10 Things You’re Probably Stressing About But Shouldn’t Be

We can be honest here. If you’re attempting an upcoming thru-hike, it’s all you’re thinking about right now. And scrambled with the excitement and daydreams is a pile of stress about the 14 billion things that could go wrong. All of the following concerns are valid, but for the most part, they won’t come to pass (you aren’t going to starve) or there’s nothing you can do about it (you will end up in a bad bubble at some point, and you’ll escape just fine.) There are valid stress points of thru-hiking (injuries, running out of money) but we’ll save that for another, more depressing post. For now, do yourself a favor and keep obsessing about cutting the handle off your toothbrush, not if you’re going to be judged for skipping the approach trail.

1) I feel like I should hike the approach trail but I really don’t want to.

On the first day, fellow hikers are going to ask if you hiked the approach trail. You might feel proud if you did it (that’s a lot of stairs!) and you might feel embarrassed if you didn’t (it’s not part of the AT, ok?!) but in reality, no one cares about those first eight non-AT miles. There are a lot of upcoming climbs to distract you.

2) Am I in good shape enough for this?! I haven’t trained!


Unless you’re a super human (oh, the lucky few) your body won’t be thrilled for the first few hundred miles no matter how many squats you squatted or sessions you logged on that horrible stair climber in the gym. It’s winter, you aren’t hiking mountains every day, and you aren’t carrying a pack everywhere you go. You’ll get used to the miles once you’re out there, but unless science has something to argue, there’s no perfect way to train for a thru hike and make it not suck at first.

3) I hope I don’t end up in a bad bubble

Well, you might end up surrounded by people you’re not crazy about.  The good news is, your mileage is going to be so varied you will lose them, or they’ll lose you. Bubbles shift and change (and pop!) on a daily basis. Plus, the people who are there to party are a lot less common than you think.

4) Did I pack enough toothpaste / butt powder / Advil in my  bounce box?

PSA: You don’t need that stuff in your bounce box. The Dollar General has your back. Seriously do not ship those little things ahead because it’s costing more postage than the items are worth. And when you finally need that spare Gold Bond? Your bounce box won’t be in that town anyway and you’ll be slapping down 99 cents at the Dollar General like you should have accepted in the first place.

5) Don’t want to starve. Will pack 15 pounds of food & send 27 mail drops


Speaking of Dollar General, you won’t run out of food. Actually, you probably have too much food. Go put some back. You’ll hit Hiawassee in ~65 miles… less than a week of hiking. Most hikers run out of food one time, but someone else will be carrying too much food and donate their awful oatmeal packets to your sad self. And yes mail drops sure are fun, but keep in mind that 99% of towns will have grocery stores (or the D-Gen), and you might not be stoked on the food your pre-trail self thought you would be, and you’ll be pawning off your 15th bag of trail mix on your hiker trash buddies.

6) What if I’m slower than everyone else?

Someone will always be slower than you but also who cares? It’s a longass hike.


Planes, trains, hitches, and shuttles oh my. This step can actually be sort of confusing. This post will help. AWOL’s guide has solid information with contact info for shuttles, local bus stops, and how to get out of the Atlanta airport in one piece.

8) I’m starting too early, I’ll freeze. Or: I’m starting too late, I’ll never make it


Your start date affects your hike, no doubt about it. Start on the early side? You will freeze down south, but finish in a blaze of summer glory. Starting later? Get ready for a rhododendron-bloom blessed southern section but some frigid days in Maine.

9) My gear is wrong and everyone is going to know more than me.

You will meet people who eat thru-hikes for breakfast, and you’ll meet people who will need help setting up their tent on the first night. Before you know it, you’ll all be cruising along at the same level. Definitely don’t be afraid to ask for help, and be nice if someone asks you for assistance. Regarding your gear, it’s going to change over and over throughout the hike. That’s a given.

10) What if I don’t finish?


The truth is, around 80% of people who attempt a thru-hike don’t complete the trail in one attempt. But if you’re reading this, you’re emotionally preparing, and you accept that this is going to be extremely challenging, you’re on the right track. As we know, mental game is over half the battle. Your chances for success will increase if you keep the idea of not finishing out of your head.


Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 8

  • Jill Knox : Dec 10th

    “But if you’re reading this, you’re emotionally preparing, and you accept that this is going to be extremely challenging, you’re on the right track.”
    I AM emotionally preparing…. one day I’m crying the next I can’t contain my excitement.
    I love your list – and it does help! ! ! Thank you.
    Jill (and I AM doing the approach trail but only because that’s where my last bed is before hitting the trail!) 🙂

  • Annette : Dec 11th

    Great list. I love #6!

  • KT Saunders : Dec 11th

    This is everything I needed. EVERYTHING.

  • Karyn : Dec 13th

    Hi again,
    I just posted a comment on one of your other posts then realized it was dated in August. I hope you read it as I had a question and I don’t want to rewrite the entire post here but…again, this is a great list (also) so thank you.

    One more thing: knowing that the sub-culture of hikers does often-times make comparisons regarding gear, experiences, etc. I am surprised to hear that it has a negative ubiquitous effect on hikers individually. This is good to know. TY

    • Maggie : Dec 13th

      Hi there!

      Overall, my experience somewhat of comparison and competition at first. It fades very quickly, but at first everyone wants to talk about their gear and how many miles they hope to do, and what their pace is. I’m not sure why this was the case, but it can be tough to ignore sometimes, and you find yourself wondering why you aren’t moving as fast as other people, or you envy their gear. As hokey as it sounds, HYOH does help, if you can repeat it to yourself. Or maybe you will be so mentally tough you won’t care how fast other people go!

  • allie : Jan 3rd

    great read, mg! #6 is my favorite, too!

  • KC : Jan 22nd

    Hi Maggie!
    I haven’t read this particular article of yours yet but I will but first I need to ask a question (I hate repeatedly emailing Zach). I have not planned an itinerary yet…I’m not even sure if I want to flip-flop or follow a bubble (for lack of a plan). I have been waiting and waiting for AWOL’s 2017 guide book and time’s-a-tick’in away!
    Can you please email me (I’m a theTrek blogger and the submitted email is the one I use) with some details, hints, insights (like when AWOLs book might be out) or just some advice? Please. If all else fails, I’ll follow the white blaze and just hike everyday til I drop.

    • KC : Jan 22nd

      Wait, no, I did read it!
      Still….please reply 🙂


What Do You Think?