How to prepare for a hike on the Appalachian Trail
Preparing for walking on the Appalachian Trail can be daunting. The impressive, awe-inspiring trail runs along nearly 2,200 miles on a continuous hiking corridor along the east coast and can intimidate even experienced hikers. But, as with any adventure, it is easy to prepare yourself, your packing list, and each day’s plan to make sure that each challenge is surmountable.
Step one is always deciding when and where to hike. Depending on the season and your goals for the trip, there are different parts of the AT that are conducive for a day, weekend, or week-long adventure. There are worthwhile day-hikes running the length of the AT, but there are certain locations that are more conducive to multi-day adventures. These include the Shenandoah National Park, The Berkshires in Massachusetts, and The White Mountains in New Hampshire.
To maximize enjoyment on an Appalachian adventure, it is important to have adequate fitness and comfort with your equipment. As some days will be long and have steeper terrain, be sure to spend time leading up to the trip training. This can include morning or evening walks on local roads before work, or weekend trips to mountains in your area. Equally important to fitness is to make sure that your boots fit your feet. Even short walks can help prepare your feet for a few days on the trail! Some even wear their boots around the house to strengthen their calluses!
“There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad preparation.” Poor hiking conditions can be negated with proper packing. Below is a list of items that we recommend bringing on multi-day adventures. Since luggage can be transferred each day, it is possible to pack for many conditions without having to lug it all each day. You can then make thoughtful decisions each morning based on weather and terrain for what is worn and brought in your day pack.
Day Pack Essentials
- Day pack (25 liters or larger)
- Water (at least 1 liter per person, 2-3 if your hike is long or it's hot. Most days do not have opportunities to refill, so err on the side of too much water, and consider a water purifier)
- Warm mid-layer or light puffy
- Warm hat and gloves
- Rain jacket
- Pants if the weather looks poor
- Snacks and/or lunch
- During hunting season, fluorescent or "blaze" orange hat or jacket.
- Hiking/trekking poles (optional)
- Camera (optional)
In addition to the extra clothing, we also recommend bringing a map and compass in the event that your phone dies. There may be a lot of exposure, so sunscreen, sunglasses, and insect repellent are recommended. A first aid kit, whistle, and flashlight also help in the case of emergencies. Since there are often long stretches without bathroom facilities, a towel, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer will help should nature call.
Things to know about the hikes
The AT does not have many sections that are exposed or dangerous for walkers, but that isn’t to say it is free of hazards. One of the main dangers is the weather, which is notoriously fickle. To begin, there can be rapid temperature drops or precipitation, which is why is it so important to have the correct clothing. The weather can also become hot and exposed, which can lead to exhaustion or dehydration. Weather can also impact the trail conditions. Moisture will make the roots, rocks, and ground quite slick and can make it more difficult to cross the streams that frequent the AT. Furthermore, heavy rain can raise the level of steam, adding another challenge. We do recommend hiking poles to add balance in situations such as these.
The corridor containing the AT is a protected area, and it is important to do your part conserving the amazing wilderness. The following actions should be taken to make sure the trail remains as is for future walkers.
- Make sure you stay on the trail. Wandering off contributes to premature erosion and indirectly created new paths.
- Leave no trace! Make sure you carry out everything you carry in – from trash and banana peels to your essentials. It should be impossible to know that you hiked that section of trail.
- With each traveler on a Macs Adventure trip on the Appalachian Trail, we donate $25 to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to make sure the trail & facilities remain cared for. If you want to give, consider becoming a Member of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
We recommend visiting The Appalachian Trail’s website for more information about the trail, the community, the conservation, or the walking opportunities. Or, give one of our destination specialists a call to learn more about the multi-day hiking options along this iconic American Adventure.