7 Thru-Hiking Mistakes Rookie Hikers Make on the AT
The Appalachian Trail is 2,193 miles of “one foot in front of the other” mentality. That’s a whole lot of steps to make memories, meals, and of course, mistakes. Here are a few common (but avoidable) thru-hiking mistakes that rookie AT hikers often make. Read on so you can avoid making them yourself.
1. Starting Too Early
Thru-hiking season seems to start earlier each year. There are people starting in February and early March. Don’t start the AT at least until April. Mid-April is ideal because you’re going to bypass a lot of that winter weather in the South but still get relatively great weather in the Northern part of the AT. Just because you see other people starting early in the season does not mean you have to as well.
It sucks to realize mid-trail that you really need something you left at home. Having a lighter pack is always ideal, but when you first start on the AT those extra few ounces aren’t going to hurt. Until you figure out what you really need, give yourself some leeway for a little bit of extra comfort while you’re settling into life on the AT.
Just the opposite of No. 2. There’s no reason your pack needs to weigh 60-70 pounds. If you research your gear in advance, there’s no reason you can’t put together a setup that easily meets your needs without breaking 30 pounds. Besides, your knees will thank you.
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4. Not Knowing When to Take a Break
Injuries happen. Some hikers ignore their pain in order to keep pace with their tramilies. However, there comes a time where you can hurt yourself so badly that it takes you off trail. Remember, there’s no rush. There’s no reason you can’t listen to your body when it’s telling you that a few zero days could be incredibly beneficial.
5. Being Overly Competitive
General fatigue and muscle/joint pain can set in as early as Day 10 if you start out trying to keep up or catch up to people. You shouldn’t worry about anyone else’s mileage but your own. You don’t need to calculate milage like it’s life or death. Of course, you need to plan your mileage accordingly for resupply, but there’s no reason to be overly competitive. You will reach the Northern Terminus when it’s your time. Don’t rush the journey. It’s one of the best things you’ll do in your life, and the moment you get home you will miss it. Enjoy it while you’re out there living it!
6. Romanticizing the Trail
You’re going to smell bad and ache all over. You’re going to be exhausted and you’re going to have bad days. Overly romanticizing the trail can really limit your actual enjoyment of the adventure. Don’t get me wrong—the trail can be wonderful and enchanting, but it can also be despairing at times. Although you definitely should get excited about the possibility of hiking the AT, be clear-eyed about the challenges you’ll face, too. It is an incredible challenge of mental, physical, and emotional strength and endurance.
7. Doubting Yourself
This is one of the most important thru-hiking mistakes to take note of. The trail never changes in the miles you have to walk or the mountains you must cross to reach the Northern Terminus. Doubting yourself just makes the adventure that much more difficult to enjoy and more challenging of a task. The energy you spend doubting yourself is a waste. Instead, use that energy to propel yourself forward with confidence and you will surely have a much better time!
As a rookie, there are always thru-hiking mistakes to be made even if you are the most prepared possible. Whatever you do, make sure to enjoy the beautiful and ugly parts of this incredible experience and do your research (which you’ve already started after reviewing these seven common thru-hiking mistakes).
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