AT Prep: the first “long distance” hike

So you want to hike the Appalachian Trail do you?

Why yes I do. I can’t wait for the adventure!

Well, have you ever completed a long distance hike/backpacking trip?

“Well…. no ….”  would probably be the typical response from a lot people who set out from Springer or Katahdin… whatever you fancy.

This in itself can be the downfall of a thru hike. In my opinion, you should attempt long distance hikes/backpacking trips ahead of time to not only build physical and mental preparedness, but also to test gear. The AT is a great undertaking and should be well prepared for outside of researching gear if you are to reach Katahdin or Springer. Now I understand some hard driven individuals will make it without this preparation, but if you truly enjoy the outdoors why not have a few test runs.

The First “Long Distance” Hike

Being a person who is rather quick to decide on things that sound amazing almost as soon as I discover them, I decided sometime last November that I would hike the Appalachian Trail as soon as the idea was envisioned. Even though I had never done more than a 5 or 6 mile day hike I had already accepted this monumental undertaking. Being the determined individual that I am I had no intention of not reaching Katahdin. As it is with most aspiring thru-hikers I read and watched every article, book, and video I could concerning the AT. Throughout my plunge into the virtual world of the AT I came across numerous stories of eager thru-hikers with no real experience, a rather common occurrence, falling short of their journey’s intended destination. It was for this reason that I knew if I wanted to be mentally and physically prepared for a 6 month, 2189.1 mile stint in the woods I would need some practice.

As I started to piece together gear I decided to set a date and invite friends for the journey. The location was to be the remote Bartram Trail in Rabun County, Ga and the date April 5th so that I could test everything in mild temperatures.  In my eagerness to dive into the world of extended backpacking I knew that a 37 miles trail with nearly 6 days of allotted time couldn’t possibly be more than a stroll in the woods… needless to say… I was wrong.

For this trip I brought absolutely EVERYTHING I though I would need and I mean EVERYTHING! Thus, I ended up with a roughly 35 pound pack before food and water. For some this works, but for me…. being a 150 pound guy…. nope it was pure hell on my body every step! My pack fully loaded was roughly 40% of my body weight and my  joints were not happy campers. I wasn’t the only one. Everyone on the trip had complaints due to overloaded packs that in our over-excitement and inexperienced, newb-ness had been forced upon us by ourselves.

Having 5 people accompany you on your hike… well… you will all learn something in regards to your personal hiking style. Most profoundly pace. Everyone of us had a different pace. So, as you can imagine our train of hikers did not stay uniform long. With every hill someone was either up someone else’s ass or falling behind. Now there is nothing wrong with YOUR hiking pace or style. The problem lies within trying to make SOMEONE ELSE’S pace or style your own.

In the end, our bodies were shot and thus we could not complete the trail in its entirety. So, after hiking 16.5 miles from Beegum Gap to Rabun Bald to Warwoman Dell we elected to bypass the last major mountain crossing, Rainey Mountain, which was approximately 11 miles. During this “hiatus” we camped for 1.5 days on the West Fork Chattooga, then returned to the trail for a short 2 hour hike to Warwoman Creek, and camped 2 more days. Finally on day 6 we hiked out the remainder of the trail totaling approximately 6.5 miles. Thus, an anticipated 37 mile trek dwindled to 27…. Even after the 3.5 days of rest we were still tired and achy. A lesson to not be soon forgotten.

What I Learned

  1. I still want to thru-hike the AT
  2. If you don’t use it often, you probably don’t need it. As a result my pack without food and water is now 18 pounds with luxury items such as my GoPro equipment inside. From this backpacking trip and 2 others I have learned that my comfort zone is roughly 28 pounds fully loaded and under. My happy place is 25 pounds and under. I still have 2 more trips to test out my gear in Fall and Winter weather so we will see how my pack adjusts. See my full pack here: htpp://
  3. HIKE YOUR OWN HIKE – I know everyone heres this a bunch, but seriously. You don’t have to ditch your group. Pick a place to regroup and hike at your own pace. We could have benefited from this piece of advice, but then again no one wanted to get lost.
  4. Listen to your body. Don’t do more than you feel comfortable with. You will regret it.

Video of the hike:



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Comments 5

  • Jonathan Boyd : Aug 18th

    Sounds like you had a great shakedown experience. Carrying your world on your back will sure as hell teach you what you need and what you don’t. Keep it up – don’t be one of those guys sending $300 of junk home at Mountain Crossings.

    Heaviness is usually about fear. Afraid of going without water? Carry a big filter along with your disinfection stuff. Afraid of being hungry? Carry another day of food. Next thing you know there’s an extra 7 pounds in your pack for no good reason. The trail provides, though. Chances are if you do find yourself running low on Aqua Mira (or whatever you use) or food, someone’s got some extra and will be more than happy to let you lighten their pack. The trail provides!

    I’m almost 40 pounds heavier than you and I carried 25 last time around. Chances are you can get down below 25. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help. Sometimes it helps to have someone else go over your gear list.

    See you out there.

    Multi (SOBO ’14, prepping for NOBO ’17)

    • Koty Sapp : Aug 18th

      Hey Jonathan thanks for the read! I have been doing these hikes so that I am not one of those people sending gear home. I have carried to little food before and that was a nightmare, but I understand exactly where you are coming from. Small things that aren’t necessary add up quick. If you want to check out my current gear list and give some advice you can find it here: htpp://
      I think I have narrowed it down fairly well and am becoming happy with the set up though I would like to drop another 2 pounds without spending too much more money. The dslr and gopro stay because even though they are added weight I have spent time in the woods with them and wouldn’t go without them. I like my photography and filming hobbies too much. Thanks for your time!

      • Jonathan Boyd : Aug 18th

        This is a pretty good list. Most people who haven’t through-hiked have a lot more shit they don’t need.

        If you’re starting in early March like me, taking extra socks and warm cloth makes sense, at least until you get past the Smokies. So this stuff really applies more to the time after that. The truth is, you really don’t want wet feet or torso up there at that time of year. You really don’t. My numb fingers (years later) will attest. Nerve damage sticks with you.

        A lot of this is personal preference so it may not apply. That said…

        A 4 pound pack is 1.5 to 2 pounds too heavy.

        You could lose nigh a pound by removing the sleeping pad. Typically one would not carry both an underquit and a pad.

        If the pillow dry bag can be left at home that would be good. Most people end up sleeping on their clothing bag or a wadded up shirt.

        For pennies you can make an alcohol stove that will take a pound out of your pack. Jetboils are convenient, but not when you’re trying to pull a 30 mile day. Alcohol fuel is everywhere…those little canisters are not.

        You might look into Soles insoles. I’ve used them all and nothing beats Soles. But this is personal preference of course. If Superfeet works for you, do it. They KILL me on anything more than a 15-20 mile day.

        Buffs…well, I saw probably 8 or 9 of them sitting on the trial in my first 100 miles. I would just bring a bandana, as (last time I checked) it’s a bit lighter. Not a big deal if you keep it – won’t make much difference either way.

        Dirty Girl Gaiters are cool, but really the kind of thing that ends up in a hiker box in a hostel somewhere. If you want gaiters, bring snow gaiters for the first quarter of the hike. Have the Dirty Girls sent to you after if you want. They’ll be dead weight in winter conditions.

        Ex Officio are a hundred times better than a similar UA product. If I were you I’d get another pair of those for your spare underwear.

        I never carried more than 2 pairs of socks. Personal preference of course, but 2 pair is (believe it or not) plenty.

        A second pair of shorts is just downright silly at any weight!

        The thermals…is that a bottom? If so I say keep it.

        You should leave the camp shirt or thermal top. Hiking t-shirt plus the midweight camp shirt/thermal shirt plus the hoodie and rain shell will be fine.

        Nothing wrong with a trowel, but a stick does the same thing for zero weight.

        You could lose an ounce by taking just one towel.

        A second flashlight is not a bad idea at all, but spend a buck on one of those stupid little keychain lights instead of spending 5.6 ounces on something you’ll send home.

        I won’t try to argue with you on the camera stuff. I will, however, have great admiration for you if it makes it past Walasi-Yi! 🙂

        So there’s about three pounds there, assuming you have the pack already so you won’t want to get another.

        As an avid reader, I’d never through-hike without a Kindle. It weighs half of nothing, needs to be charged once a month, and is a serviceable emergency light in a pinch. You could even send emails from a wifi connection with it if your phone gets borked (which they like to do).

        • Koty Sapp : Aug 18th

          I start march 4th. I have been working hard and trying to narrow it down. If I don’t use it often I have been ditching it. Thanks for your time! I truly do appreciate it. Ill start from the top down.

          I do understand my pack is in the heavier range. That being said, the pack is very comfortable and does its job well. If I had the extra money I would definitely look into a Hyperlite Mountain or the such, but at this point I’m not comfortable making that upgrade. Have to make sure all my funds are in order firstly.

          The sleeping pad was only for until after the Smokies for extra warmth on freezing nights and for those mandatory shelters I have heard of though I am by no means interested in ever sleeping in a shelter

          The pillow dry bag is intended to be my camp/extra clothes bag. Not sure if I am taking the sea to summit dry bag yet, it will probably be left behind.

          I love my jetboil. I love having my water boiled in 1.5 minutes rather than 10-20 mins. I have been considering ditching it. I hear the alcohol stove argument a lot, but I am not ready to make that move. Just personal preference. If I swap it will be a on trail decision.

          The superfeet are on the list because I know I need cushion in my shoes and that was what was recommended. I will definitely look into the Soles! I’m always open to other options

          I’m a hat guy anyways. I will just stick with that and ditch the buff

          I tend to get every rock on the trail in my shoe. then they end up in my socks between my toes. That is what the gaiters were for. I didn’t plan on using them in the snow. Will regular gaiters really help in the snow? Won’t my feet get wet anyways

          I was trying to cheap out and not buy another pair of exofficio. the UA were going to be just for camp, but I am still considering another exofficio.

          I think you are right on the socks. I never use the third pair. so I will ditch them. The smartwool pair are thick for those colder nights and days.

          Second pair of shorts don’t get used so bye bye to them. I would only sleep or hike in the thermals if temps dropped freezing or below. Otherwise i sleep in just the boxers. I get very hot sleeping and I can work up a sweat within minutes of hiking even in 30 or 40 degree weather.
          Yes, the thermals are bottoms to wear at night or under my pants when the temps drop in the first few weeks. After that they will be sent home.

          I have tested the mid-weight crew, arc’teryx, and rain coat combo down to 15 degrees and was warm stationary(minus the hands) so you are probably right. do not need the zip kneck. though I will test this theory for sure in January when I do a test run in below freezing temps

          I really don’t want to take the trowel. Just thought it was kind of necessary. If not goodbye to it

          I will ditch one of the towels. They are so light at 0.6 ounces its nice to have an extra

          The flashlight though very bright and acts as a blunt force trauma defense weapon is on the heavy side. I am conflicted about it, because it is something I use daily/nightly on the trail and prefer it over my headlamp.

          If you keep up with my post you will see pictures shot on that camera all the way to Katahdin, but the gopro may be left at home if my new phone(comes in tomorrow) can shoot what I wish. Just short update videos from the trail for youtube.

          On airplane and battery saver mode my phone can last 4 or 5 days on the trail using it as a reading device( I love to read in the woods), music(rarely), camera ect. plus I will use it to upload photos and blog in town. If it breaks I can get another sent to me by the next town or so. The anker battery pack can recharge my phone and camera giving me essentially 8-10 days of continuous phone and camera time on the trail.

          So, the pad and thermals will go home by the end of the Smokies. That is over a pound.
          As of now your advice has saved me roughly 1.5 pounds and if I make some of those other changes it could potentially save me twice or three times that. Thanks a lot! It’s hard to make decisions when you get conflicting advice from different people and conflict within yourself.

          Hope to chat some more and see you on the trail!

          • Jonathan Boyd : Aug 19th

            Well I’m glad I could be of a bit of use, then. You’ll make further changes yourself as you go, as you begin to realize that each stupid little thing you take out means less leg pain at the end of the day – or, as the case is for some, maybe you’ll be tough and carry extra shit just because. I knew a guy who’d whip out fruit or vegetables from the last town and share it with people at the shelter at the end of the day…no way in hell I’d be humping around four pounds of cucumber, but to each his own! I guess I did the same in my own way – I’d bring tobacco and roll cigarettes for people, haha.

            Regarding snow gaiters, you’ll still end up with some snow inside your boots, but it helps. I wouldn’t go out there in March without something like that, but I’ve seen how it is and it can get very nasty despite the fairly warm (30s to 70s) temps. Personally I’m going to start out with a very heavy pack, 35 pounds or so, because I’m afraid of going through the same frostbitten nightmare I went through at the end of my hike in that area. So like I said…it makes sense to carry more warm stuff for the first little ways.

            But I’ll still be doing 15 miles a day minimum out of the gate, being in hiking shape already.


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