My Appalachian Trail Nutrition Plan
O ne of the common questions I receive about my 97-day AT thru-hike is, “What did you eat?“. The short answer is: everything. The long answer is that I developed a nutrition plan and then spent about two months months procuring, preparing, and dehydrating my trail food and packing it into resupply boxes to send to myself along the way. This accounted for about 80% of my calories during the hike and I purchased the remainder of my food in towns (to the tune of over $600).
A small sample of my AT diet.
One of the key concepts in ultrarunning that is applicable to thru-hiking is the development of a nutrition plan. Knowing how often you’ll have access to aid stations (or in this case, towns and stores) is a critical aspect in determining how much food to carry in order to reduce unnecessary weight. Once that is determined, you can figure out how much food to pack based your needs.
15 resupply boxes loaded and ready to ship.
This strategy struck a good balance for me. By using resupply boxes, I saved time and money by not having to go into town every three or four days or worry about various stores having what I needed. On the other hand, I also had the freedom and space to buy whatever items I was craving to mix things up and supplement my regular intake (i.e candy).
Pre-packing only 80% of my food left space for trips to Hiker Heaven.
I had my boxes sent to hostels and hotels, and they all arrived on time with no issues whatsoever. I strongly recommend that you do not send boxes to post offices, as their hours are ever-changing and unreliable. If you send to a hotel or hostel, not only do you avoid going out of your way to retrieve it, but they’re also guaranteed to be open when you arrive. I had no desire or patience to wait for the post office to open while I was hiking, so I never bothered with it and I believe that was the best choice. Here’s a list of my resupply box destinations:
- Hampton Inn – Franklin, NC
- Standing Bear Farm – Hartford, TN
- Uncle Johnny’s Nolichucky Hostel – Erwin, TN
- Woodchuck Hostel – Damascus, VA
- Woods Hole Hostel – Pearisburg, VA
- Holiday Inn Express – Troutville, VA
- Holiday Inn Express – Waynesboro, VA
- Quality Inn – Harpers Ferry, WV
- Rock N’ Sole Hostel – Schuykill, PA
- Staybridge Suites – Stroudsburg, PA
- Days Inn Berkshire – Great Barrington, MA
- Mountain Goat Outfitters – Manchester Center, VT
- Rodeway Inn – Lincoln, NH
- The Cabin Hostel – Andover, ME
- Shaw’s Hiker Hostel – Monson, ME
Anatomy of My Resupply Box
The intent of packing a majority of my own food on the AT was to ensure I had lightweight and adequate nutrition, access to food I enjoyed, and an escape from the hassle/cost/disappointment of resupplying in every town. In a typical resupply box (which generally had five days’ of supplies), I would pack the following:
- Breakfast pouches (one for each day minus hostel/hotel days)
- Snacks (8/day)
- Dinners (one for each day minus nights I’d be in town)
- .5L olive oil
- 1lb peanut butter jar
- Sleeve of crackers
- Candy (Jolly Ranchers, usually)
- Energy gels
- Small toothpaste tube and flossers
Once I double-checked that I had the right number of meals and snacks, I loaded everything into a USPS Regional Box B and sealed it for shipment. Tip: Regional B boxes are almost the same size as the Large Flat Rate boxes but ship to the east coast for half the cost and can hold up to 20lbs. The boxes and postage are only available online, however, so you won’t be able to find it at the post office.
Opening a resupply box in Waynesboro, VA.
The first meal of the day was always the same: oatmeal, protein powder, olive oil, and coffee. In the beginning I cooked the oatmeal before adding protein and olive oil, but after about a week I got tired of waiting around for the water to boil (especially when it was below freezing out), so to speed things up I would just mix everything in my pot (coffee included) and drink it cold. It worked great.
Protmeal: breakfast of champions. One of the only times I cooked breakfast on the trail.
I also mixed in several servings of grits instead of oats to provide some variety, but I quickly discovered that grits don’t soften in water as quickly as oats and it was like drinking ball bearings. After the first time I stopped using grits altogether and would just throw them away and eat something else.
This was the easiest meal of all to prepare for my resupply boxes. I simply measured out two servings of oatmeal (a kitchen scale makes this easy) and poured into a sandwich bag with a packet of protein powder and instant coffee. Multiply this by the number needed for that particular resupply box and you’re done.
Packing up breakfasts.
Once I started hiking for the day, I tried to take in 200-300 calories per hour. I would load up my Zpacks multipack with protein bars, almonds, candy, energy gels, beef jerky, and other snacks that would last me until my afternoon break around 2pm.
Cruising with a full chest pack of easy-access snacks.
During my break, I’d have some peanut butter and crackers while I rested my feet and filled up on water. Then I’d refill my multipack for the remainder of the day.
Taking a load off in the Roan Highlands.
Some of my favorite snack items included:
For several weeks leading up to my departure for the AT, I was a madman in the kitchen. After purchasing Recipes for Adventure by backpacking chef Glen Mcallister, I chose three easy meals that I could make in large batches and dehydrate overnight.
- Chili with ham and vegetables
- Lentils with chicken and vegetables
- Macaroni with tuna and cheese and vegetables
I decided to go with only three meals because it cut down on the number of ingredients I needed to buy while providing enough variety that I wouldn’t have to eat the same thing every night or even more than twice or thrice per week. It was a lot of work using my Excalibur 4-tray dehydrator (which is awesome!), but in the end I was happy to have put in the effort. I had delicious, home-style, and nutritious meals every night on the trail and I never got sick of any of them.
Batch of chili ready to be dehydrated.
This ended up being the only meal I cooked on the trail each day. Although it took some time to rehydrate and heat up, it was really nice to have something hot and delicious at the end of a long day. It was also extremely lightweight, as three dinner servings (700cal/ea) weighed just 14oz dried.
Lightweight, nutritious, and delicious!
I dehydrated and divvied up enough portions of each to meet my needs on the trail and placed them in their corresponding boxes. I also utilized a Foodsaver to vacuum seal each weeks’ rations which helped create a little more space in the boxes and prevent any premature spoiling.
Despite planning and eating everything in sight, I still managed to lose 26 pounds during my thru-hike. Ideally my weight would have fluctuated only a little, but I just couldn’t eat enough to balance out my expenditure. I was never hungry, however my pace was such that I was burning over 6,000 calories per day and my resupplies only had 3,500-4,000 per day.
Before and after.
Carrying more food would have made my pack heavier, and I didn’t want to do that so I stayed the course and am fine with the result. I put all the weight back on (plus a few pounds, I think) within a month of finishing.
Overall I was very pleased with how my nutrition plan worked out during the hike. Although the resupply boxes required a lot of upfront time and effort, which some folks may not be willing to do, they saved me a ton while on the trail and it was one less thing I had to think about. Having a variety of snacks was key and I never got sick of anything I packed (except for plain almonds) and all the boxes arrived on time.
If I were to do it over again, I would consider going stoveless and cold soaking simply because it saves a lot of weight between the fuel, stove, and pot I needed. I don’t have any experience with that kind of setup, though, so I wasn’t comfortable starting the AT that way. Otherwise, my system worked flawlessly by providing good and balanced nutrition while also leaving space (in both my wallet and my pack) for trail magic, pizzas, and other indulgences along the way. This method isn’t for everyone, but if you’re motivated and organized it can make trail life much more manageable.
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How Many Calories Do I Burn Backpacking?
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Consuming enough calories while hiking is a never-ending challenge. This is especially true for thru-hikers who are walking day in and day out. We break down how many calories you could burn each day so you can adequately prepare your food for your next hike.
Calculating Your Backpacking Burn Rate
Calorie counting isn’t just for people who want to drop a few pounds (although it’s certainly useful for that purpose). To stay healthy and keep your energy up for the duration of your trip, it’s critical that you sustain your body with the right amount of fuel.
Having a general idea of your caloric expenditure helps you streamline the food you pack for optimal performance and health—whether your goal is to lose weight, build muscle, or simply to make it to the end of your hike without keeling over.
It can be a complex bit of calculation so we created this easy calculator to help you get an estimate of how many calories you burn in a mike of hiking.
Biggest Factors that Affect Your Burn Rate
BODY WEIGHT: THE HEAVIER THE PERSON, THE GREATER THE BURN
Your weight is an important factor in calculating your caloric burn rate. The general rule is, the more you weigh, the more calories you will burn per hour.
For example, a 180-pound male hiking three miles with a 15 lb pack will burn 312 calories while a 150-pound male will burn approximately 264 calories.
BACKPACK WEIGHT: THE HEAVIER THE PACK, THE GREATER THE BURN
It’s not only your weight that matters. But, the pounds on your back also need to be considered. The more weight you’re carrying, the more calories you’ll expand. Carrying a light load (like a day pack) burns approximately 50 more calories per hour on the trail. Supplies for a long backpacking trip add roughly 100 calories or more to your hourly burn rate.
For example, a 180-pound male hiking three miles on a flat surface with a 15-pound pack will burn 312 calories while the same person with a 30-pound pack will burn 330 calories.
GENDER: MEN TEND TO NEED MORE CALORIES
Men typically burn calories at a higher rate than women, due to their higher muscle-to-fat ratio. According to Livestrong, a moderately active man needs about 2,500 calories per day to maintain his weight, whereas a woman at the same activity level needs about 2,000.
(Note we are not nutritionists. All data was gathered and estimated collectively from Self, Dietbites, Healthstatus, Nutristrategy and Outside Online)
SLOPE: STEEPER TRAILS REQUIRE LOTS MORE ENERGY AND FUEL
Incline plays a huge role in how many calories you burn while hiking. Walking on an incline of 10 percent more than doubles the number of calories you will burn per hour. Hit an incline of 20 percent or greater and you will more than triple your caloric burn rate.
For example, a 180-pound male with a 15-pound pack hiking three miles an hour on a flat trail will burn 300 calories. The same person hiking at a moderate 10 percent grade will burn close to 700 calories.
PACE: THE FASTER YOU HIKE, THE MORE CALORIES YOUR BURN
Pace not only influences how quickly you’ll arrive at your destination, but it also affects how many calories it will take to get there. The faster you walk, the more calories you will burn. The average person will burn 300 calories per hour while walking at a moderate pace of three miles per hour. Bump that speed up to four miles an hour and you’ll burn an additional 100 calories.
TERRAIN: CHALLENGING GROUNDS INCREASE YOUR BURN RATE
Not many people realize that the terrain you are hiking influences how many calories you burn. Walking on a flat gravel road will burn much fewer calories than scrambling over downed trees and scaling rock slabs. Walking in sand, mud and snow also will increase the calories that you burn.
TEMPERATURE: NOT RELEVANT UNLESS YOU’RE SHIVERING
You may hear people claim that exercising in colder temperatures burns more calories, but that statement isn’t 100 percent accurate. You will burn more calories in cold weather, but only if you are shivering to keep yourself warm. When you are hiking and generating heat, you will burn calories at an average rate. Only when you stop walking and start to shiver will you burn extra calories because of the cold weather. (Source)
© Anthony DeLorenzo (CC BY 2.0)
Why Do You Burn So Many Calories Hiking?
The calories you burn each day can be broken down into two main components: your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and the active calories you burn while exercising.
A) BASAL METABOLIC RATE
Your BMR represents the number of calories you need to keep your heart beating, your lungs breathing, and the rest of your body functioning. Your BMR is influenced by your gender, weight, height, age, and other factors. There are online calculators you can use to estimate your BMR which helps you figure out the bare minimum amount of calories you need to live.
Your BMR is only half of the equation when it comes to how many calories you burn each day.
B) ACTIVE CALORIES
You also burn calories throughout the day from being active. The more intense or the longer the duration of the activity, the more active calories you will burn. A typical hike can include short bursts of intense climbing mixed with long stretches of power walking. Consequently, these active calories account for the bulk of calories that hikers burn throughout the day.
Compared to most conventional forms of exercise, hiking burns calories at a slower, steadier rate. A run, for example, can burn nearly twice the amount of calories per minute as backpacking—but the average run usually only lasts between 15 minutes and an hour.
Even the easiest day out on the trail usually lasts many times the length and duration of a run. All that time on your feet adds up, and you may be surprised to learn the number of calories burned in a day of hiking.
© Chance (Not A Chance)
Calories Burned By Sport
HIKING: 300 TO 900 CALORIES PER HOUR
The number of calories you burn while hiking varies based upon the incline of your hike, the weight of your backpack, and the terrain. The average 180-pound male hiking on a flat surface with no backpack will burn a moderate 300 calories per hour. Hiking on steep and rugged terrain that requires you to use both your arms and legs while scrambling will burn close to 900 calories per hour. Over a full day of hiking, you can easily burn close to 5,000 calories.
WALKING: 200 TO 450 CALORIES PER HOUR
You can burn up to 450 calories per hour while walking. The total amount depends on your weight, the speed at which you walk, and the incline of the walk. The 200-450 calories per hour estimate above is for the average 180-pound male person walking on a flat surface. As soon as you add an incline, these values will skyrocket. For example, a 180-pound man walking at a rate of 3.5 miles per hour will burn 311 calories on a flat surface and a whopping 490 calories going uphill.
CLIMBING: 500 TO 900 CALORIES PER HOUR
Rock climbers make climbing look so graceful and easy, but it is the complete opposite. Rock climbing is an intensive activity that uses your arms, legs, core muscles, and more to proper yourself up and down a rock face. It burns a significant number of calories, up to 900 calories per hour for a 180-pound male on an aggressive climb.
CYCLING: 450 TO 700 CALORIES PER HOUR
Cycling burns at least 450 calories per hour, but this amount can change based on your weight, the type of bike you are riding, and the terrain through which you are riding. Riding a low-resistance road bike on a flat road will burn fewer calories than pedaling a mountain bike up a hill.
SWIMMING: 400 TO 900 CALORIES PER HOUR
Swimming is an excellent exercise for burning calories. It uses your arm and leg muscles allowing you to get an aerobic workout without the bone-jarring effects of walking downhill. Similar to hiking, the faster you swim, the more calories you will burn. A 180-pound person swimming freestyle for one hour at a fast pace will burn 817 calories, while a slow swimmer will only burn 572 calories.
Expert Advice on Replenishing the Lost Calories
We asked two nutritionists what their recommendations were for fueling back up on the trail. Here are some of the insight they shared.
FOOD PLANNING: HOW MUCH FOOD IS ENOUGH FOOD?
Consuming enough calories is a major challenge for thru-hikers, especially for those who hike quickly or carry a heavy pack.
Hiking nutrition will vary based on the type of hike you are planning. As a general rule of thumb, the longer the hike, the more planning is required.
You can get by with regular food on a weekend trip where you are burning 3,000 calories per day. But on a thru-hike, you can burn up to 5,000 calories per day.
Hiking for weeks at a time with a calorie deficit will take its toll on your overall health and well-being, and will jeopardize your chances of finishing the hike.
You must pack enough fuel to offset the calories you are burning, especially on a long-distance hike. (here’s a sample 5-day meal plan)
RISKS: WHAT IF I DON’T CONSUME ENOUGH CALORIES?
If you don’t consume enough calories each day, you will struggle on your hike. Your energy level will drop and you will have to rely on your mental strength to drag yourself over the next mountain top.
Your body also will begin to burn off extra fat and then turn to muscle to get the calories that you need. Needless to say, keeping your muscular strength is critical to finishing a thru-hike.
Except for paleo hikers who are conditioned to use fats for fuel, most people “need a constant carb supply to keep the glucose flowing to cells as you exercise,” says Diane Spicer, founder of Hiking for Her.
FOOD CHOICE: WHAT FOODS TO PACK?
“Fruit and nut energy bars, as well as trail mix, provide concentrated calories, along with a nourishing mix of macro-nutrients. A simple nut butter sandwich also does the trick, and is easy to make.”, says EA Stewart of Spicy RD Nutrition.
“Carbohydrates and fat should supply the bulk of thru-hikers calories. In terms of ratios, aim for 55% carbohydrates, 35% fat, and 15% protein.”
To consume enough calories, you need to skip the low-calorie food you eat at home and focus on calorie-dense backpacking food.
TIMING: HOW OFTEN SHOULD I EAT ON THE TRAIL?
Even if you pack enough calories, how you consume those calories throughout the day is important.
Spencer advises becoming a trail grazer during the day by snacking on “small amounts of dried fruit, cookies, or a small trail bar every hour to replenish carbs. Slow and steady fuel delivered to your cells will translate into stamina on the trail, without digestive upset.”
“It’s important to get enough calories at the end of the day, something some hikers may skimp on if they’re too tired to eat much.”
At night, it’s important “to put your body into rest/digest mode, emphasize protein and fats, rather than the high proportion of carbs you needed on the trail,” says Hiking for Her Spencer. Healthy fats have the added benefit of “making you feel satisfied and keeping your body warm throughout the night”.
About Kelly Hodgkins
By Kelly Hodgkins: Kelly is a full-time backpacking guru. She can be found on New Hampshire and Maine trails, leading group backpacking trips, trail running or alpine skiing.
After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail .
How to Hike the Appalachian Trail [The Definitive Guide]
When it comes to overall popularity, the Appalachian Trail is probably one of the most famous and most popular hiking trails in the world. Trails of Mount Everest, Machu Picchu and Kilimanjaro are the only ones that can compare in that sense. However, it is also among the hardest for thru-hiking. Together with the Pacific Crest Trail, it is considered the longest hiking path in North America.
People all over the world come to see the Smoky Mountains and spend a few days walking and admiring its beauty. Under the National Trails System Act of 1968, the Appalachian Trail is referred to as a National Scenic Trail. In other words, it is a trail of great natural beauty as well as a protected area. In fact, this trail and the Pacific Crest Trail were the first two trails to receive this title in 1968.
Every year, approximately 2 million people take their time to hike on the Appalachian Trail for at least one day. However, the number of hikers that actually finish the entire trail is about 2,700. This says a lot about the difficulty of the trail and how hard it is to cross these mountains.
How long is the Appalachian Trail?
Altogether, the Appalachian Trail is about 2,200 miles (or 3,500 kilometers). As previously mentioned, it passes through 14 states: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia. It basically goes through entire East Coast.
the Great Smoky Mountains. However, you won’t have to deal with extreme heights. The highest peak of the Smoky Mountains is Clingmans Dome (6,643 feet or 2,025 meters) while the lowest is Bear Mountain State Park (124 feet or 38 meters). Due to the terrain, the entire path will feel much longer than it actually is.
How long does it take to hike the Appalachian Trail?
The Appalachian Trail (or the A.T.) is one of the longest footpaths in the world. That being said, it is not surprising that hikers take from 5 to 7 months to cross it. Most people start with 5 to 10 miles per day. However, on average, people cross 10 to 15 miles every day.
Have in mind that this is an average statistic including both people that hike for a day or two as well as those who cross the entire path. But, the variations are enormous. For example, some people finish this distance in one year. On the other hand, the record is just 46 days.
Nevertheless, if you intend to finish the entire trail, you will have to have good pacing. The thing that many people do not realize is that crossing the Smoky Mountains is not a question of strength (or even endurance) but how you utilize your energy and replenish your strength. In that regard, proper nutrition and preparation do much more for you than conditioning (even though conditioning is still very important).
- Related:How To Hike The Appalachian Trail Alone Safely
Another thing that needs to be considered is your starting point. The mountainous regions of Maine are much colder than Georgia. In early spring, Maine will still be covered in snow and ice. If Maine is your starting point, May is the best time to hike the Appalachian Trail. On the other hand, those who begin from Georgia should plan ahead so they arrive in Maine around summer.
The Appalachian Trail topography and temperature
Here is how the Appalachian Trail looks like based on altitudinal zones (if you start from Georgia):
- From Mount Rogers, Virginia to Mount Greylock, Massachusetts – foothill and montane zone (up to 900 meters)
- From Mount Greylock to Mount Moosilauke, New Hampshire – subalpine zone (from 900 to 1500 meters)
- From Mount Moosilauke – alpine zone (1500 meter and up)
This is how the A.T. looks in general. Height zones do change but this is the overall layout.
Mount Moosilauke Carriage Road. Photo credit: farnorthendurance.com
You can see a lot of trees up to Mount Moosilauke where topography becomes barren and rocky with evergreen species being dominant. Parts of Pennsylvania are also very rocky and can be troublesome for hikers.
Maine can be very harsh, with a lot of snow and ice. Furthermore, Mount Katahdin is the second biggest alpine environment in the U.S.
When it comes to temperatures, they can vary substantially. No matter what, as you start hiking towards north, it will slowly become colder.
Spring and fall temperatures can be rather low and you may even encounter snow on higher altitudes. In these regions, temperatures below zero are quite common. However, the summer can be really hot and you will most likely need sunscreen, and sunglasses to protect your eyes.
How much does it cost to hike the Appalachian Trail?
Before anything else, you need to calculate the costs. This is especially important for thru-hikers as it may take them several months or up to a year to walk the entire distance.
Have in mind that you can save a lot based on your preferences. In other words, people who do not wish to visit hotels and instead sleep in their tent can cut the costs significantly. This is especially common for fast thru-hikers who do not wish to stay in towns for too long.
But, you should never skimp on food. Hikers burn a lot of calories during the day and it is necessary to replenish them so that you could carry on.
It is very hard to give you an exact price but the average cost of hiking the Appalachian Trail is between 1,000 and 2,000 dollars per month. Then again, there are people who can do it in less than a thousand and those who make a spectacle out of it, spending more than 3,000 dollars per month.
Here is a brief rundown of all the costs:
- Transportation – it really depends
- Gear – $1,000 to $2,000 (make sure to get quality equipment that can protect your from the weather)
- Replacement gear – $150 (you need to set aside some money in case of an accident, thru-hikers use up 4 to 5 pairs of shoes for the entire trail)
- Food – $10 to $15 per day (if you eat in towns, it can increase exponentially)
- Accommodation – $10 to $15 per night (can easily be avoided)
One of the biggest initial costs comes in the form of equipment. If this is your first time hiking, you will need to get everything. As for the transportation, you will have to pay the costs to and from the A.T. People who live in the United States can do this for a couple hundred dollars while visitors from Europe and other parts of the world will have to spend more than a thousand.
On top of it all, there are several fees that need to be paid. First, you will have to get a permit for thru-hiking along the Appalachian Trail which costs $20 (as of this writing). Besides that, you may expect some overnight stay fees, especially in New England and Maine.
What do you need to carry?
We mentioned the basic costs. But, we still need to mention what you need to buy for that money.
If you are an experienced hiker/camper/backpacker, you are probably acquainted with the basic equipment. But, if this is your first time hiking, these are the things that you must carry at all costs:
When you’re ready for a full rundown of the gear to bring, check out our Appalachian Trail gear list.
- Related:The 6 Best Hiking Boots For Men
- Related:The 6 Best Hiking Boots For Women
- Related:The 6 Best Backpacking Tents
On top of that, you should get food for several days (from 5 to 7 days) as well as water for 3 days. As you can presume, you will have to replenish supplies in towns. More experienced hikers use mail drops. With them, you can send supplies and food to towns that are on the trail. When a hiker passes through them, he can simply pick them up instead of shopping in nearby stores.
The load can vary from 20 lbs (9 kilograms) to 35 lbs (16 kilograms). Even though this seems like a lot, these are the basic provisions that will ensure that you arrive at your destination safely.
Do I need to register and how to avoid the crowds along the Appalachian Trail?
For the time being, there is no formal need to register. However, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) does encourage it as a way to track hikers and their movement.
This is especially important as it helps reduce overcrowding. The entire region is one big national park and in recent years, there has been a lot of damage to wildlife. As a way to prevent this, hikers should pick a date when there are not as many people on the Trail.
Photo credit: appalachiantrail.org
Most people tend to start from Springer Mountain, Georgia northbound (otherwise known as NOBO while southbound is SOBO).
According to the data provided by Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the period between March 1 and April 1 is especially critical.
As a way to prevent all of this, the organization is trying to promote alternatives. Instead of starting from the bottom of the Trail, hikers are encouraged to start their thru-hike somewhere in the middle.
So, if you wish to avoid all the ruckus and crowds, these are some of the alternatives:
- Harpers Ferry, West Virginia – Mount Katahdin – Harpers Ferry – Springer Mountain
- Shenandoah National Park, Virginia – Mount Katahdin – Shenandoah National Park – Springer Mountain
- Pawling, New York – Mount Katahdin – Pawling, New York – Springer Mountain
- Springer Mountain – Harpers Ferry – Mount Katahdin – Harpers Ferry
- Springer Mountain – Harpers Ferry – Great Barrington, Massachusetts – Mount Katahdin – Great Barrington, Massachusetts – Springer Mountain
- Other modified trails
These options are great for people who do not wish to thru-hike the entire trail at once and prefer to avoid the crowds. Have in mind that you will have to make breaks between destinations. For more information, visit this page.
What do I have to know about shelters and accommodation?
There are two main options you should consider: sleeping in towns and sleeping in the wild.
Given the popularity of the A.T., you can find hotel and motels almost everywhere. Here are our top picks for hotels:
- Skyland (Shenandoah National Park, Virginia)
- Killington Grand Resort Hotel (Killington, Vermont)
- Upper Goose Pond Cabin (Massachusetts)
- Standing Bear Farm(Hartford, Tennessee)
- White Wolf Inn (Stratton, Maine)
Of course, given that you cannot really choose hotels during hiking, you will have to make do with what you have. Nevertheless, your main concern is a warm bed and full stomach and everything else should come later.
Those who prefer sleeping outside have two options: tents and shelters. There are pros and cons to both options. Anyway, it is best to mix them.
There are more than 250 shelters along the A.T. They are pretty large (8 x 12 feet) and up to 20 people can fit in them. Shelters are a great place to hang your clothes, to socialize, get the latest news and also, to get some food from short distance hikers that brought too much weight.
Here’s a brief video showing the Double Spring Gap shelter you’ll find on the Appalachian Trail:
The main issue with shelters is that they are unpredictable. Although there is a lot of room in them, they might be full. Having in mind there is a shelter on every 5 to 10 miles, it may be too exhausting for you to walk to the next one. Nevertheless, they are a really nice option as there is usually a water source nearby and they are good for socialization.
- Related:What Are Appalachian Trail Shelters Like?
No matter what, you will have to rely on your tent. If there are black clouds looming over your head, you can quickly set up a tent and hide inside. Also, they give you some solitude and allow you to camp off the track. But, setting up a tent does require some time and strength. If you are tired, this can pose a problem. This is why you have to switch between tent and shelters. In the end, it all comes down to personal preferences.
How to prepare physically for the Appalachian Trail?
Depending on the distance you wish to cross, your conditioning will be more or less important. You have to make sure you are fit enough to walk for at least 10 miles in mountainous terrain. People, who wish to hike a shorter distance for a day or two quickly realize that it can be rather strenuous.
Photo credit: exodus.co.uk
If you wish to hike for several days or weeks, you will have to improve your core strength. Bear in mind, we are not referring to weight lifting. A hiker should have a lot of stamina and should do a lot of aerobic training. Push-ups, sit-ups and squats are all good. Leg conditioning exercises are a must. However, no matter how many hours you spend riding a bike or running, nothing can prepare you for the real deal. Always remember that you have to carry a big backpack during the hike so this will test your resolve even further.
- Related:10 Tips That Will Prepare You To Conquer an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike
Your feet are a special case. Not only do you need to improve their fitness level, you will also have to think about your ankles and skin. Excess weight and physical strain simply crush your ankles. Use a balance board to strengthen them. Skin can also be a problem. Open wounds might appear if you are not careful. By using a mixture that will strengthen your skin, you will be able to hike with less trouble. Nevertheless, you will require a med kit as a precaution.
If you’re new to backpacking in general, see our beginners backpacking guide.
No matter how fit you are, it is impossible to hike on an empty stomach. Improper diet can make or break your dream of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.
As said, it is necessary to have food for at least several days. In certain areas, you can easily resupply so this can reduce your load for a little while. Nevertheless, if you do not have enough knowledge regarding the layout of the towns, it is better to constantly have spare food for at least 4 days.
The average man burns around 5,500 calories per day (3,500 for women). This is an enormous amount of energy that needs to be replenished. Basically, you will be food deprived during the entire hike. At the same time, this will allow you to eat almost anything. Focus on protein and fat rich food. You will need strong meals. Otherwise, you will start losing muscle mass. Dry food is a great solution. Make sure that everything is easy to prepare. Finally, you will need increased amount of salts to prevent cramps.
Water is extremely important during the hike. Make sure to drink all the time and have a bottle ready. Electrolyte drinks are also crucial.
There are a lot of springs along the trail. Most of them are near shelters. But, not all of them have drinkable water. This is why you have to make reserves for a day or two in case you can’t get fresh water near a shelter. Anyway, whenever you get it from a natural source, make sure to treat it. Filters are a great solution here.
Are there dangerous animals on the Appalachian Trail?
Here are some of the most common animal and plant species that can cause a problem:
- Black bears
- Poison ivy
Generally speaking, there is no real danger of an animal attacking you. Surely, there have been a lot of sightings of bears and snakes. When it comes to bears, they are usually timid and will not approach you unless you do something aggressive or endanger the cubs. They might smell your food and come to your camp as they have become used to the human presence due to increased activity in the area. You should hang your food on trees so they can’t reach it. Also, do not cook near the tent as the smell will remain in the air.
Photo credit: hww.ca
Snakes and spiders are a different story. Unlike bears, they are hard to spot and you might even step on one of them while walking. Luckily, most of the species on the A.T. are not venomous. However, if you encounter venomous copperheads and timber rattlers, you may be in danger. Make sure to check your clothes before putting them on as spiders and snakes may crawl in them during the night.
When it comes to insects, ticks and mosquitoes are the biggest issue here. While mosquitoes are really annoying, ticks are the ones that represent a health hazard. They can give you lime disease so you will have to perform checks every day. As for mosquitoes, a repellent will be enough.
If you need more info regarding flora and fauna, as well as how to prevent accidents and treat wounds, check this page.
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What type of environmental issues can I expect on the Appalachian Trail?
Those who decide to thru-hike the entire Appalachian Trail will have numerous considerations regarding the weather. It becomes even harder to predict things given how many months it takes for you to reach the other side. Even with good preparation, you never know what to expect.
Here are 5 things you have to look out for:
- Snow (especially in northern regions where winter begins earlier)
- Heat (especially in southern regions and during summer)
- Hypothermia (due to cold rains and bad protection)
Obviously, there are numerous things you have to consider before you are on your path. When it comes to bad weather, you shouldn’t consider it; you should count on it!
Early spring and late autumn can be really perilous. Even if you are in southern parts, you can still expect snow. This shouldn’t be particularly surprising given that you are in the mountains most of the time. On the other hand, in northern states (mainly Maine and New Hampshire) you can even expect snow in June. If you need more precise data regarding the temperature, visit the National Park Service website.
Keeping track with the current weather can also help you with the next potential problem – heat. Virginia and West Virginia are notorious for their low humidity during summer which can interfere with perspiration. As a result, hikers can expect cramps, burns, heat exhaustion and heat strokes. This is why you should always try to hike in early morning and before sunset. Avoid too much exposure during midday and try to find proper shelter when resting.
Hypothermia is directly caused by cold rain, strong wind and lack of proper clothing. It can be especially disastrous for thru-hikers as they approach their goal. After a while, their energy reserves will be depleted and they won’t be able to make up for the loss of body temperature. As a protective measure, make sure to stay hydrated, well fed and rested, to take cover as soon as you notice cold rain and to wear synthetic and wool clothing. Waterproof boots should be considered as well.
River crossing is something that most hikers do not consider as a hazard until they fall into water. This can be especially treacherous during and after cold days, when the ground is slippery due to ice, snow and rain. You can easily fall down into a river which can result in hypothermia and other cold related illnesses. If the terrain seems problematic, try to find an alternative, safer crossing.
Lightning is not as dangerous as the other natural threats but there is still a chance to get struck. Finding a shelter is the best way to prevent any accidents. Avoid tall trees, solitary rocks, open terrain on high altitude and tall, metal structures and objects.
Even though may not actually face a life or death situation, it’s prudent to possess at least basic outdoor survival skills.
Photo credit: visitroanokeva.com
Additional tips and considerations
- You will never be lonely – There are a lot of hikers on the A.T. especially in the southern parts, during early spring.
- Break your boots in – Don’t tackle the AT in brand new boots. Most boots take some time to mold to the unique shape of your feet, which makes them much more comfortable. The more comfortable your footwear, the more likely you are to push on. If you have wide feet, get hiking boots made specifically for wide feet.
- Be grateful and considerate – Make sure to be polite and work with others to conquer the mountains.
- You do not need a map – Areas are well marked so it is hard to get lost as long as you are following the Trail. However, it is good to carry a map in a case of emergency.
- Campfires are not permitted on some parts of the Trail – Many areas along the A.T. restrict fires to designated sites only or prohibit fires altogether. Here is a chart listing regulations for fires and camping. Learn safe ways to build a fire here.
- Reduce weight whenever you can – It is one of the main things that can contribute to your success. Check out these Ultralight backpacking tips.
- Pace yourself – You shouldn’t be too hasty. There is a long way ahead of you and you need to go day by day.
- Lace Tying – Learn the various ways of tying your boots. This seemingly small thing can make a huge difference in your daily comfort.
- Do not think too much – If you start thinking about all the miles that are ahead of you, it will be much harder. Hiking is also a mental game.
- Take rest days – Unless you are into a fast thru-hike, make stops in towns and rest properly. You will have a lot of injuries, blisters and fatigue over the course of the hike and you will need to treat your body properly.
- Keep at least some level of hygiene – Even though this sounds impossible, you will have to keep your cleanliness in check. Make sure to filter your water and utensils to prevent any diseases. Dispose of your food properly so that you don’t attract wild animals to shelters.
- Medical care – Treat your wounds as soon as they appear. Use lubricants or sprays to prevent and treat chafing. Ventilate your feet to prevent blisters.
I hope this guide helped you and that you will have an incredible time on the Appalachian Trail!