From “I’ve Never Slept Outside” to Thru-Hiking

Twelve months ago, I was just learning what a thru-hike was, and now I am less than two months away from beginning my own thru-hike attempt. This post covers how my plans progressed from a vague idea to reality and how I am preparing myself for the adventure. I hope this is helpful for anyone interested in the idea of thru-hiking but not sure where to start!

Read Some Inspirational (and Tactical) Books

Books were really the start of this whole journey for me. The first hiking book I read was Wild. At some point, Cheryl Strayed mentions the AT as a less remote, East Coast alternative to the PCT. I was curious and bought the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker’s Companion a week later. That weekend, I dragged my then fiancé, now husband, to Harriman State Park to see what the hype was about. Before I knew it, I was telling friends that I planned to section hike the AT over the next two decades, but my plans began to escalate as I made my way through the below list.

Most of these books are about the AT or at least thru-hiking in general. Born to Run is not directly related to thru-hiking, but I kept it on the list because it’s one of my favorites. It also introduced me to ultrarunner Scott Jurek, who set a record by completing the AT in just over 46 days in 2015.

Watch a TON of YouTube

I can’t get enough of it. Being new to backpacking, I’ve used YouTube to learn the basics and understand what a thru-hike entails, all from the comfort of my own couch. I’ve included my favorite channels below, and definitely recommend you check them out.

  • Homemade Wanderlust: Dixie posts great videos on backpacking basics and answers to questions you don’t really want to ask out loud. I reference her page any time I wanted more information on a specific topic (i.e., backpacking hygiene, hiker terms, what to eat, quilts vs. sleeping bags).
  • Julia Sheehan: Julia’s channel has a set of ~25 AT updates that she filmed throughout her journey on the trail last summer. I liked that each video was only 8-10 minutes showcasing the highlights rather than every detail of her day. I thoroughly enjoyed them and was sad when they ended!
  • The Trek: The Trek’s channel includes updates for a ton of thru-hiking vloggers. Right now, I love keeping up with The Trek 2020 AT vloggers twho have already started.

After watching a couple of hours of YouTube, I was bought into the idea of thru-hiking and began to plan my hike in earnest.

Meet Some Hikers

For me, leaving my job and personal commitments to attempt a thru-hike was a radical idea—so radical that I didn’t feel like I could speak to family and friends about it until I had built some confidence in my decision. Still, I had plenty of questions and wanted to connect with other hikers. I started by joining a couple of Facebook groups and applying to blog with The Trek. At first, I learned a lot simply from reading what others had posted. Once I felt ready to contribute to the discussion, complete strangers reached out with words of encouragement. This meant the world to me, especially when I wasn’t ready to tell friends and family just yet.

Buy Gear

This has been STRESSFUL! Despite constant reminders that the success of a thru-hike depends on the person, not the gear, I’m guilty of becoming gear obsessed. I started with The Trek’s gear list and supplemented that with lists from individual bloggers. I relied on gear lists from female hikers when possible, especially for gear that can be male or female specific (e.g., sleeping mats, sleeping bags, clothes).

Next up was a trip to REI to check out gear in person. I live in NYC, so I took a trip out to an REI in Long Island in the hopes of getting more personalized attention. This worked out well. At this point, I’d gone semipublic about my plans to hike the AT, so my brother and his girlfriend joined me for the day (thanks Ben and Angie). Having a second and third opinion helped me to make decisions quickly and feel more confident about my choices. My brother mentioned he “didn’t expect me to be so scientific about everything.” This got some laughs when I reassured him I wasn’t planning to just wing it.

By now, I’ve made decisions on most of the big items, but will continue to make tweaks over the next two months. For example, I am still trying to decide if I want to ditch my sleeping bag for a quilt. You can find my gear list here.  Recommendations and feedback are welcome!

Learn How to Use Gear

This is what I’m working on now. Most of my gear has arrived, and I’ve been slowly testing it out. The item I’m most anxious about is my tent. I opted for Gossamer Gear’s The One based on positive reviews and its reputation for being spacious but  lightweight. The tent uses trekking poles as part of its setup, which looks easy online, but I think will require a little practice. I’ll let you know how that goes!

On a side note, I’m not starting my hike until the first week of May. This is on the later side for northbound hikers. With that in mind, I’d like to try to hike sections of the trail close to home before departing for Amicalola. That way, if my hike is progressing slower than expected, I can make up some time by skipping over those sections of the trail. This also serves the dual purpose of giving me time to break in and test out my gear.

Get in Shape

Although you can probably rely on the trail to get you shape, I want to develop a baseline level of fitness to make those first few weeks go a little smoother. I like to run, so I’ve been trying to do so more frequently and incorporate hills into my workouts. Outside of that, I’m focusing on staying healthy so I feel my best before hitting the trail. Last, I want to get comfortable carrying my backpack around. I’ve yet to walk around NYC with it fully loaded, but think I will feel bold enough to walk the Central Park loop with it soon!

Thanks for reading! I’ll check back in soon!

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Comments 13

  • Ben : Mar 9th

    🐐

    Reply
  • David : Mar 9th

    Go for it, you can do it!

    Reply
    • Gabrielle : Mar 9th

      Thank you David!!

      Reply
  • Wyatt : Mar 9th

    I would suggest the book titled “The Complete Walker” by Colin Fletcher . I discovered it some 50 years ago while in collage in its first edition . There are now 4 editions with volume 4 being co-written with a young professional outdoorsman . Mr Fletcher himself was considered by many as the ultimate Guru in backpacking for many years . His book(s) might be of a big help .

    Reply
    • Gabrielle : Mar 9th

      Awesome, I’ve added it to my list. Thanks for the recommendation!

      Reply
  • Morgan : Mar 9th

    Hi Gabrielle! First off, good for you, and safe travels! About the sleeping bag versus quilt- I’ve heard many say they worry about critters getting at their feet if they aren’t tucked into a bag. Just something to think about, it’s probably more psychological than anything, but I suppose I would feel the same.
    Best of luck!!

    Reply
    • Gabrielle : Mar 9th

      Ah! Good point – that would for sure freak me out. I guess I’d only want to use a quilt if I were zipped up in my tent. Thank you!

      Reply
      • Scott Canady : Mar 10th

        Hey! When are u planning on starting ur NOBO of the AT? My target date is April 7th! Just like u I’m in preparation mode! Can’t wait!! My motto for this adventure: one week at a time!!
        Groundpounder out!

        Reply
        • Gabrielle : Mar 10th

          Hi Scott, that’s great! Good luck to you!! I’ll be a few weeks behind you but will stay on the lookout if I’m feeling speedy.

          Reply
  • Tommy Walsh : Mar 10th

    Everyone has to start somewhere! Great article! Happy trails and remember “hike your own hike”. Stop and smell the blooming flowers and trees and soak it up! Safe travels

    Reply
    • Gabrielle : Mar 10th

      Thanks Tommy – I’m definitely one to rush the journey because I’m caught up in getting to a destination so this is a good reminder.

      Reply
  • Tracy J Martin : Mar 10th

    Hiked it a few trees ago along with a couple more since then. What headlamp you using? Also rain jacket that you can breathe in. Camp shoes are great. Gives your ft a break and your shoes can dry out. Cheap light weight. I’ve gone with them and without but due the few Oz the shoes came in handy. Headlamp make certain it had red light also so you don’t blind folks in the morning packing up. Have fun… It’s not the miles but the smiles.

    Reply
    • Gabrielle : Mar 10th

      Thanks Tracy! My headlamp is an energizer one from Target – I’ll have to double check on the red light but hope I’m not hiking before dawn on most days 🙂 Great advice on the jacket and camp shoes! I was thinking either Tevas or Crocs.

      Reply

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