “catholes” where you can do your business
  • Duct tape
  • Repair kits for tent, cooking gear, and backpack
  • Biodegradable camping soap and toothpaste [17] X Research source
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Community Q&A

Thru-hikes by people your age are not common, but they are definitely possible! As of now (2016) the oldest known Appalachian Trail thru-hikers completed their hikes at age 74 (female) and 81 (male). If you are in good health, your physical preparation and mental motivation matter more than age. It’s even more important for an older hiker to prepare well: strengthen your body with weightlifting and training hikes, pack lightweight gear, and research the trail so you can choose a sustainable pace and plan for any issues. Lastly, if a full thru-hike is too much for one season, you can section hike the trail over several years – still an impressive accomplishment!

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As a small thank you, we’d like to offer you a $30 gift card (valid at Use it to try out great new products and services nationwide without paying full price—wine, food delivery, clothing and more. Enjoy! Claim Your Gift

Thanks! We’re glad this was helpful.
Thank you for your feedback.
As a small thank you, we’d like to offer you a $30 gift card (valid at Use it to try out great new products and services nationwide without paying full price—wine, food delivery, clothing and more. Enjoy! Claim Your Gift

7 Physical Training Tips to Prepare for the Appalachian Trail

Training for the Appalachian trail

I learned this tip from a Special Forces sergeant I met at Air Assault school. He said every-time he needed to prepare for a deployment he would spend two weeks walking on asphalt with a loaded ruck, barefoot.

I’ve been using this technique and it works great for building up the calluses. You can keep it short – half to one mile is all that’s required. Be conscious of rocks, glass, and other sharp objects!

2. Heavy squats and deadlifts

I’ll harp on this point until the cows come home because I think it’s extremely important. Having strong legs and a strong back will make your trip easier and dramatically lower your chances of getting injured.

Overuse injuries are common on the trail – your tendons and ligaments(and sometimes your bones) just aren’t conditioned to the constant stress of hiking with weight. Heavy squats and deadlifts will strengthen your connective tissues in addition to your muscles which leads to a lower incidence of overuse injuries. During basic training we had two soldiers who got rolled back to another class and another who got medically discharged because they developed stress fractures in their legs and feet. Over half the platoon had problems with their knees or hips at some point. I didn’t have a single issue and I attribute it to years of heavy squats and deadlifts. When your legs are conditioned to supporting 500+ pounds walking with a 45lb pack isn’t a big stressor.

3. Keep a Kettlebell by your desk

I’ve been keeping a kettlebell by my desk and doing KB goblet squats anytime I think of it. Over the course of a day it adds up to a couple hundred reps. This will really help you build up endurance and conditioning for long days of hiking.

Alternatively if you don’t have a KB you can simply do air-squats. Just do more.

I recommend sets of 25+ reps 5 times a day.

4. Buy a scale

You can get a digital hanging scale from Amazon for $10. In the Army when we go on ruck marches you’re given a weight requirement for your pack(usually 45lbs). And without fail guys were always coming in too heavy or too light. Not on purpose – it’s just difficult to gauge the weight of a pack due to its bulk.

Buy a scale so you can train with a known weight. If you haven’t been using a scale I can guarantee that you’ll be surprised at how much your pack actually weighs.

5. Use a standing desk

You can build your own standing desk for $22 using parts from Ikea, here’s an article on how to do it.

Nothing can truly condition you for being on your feet all day everyday except by being on your feet all day everyday. Plus a standing desk helps improve your circulation, helps you be more productive, and will help you burn more calories.

6. Don’t neglect your upper body

When I ran my CrossFit gym I had a client who was an ultra-runner. He signed up for CrossFit because he wanted to strengthen his upper body. He’d recently ran a 100 mile race out in the desert and was pulled at the 97 mile mark because he fell too far behind the pace time. And it wasn’t his legs that gave out – it was the muscles along his thoracic spine. He became so fatigued that he lost the ability to hold himself erect or swing his arms properly.

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Your pack should sit mostly on your hips but it will still pull on your shoulders. I recommend doing pull-ups, push-ups, and KB farmer’s carries. That will hit all the major musculature of your upper body.

7. Meditate

The main reason thru-hikers drop out is because they let doubts and fears overwhelm their mind. Any reasonably fit person can finish the Appalachian Trail if they’re persistent.

Build that mental fortitude. Meditate. Catch the negative and self-defeating thoughts before they can destroy your dreams of a thru-hike.

Jack Jones

Jack is on a quest to explore the world and find adventure. He is passionate about using his adventures to inspire others to follow their heart and step out of their comfort zone. He is a meditator, CrossFitter, and thru-hiker.

How To Prepare To Hike The Appalachian Trail? (Quick Read!)

how to prepare to hike the appalachian trail

Even though it may seem intimidating, beginners can scale the appalachian trail’s numerous mountains and see some of the most gorgeous views in the world.

Table of Contents

How long do you need to prepare for Appalachian Trail?

The early days and weeks of the hike will be a significant source of fitness development. Six months is a reasonable amount of time for most people to prepare for their time on the trail.

How hard is it to hike the Appalachian Trail?

Hiking the entire a.t. is a tiring and demanding endeavor. It requires a lot of physical and mental strength. The terrain is mountainous for its entire length, with an elevation gain and loss equivalent to hiking Mt. In addition, the trail passes through some of the most remote and rugged areas in the world. This is not a trail for the faint of heart or those who are afraid of heights.

Can you hike the Appalachian Trail with no experience?

The Appalachian Trail spans 3,524 km and is no joke. A lot of people spend a lot of time in the wilderness and training to be able to complete the trail in one go. It is not easy to complete the AT with minimal experience.

The AT is one of the longest and most difficult hiking trails in North America, and it takes a lot of dedication and perseverance to make it all the way to the end. To help you get started, we’ve compiled a list of things you need to know before you set out on your adventure.

Do you have to be in good shape to hike the Appalachian Trail?

Hiking the Appalachian Trail is going to beat you up. Being in better shape will minimize that buttkicking. It will hurt, no matter what, but I promise that it will hurt less if you’ve been exercising and pushing your body to its limits.

Where do you sleep on the Appalachian Trail?

You can expect a roof and a wood floor to be used to sleep. If you are staying in a tent, make sure you have a place to put your sleeping bag. If you don’t, it will be difficult to get a good night’s sleep in the tent.

You may also want to consider bringing a sleeping pad, as it is easier to keep your body warm when sleeping on the ground. Also, if you plan to stay in your tent for a long period of time, bring a pillowcase to protect your head and neck from the elements.

How do I train for a 30 mile hike?

It takes at least ten hours to hike 30 miles at three miles per hour. It is, and it sounds like a lot. It can feel less daunting if you break up your day differently. 30 a.m. and 6 a.m., and spend 45 minutes (or less) breaking up the day.

Why do hikers get fat?

Hikers may experience weight gain because of an increase in water weight, an increase in muscle mass, or a rapid intake of water. Weight gain can also be caused by dehydration, which occurs when the body does not have enough water to maintain normal body functions. If you are dehydrated, your body may not be able to use all of the water it has stored in its cells. This can lead to weight loss.




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