8 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers Share Their Top Advice
As the 2023 thru-hiking season draws to a close, we’ve asked our Appalachian Trail finishers to share what they’ve learned throughout their journeys. From preparing for the adventure to dealing with the challenges of the trail, these eight hikers offer their advice to anyone hoping to embark on their own thru-hike one day.
Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Know Your Why
Know why you are undertaking your adventure and write down your reasons in a handy place. Before you get on the trail describe how you will feel when you complete the journey and what it will mean if you fail to “go the distance”. The book Appalachian Trials describes the importance of this process very well. There were many days I felt like quitting and each time I read what I had written prior to my start. That was enough to get me through another day.
No Bugs During the Spring
I wish I had known there weren’t bugs in Georgia in February/March/April. You don’t need to start with your bug spray or head net going NOBO. I didn’t use either until Pennsylvania in mid-July but carried both until then. Unneeded weight.
Just say yes!
Say yes to everything. Also, some inflatable sleeping pads work really well as rafts. Take breaks to set up and float!
It’s No Vacation
Don’t underestimate the difficulty of thru-hiking the AT. There’s a reason 75% of the wannabes don’t make it every year. The trail is very difficult, and is frequently made worse by weather – heat, humidity, rain, snow, wind. Long stretches of the trail are in very poor condition and are badly designed, steep, muddy, slippery, rocky, rooty, climby, and blocked by tree falls. And the mental aspects can be just as brutal. I knew a dozen über hikers who just couldn’t deal with the monotony and trail conditions and quit.
Live in the Now
The advice I’d give is to live in the moment. Do this hike, absolutely, but try to leave your worries at home. Don’t worry about what might happen, or things you can’t control. Just enjoy today. It sounds easy, but it’s not! It is absolutely crucial to smell the roses along the way, swim in the ponds, and pet the fuzzy moss! Breathe. Smile. And go hike a while!
Budget Enough Time
Unless you’re a world-class athlete, the trail will take you about five months if you hike fast, six months if your pace is average, and seven months if you go slower. In that long of a time period, you may have sickness, an injury, or a personal matter you must attend to, which will pull you off trail for a bit. So keep that in mind when you schedule your start date and give yourself a two-to-four-week buffer on top of your anticipated total time to complete the journey.
I had several problems and spent about a cumulative month’s time not being able to hike. I hike slightly faster than average, but it still took me 201 days from my March 11th start date until summiting September 25th. Had I started in mid-April, I would have needed to flip-flop because of that. And doing the Georgia to Maine NOBO thing the whole way was important to me.
Hike Your Own Hike
Hike your own hike, listen, and be open-minded but take everyone’s take with a grain of salt and form your own opinion. Don’t be afraid to call an audible and go your own way.
Don’t get too wrapped up in planning every single detail of your thru-hike, because the trail has a way of thwarting the best of intended plans. Hiking the Appalachian Trail will propel you into a whole new level of “flexible mindset.” You cannot outplan or outwit the trail — or the weather that comes with it!
It may sound cliche to “soak in every moment.” But, as surely as the sun rises every day, your thru-hike will be over in a blink. Journal, blog, take photos and videos. If you choose a hike of solitude, just know you can easily find lifelong friends on the trail. You can and will find an amazing trail community… and that is priceless. On the flip side, hiking every single mile with others may not always be in your best interest. Listen to your body and your personal needs.
Many thanks to these bloggers for sharing their top advice from their time on the AT, and congrats to all of the hikers from the AT Class of 2023!
Be sure to subscribe to The Trek’s newsletter so you never miss an update.
Featured image: A Reptar photo.
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.
I would add: carry and resupply with small Rite-In-The-Rain notebooks ( I filled out five), and journal every evening (or at shelter/resupply/zero daze stops), to chronicle your adventure. Years later you (and family/friends), will love having detailed memories to reflect on.
I read all comments, sometimes I get a different “take@ on events.