There are many hardcore hikes, trails and climbs in the world, some of them thousands of metres high and made up of narrow wooden platforms attached to cliff faces, but none of them are quite as demanding as the Appalachian Trail.
It could be more accurately called a journey rather than a trail, covering 14 US states and 2,200 miles, beginning in Georgia and ending in Maine. Much of the trail covers mountainous terrain, but unlike a lot of trails it varies dramatically. It’s because of this that this trail demands a huge amount of stamina and dedication, for many it takes between 5 and 7 months to get to the finish line in Maine, but some trips can take a whole year.
If you’re up for the challenge, and ready to potentially take a year out of your life to do it, these are 5 crucial things you really need to know before you even book your flights.
1. Have a plan for sleeping in the wild, rural areas and the towns.
There are shelters which sleep 20 people dotted throughout the trail every 5 to 10 miles, and there are also various suggested hotels in Vermont, Massachusetts and Virginia to name a few. It’s likely that you’re going to have some nights underneath the stars and others with a roof over your head, but it’s worth planning because this can depend on different factors.
Shelters are a great social hub with other hikers but they fill up quickly. Always have a tent to rely on, and be ready to set it up quickly if you need to.
2. Prepare for your travel and kit to be expensive. This is not a cheap adventure.
It’s estimated that completing the Appalachian Trail will cost between $1000 and $2000 each month. This includes food, specialist kit and any fees for the hike itself. Being prepared for every eventuality is a must because you could literally face any weather and any eventuality. There are periods of the hike where water isn’t accessible, and you’ll need replacement gear on you for emergencies.
It’s going to be expensive, but having everything you need could be the difference between completing it and not completing it. It could even prevent illness and death. Equipment breaks, food runs out, so make sure you don’t do anything on the cheap.
3. Carry enough food for 5-7 days and enough water for 3 days.
You can replenish your supplies in the more urban areas that you pass through, but there will be gaps where you haven’t got access to anything. During these times, it’s essential for your safety that you pack 5-7 days worth of food and 3 days of water. Experienced hikers say not to concern yourself too much with having a heavy backpack (around 20-35lbs) because having the basic supplies is more crucial than an easy-to-carry bag. This article shows you what happens to your body while hiking the A.T.
4. You need to train your ankles. That’s right, your ankles.
There’s lots of physical training to do which is fairly obvious – improving general stamina, core strength, leg conditioning and aerobic training. Less obvious is improving the strength of your feet and ankles.
Your feet will carry you along this 2,200-mile trail and when they’re not looked after they make the experience absolutely miserable. To prevent as much pain as possible, a balance board will strengthen your ankles. There’s even a mixture you can use to physically strengthen the skin around your ankles, preventing anything from rubbing and causing wounds.
5. You will burn a lot of calories, so you’re going to eat double what you usually eat.
Each day on the Appalachian Trail, men burn around 5,500 calories and women burn 3,500 on average. This is significantly more than you would during a day at home or in the office, for obvious reasons, so you need to anticipate how this will affect your diet.
Eat lots of protein and a decent amount of fat, this will give you lots of energy and keep your muscle mass up. Food deprivation will make hiking basically impossible, so prioritise your food and it will keep you going.
If you found this article useful and you’re eager to try hiking this trail yourself, I suggest you read this great guide on the topic. There are lots of things you should be prepared for and being over prepared is never a bad thing.
Good luck, Appalachian hikers!
Sol Vazquez is the founder of BackpackerVerse.com. The site gives you the best backpacking, hiking, and camping tips, tricks and news. You also get up to date reviews and recommendations on outdoor gear.