Never Quit On A Bad Day And Other Advice From Thru-Hikers

Over the past few weeks I’ve been reaching out to thru-hikers asking them each the question, “What’s the best advice that you would give to someone embarking on their thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail?”

The hikers who I picked to reach out to are ones who I look up to a lot as role models, and who have been there as resources to help with unanswered questions. A few I met locally, while others I followed online, and one I even purchased old gear from. Each hiker is different, which may have caused the circumstances of their hike to change, but at the end of the day they all have been through the same grit and grind of an insanely awesome feat. They are all really great people, and it was so fun to get advice from each of them directly. Without further ado, below you will find their valuable responses. Enjoy.

Beth Falwell “Kestrel,” NOBO section hiker goes thru (Georgia to SNP throughout grad school and SNP to Maine, July – October 2015)

“The best advice I would give would be to let the miles fall as they may and be willing to change things up. Some of my most wonderful experiences on the trail occurred because I took a nero or zero day or altered my plan. This may sound silly but it’s easy to be rigid out there but by being rigid you really miss out on the trail itself. I took some amazing photographs and made some really close friends by becoming more flexible and not adhering to the schedule I originally set out for myself. I learned to wander…”

Bethany Varner “Snap,” NOBO thru-hiker (February – July 2017)

“I think that the best advice I could give would be to not have any expectations. You never know how your journey is going to go. Do not stress about miles, and plan what the next day will be like. The trail has its ways of throwing your agenda out the door. You may hope for a super clear, warm, sunny summit on the next mountain but it could end up a cloudy and rainy summit. You just have to make the most of what the trail gives you! :)”

Chris Martin “Dancing Bear,” flip-flop thru-hiker (SNP to Mt. Katahdin, then SNP to Springer Mountain, May – October 2017)

“I think the best advice I could give you is to never quit on a bad day. While the experience as a whole was awesome you will definitely have bad days where you think of quitting. Just stick through it because shortly after you will have an amazing day that will remind you how great the trail is!

I couldn’t choose just one picture because there are so many and they all tell great stories. The one of just me is my overall favorite, but the second is me and my friend Tornado. I flip-flopped from Shenandoah and met Tornado while hiking in Maine. He had missed a big section from Georgia to North Carolina, and I knew that I might be seeing him somewhere down South because he planned on still hiking that section northbound. One day in Tennessee I was hiking along and out of nowhere he popped up around the corner and we both yelled with excitement, because we had no idea we’d be running into each other that day. The trail has a way of making spontaneous reunions like this and is definitely one of the special things about it. Take pictures of/with the people you meet, because they are one of the best parts of the trail.”

Darwin Rakestraw, NOBO thru-hiker (Springer Mountain to Great Barrington, Mass., in 2015 then Great Barrington to Mt. Katahdin in 2016)

“Eat everything, enjoy every, moment, embrace the suck, and hike on!”

Jeff Alt “Wrongfoot,” NOBO thru-hiker (March – July 1998)

“On my Walk for Sunshine journey, I learned that the simple little things can get you through the big tough things.  Find something to celebrate each day (cup of hot coffee, the fact that you have the physical ability to take this walk, etc.).  This will help you enjoy the journey along the way instead of focusing on the ultimate destination.  Don’t let the 2,190-mile distance overwhelm your psyche.  All you need to do is put one foot in front of the other and average 12 miles a day to make the full distance in one season. So, set a daily goal and focus on that. Have fun!”

Jessica Mills “Dixie,” NOBO thru-hike (March – October 2015)

  1. “Keep your head up. Not just meaning keep in good spirits, but literally make sure you lift your head and enjoy the beauty of nature. If you don’t remind yourself, you’ll stare at your feet for many more miles than you’d like.
  2. Don’t quit on a bad day. Not every day will be sunshine and butterflies. It’s going to rain and it’s going to suck sometimes, but you have to embrace the suck and keep pushing. If you are sitting on a mountain summit looking at a beautiful view, the sun is shining, birds are singing, butterflies are fluttering, and you hate it all, it might be time to go home. It’s easy to quit on a bad day, so if you feel the urge just take a zero, revive yourself, and get back out there.
  3. Be free. Don’t let overplanning get in the way of one of the  freest times in your life. It was hard for me to not want to hike on a certain schedule all the time. I had to learn to let go of that and truly enjoy myself. If you want to sleep in one morning, do it. If there’s a side adventure that comes up, take it. Just enjoy your time on the trail because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and everyone misses the trail when it’s over.”

Justin Shifflet “Spider,” flip-flop thru-hiker (SNP to Mt. Katahdin, then SNP to Springer Mountain, May – November 2016)

“The one bit of advice I would like to share would be to just enjoy your time out there. Understand that your time on trail is finite, so take as many risks and make as many friends as possible. Enjoy each day for what it is and don’t let the bad ones carry over. DO NOT RUSH YOUR HIKE (unless you’re pressed for time). Take as long as you can on your hike. Be a piece of hiker trash for as long as possible. You’ll realize, like I did, that the best way to stay connected to the trail after you’re finished is through the amazing people you hiked with on it. They have made all the difference to me and I still keep in contact with them to this day. Also a side-note, if you can go to trail days, GO. I have been the last two years and I enjoy it every year.”

Vince Mier “Blaze,” NOBO thru-hiker (2011)

“One simple piece of advice-
Listen to your body: when you want rest, rest and when you’re hungry and can eat, eat and when you’re hot, take off a layer instead of waiting and sweating.
On the bus ride home, I wrote-
“Trail Wisdom for Life”
Here are a few-
  • People always seem willing to share their advice, doubts, and fears which are all like water in that they need to be carefully filtered.
  • There will always be another mountain, but focus on climbing the one directly in front of you today.
  • Never forget how it felt to be hungry, tired, wet, dirty, lonely, or lost.
  • The difficulties you will encounter in life are like the rocks, roots, rain, and empty food bag you found along the trail, they are all inevitable obstacles that can be overcome.”

And there ya have it, folks. I hope you all enjoyed reading these as much as I did.
happy trails,





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