Pre-Appalachian Trail Top 5: Questions & (My) Answers

Hiking a long distance trail from start to finish, in one go, is objectively unusual. When I first learned of thru-hiking from a coworker almost a decade ago, I remember having all kinds of questions for her — from finances to logistics to safety.

As my partner (Austin) and I shared our own aspirations to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, we similarly received some amazing questions from friends, family, and coworkers who wanted to learn more.

Here are the top 5 questions we received (and my answers, based on my own hiking experience and research):

1. Are you bringing a gun?

Absolutely not. While this is a heavily debated topic online, the majority of thru-hikers agree it’s completely unnecessary. The most dangerous parts of the Appalachian Trail tend to be ticks carrying Lyme disease, slippery rocks that lead to sprained ankles, and wet clothing that can lead to hypothermia — none of which respond particularly well to gun fire. People on the Appalachian Trail are some of the the most friendly and generous folks you’ll ever meet. As for wildlife, the biggest danger is mice (aka micro-bears) eating through your fancy pack to get to your Cliff bars. If you see an actual bear, it’s likely to be its butt end running away from you. A gun is much more likely to be a danger to yourself and others on the Appalachian Trail than any meaningful protection.

2. Will you be foraging for food?

I wish I were that talented. Aside from picking a few stray blueberries and maybe some chickweed, our food will consist of ramen noodles, instant mashed potatoes, and as many Snickers as we can get our hands on. Most thru-hikers go into towns near the trail every 3-5 days to shower, resupply (stock up on food at a local grocery store), and crash for a night at a cheap hotel or hostel. Then they hit the trail again for a few days, and do it all over again (and again, and again) for 2,190 miles.

3. Are there bathrooms?

Not the kind you’re thinking of. But all that ramen has to go somewhere. The most common bathroom on the AT is finding a “facili-tree” out of sight and at least 200 feet away from a water source, and doing your business. #2 requires digging a 6 inch hole (referred to as a cathole) and packing out your poopy toilet paper. (See Leave No Trace principles for more info). Many shelters (wooden lean-to structures where folks congregate to camp) on the AT will have a privy, which is a shed with a toilet seat over a hole, and a smelly pile of poop underneath it.

4. How long does it take?

Most thru-hikers complete the Appalachian Trail in 5-7 months, though it can vary greatly depending on pace, injuries, and the kind of hike you want to have. Some hikers want to push themselves to hike big miles each day and enjoy the physical challenge of the trail. Others want to enjoy the small trail towns along the way and take it slow. Austin and I fall somewhere in the middle. We are planning for the trail to take us about 6 months. For us that includes extra time (2-4 weeks) for injury or illness that we can’t predict but that could take us off the trail for a while.

5. Are you quitting your job?

Yep. I had a wonderful job that I loved, but I had to quit to make our dream of thru-hiking the AT a reality. It was definitely bittersweet, but I knew the AT was a calling I couldn’t ignore. That means we had to save up enough money for the trail itself, for our non-trail expenses (e.g mortgage and cell phones) while we’re on the trail, and also for a post-trail financial cushion while I look for a job when we return. Running out of money is one of the biggest reasons people quit the trail. If you’re an aspiring thru-hiker, developing a realistic budget that accounts for non-trail expenses is something you should heavily research and plan.

Bonus question: Are you going alone?

Nope! Austin and I are hiking together. However, most people do start the trail alone. Thru-hikers very quickly meet other hikers and form trail families or “tramilies”. Tramilies hike together, camp together, and become each others’ support systems.

Stayed tuned for more blog posts and a Top 5 series from the trail.

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 4

  • Danny : Apr 14th

    A firearm would be not-insignificant weight that you can’t easily ship back home from the trail if you decide during the hike that you actually don’t want to carry it or that weight would be better displaced by something more useful to your hike. That is a valid argument against bringing one, and what folks should be thinking about when making the decision.

    That it would be a danger to yourself and others is not rational… why would it be a special danger on the trail? I found that particular point to be an odd element of this post.

    • david Parker : Apr 14th

      Danny. You ammosexual geek. Guns do not solve most problems. Folks with guns cause more problems than they solve.

      • james : Apr 15th

        > Folks with guns cause more problems than they solve.

        please provide evidence of your statement

    • james : Apr 15th

      100% correct
      also you would have problems crossing state lines, national park lines, state parks lines and even some towns — every place has their own laws and what would be legal for you one day may not be legal the next


What Do You Think?