How I’m Preparing to Hike 2198.4 Miles

Like most aspiring thru hikers, I turned to YouTube to start researching when I decided to thru hike the Appalachian Trail in 2023. With the click of a mouse, we have access to literally thousands of videos of successful thru hikers, section hikers, and everything in between. With conflicting advice on what did work for some, and what got others off trail, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Can anyone really be prepared to spend months hiking across the country? The most realistic answer is probably not, but there are several things that I am working on doing now to be as prepared as I can be to hit the trail this spring. 



I once heard an AT thru hiker say, “the only thing that prepares you to backpack all day, everyday…is to backpack all day everyday.” I know that the trail is going to kick my butt (especially those 600+ steps on the Approach Trail to Springer Mountain). In my spare time, I’ve been throwing on my fully loaded pack (with weights to supplement the weight of food) and aiming to go for a walk or hike at least once a week. Of course I do miss some weeks, and sometimes all I can manage to fit in is a one hour walk around town, but anything I do is better than nothing. My apartment has a gym with a stairclimber, so as my start date gets closer, I am going to aim to use the gym equipment a couple of times a week (looking like a weirdo with my pack on). 

Besides trying to get used to carrying a backpack all day, there are also a few things I’m doing to physically prepare my body for my thru hike. Making sure I’m up to date on my dental cleaning, getting a routine physical, and being kind to my body now before I put it through the challenge of a thru hike are at the top of my list. I’m prioritizing sleep, eating nutritious foods, and taking care of my feet. Several months ago, I had some painful spots on my feet that made even walking barefoot on carpet uncomfortable. Paying special attention to my feet now by using a pumice stone, switching out my work shoes to something with a wider toe box, and using toe separators to help stretch out my feet has made all the difference. 

Walking through town with my fully loaded pack


While hiking 2,200 miles in a single stretch is no easy feat, many hikers say that the mental struggle of a thru hike is the most difficult challenge of their journey. As much as I am working out my legs, back, and feet for my trek, I am exercising my mind even harder. To put it simply, I know I’m going to have bad days out there. It’s not if, it’s when. I know that I’m going to have days where I’m absolutely sopping wet and cold, and other days when the heat doesn’t seem to relent and I’m being swarmed by mosquitoes and black flies. I know I’ll put on the same damp, smelly clothes day after day, crouch my sore bones and muscles out of my tent, and throw on a heavy backpack full of protein bars I’m tired of eating. Part of me is glad to acknowledge what I’m getting myself into, and not go into this hike with rose colored glasses. This is going to be hard. But I know I can do it. And I know why I want to do it. Reading Appalachian Trials by Zach Davis (no, no one told me to say that) was a huge help in helping me pin down my why from being a conceptual idea to concrete reasons. I took Zach’s advice and wrote out three lists, pinpointing my “why,” as well as what it would feel like if I wasn’t successful. (I’ve also added a fourth list, cataloging the things I want to see/experience on the trail: getting my Polaroid taken at the Appalachian Trail Conservatory in Harper’s Ferry, meeting legendary trail angels, and getting a pizza delivered to the Partnership Shelter, to name a few). I really took the time to sit with these lists, and I review them often. I’ve put them in my phone and promised myself that I will read them when I’m having a bad day on trail. In a separate notes page on my phone I’ve compiled a list of inspiring song lyrics, quotes, Bible verses, and personal thoughts to pull out to encourage me. One of my favorites is by Muhammad Ali, “You don’t lose if you get knocked down. You lose if you stay knocked down.” I’ve promised myself that I won’t quit on a bad day, so when days come when I’m just not feeling it, I’ll get off trail, take a shower, eat a burger, and read my lists. Quitting when I’m clean, dry, have a good night’s sleep in a bed, and with a full belly will be a harder bargain than when I’m cold, sore, and eating my millionth Cliff bar on trail. 



My faith is an important part of my daily life, so it is inextricably weaved into my pre-trail prep. As a Catholic, I am preparing for the trail by continuing to do what I do in normal life; praying, going to church,  and reconciliation. I have been able to connect with other former hikers who share my faith to get their experience on trail and advice. While I am not aiming to plan too far into the future due to the unpredictability of a thru hike, I have arranged for a sweet trail angel couple to pick me up and drive me to church on my first Sunday out on trail. I am very excited to meet them and it has put my mind at ease knowing the beginning of my hike has a familiar stop. 



I’ve heard former hikers say it over and over again, save more money than you think you’ll need. I’ve never been a big spender; I thrift most of my clothes, and all the parts in my bedroom furniture set have been pieced together secondhand. I have always done my best to set aside money to save, but once I decided to thru hike, I started saving specifically for the trail (and life after it). One of the first episodes of Backpacker Radio I ever listened to was “How to Afford a Thru Hike.” I still remember getting home from work that afternoon and downloading Qapital, a savings app recommended by Chaunce while still in my car. Qapital works by allowing you to save with different “rules” that correlate with different events/habits. I have three rules on my app, my favorite one being my Round Up rule. This works by every time I use my credit card, the app rounds up the change to the next dollar and saves it in the Qapital account (so if I spend $19.81 at Walmart, my account will withdraw an extra $0.19 to add to my Qapital savings). There is a small monthly fee to use the app, but since I save more than what the app charges, it’s well worth the cost and I plan on continuing to use it after my thru hike. 

Once I was within the true countdown of thru hiking season starting, I really focused on reducing my expenses wherever I can. I completely bypass sections of stores like Walmart and Target now unless I really need something there, to help me avoid an unnecessary spending temptation. Before the AT came into my life, I couldn’t possibly leave Target without passing through the candle or earring aisles and picking up at least one thing to bring home with me. I now think to myself, “is this going to help me get to Katahdin?” and if the answer is no, I usually pass on buying it. Another thought is, “the cost of x item is equivalent to a stay at a hostel/dinner on trail” which helps put things into perspective. I have opted to bring my own leftovers for dinner for weekly meetups with friends rather than getting takeout, and joined in on ice cream runs without actually getting ice cream. I’m able to still participate in the social aspects of life while saving a few dollars here and there.

Along with reducing expenses, I have been picking up extra shifts at work a few times a month. I work an hourly job where I’m able to make overtime. I still really value a good work/life balance, so I don’t usually work full extra shifts, but coming in an hour or two early here and there adds up over time. 

Living up to the caption on my mug by bringing my own cup when on a evening ice cream run with the roommate


After months of planning, telling my friends, family, and coworkers that I was going to embark on a 2000+ mile journey was a huge relief. While some people are anxious for my journey, I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who are supportive of this crazy adventure. It’s something they may not fully ever understand, but I’ve had positive feedback and encouragement from everyone I’ve shared my plans with. Making an official announcement on Facebook and Instagram has made the commitment that much more real. I was shocked to see how many people, from kids I went to preschool with, to others that I worked with over a decade ago reacted to my announcement, and the comments, texts, and messages I’d received after making things official. It’s holding me accountable to continuing to press on when this journey gets tough, and I know that I have so many people backing me in my corner. In these last few weeks before I start the adventure of a lifetime, I’m doing my best to be intentional with my time with those around me. I know that I’m never going to be in this same season of life again, so I want to enjoy time with friends and family before I set out for half a year. 

Making the official announcement on Facebook and Instagram


Resupply boxes. I know every AT thru hiker is rolling their eyes at this one. I’m trying to follow the advice of others before me that sending resupply boxes becomes an expensive, unnecessary headache. I plan on doing most of my resupplies in town, however, I am putting together a few small boxes ahead of time to supplement my resupplies.. Over the last couple of months, I’ve stocked up on luxury items I’ve found on sale, like dehydrated backpacking meals and Liquid IV packets, as well as treats that may be difficult to find on trail. (I absolutely love the Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s from Trader Joe’s, which are only seasonal and always sell out.) I try to get lots of fresh fruits and vegetables into my daily diet in “normal life,” so this month, I’ll dehydrate some carrots, peppers, and other veggies to add some nutrition to a Ramen Bomb or Pasta Side. 

Aside from resupplies, I’m honing in on my gear setup for the trail. I’ve tested most of my gear on camping trips and an 80 mile section hike, making a few tweaks here and there since then. I’m happy with the gear I have now and feel comfortable using it, so it’s what I’m starting with. I know I’m likely to get rid of things on trail or swap them out for something else, and that’s okay. It’s far too easy to go down a rabbit hole over analyzing every minute detail of your setup, and I know if I do that, it’ll drive me crazy. 

A few of the items I’ve stocked up on to have sent out to me on trail to supplement my town resupplies

Tying up Loose Ends

While section hiking on the AT last year in the midst of The Bubble, a thru hiker told me that I should just continue hiking north, and that there “are no loose ends” back home. In reality, there are quite a few things I need to get done before I head out for the trail. A short list of things that I’ll complete as my start date gets close are:

  • Getting my 2022 taxes done
  • Forwarding my mail
  • Canceling an automatic delivery from Amazon
  • Turning on my Garmin inReach subscription
  • Parking my car at my mom and dad’s house
  • Changing out the batteries in the headlamp I borrowed from my brother and never gave back- Thanks, Matt!

There are several more things on my “Things to do before AT” list on my phone, but having a list to access whenever I need to is helpful  to tie up those loose ends before I leave.



To sum it up

Taking on a 2000+ journey is no small feat. You can read every book and watch every video there is, but that’s not the same as doing it yourself. Will I laugh at some of these steps later on? Probably, but it’s all part of the process and is helping put my mind at ease that I’m prepared as I can be to toe the start line in Georgia in just a few short weeks.

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Comments 12

  • Jenny : Jan 18th

    Great post! I wish you well on your journey and hope you meet you at some point on the trail’

    • Natalie Swierzbinski : Jan 18th

      Thanks Jenny! Looking forward to it!

  • Taylor S : Jan 18th

    Loved reading this!

    • Natalie Swierzbinski : Jan 18th

      Thanks Taylor!

  • Julianne : Jan 18th

    I love this and I love that I’ve gotten to witness you doing all of these things! Can’t wait to see you crush it ??

    • Natalie Swierzbinski : Jan 18th

      So thankful to have you in my corner!

  • Mary Skelonc : Jan 18th

    I think this is amazing! I cannot wait to see how things go for you on your adventures. I pray that God will keep you safe from all harm and will guide you
    through all the tuff times you incounter ahead. Keep your eye on the prize and keep moving forward. YOU GOT THIS!! In him. All things are possible.

    • Natalie Swierzbinski : Jan 18th

      Thank you for your kind words Mary!

  • Anthony : Jan 18th

    “Peach ice tea. You’re gonna hate it.”

    • Natalie Swierzbinski : Jan 18th

      “I wish there was some way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve left them.”

  • Darrell (Encourager) : Jan 19th

    Let me know if I can help you in the Hiawassee, GA area. I’m a hiker, trail angel and do donation only shuttles. Encourager

    • Natalie Swierzbinski : Jan 20th

      Thank you Encourager! I will definitely keep that in mind


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