How I’m Preparing for Hiking the Appalachian Trail

How do you prepare for 3,500+ kilometers of hiking? How do you go from corporate lawyer life to the full-time hiker life (admittedly via 16 months of Rocky Mountain life)? How do you prepare, mentally and physically for such a giant adventure? I’m sure it is different for everyone, but this is how I’m doing it.

Learning by reading

I’m a big reader and I love a research project, so I have spent many, many hours reading the adventures and advice of those before me. As well as the big ones (Facebook groups, YouTube and backpacking websites including the Trek), I’ve read some cool books looking at different aspects of life on the trail.

Books I’ve Read

  • Long Trails – Liz Thomas – excellent overall resource
  • Appalachian Trails – Zach Davis – great mental strategies for when the going gets tough
  • A walk in the woods – Bill Bryson – the book that started it all for me
  • The Unlikely Through Hiker – Derek Lugo – a fun personal story of life on the trail
  • Stumbling Through – Digger Stolz – another fun personal story

The best resource I’ve come across is the book “Long Trails” by Liz Thomas. This is not specifically an AT book (it covers the three main long trails in the US and other long-ish trails) but it gets right into the nitty-gritty of the preparation for and life on the trail. I borrowed this one from the library early in my AT planning, and I learned so much. I am planning on borrowing it back again soon so I can check my preparation against it.

Learning by Practicing

Being in the Rocky Mountains, it hasn’t really been warm enough to do some hike/camping preparation. Even today, we got a big dump of snow on the higher mountains. So from a camping perspective, my “practicing” so far has been:

  • Putting up my tent twice (once inside, once on my deck)
  • Sleeping on my sleeping pad/pillow for a night (on the floor of my apartment)
  • Cooking a freeze-dried meal with my camp stove
  • Trying out various pasta sides to see what varieties I like (a common trail food apparently)

It has all been pretty successful, although I’m not sure I did the cooking part right. The instructions on the freeze-dried “lasagne” said to put in half a liter of boiling water and leave for 15 minutes, which I did. What I ended up with though was basically a lasagne soup as there was so much liquid involved. Tasted rough how I might expect a lasagne soup to taste though, so not too bad I guess!

I am booked in to go hike/camping next weekend but recent snowfalls and rain mean that might not go ahead (the campsite is currently inaccessible without snowshoes). So it might be a hike from home and camping on my deck!

Learning by Doing

I am living in a great part of the world to practice hiking. There are heaps of trails right on my doorstep and the ones that don’t go up a massive mountain are in pretty good condition at the moment. I have got out for four practice pack hikes with a fairly loaded pack (everything except food and water), with my longest so far being 2.5 hours. I will continue to increase this over the next month and a bit.

As a runner training for a hilly race 9 days before I start my hike, a large part of my hiking training has been my running training. I am currently taking part in a mountain running challenge here in Canmore, which basically involves fast hiking with brief periods of running, straight up mountains (and then running back down afterward). This definitely helps strengthen up my leg muscles!

I am also doing a strength training program, in addition to weekly bike rides and swims.

So I guess the majority of my training is not hiking specific but is more general fitness and strength. Hopefully, that combined with some more practice pack hikes, will have me physically ready for day 1 (aka summiting Mt. Katahdin!) and beyond. I will then be relying on the other skills I have learned to get me all the way to Springer Mountain in Georgia.


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Comments 3

  • GruntGal : Jun 15th

    Know how to bag and hang food properly
    Know how to identify posiounous snakes..NC has all of them
    Know how to stop extreme bleeding
    Know how to remove ticks and not leave any part of the tick inside of you
    Have tick tablets with you and take 2 every time a tick had burrowed into you
    Know what to do when your hike is blocked;
    by a man with a gun,black powder rifle or a huge knife

  • Dave “ Kodak” Whittington : Jun 22nd

    Be prepared for any weather if your hiking in a transitional time like spring or fall. Rain down low can mean ice and snow at elevation.
    Carry what you absolutely need. You can always add to your gear along the way as well as send gear not needed home.
    Don’t carry too much food. You can usually resupply every 3-5 days.
    Prepare your mind for when things get miserable and tough to push through those moments. Your mind can make or break you.
    Have a light rope and carabiner to hang a bear bag and practice throwing that rope into a tree before you get out on the trail. It helps to have a small bag to put a rock in and attach to your rope to get it up and over your selected branch . You mentioned you freeze dried meal being soupy. Experiment by adding less water. Sometimes what is recommended does not work. Also the absorption may differ between where you are and here in the east on trail. You can always add more water if necessary.
    Be flexible in your hiking schedule. I am a section hiker and have time constraints to get my miles in on a set schedule but if your thru hiking you can be flexible. Listen to your body and hike when your feeling good and take a Nero or zero day to rest when needed.
    Most of all just soak up all that the trail has to offer with its nature, towns and people. You will have experiences and memories for a lifetime. Hike On “ Kodak”

    • Bec on the AT : Jun 22nd

      Thanks Kodak for the great tips!


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