5 Things To Expect In Your First 5 Days On The AT

A lot of people are going to be hiking for the first time this year. And a lot of people won’t or don’t know and can’t imagine just what they’re about to get in to. So here’s a (not so) comprehensive list of what you can expect on your first 5 days on the trail.


1. A “What the Hell am I doing?” Moment

Most likely within your first two hours or so, you’ll think to yourself, “Man, I’ve been walking for awhile now. I wonder how much farther to the shelter. Wait, this is kind of boring. This shouldn’t be boring. I thought this was supposed to be the adventure of a lifetime. This is just walking. Not adventuring. What the hell am I doing out here? How can I sustain this boredom for the next 2,184 miles?” Or something similar. The truth is, in my opinion, the hiking is the worst part of the AT – at least at times. It’s very physically demanding, tiring, and yes, can be quite boring. The true magic of the AT comes from the beautiful human interaction, growth, and kindness you’ll experience.

2. Shedding some gear, and fat

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably packed way too much gear and food, and are likely to have some completely and utterly senseless items on your person (see: machete). By the time you get to Neel’s Gap, you’ll be ready to dance around a fire singing praises to the flame gods while you watch these superfluities burn into oblivion – that is, if you haven’t littered the trail with them already. Say “Bye bye” machete, extra clothes, poorly fit shoes, an full size containers of anything.

You’ll probably notice by this point, also, that you’ve started to lose weight. Most people accept this fact graciously and enjoy their newfound ability to huff down ungodly amounts of food. Be prepared for this, though, and buy some gear, namely your pants, perhaps a size or two small. I remember having to carve a new notch in my belt when my waist retreated to size 30 (from 33) after the first week.

3. Sore Feet

Duh, right? No. You have no idea. Your feet are going to feel like Mike Tyson and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s lovechild got cheated on by a Kardashian and needed a wall to punch, but couldn’t find one – so he picked the soles of your pitiful little hooves. It’s ok, you’ll get used to it, and eventually (perhaps) even numb to the sensation. But be prepared for some group foot massages, solo yoga sessions in your tent (DO NOT LET ANYONE SEE YOU DOING YOGA OR YOUR TRAIL NAME WILL BE YOGI (SOMETHING)), and lots more “Why the eff am I doing this?” moments.

4. Getting In To A Groove

The first few days aren’t all bad. Well, they’re pretty bad. For most. But one good part is you’ll find yourself getting accustomed to the routine – one that is refreshing, to say the least. Falling asleep shortly after the sun goes down, waking up shortly after (or before) it comes up, and hiking for 6, 8, or 12 hours a day. You’ll get used to eating more than you thought was humanly possible, drinking at least 5 Nalgene’s full of water every day (and peeing a corresponding amount), and the swamp ass. Oh, the swamp ass.

5. Growing

It may sound premature this early on, but you’ve already started to grow. Never forget that – this is a growing experience. You’re already special, that’s why you chose to spend 6 months walking through the effing woods. Every time you think this sucks or this is boring or you’re not getting out of it what you thought you would, remember, of the 7 billion people on this planet, you’re one of the two-thousand-something that chose to experience this beautiful, self-imposed and transformative exile. Even after 5 days in the woods, you have become a new you – you’re a hiker now. Get used to it.

Your first 5 days will make or break you. If you continue past this point, you’re probably going to last at least through Virginia. Stick it out, keep on walking. You were made for this. Remember: this is a privilege. While many people would not choose to contemplate life’s bigger questions, to truly connect with other people, and to restore their faith in humanity, you have. Oh, and most of all, expect the unexpected.

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Comments 1

  • Rolf Asphaug : Dec 2nd

    Really good advice! I hiked the Colorado Trail and my feet did pretty well; they were occasionally sore but I didn’t have any blisters. I’m preparing to hike the first 500 miles or so northbound of the Appalachian Trail in 2023, and I’m expecting that my feet won’t know what’s hit them: blisters, constant wetness, trying to avoid trench foot … I hope my feet and the rest of me will be up to it! Thanks again for the warnings.


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