Caution and Safety on the Trail

Two of the most asked questions I get from people when I tell them about my Appalachian Trail thru-hike plans are: “Will you be going alone?” and “Are you going to bring a gun?” There are some dangers, but a day on the Appalachian Trail is less dangerous than you might think.

There are wild creatures that I might encounter on the Appalachian Trail such as the American black bear, timber rattlesnake, and the copperhead snake, but they are not much of a threat to me if I pose no threat to them. There are occasionally areas where hikers have been sloppy and left food around campsites and bears have come to learn that there may be food in those areas. Avoiding those problem areas and practicing good Leave No Trace and food storage techniques (bear canister or hanging a food bag) should prevent me from being caught in a bad bear situation.  

The three dangers that concern me the most are: Lyme disease, norovirus, and injuries. I think I have a handle on how to prevent those, but they are nevertheless still a big concern. As for a gun, I do not own one, so no, I will not be bringing one. According to the vast majority of past thru-hikers and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, it is not necessary and just adds additional weight that you don’t want to be hauling.

Getting lost should not be an issue because the trail is clearly marked with white blazes and easy to see in the most part. As for hiking solo, as I have mentioned, there will be many other thru-hikers on the trail with me, so I will not be alone. The majority of thru-hikers start out their hike solo, but will often form into trail families with people who hike at the same pace and those they get along with. During the day, they might hike by themselves and then meet up again in the evening. Some trail families coordinate their days together so that they end up at the same locations, which is usually a shelter they are shooting for. This same type of coordinating is also often done for trail towns, hostels, and hotels, and may offer the opportunity to split the cost of a room or some resupply items.

There is one thing that I will need to watch out for, and that is making sure I hike in the right direction every morning. At the end of each day, there is typically a spur trail, marked with a blue blaze, that takes you to the shelter and tenting area. Sometimes the trail is on the right and sometimes it’s on the left. In the morning when I hike that spur trail back to the Appalachian Trail, and come to the intersection, I’ll need to remember, or figure out, which direction to turn so that I am hiking north to Katahdin and not back south to Springer Mountain. Many thru-hikers in the past have gone the wrong direction at these intersections and ended up hiking several miles before they realized their error. Fortunately, I will have my guidebook, The 2019 Northbound AT Guide, to set me straight and I’ll also have the popular Guthook app on my iPhone, which is a detailed, map-based, smartphone guide of the Appalachian Trail. It maps and lists thousands of important hiker waypoints on the AT such as water sources, shelters, tenting sites, road crossings, resupply locations, and many others. And most importantly, it shows where you are on the trail and can clearly show if you are hiking in the right direction.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy does a good job at describing how to stay safe on the trail and I will be heeding their advice.

Next time, I’ll talk about Appalachian Trail thru-hiking food.

So until then, happy trails.

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Comments 3

  • Avatar
    Ro : Feb 15th

    Definetly Rocky.

  • Avatar
    B.J. Clark : Feb 15th

    Most common danger? Tripping or slipping and falling!

  • Avatar
    Alex : Feb 17th

    15 miles is a nearo


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