83 Pieces of Advice for Thru-Hikers, from Thru-Hikers

If you ask twenty people how to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, you’re likely to get twenty different answers.  So- that’s exactly what we did.

Because there is no one-size-fits-all approach to long distance backpacking, we wanted to pick the brains of an array of past thru-hikers to offer a smorgasbord of advice.  If you’re a soon-to-be thru-hiker, not everything below will click, but certainly some of it will.

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Physical Preparation

1) “You probably won’t be prepared no matter how much training you do. But I did observe that people who focused on cardio fitness before hiking were much more successful at conquering big uphills”. – Mouse, 2015 AT thru-hiker

2) “If you think you’re prepared, you’re not. There is no “too much” when it comes to getting ready. If you aren’t running marathons, be prepared to start slow – and stay slow/low mileage for the first 2-3 weeks. Everyone I started with who pushed more than 10 miles a day in the first 2-3 weeks had to get off trail due to injury.” – Scribe, 2015 AT thru-hiker

3) “Knowing you can hike a little is nice. I was going to do P90x with a friend who was also hiking…then he got a girlfriend. We both finished our hikes. The most important thing to do physically is to know when to slow down and how to take care of yourself.” – Brian “Owl” Fersch, 2014 AT thru-hiker

4) “Work on mitigating any prior injuries, but other than that the trail will kick you into shape.” – Seeker , 2015 AT thru-hiker

5) “Absolutely get used to a weighted pack, throw all the random shit you need to into that thing to get it to at least 30lbs. Walk around with it as much as possible.” – Markie – Switchback, 2015 AT thru-hiker

6) “It really helps to be in shape before starting the trail. Running helped me prepare for a 4 month hike, but as long as you have some experience backpacking, you’re probably in good enough shape physically to hike the trail. Just know your own limits, and if you aren’t sure what you’re capable of, don’t push too hard at the beginning.” – Frozen Mac, 2015 AT thru-hiker

7) “You will hurt. You will be sore. You will get injured. Listen to your body. A week off healing to complete your hike is better than a permanent injury due to pride.” – Legion, 2011 AT thru-hiker, 2012 PCT thru-hiker

8) “Wear a fully loaded pack as much as possible…. even on cardio equipment at the gym.”-  Jennifer Williams “Sargeant Moth Balls”, 2015 AT thru-hiker

9) “While it’s true, you can get in shape once you’re on the trail, you can save yourself a lot of misery by being in the best physical shape possible before you start. That said, you’re still going to have some misery as you get in “trail shape”, unless you prepare by hiking up and down mountains everyday with your full pack on you’re in for some “adjustment”. Being in shape for the everyday world is not the same as being in shape for a thru-hike.” – Bad Camel/ Molli McCarthy, 2014 AT thru-hiker

10) “Nothing truly prepares you for the physical grind of thru-hiking, I remember having a new pain or soreness for the first few months! If you have the opportunity get some running in to build endurance and climb some hills or stairs with your pack loaded to simulate the hills of the AT.” – PackMan, 2015 AT thru-hiker

11) “Don’t stress too much about getting in the best physical condition possible. Do what you can before the trail, and the trail will take care of the rest.” – Daren Jackson, Bo-Line, 2015 AT thru-hiker

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Logistical Preparation

12) “Don’t bother with maps, do get a copy of the current AWOL guide. It is very good and all you really need for mileage/resupply planning. Also, don’t bother with mail drops unless you require specialty foods. There are lots of towns that have everything you need.” – Clayton ‘Tugboat’ FS, 2013 AT thru-hiker

13) “There are so many leftover goodies at the hiker hostels because people went crazy with the logistics and sent food boxes everywhere but ended up not wanting that food anymore. I didn’t do a single food drop and I was just fine. For the warm summer months I recommend sending your winter gear home and getting it back when it gets cooler again.” – Wildlife, 2014 AT long distance hiker

14) “Know where the first few resupply points are, after this it is easy to plan plan ahead on a ~weekly basis. International hikers- get your visa sorted early!” – Cornwall, 2014 AT thru-hiker

15) “I put together a list of some tricks you might find helpful here.” – Mouse, 2015 AT thru-hiker

16) “Although I am guilty of this….don’t over-plan! I do/did it because I am a planner and enjoy it. So, if you choose to do a lot of planning just do it knowing that flexibility in your plans will be key to your successful hike. We met people who had every day planned in detail complete with excel spreadsheets and others who did no planning at all. We saw both of these “planning techniques” lead to frustration and in the no planning group, dangerous situations as we saw people running out of food while nowhere near a town. The spreadsheet people usually realize pretty quickly that they spreadsheets are better off being used to start the campfire as there is no predicting what the trail will bring each day.” – Bad Camel/ Molli McCarthy, 2014 AT thru-hiker

17) “Don’t plan specifics. Give at least 2 days of flex for any unforeseen situations. Don’t race to post offices on Saturday. Your package will still be there on Monday.”- Legion, 2011 AT thru-hiker, 2012 PCT thru-hiker

18) “Save as much money as possible. Forget everything else. Everyone I knew that got off the trail after they made it 1,000+ miles ran out of money. Save $!!!” – Rob Wager “Animal”, 2015 AT thru-hiker

19) “Unless you have a pretty strict diet or require other special items, skip the maildrops. Leave your AT itinerary as flexible as possible or just make a few milestone goals to hit at certain times.” – Markie – Switchback, 2015 AT thru-hiker

20) “Don’t stress. Take a “deal with it as it comes” mentallity. Plan from one town to the next town. It’s more fun that way and allows flexibility when plans change.” – Scribe, 2015 AT thru-hiker

21) “Know where you need bear canisters, where you can’t camp, park rules throughout so you can be a respectful and not ignorant hiker. Don’t think about gear and day planning too much, you may change all those plans anyway.” – Stretch, 2015 AT thru-hiker

22) “No matter what you do, there’s a pretty good chance that every plan you make will fall apart (and that’s a good thing). Learn to go with the flow, embrace what comes, and be flexible.” – Seeker , 2015 AT thru-hiker

Other General Preparation Tips

23) “The psychological challenges far out-weight all other challenges on trail. Just be prepared for the mental gazpacho that you’re going to go through.” – Mouse, 2015 AT thru-hiker

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24) “Be ready to embrace the suck. Be prepared to be cold, wet, blistered, miserable and mostly likely have crapped your pants- and know these experiences will make the best stories when they are over.” – Brian “Owl” Fersch, 2014 AT thru-hiker

25) “It’s really tempting to plan have friends and family join your hike, especially later on. If you do want people to join you, either have them join you near the beginning so that your pace isn’t compromised, or be prepared to lose your hiker friends when you slow down to hike with someone from home.” – Frozen Mac, 2015 AT thru-hiker

26) “Get your base weight as low as your wallet will stand! 20lb max. Make sure you are comfortable with your gear in a range of conditions. That being said, don’t sweat anything too much, things will often sort themselves out on trail.” – Clayton ‘Tugboat’ FS, 2013 AT thru-hiker

27) “Being prepared mentally is more important than physically. You’ve heard it before, I’m sure, and it’s true! Although you can’t REALLY know what you’re getting into until you’re out there and getting into it, you need to have a really, really good and realistic idea about what it’s going to be like so you don’t go into complete shell-shock. Read, read, read everything you can about the trail and about other people’s thru-hikes.” – Bad Camel/ Molli McCarthy, 2014 AT thru-hiker

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Nutrition: On the Trail

28) “Eat as much as possible, use supplements (like Carnation Instant Breakfast) and try to get some good calories (peanut butter, avocado) along with those Honey Buns. It will be hard to eat enough in the beginning but keep it up.” – Stretch, 2015 AT thru-hiker

29) “Don’t waste the pack weight on candy. Protein bars (luna/clif/builder/etc) are way better for you and will do wonders for your body. Find dry tortellini (pasta aisle in the bags) and some Italian dressing. You’ll thank me later.” – Rock Boat, 2015 AT thru-hiker

30) “Pack heavy and eat your pack light. I found that taking 1/2 a multi vitamin in the morning and 1/2 at night is useful while working and sweating so much. Also sipping or adding 5 drops of vitamin E oil with food a day works well. It helps with circulatory/cardio and a host of other things. Read up on it. Make sure the kind is able to be taken orally.” – Lost, 2013 AT thru-hiker

31) “What you eat during those 6 months will affect your health for a long time after your hike is over(in my experience). Six months of eating garbage and chemicals was one of the hardest things for me while on the trail and I am still recovering from it. Even so, I can’t say that I would do anything different as when you’re out there hiking for 6 months you tend you get into the “I will eat ANYTHING” mindset pretty quickly and I felt like I had no control over that at all once we got going.” – Bad Camel/ Molli McCarthy, 2014 AT thru-hiker

32) “Eat before you feel hungry and eat often. Focus on healthy fats, carbs, and protein. Multi-vitamins and supplements are a must!”  – Jennifer Williams “Sargeant Moth Balls”, 2015 AT thru-hiker

33) “Just do you best too choose food that is lightweight and cheap and that it does not take too long to prepare during your rest period.” – Dave Lighthouseman, 1993 AT long distance hiker

34) “Eat whatever you want. You will crave what you “need” when you hit town. Basic rule – 1 oz / 100 calories. And maintain protein intake. That ammonia smell is muscle breakdown. Eat peanut butter immediately.” – Legion, 2011 AT thru-hiker, 2012 PCT thru-hiker

35) “Buy some fresh veggies like peppers and onions to add to your boring meals. Those bagged salad kits with the dressing and everything all in one are perfect for the first night out of town.” – Rob Wager “Animal”, 2015 AT thru-hiker

36) “Carry a small plastic bottle of olive oil and put it in all your meals for extra calories. Get instant couscous, it’s amazing.” – Frozen Mac, 2015 AT thru-hiker

37) “Literally you can eat whatever the hell you want, your body’s pretty good at letting you know what you need. Dried fruit is pretty tasty and good for you. Otherwise, drink lots of booze and claim that you’re “carb loading.” Especially in Virginia, it’s a long ass state and boozing with friends can make it super fun.” –Markie – Switchback, 2015 AT thru-hiker

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38) “Protein. For. Dinner. As. Much. As. Possible.” – Brian “Owl” Fersch, 2014 AT thru-hiker

39) “Try to stay away from sugar energy. It is short lived, and when you get off-trail, you’ll gain weight fast. Carry fresh foods out of town – hard boiled eggs, apples, cucumbers, lettuce, sliced lunch meat. Things that need refrigeration will last at least 1 day, if not 2, without. Get creative.” – Scribe, 2015 AT thru-hiker

40) “If I were to do another long distance hike, I would mail myself a few packages with dehydrated/freeze dried food. It’d be easier to get a more comprehensive diet that way.” – Mouse, 2015 AT thru-hiker

Nutrition: In Town

41) “When you’re in town, let your body tell you what it needs, even if the cravings are weird. I ate tons of cottage cheese and beets when I was in town, and I still have no idea why.” – Frozen Mac, 2015 AT thru-hiker

42) “Get some greens in when you hit a town. It’s the only chance you get to eat healthy and it’s easy to overlook healthy eating when you’re so physically active. So many people on the trail felt weak and tired from poor diets of processed junk.” – Rob Wager “Animal”, 2015 AT thru-hiker

43) “Take advantage of the calories you are burning and pig out!” –  Jennifer Williams “Sargeant Moth Balls”, 2015 AT thru-hiker

44) “Eat normal foods in town. You will get enough junk on the trail.” – Mike Gormely, 2015 AT long distance hiker

45) “Your mind will play tricks on you as you go North. Eat. You’re hungry. You’ve never experienced hunger like this. When you get to town you can and need to eat everything you can fit in your stomach.”  – Rock Boat, 2015 AT thru-hiker

46) “They always say to eat your vegetables in town, but I would say you should listen to your cravings. For me, that meant that I ate as many hamburgers and pizzas as I could.” – Mouse, 2015 AT thru-hiker

47) “Hit all the buffets you can, Waynesboro, VA has one of the best.”- PackMan, 2015 AT thru-hiker

48) “Eat everything… Once you get the hiker hunger. Also, since you’re probably eating like you’re in kindergarten on trail, eat vegetables in town. Eat a whole bag of baby greens from the grocery store, hopefully you can find some dressing packets too.” – Clayton ‘Tugboat’ FS, 2013 AT thru-hiker

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Gear Advice

49) “There are millions of gear lists out there. Just go with what you have, the trail will show you what you really need. The only thing I wish I had known was that rain jackets make you sweat so much, that it doesn’t matter if you wear one or not. Try a poncho. Or go crazy and think about an umbrella!” – Wildlife, 2014 AT long distance hiker

50) “REI has 100% satisfaction guarantee. Spend the money on good gear.” – Daren Jackson, Bo-Line, 2015 AT thru-hiker

51) “The lighter the better. Smart Water bottles are cheaper, lighter, replaceable, and come with water in them. Ditch the Nalgene. Aquamira or a Sawyer filter, not a pump filter. Know how to pack your pack well.” – Clayton ‘Tugboat’ FS, 2013 AT thru-hiker

52) “Light weight. Grams are ounces, ounces are pounds, and pounds are meals. Better to carry more food than camp toys. You’re out to hike, not live.” – Legion, 2011 AT thru-hiker, 2012 PCT thru-hiker

53) “Buy nice gear now and test it out in heavy rain. Make sure condensation is not an issue in your tent after a good storm.” – Rob Wager “Animal”, 2015 AT thru-hiker

54) “Light and simple is the best approach. If you don’t use it for a few hundred trail miles send it home!” – PackMan, 2015 AT thru-hiker

55) “When on the trail, empty your pack every two weeks and send anything you haven’t used in that span of time home. The only exception to that is sending home your sleeping bag and keeping just a liner; everyone I know who did that ended up regretting it.” – Frozen Mac, 2015 AT thru-hiker

56) “Do your homework when it comes to gear. And then test it BEFORE using it. Too many people purchased gear, started, then had to repurchase gear because it didn’t work how they wanted it to.”  – Scribe, 2015 AT thru-hiker

57) “The first 3 weeks are full of people constantly talking about gear – “ultralight this” and “baseweight” that. Weight is important, but it’s not that important. I kept mine around 40 pounds the whole hike. I carried frisbees and wiffle ball bats, my friends carried sombreros, a horse on a stick named Jeffrey, and all sorts of things like that. After you get to VA no one will care who has what.” – Seeker , 2015 AT thru-hiker

58) “Do your research before you purchase big ticket items. I like getting gear from REI because they have a dope return policy, but don’t abuse it.” – Markie – Switchback, 2015 AT thru-hiker

59) “Ultralight is the way to go. BUT if you’re new to hiking, you have to be really careful about over stuffing/packing UL packs.” – Mouse, 2015 AT thru-hiker

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Getting Through the Tough Days

60) “Never get off trail on a bad day. There will be bad days. The bad days will be your best stories afterward.” – Brian “Owl” Fersch, 2014 AT thru-hiker

61) “This is more than a hike. It’s not just an adventure, or a vacation. It’s an odyssey, and you’ll encounter more hardship than you think. Never let quitting be an option.” – Seeker , 2015 AT thru-hiker

62) “Stop early, it is not a race. Tomorrow is another day.” – Mike Gormely, 2015 AT long distance hiker

63) “Just plan for the next town, don’t think about the end of the trail. Oh, and find opportunities to treat yoself; make a dinner you love, read, draw, listen to music or a podcast, do whatever it is that makes you happy even if it means a shorter hiking day.” – Frozen Mac, 2015 AT thru-hiker

64) “Make your lists. Rely on your trail family. Don’t be too stubborn to ask for help, or a hug. Sometimes just a 5 minute break to chat and have a snack can get you past whatever hurdle is in front of you.” – Scribe, 2015 AT thru-hiker

65) “Nothing’s permanent, whether you decide to quit or not, that bad day won’t last forever so try to stick with it. Do low miles or take a zero to recover then get your ass back out there & remember how awesome of an opportunity this is.” – Markie – Switchback, 2015 AT thru-hiker

66) “Remember what pushed you to begin in the first place. Have you achieved what you set out to achieve?” – Mouse, 2015 AT thru-hiker

67) “Hot meal, dry socks, and keep moving. Never quit on a bad day.” – Legion, 2011 AT thru-hiker, 2012 PCT thru-hiker

68) “Don’t be afraid to cry. You’re alone in the woods.” – Rob Wager “Animal”, 2015 AT thru-hiker

69) “You just keep going. If you want it bad enough that will be enough to get you there baring injury. Don’t be stupid and try to go too fast. Your attitude will make a huge difference so if your attitude is bad change it….it’s that pesky old mental game again.” – Bad Camel/ Molli McCarthy, 2014 AT thru-hiker

70) “Always remember that a bad day in the woods is way better than a bad day in the real world.” –  Jennifer Williams “Sargeant Moth Balls”, 2015 AT thru-hiker

71) “Katahdin doesn’t come to you. Just remember what you’re goals are and if you need it, cling to a friend to get through it.” – Stretch, 2015 AT thru-hiker

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72) “Everything on the trail is so temporary. You had a bad night at the shelter? It’s rained all day? The trail is a mud pit? You’ll be in a different place tomorrow and despite what you think now, the sun will come back out eventually.” – Rock Boat, 2015 AT thru-hiker

73) “Hike with a friend and tell each other funny stories. Put your music on and sing along. Treat yourself to a zero. Think about how awesome it is that you’re out there while you’re friends are stuck in the office. And always keep in mind that when you’re on top of Katahdin, you wish the hike would not be over. So try to enjoy every day.” – Wildlife, 2014 AT long distance hiker

74) “Never quit on a bad day. The good days definitely outweigh the bad days.” – Daren Jackson, Bo-Line, 2015 AT thru-hiker

75) “Don’t quit at a low point. Take a rest day, dry out if you’re wet, eat some good food and reassess. Figure out what is making you unhappy and try to fix it or change your attitude about it.” – Clayton ‘Tugboat’ FS, 2013 AT thru-hiker

76) “If you’re not enjoying the trail get off it for a couple of days. Have a beer and some good food. Soon enough you will start to miss it.” – Cornwall, 2014 AT thru-hiker

77) “There will be challenging days and weeks with endless rain, but for me I always thought about the fact that I made this decision to hike no one was making me do this and as bad as it may seem that day, it was always better than the alternative of being at work!” – PackMan, 2015 AT thru-hiker

General Words of Wisdom

78) “Your feet will be your most important tool on the trail, take care of them. Don’t freak out once you get to the New England area and can only find brown water. It tastes just as good.” –  Jennifer Williams “Sargeant Moth Balls”, 2015 AT thru-hiker

79) “Enjoy every moment, both the highs and lows. To say hiking the AT has changed my life is an understatement as it was the best experience of my life. Unless your trying to break a speed record on the trail slow down and enjoy each portion. Thank each trail angel you meet and do your part to leave no trace and spread some trail magic of your own!” – PackMan, 2015 AT thru-hiker

80) “Have fun and embrace the crazy, because weird things will happen, and they will make your hike incredible.” – Frozen Mac, 2015 AT thru-hiker

81) “When you’re hungry, eat. When you’re not sure if you’re hungry, eat. Spend some time alone but make tons of friends. When you get home you won’t remember your feet being wet for days or the pasta side you had. Lean on your trail mates. Laugh with each other and vent to each other. These people will become even more important to you when you leave the trail. It’s okay to be mad at the trail. It’s okay to be frustrated. It’s okay to think about what that Katahdin summit will be when you’re in Pennsylvania and you’re beat up from the rocks. Your hike will be magical but you may not realize it until you’re warm, full, and clean. Never forget, attitude is everything. Stay around people with good attitudes.” – Bad Camel/ Molli McCarthy, 2014 AT thru-hiker

82) “Respect and humility. Respect the trail. Respect your fellow hikers. Respect the hostels, hotels, and angels along the way. Be humble about your hike. We all have our reasons for our hike. Yours is just as important as any other hiker. The first white blaze you see makes you an ambassador of the trail. Appreciate it.” – Legion, 2011 AT thru-hiker, 2012 PCT thru-hiker

83) “The trail doesn’t need to define your life, but there’s nothing wrong with keeping with the spirit of the trail once you’re back in the real world. My life will forever be divided in two – I went out to the trail as one person and came back someone else. I’m going by Connor again, but I’ll always be Seeker. You’ll finish too, and find that a much different you is coming back to the same world. I promise you – nothing will appear the same. Truth is, nothing is the same. Embrace that. By the time you finish, you’ll have insight to something that few people see. You’ll know how beautiful, raw and trying life can be. Keep that attitude with you. Don’t stop seeking the peaks once you hit Katahdin. The Appalachian Trail is only the beginning of the rest of your life. Good luck to you all.” – Seeker , 2015 AT thru-hiker

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Comments 11

  • Terry Gandy : Feb 28th

    Advice well taken. I especially appreciate the many suggestions to take everything in stride. Oh, I had never heard of Mouse’s suggestion about leaving the change on the gas station window sill. That is beautiful!! It saves clanking change down the trail.

  • Barry Vosloo : Feb 29th

    A few weeks ago i decided to do a NOBO thru hike of the AT. The idea originally came to me while watching Wild. Then i read an article about a couple who hiked a section for 30 days and that just pushed me over the edge and my mind was made up. I started reading up everything i could find on backpacking and the AT. Joined and Liked all sorts of related groups and pages on facebook. Thats how i came across Badger and your wonderful blogs. I live in South Africa and decided to to take the AT on in 2018, so two years should be enough to prepare, financially, physically and mentally. Every night i jump onto Google and read up on something new, anything from gear, packs, food, trails, other hikers blogs and anything hiking related. The more i read, the more excited I’m getting. Im just burning to get out there and explore. Listen to me, blabbing on as if im blogging. My point being, thank you so much for these 83 tips, they just nudged me a little closer to my dream.

    • Caylyn Temple : Jun 2nd

      You just wrote down my thoughts EXACTLY! I’ll be there in 2018 as well, so maybe we’ll cross paths!!

    • Leslie Hurst (Kitty 2013 and 2015) : May 20th

      Barry, can you contact us. We are also planning a full thru’ hike (from South Africa) in 2018. We have done most of the trail in 2 parts in 2013 and 2015.

  • Bob Rogers : Mar 1st

    If you asked 20 thru hikers and only got 20 different answers, you didn’t try very hard. 😉 Thx for putting it together.

  • Gary : Mar 3rd

    Great advise. I’m doing a flip flop thru-hike in #AT2017.

  • Charles Edwards : Mar 3rd

    Thanx for a great list of advice for a thru-hike Starting a flip flop NOBO from Damascus 3/23.

    • Jeff Cagle : Aug 6th

      Charles- I’m in south Louisiana and planning a thru-hike on the AT NOBO on or about early 2023. I thought I was the only one to plan that long ahead. I’ll be retired right about then, early 50’s, and just old enough and mature enough for the AT. Maybe, just maybe we’ll see each other there.

    • Nanny : May 24th

      Sorry to be so new…… what does NOBO mean……and flipflop….. ? Thanks

  • James Skiff (Sundance) : May 17th

    Legion, always great advice great meeting you in 2011 and staying with you at the hostel in Glencliff last year. Hoot and I are picking up in Shelbune and headed to Katahdin in June.

  • TJ aka Teej : Aug 21st

    Fun list of contradictions!


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