Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers Share 99 Tips for Aspiring Thru-Hikers

If you’re thinking about hiking the Appalachian Trail, you probably have a lot of questions right about now. Who better to answer them than the people who have already been there and done that? We surveyed experienced thru-hikers to get their best advice about hiking the Appalachian Trail. Read on to discover 99 pieces of sterling thru-hiker wisdom from the experts themselves.

Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Browse by Section

On getting friends and family on board
On finances and budgeting
On physically training for the trail
On gear and pack weight
On logistics and planning for a long hike
On mental preparation and surviving the tough days
On forming and maintaining relationships on trail
On avoiding common illnesses and injuries
On nutrition (on trail and in town)
On maintaining hygiene on the trail
On town etiquette
On Leave No Trace
On dealing with life after the trail
Miscellaneous advice

< 2020 Thru-Hikers: Apply to Blog and/or Vlog for The Trek >

Getting Friends and Family on Board

1) Reassure them as best you can, but I found my parents were more comfortable with the idea of me thru-hiking after I did a successful shakedown hike through Shenandoah National Park. I proved I was capable, so that eased their concerns. –Froggy, Flip-Flop 2018

2) Express how this is something you’ve been dreaming about for a while and that you’ve done your research. If it helps ease (their) nerves, carry a SPOT or Garmin. –Wildlife, SOBO 2018

3) Explain all you can, but don’t let anyone discourage you. No one understands what a gift the AT is until it’s over. –Teddy, NOBO 2016

4) Tell them about what, or who, inspired you to hike. —Rufio, NOBO 2018

5) Tell the people who matter, those who will be positive. –Barrel, NOBO 2017

6) The AT community is so open—if your family and friends really are concerned for your hike, reach out and see if someone had a similar experience and would be willing to talk to them about it. –Rainbow, NOBO 2018

7) Give them lots of advance notice, ensure them that you will communicate with them when you can, and let them send you packages along the way. –Ace, NOBO 2018

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Finances and Budgeting on a Thru-Hike

Image via Scott B

8) Save save save. If you can’t afford it, don’t go. It’s not on everyone else to fund your trip. Try staying in every Friday and setting aside $40 each week. It will add up real fast if you stick to it. –Odie, SOBO 2018

9) Save up just a bit more than you think you will need. Be careful spending at first if starting in the South because the New England states can get expensive. –Sweet Pea, Flip-Flop 2018

10) Make sure you have at least $5,000 put away. In my personal opinion, this would be just enough for a moderate spender on the AT. –Stinker, NOBO 2017

11) You don’t spend as much money while hiking. It’s when you are NOT hiking that money gets spent (in town). If you are on a tight budget minimize your time in town and keep moving. A six-month thru-hike seems to cost about 50% more than a four-month thru-hike. –BugJuice, NOBO 2016

12) Save enough money, try to get your rent and utilities bill as low as possible, spread out expensive purchases over time, look for good secondhand gear. On the trail, keep track of what you’re spending, so you know how long you will last and limit your expenses if the money goes too quickly. –Snow Angel, NOBO 2018

13) Firstly settle/control your debts. After you obtain your gear, you will need $5,000 to do the trail comfortably. You can complete it with as little as $2,000 if you adamantly control yourself in town and use hiker boxes to your full advantage, but I would suggest $5,000 so you can experience more along the AT.–Trailien, NOBO 2017

14) Never pay for laundry. Do it by by hand in bathtubs and gas station bathrooms. It gets cleaner that way anyway and saves you a lot of time and hassle. I did my entire thru-hike with a $1.50 laundry budget. –Kickstarter, NOBO 2017

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Physically Training for the Trail

Image via Cari Pattison

15) If you can hike ten miles with a pack then you should be fine. Don’t plan on the AT as your weight loss plan. If you need to lose weight do so before your trip. Your joints will thank you. –Odie, SOBO 2018

16) Hike you local areas, get to the AT if it’s within a few hours of your house. Lots of weight training, protein to build muscle after workouts, eat fresh and better. Be active. –Furiosa, NOBO 2017

17) You can only train so much. The trail trains you. That being said, you should be able to do 15-20 miles in one day so that you can realistically hike ten to 12 at the beginning. I hiked nearby steep trails to prepare. Every morning I would hike a steep, 1.5-ish-mile trail before I set off on my thru-hike. –Chin-Up, SOBO 2017

18) There’s a saying that nothing can train you for the next day on the trail like the miles you’re currently hiking. While that may be partially true, you shouldn’t approach the trail as something that you can just wake up and do. Practice wearing your full pack so you know it’s comfortable and manageable. Make sure that you can walk or hike for at least several hours a day, several days in a row. Sure, you’ll get trail legs eventually, but it’s a lot more fun (and less painful) if you don’t have to fight tooth and nail to get them. –Sweet Pea, Flip-Flop 2018

19) Just show up and start slowly. Walk yourself into shape. Avoid overuse injuries. Eight miles a day at first. Slowly work up to tens, 12s, and eventually 15s. –Imua, Flip-Flop 2018

20) Throw clothes and books in a backpack and hike to local obscure landlarks. –Mufindi Hospital Hiker #1, NOBO 2011

21) Don’t stress too much about weight loss; the trail takes care of that. Maybe work out with a stair stepper, possibly add a weighted vest. –Lucky, NOBO 2017

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Gear and Pack Weight

Image via Alexia

22) For most people, dropping pack weight makes a huge difference in how their body feels. The most cost-effective way to reduce your pack weight is to leave stuff at home. That being said, don’t agonize. You can always ditch the extra shirt you never use at the next hiker box. Pre-trip overnight shakedown hikes will go a long way to dial in your gear and make you feel more comfortable in your decisions. –BugJuice, NOBO 2016

23) I had a base weight of 18 pounds with modest gear. Nothing fancy, but the standard kit got me by. Favorite gear item? My Henessey Hammock, by far. Hammock camped the entire trail with no regrets. –Chaco, NOBO 2016

24) Spend money on the big three, so the quality is good and the weight low. Don’t overpack on clothes, do pack what keeps you mentally sane (notebook, e-reader, a game). –Snow Angel, NOBO 2018

25) Do whatever you’re comfortable with. You don’t need to be ultralight to make it to Maine. Plus it’s a lot more fun being ultra comfortable. –Natty Daddy, NOBO 2018

26) You can either be comfortable while hiking or at camp. But you are hiking ten hours a day, so keep it light. If you do add some extra weight, make it your sleeping pad. A good night’s sleep is huge. –Imua, Flip-flop 2018

27) I had a bit over 30 pounds most of time. Get rid of things you’re not using and don’t carry excess food. –Just Pete, NOBO 2017

28) Have a plan for mailing things home and be realistic about how much water you need to carry at all times. –Odie, SOBO 2018

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Logistics and Planning for a Thru-Hike

Image via Sarahmarie

29) Talk to former thru-hikers. –Lando, NOBO 2011

30) Just have some guide… the rest will fall into place. –Just Craig, NOBO 2017

31) It’s pointless to try to plan out your whole hike in detail but it can be helpful to pick places that you want to be by targeted times. Just be flexible because a lot can happen to change your timetable! When I had a set deadline to get somewhere, I would plan out five to seven days of hiking at a time. But most of my hike I just went day to day based on how I felt, weather, and where I wanted to be. –Moon Pie, NOBO 2018

32) Commit, but be willing to adapt. —Rufio, NOBO 2018

33) Read as many forums as you can. Do lots of practice overnights. Each time you do you’ll realize there was something else you didn’t need. –Wickes, SOBO 2014

34) Do not overplan and only use mail drops if you have dietary restrictions. –Just Pete, NOBO 2017

35) The internet is a helpful but also terrible place. Do your research ahead of time, but don’t get too bogged down in all of the opinions (often SHOUTED in the comments section). Do a short shakedown (trial hike) with your gear if you can. You don’t have to have a perfect set-up when you start hiking, there’s plenty of time to adjust/exchange/improve along the way. Stay flexible and use AWOL’s book. –Tumbleweed, NOBO 2017

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Mental Preparation and Surviving the Tough Days

36) I lived the hike resupply to resupply. I never looked at how many miles I had left, but how many miles I had come. I celebrated mile markers, and looked forward to notable landmarks and state crossings. –Froggy, Flip-Flop 2018

37) The list method described in Appalachian Trials was hugely helpful for me. Also, let the people who tell you you’ll never finish motivate you to finish. Something else that’s hugely important is when the going gets tough, the tough get their ass to town. Going to town is sometimes an essential and hugely effective morale boost. –Chin-Up, SOBO 2017

38) If it was raining when I woke up, I watched Netflix in my tent. I had enough rain in Virginia. –Little Cards, Flip-Flop 2017

39) Have several people you can talk to. Chances are one of them will be in good enough spirits to talk you off the ledge. –Natty Daddy, NOBO 2018

40) Never quit on a bad day. Every bad day on the trail is still better than a good day in your non-hiking life. Keep going. Listen to motivational music, videos, speakers, and befriend folks on the trail. Listen to their stories. –Furiosa, NOBO 2017

41) You have to learn to be OK with being uncomfortable. Discomfort is the price for admission to a beautiful experience. Bad days will come. Take a few days to rest off the trail. If you still want to quit after resting, then it’s time to head home. Other than that, walk on! Something amazing could always be just a mile away. –Trailien, NOBO 2017

42) I talked to myself during the rain. And bring plenty of Ibuprofen. For me the tough days were the painful days. You just have to get through ’em. –Wickes, SOBO 2014

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Forming and Maintaining Relationships on Trail

Image via Vince Orzel

43) Tramily makes everything better. Get in with a good group and be respectful to everyone. –Sweet Monkey, SOBO 2017

44) Don’t feel like you have to stick to one tramily. I loved bouncing around from group to group because I got to meet more people that way and have the experience I wanted. –Chin-Up, SOBO 2017

45) I didn’t really have a tramily, and that was my choice. I hiked on and off with some familiar faces and made friends, but I really enjoyed the solitude and privacy. I never slept in a shelter, and 85% of the time found a great campsite all to myself. It was easiest for me to stick to my goals and have family and friends join me on trail or take a day off. –Stinker, NOBO 2017

46) Forming trail relationships simply happened for me. Seeing people in camp a few days in a row, hiking the same speed, or splitting a hitch into town were common ways for me to pick up new buddies. –Chaco, NOBO 2016

47) Even if you hike alone, you will form a loose family of people at your pace. You will see them often at campsites or along the trail. –Imua, Flip-Flop 2018

48) I’m a people pleaser and had a hard time ditching people when I needed to. Just remember you’re doing this for yourself, so if anyone is not on your same page (speed, money, time in town, partying) then leave them. It wasn’t meant to be. Odie, SOBO 2018

49) Since I did not have a tramily, I did not have to deal with either the good or the bad of those groups. But do keep an open mind, chat with everyone when you feel like it, and when people invite you do join them for dinner/activity/anything fun, do 🙂 –Snow Angel, NOBO 2018

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Avoiding Common Illnesses and Injuries

Image via David

50) Personal hygiene is the best thing to avoid common illnesses. As for injuries, it wouldn’t hurt to stretch, or if you feel any pain, take a rest day. –Wildlife, SOBO 2018

51) I hate to say this because the shelters are great, but camping away from them can help avoid illnesses. Slowing down can help with the injuries. –Sweet Pea, Flip-flop 2018

52) Use trekking poles and hand sanitizer. And filter all the water. –Sweet Monkey, SOBO 2017

53) Hand sanitizer is your friend. –Alpha dog, NOBO 2013

54) Washing your hands at least once a day is a good way to prevent NORO. –Ace, NOBO 2018

55) I started slow and worked up to 20-mile days, which helped keep me injury-free. –Grateful, NOBO 2018/2019

56) Don’t take unpackaged food from people, especially at shelters. Filter your water. –Sunsets, NOBO 2017

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Nutrition on Trail and in Town

57) Trail: high proteins and calories. Town: Lots of fresh veggies and fruits, as well as fresh meat (if you eat it). –Furiosa, NOBO 2017

58) Butter in everything once you hit Virginia, and lots of peanut butter on stuff too. –Sweet Pea, Flip-Flop 2018

59) Eat as much as possible all day long. –Twister, NOBO 2018

60) If you have the resources, try making your own trail food by dehydrating meals at home. –Rainbow, NOBO 2018

61) I tried and try to eat healthy and primarily vegetarian, using oils, nuts, and dried vegetables. I also gathered from the trail as much as I could safely do. I also tried to eat most of my calories after I stopped at night. –Grateful, NOBO 2018/2019

62) You’ll figure out what works for you, but it doesn’t hurt to eat a filling meal in town right before heading back out. Saves on pack weight. –Lucky, NOBO 2017

63) Highly recommend Knorr pasta sides (cheap, great for dinners, available in most grocery stores and gas stations). –Tumbleweed, NOBO 2017

64) Eat a balance of everything, and don’t get carried away on sugar. Also work on a post-trail diet while you’re still on trail. –Barrel, NOBO 2017

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Maintaining Personal Hygiene on Trail

Image via Phoebe Anderson

65) I carried beard oil, deodorant, and wipes for a bath every night. I smelled amazing. –Sweet Monkey, SOBO 2017

66) Rivers and stream bathing in the evening. –Twister, NOBO 2018

67) Make sure to clean hands after each poop. –Alpha dog, NOBO 2013

68) The only thing that I was truly concerned about was brushing my teeth three times a day. Rinse your feet and socks in streams when possible (downriver of course). –Kickstarter, NOBO 2017

69) Baby wipes! Ladies, I used o.b. tampons and brought one applicator so I could load it up. –Wickes, SOBO 2014

70) Since I wore contacts, I would wash my hands at night with a little water (and soap) and I used plenty of hand sanitizer. I did not wash my body every day, though, or use disposable wipes. I embraced the funk. I did start using deodorant halfway through, though, should have done that from the beginning. –Snow Angel, NOBO 2018

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Town Etiquette

71) Be polite and nice; don’t assume you’re getting handouts for what you are doing. –Alpha Dog, NOBO 2013

72) Don’t be shy in asking for help. The majority of town folk are more than willing to assist you in any way that they can. Always offer them something in return. –Kickstarter, NOBO 2017

73) Don’t act like you own the place or are better than the town folk. Be gracious and humble and your town experience will be wonderful. –Chipotle, NOBO 2016

74) Please be respectful. Get a shower before doing chores and eating. Remember to thank people and offer trail angels money for rides. We are ambassadors for the trail, so treat everyone with kindness. –Froggy, Flip-Flop 2018

75) Don’t overstay your welcome at a non-trail-related place in town. Don’t bring your pack into buildings. Share your story with people who ask. –Ace, NOBO 2018

76) Always ask for permission to use restrooms and charge electronics. –Lucky, NOBO 2017

77) Be nice to people. Listen to the rules. If you’re hanging out in a restaurant to charge your phone, you should buy something there (even just a coffee). Clean up after yourself. Take your backpack off when you go into stores. –Tumbleweed, NOBO 2017

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Leave No Trace

Image via Jessica L

78) Two biggest pet peeves on trail for me: leaving fruit peels / cores on the forest floor or making building new fire rings with rocks to leave the rocks charred for life.  –Sweet Pea, Flip-Flop 2018

79) I once moved a boardwalk 50 feet from a dry place to a mud puddle that was getting bigger by people walking around it, so I left the trail better than I found it.–Little Cards, Flip-Flop 2017

80) No option. Hikers need to practice LNT. Anyone who truly cares about the wilderness and this trail will understand that. Camp on durable surfaces, listen to fire bans, and hang your food are my absolute minimum when it comes to AT LNT.” –Chaco, NOBO 2016

81) Do not throw your fruit out onto the trail. Orange peels were a constant eyesore. Pick up trash left by other hikers at every opportunity. –Kickstarter, NOBO 2017

82) Know your LNT rules. Follow them. – Ace, NOBO 2018

83) Leave. No. Friggin. TRACE! Read the guide, follow it, no exceptions. Pack out any trash you can carry and be a steward of the trail. Don’t blotch the beauty. –Trailien, NOBO 2017

84) Don’t litter, stay on trail, avoid stealth camping if you can (sticking to established campsites leaves less of a footprint). Remember to leave no trace when you’re in town, too, and always be nice and clean up after yourself. –Tumbleweed, NOBO 2017

< 2020 Thru-Hikers: Apply to Blog and/or Vlog for The Trek >

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Dealing with Life After the Trail

85) A hard thing. But adjust in your own time. –Just Craig, NOBO 2017

86) Keep in contact with your trail friends! Your friends and family back home won’t understand just how profound of a change you have experienced, and while they will be happy for you, they might not understand how you have changed. People who you met during your journey will be invaluable support systems as you maintain and rebuild your systems that were in place before you began the trail. And remember, just because you’re not on the trail anymore doesn’t mean the trail isn’t still a part of you. –Rainbow, NOBO 2018

87) Every time you work out for the first eight weeks you’re going to take a three-hour nap involuntarily. –Mufindi Hospital Hiker #1, NOBO 2011

88) You will be a different person when you get home. Allow yourself time and space to figure out who that person is. It can be challenging to fit into life after the trail. People at home haven’t had the same experience that you’ve just had and it might be hard for them to understand. Be patient with yourself and with them. Stay in touch with your friends from the trail so that you can communicate with them and share experiences as you adjust to post trail life. –Moon Pie, NOBO 2018

89) You are an addict when you’re done. Your adrenaline and dopamine have been firing on all cylinders for months. And when you stop, you’re going to crash emotionally and physically. Stay in contact with fellow hikers; they’re likely going through the same thing and you need to talk to one another. Stay active as much as possible. The temptation to sit on the couch will be strong, but you have to keep active to minimize the bodily crash. Also, don’t go back to work until you’re ready. People are going to pressure you to get back into the rat race. It’s probably the worst aspect of post-trail life. Stay strong and develop your next goals. Chase a new Katahdin! –Trailien, NOBO 2017

90) I was fortunate to jump right back into my junior year of college. It’s hard when others don’t understand the experience you just had and ask superficial questions. But take adequate time to process it and write it all down. –Blue, NOBO 2012

91) Have another trip planned. Stay in touch with the trail via social media and tramily. –Sunsets, NOBO 2017

92) After I finished, I really liked getting back to the trail to set up some trail magic and give rides into town! It was great to be around other hikers again. Also, get ready to answer a million questions about your hike, and remember how many questions you had before you started. –Tumbleweed, NOBO 2017

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Miscellaneous Advice

93) Deep breaths. The trail will provide all you think you need and lots of things you didn’t realize you needed. –Teddy, NOBO 2016

94) Appreciate it while you can and find joy in your journey. I cried a lot during my thru-hike because it was incredibly hard, but I wish I would have appreciated such an amazing opportunity to do what I love every day because I may never get that chance again. –Chin-Up, SOBO 2017

95) Keeping a detailed journal of mileage and the names of people I hiked with was integral to reliving some of those experiences. I stayed committed to writing for 30-45 minutes each night. –Kickstarter, NOBO 2017

96) Take pictures with the people you’re with; you’ll like them better then the 10,000th pic of a beautiful ridgeline. –Natty Daddy, NOBO 2018

97) No matter what your view on faith is, hiking is a spiritual journey. Be in touch with that. At times things will feel supernatural. The trail karma is real. Be open to that aspect and learn about the amazing parts of nature and the human condition that you can live a lifetime in regular civilization without realizing. –Chipotle, NOBO 2016

98) My two biggest struggles mentally were comparison to other hikers and buying into all the fearmongering. Try to avoid both if possible. Hike your own hike. Thousands of people complete the trail each year. None of it is that bad. You will make it and you will be fine. –Imua, Flip-Flop 2018

99) Decide from the beginning what constitutes success for you. Is it hiking the entire trail in one season or just spending some quality time in the woods making friends? Use this to guide your decisions. Oh, and take time to swim in that river, go off on that blue blaze to the fire tower, and smell the rhododendrons. –Sunsets, NOBO 2017

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Comments 2

  • Chainsaw Class of 2017 Flipflop : Jun 18th

    Orange Peels, LOL. I didnt know this was a thing when Mona Lisa and I got some Clementines trail magic. I asked her why she didnt want any and she said because of LNT. She didnt want to throw them on the ground or carry um out. I said isnt it organic. She politely informed me of LNT and I subsequently ate the whole clementine, peels and all. The next day more trail magic clementines. Guess what I did. Ate um whole, peel and all. Mona Lisa, you are a good LNT ambassador but you were the best trail buddy. Oh the feels are hitting now.

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