7 Things I Absolutely Hated About Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail

You either have a good time or a good story, as the saying goes.  Now that I’ve completed the Appalachian Trail, I love to look back and laugh at all the miserable garbage I encountered during my thru-hike.

We all know thru-hiking isn’t all sunshine and roses. Letting the less-than-wonderful aspects of the trail get you down is a mistake, but it doesn’t hurt to acknowledge them and brace yourself for the worst. From trench foot to soul-crushing boredom, here are the top 10 things I hated about thru-hiking the AT.

The Top 7 Things I Hated About Hiking the Appalachian Trail

1. Hiking in the rain.

“Embrace the suck,” my ass. It rains a lot on the AT, but although I eventually got used to hiking in the rain, I never enjoyed it. I don’t like sloshing around in flooded shoes nor falling in the mud after slipping on a wet root. Sue me.

And don’t get me started on donning clammy, mildewy hiking clothes and shoes morning after morning because nothing ever dries in the humid eastern air.

Pro tip: if it isn’t raining when you get to camp, try to wear your wet clothes for a few hours so your body heat can dry them before you change into your camp things. Put the newly dried clothes inside a waterproof bag overnight, or else any salt from your sweat that remains in the fabric can attract moisture from the air, and the clothes will get wet all over again by morning.

If your clothes aren’t entirely drenched, you can also bring them inside your sleeping bag to help them dry overnight, though this only sort of works in my experience.

2. Painsylvania.

The notorious rocks of Pennsylvania are all too real. Don’t be fooled by the suspiciously smooth tread you’ll encounter just over the Maryland border. It’s a clever ruse to lull you into a false sense of security. Expect agonizing, rock-studded madness from Duncannon to High Point State Park in New Jersey. As one fellow hiker put it, it’s like walking barefoot on Legos for 100 miles.

You might consider getting a new pair of sturdy shoes before you hit this stretch to protect your tender soles.

On top of all the rocks, there aren’t too many views in the Pennsylvania section of the AT. Plus, by the time most northbound thru-hikers reach the area, the sweltering heat of summer is in full swing.

I’m not saying there’s nothing worthwhile about this state, but it was a slog for me. I wasn’t sorry to leave it in the rearview mirror.

3. Bugs. EVERYWHERE.

I saw many bugs on my 2018 thru, but I’ve got nothing on members of the Class of 2021 who hiked through the cicada Brood X emergence.

Yeah, yeah, I know. You’d think a rugged, stalwart outdoorswoman like me wouldn’t mind a few creepy crawlies. But the sheer number of ticks, mosquitoes, biting flies, ants, and spiders was just too much, even for me. Ticks are the most problematic, of course, because of Lyme disease, but I was lucky enough to avoid any tick bites (at least as far as I’m aware) on my thru-hike. Religious nightly tick checks and regular application of permethrin to my clothing and gear helped with this.

I was lucky enough to avoid the brunt of blackfly season in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, but I did face shocking numbers of regular flies and mosquitoes elsewhere on the trail, which was trying. As an aside, blackfly season runs approximately from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day in northern New England, and the region becomes largely mosquito-free by late summer.

However, I think the spiders were the worst for me, owing to their unfortunate habit of stringing webs across the trail at face height. By peak spider season (October, southern Virginia), I existed in a state of near-nervous collapse each morning, just waiting for the next eight-legged apparition to loom out of the twilight.

4. The Crowds.

We woke up early to avoid the notorious crowds at the summit of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.

The AT is the quintessential long-distance trail. It’s the one everyone thinks of first when they think of thru-hiking. It’s also conveniently located within spitting distance of several major population centers. Nearly everyone agrees that the AT is a beautiful trail that’s wonderfully easy to access.

Which is great, but it does make for a crowded hiking experience compared to more remote footpaths like the Continental Divide Trail. You can still find solitude on the AT if you hike early in the morning or in the off-season (or avoid the most popular sections), but it’s relatively hard to come by.

Even on quiet days, you see evidence of humans everywhere. It takes the form of garbage, graffitied trees, and unburied poop and toilet paper. Don’t get me wrong—I love the community on the AT and loved interacting with other hikers on the trail. But the constant barrage of humanity weighed on me all the same.

5. The Green Tunnel.

OK, I didn’t hate the green tunnel all that much. I love forest ecosystems. But sometimes, after fighting my way up a long, tough climb with a name like “Bald Mountain,” only to find it completely tree-covered, I longed for the abundant views of western trails like the PCT.

Thru-hiking can be tedious at times. A bit of visual glory is perfect for breaking up the monotony. I will admit that the relative infrequency of expansive vistas made me appreciate them all the more when I happened upon them, though.

Note: if you’re craving big views on the AT, your best bets will be the balds of North Carolina and Tennesee, and the extensive alpine traverses of New Hampshire and Maine.

6. Bars.

I recently discovered FBOMB bars and am actually obsessed with them. The only bar I don’t think will ever bore me.

I think I’ll strangle someone if I have to eat one more Clif bar in my lifetime. In cold blood.

Bars are portable, compact enough to fit in a hip belt, and reasonably nourishing. But I can’t bring myself to like most of them.

I choked down two or three bars per day on the AT and regretted most of them. Fortunately, I’ve since found a few brands I like enough to keep eating them mile after mile, but it’s been a long journey to get to where I am today.

7. The shelters.

Admittedly, some AT lean-tos—like the lovely Quarry Gap Shelter in southern Pennsylvania—are pretty snazzy.

Unpopular opinion, I know, but I never liked staying at shelters. They were a safety net in the earliest days of my thru-hike when I was still uncomfortable with the concept of sleeping outside alone.

But shelters, along with being social hubs, attract wildlife. They’re often dirty, graffitied, and mouse-infested. Shelters are lovely to hide in on cold, rainy days. They’re also excellent for meeting other hikers, but other than that, I had little use for them.

I only slept inside a shelter four times on my thru, preferring the privacy of a stealth spot.

Despite the day-to-day annoyances, hiking the AT was probably the best thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I can’t wait to do it again some day.

I’d be lying if I said every day on the trail was a good day. But the challenging, irritating, and downright unpleasant parts of thru-hiking are every bit as integral to the experience as the giddy, magical, awe-inspiring parts.

Besides, the bad days make the best stories.

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Comments 29

  • Jr : Sep 10th

    I have hike almost the entire Appalachian trail
    I have had many problems like she had spoken of
    But i had found many life long friends and
    Times on the trails from the south to the end of my 2k miles
    You are in the Forest with bugs and every type of animals and beasts
    You can not pick the weather because it changes day to night
    The shelters are like any shelters,
    like going to a non maid service nor a front desk person to control the cleaning
    If the other hikers would clean up after them selves
    There is hotels and motels and bed and breakfast lodging on the trail as well for a more comfortable experience
    I my self hiked the 2k miles through the snow and enjoyed every night and day and every step
    The Appalachian trail is not for inexperienced hiker
    I am sorry you experienced such a horrible problem Appalachian trail
    Hoping you have a better experience you second time

    Reply
    • Michael C. Veax : Sep 11th

      The pigs that leave trash and worst on the trail deserve special place in hell

      Reply
      • Ralph B. Mahon : Sep 11th

        Agree on that. I bring a garbage bag to pick up s*** Waste of time arguing with people.
        They know it’s wrong, they don’t care.

        Reply
      • Kat : Sep 11th

        Yesss!! It sickens me to even think that they consider themselves naturalist but will trash anything in a heartbeat just to convenience their selfish selves 😡😡

        Reply
    • Mike : Sep 12th

      Do u really think people hiking a a trail for months on end can clean up after themselves? Cmon they dont shower for days if not weeks on end! Most of these people are disgusting weirdos that still can’t find themselves in they’re midlife crises. And u want them to clean up after themselves, lmfao , Comical SMH

      Reply
      • Maria : Sep 12th

        You aren’t serious are you?!?! The people hiking for months on end are not the ones leaving trash on trail… day hikers and weekend “warriors” are much more likely to trash the trail.

        Reply
      • Michelle : Sep 17th

        Wow what are you even doing on this site reading articles like this…

        Reply
    • JustJack : Sep 14th

      This story reminds me of another. When I was solo traveling in Greece some years ago I overheard an American traveler complaining that there should be more of American “things” in Greece to make it easier to travel. And more people should learn English.

      Reply
  • pearwood : Sep 10th

    Black flies are evil.

    Reply
    • Ralph B. Mahon : Sep 11th

      OH YEAH!

      Reply
    • Joseph Alfano : Sep 11th

      Mayflies are even worse!

      Reply
      • Ralph B. Mahon : Sep 11th

        Joe, barflies are worse than mayflies!

        Reply
  • Russ Hobgood (Russ1663) : Sep 10th

    Hi Kelly. Read your 7 hatreds. Yes. Although I have not thru-hiked, I have enough trail time to say YES. Note: I prefer my hammock system to a tent. Best of trail luck to you.

    Reply
  • Boomerang : Sep 11th

    Thank you for a true laugh-out-loud list of some of the toughest aspects of the AT. Like another poster, I’ve section hiked enough to appreciate your account. You’re a terrific writer with a good sense of humor! And I’m totally with you on the bars. Still haven’t found one I actually want to eat more than once, in a pinch.

    Reply
    • Turtle Man : Sep 12th

      For me, Larabar, GoMacro, and Kind bars are all palatable, and even enjoyable. Trader Joe’s carries a few different nut-based bars, which i’d bet are made by Kind, but with TJ’s name, at somewhat lower prices. YMMV.

      Reply
  • Matthew : Sep 11th

    The summit of Washington is super annoying. Hikers should be able to cut the line to get a photo with the summit sign.

    Reply
    • Matt Cornish : Sep 12th

      Why

      Reply
  • Ralph B. Mahon : Sep 11th

    The only thing I don’t like, are bugs and heat.
    Other stuff, no problemo

    Reply
  • JimmyAnn : Sep 11th

    Years ago I took hiking as my college elective and we did several section hikes but I remember vividly my instructor saying “Boots go to die in Pennsylvania.”
    He wasn’t wrong, LOL

    Reply
  • thetentman : Sep 11th

    Nice post. Had me chuckling and nodding my head.

    While I agree with all your points. To me, the most annoying thing was and is the lack of sleep. I get so excited by being out there that I never get more than 5 hours of sleep because I do not want to miss anything.

    Reply
  • Mr freeze : Sep 11th

    Great article. I wonder how many maniacs are on this trail lol. Heard the stories.

    Reply
  • james lankford : Sep 11th

    > Fortunately, I’ve since found a few brands I like enough to keep eating them mile after mile

    and … their names are ???

    Reply
  • Nancy : Sep 12th

    Great article and well written. I hiked portions of the trail and the worst thing were the little black fly bites. Ugh! Awful!

    Reply
  • Californiadude : Sep 13th

    When I moved from Lake Arrowhead,, California (Deep Creek/Big Bear area on the PCT) to the east, I didn’t even own a rain cover for my pack. I had never even considered it.

    My first attempt on the Foothills Trail in SC ended after 20 miles, with all my gear soaked to the core after riding out a night of heavy rain and another few hour storm stuck under a rhododendron tree trying to stay dry.

    I went back a month later better prepared and did the AT through the Smokies from I-40 to Fontana Dam. Awesome trip!

    This summer I took my girlfriend out to California and we climbed Baden Powell on the PCT and she was amazed how we weren’t soaked in sweat the entire hike. She loved it.She couldn’t believe how easy it was to dry out so quickly in the west. She loved the mellow switchbacks as well.

    The crowds out east are brutal. By nature, the east was developed much much earlier than the west, so there is very little public land in the east by comparison. Nevada is somewhere around 83%+ public land, whereas the east is more or less private land.

    California has so much public land that everyone can spread out, despite our 40 million residents.

    As for the switchbacks, or lack of, in the east, I am not a fan of the roller coaster trails in the east. I understand the dense forests don’t really allow for switchbacks, but I’m not a fan of the straight up and then back down, only to climb another hill straight up.

    Back in 2015 I did a July 4th trip from Onion Valley to Bidhop Pass on thr PCT and picked up a couple PCT hikers hitching on my way up to the Onion Valley Trailhead in Independence, CA and hiked a 75 mile stretch of the JMT/PCT with them and one of the dudes was from Charlotte. Dude told me about the steepness of the AT and I didn’t really believe him until I had hiked out here for my first time.

    Sun versus shade, views versus green tunnels, dusty trails versus muddy trails. It’s all fun in the end and makes memories you’ll never forget! I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to see so much of the country by Trail.

    Reply
  • Don't Care : Sep 14th

    Thanks to all you early birds, for clearing out those spider webs!

    Reply
  • murris : Sep 15th

    and the drugs, and pedophiles, and mental illness ….etc

    Reply
  • Tomcat : Sep 17th

    The rain didn’t bother me on my AT thru hike. However a biblically rainy LT thru and later an equally rainy Collegiate Loop in CO years later changed my opinion of the rain. I grew up near Port Clinton PA so The PA Rocks us where I cut my teeth hiking and they never bothered me. I also lived in Maine for about years and that also lowered my patience for mosquitoes and deer flies. The Black flies never affected me as much. I also never enjoyed the shelters all that much. My name is Tomcat-mice should fear me not torment me through the night plus I always managed to have a snorer in them. As for food. I can’t say too much of the trail food is great. I usually didn’t grow tired of snickers at least.

    Reply
  • WOLF : Sep 18th

    I like the part about clipping BEAR FOOD on your belt.

    Reply

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