Route Planning For The AT ’23

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail and NO Plan Survives Contact

DISCLAIMER RIGHT UP FRONT: I have not set one foot on the AT yet. My thru hiking experience is next to nothing. I am not an expert in thru hiking planning, but I do know how to plan for a mission.

NEXT DISCLAIMER: I know there are hikers who are anti-planning and recommend to just show up and hike. If that works for you, that’s awesome. I wish I had your comfortability level because NOT planning for something is my kryptonite.

No Plan Survives Contact

I have heard this mantra in almost every mission setting from training to deployment. This is such a true statement. Case in point: The raid on Osama Bin Laden involved Seal Team Six, the most proficient warriors on this planet. Even during THAT raid, a helicopter crashed which was out of their control and altered the plan. Keeping in mind no plan survives contact, here is how I have route planned thus far.

 NOBO or SOBO, Start Date and End Date

  1. The first decision I made was to travel NOBO. It’s considered the “purist” way of thru hiking the AT and the most popular. I’m big into nostalgia and for me this made NOBO a no brainer.
  2. The next decision was a start date. I chose 16 February for a multitude of reasons. I know Zach and Chauncey (Backpacker Radio Podcast hosts) are probably shaking their heads in non-concurrence. Hear me out though: It’s less crowded, will get me ahead of the bubble for at least a couple weeks, and more bearable temperatures in the upper sections of VA and PA (planning assumption, not a fact). Yes I know it will be cold, wet, snowy, just plain miserable and an asteroid will probably impact the Neely Gap shelter followed by a zombie invasion at Fontana Dam…Ok ok, a little facetious but my point is I thrive when the conditions suck. When I’m cold, wet, tired, and hungry there’s a small mental place I find solitude in and have for years. So unless Neely Gap is destroyed by an asteroid or a zombie invasion, I think I’ll be ok with cold miserable weather. If I’m not, I can always get off trail for a day to recuperate.
  3. End date: This one is simple, summit Mt Katahdin on 15 October. If I summit earlier awesome and I can adjust my follow on plans accordingly. This allows me eight months which is on the higher end, but there is room for variables I cannot control (weather, injuries, health issues, etc).

Maps Are Your Friend

I purchased the entire National Geographic map set for the AT (GA to ME) from Amazon (link below) and started planning. This set is user friendly and shows topography which played into how many miles I would guesstimate for each day (see below pics).

I plan on carrying only one map set at a time throughout the trail. I can arrange for the next series to be shipped in a bounce box along the way (tracking some people are totally anti-bounce box-I’m going to try it out to start).

Not only the maps, but I downloaded the Far Out app which aided in stopping points for camping, town information in regards to hostels and general resupply, and water points. It has real time data which I can only envision is gold out on the trail. I also downloaded All Trails and have started to use this app while training as well. I opened a note on my phone, sat down with the maps, highlighter and some wine, and started my journey.

Rookie Planning Mistakes and Thru Hiker Advice

  • I made mistakes with my initial planning and I’m sure I probably still have some in my plan now. First I didn’t realize you only have eight days to get through Great Smokey National Park and need a permit. Eff. Revision #1.
  • Next I originally bit off more than my body could probably handle. I’ll call this “Hiker Delusion”. After talking with multiple thru hikers who completed the AT and a triple crowner, they all had the same advice: Take it easy the first 30x days. Damnit. Revision #2.
  • Now some of my zero days were now lining up with Sundays or holidays based on the above revisions. Not a deal breaker, but some places most probably will be closed on those days (again; planning assumption, not a fact). Eff the third time. Revision #3.
  • Lastly I took a look at high mileage days and factored in a lower mileage day the very next day to limit injury or over exertion. During this revision I added in some other goals within the larger goal. One was to hike 26.2mi in one day (basically walking a marathon). I chose a more manageable section in VA for that day. There are a few historical sites I’d like to see as well so factored in some lower mileage on those days to either leave late in the morning or visit once at the stoppage mileage.
  • Here is a sample of my first 10 days on the AT:

Example Key___Day: Start point to end point (mileage traveled)

Day 1 (16 FEB; Wednesday; map 1501): Amicalola State Park to Springer Mountain Shelter (8.3)
Day 2: Springer Mountain Shelter to Hawk Mountain Shelter Access (7.6)
Day 3: Hawk Mountain Shelter Access to Gooch Mountain Shelter (7.4)
Day 4: Gooch Mountain to Woods Hole Shelter access (12.3)
Day 5: Woods Hole Shelter Access to Neels Gap (4.7)
Day 6Zero Day (21 FEB; Tuesday)
Day 7: Neels Gap to Low Gap (10.9)
Day 8: Low Gap to Blue Mountain Shelter (7.2)
Day 9: Blue Mountain Shelter to Tray Mountain Shelter (7.7)
Day 10: Tray Mountain Shelter to Dicks Gap Shelter (7.1; stay at Top of GA)

 No Plan Survives Contact

So now I have an outline that I can follow for at least the first 30x days. I’m positive it will change probably within the first week, but that’s the beauty of at least having a plan. If variables alter it; adaptation and improvisation comes into play (que Morphius from The Matrix when he first fights Neo). I’m viewing this plan as a living document and it can change when needed.

Yes, I did that all the way to Katahdin, but at some point I may scrap it and just hike. I’m not completely wed to it minus for the first 30x days to get my hiking legs underneath me, master some “trail craft”, and get to the point where I have enough confidence to go rogue so to speak.

For all the experienced thru hikers out there, a compass check is greatly appreciated! My next post will cover a couple more training hikes I completed over the last week as well as my training outline to get ready for the trail. As always, thanks for following along and see you out on 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 8

  • Pinball : Nov 9th

    Has to be first trek post to mention the bin laden raid.

    • Stephen : Nov 9th

      Lol I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but it’s something I guess!

  • Joe : Nov 9th

    Thank you for your service to our country. I’ll be a few days behind you as I start my NOBO adventure on Feb 21. Like you, I am a planner. Probably to a fault. Best advice I’ve come across is to plan for your next resupply. Much more than that introduces way to many uncontrolable variables. Check out “Old Man and the AT” on Youtube. Retired military guy with some great insights. He made the following comment regarding trip planning that stuck with me. “Don’t try to eat the whole watermelon” Good luck and hope to see you out there. NTNY (No Trail Name Yet)

    • Stephen : Nov 9th

      Thanks Joe!! Great suggestion on the Youtube channel and advice in regards to planning for the next resupply. Looking forward to seeing you out on the trail and digging the moniker NTNY as well!

      • Joe : Nov 11th

        Your welcome. Another thought came to mind after my previous post. Training for the AT. As a lifelong cyclist/racer my approach to AT prep has followed a similar path as to how I’ve prepped for past bike race seasons. As a younger rider I followed the rule of “The wider the base, the higher the peak.” Potential problem with that is making the peak last 6-7 months. With age comes wisdom and I’ve tempered that rule with “work hard, rest harder”

  • John Swenson : Nov 11th

    First-thanks for your service to our country. Enjoyed reading the post and look forward to future posts. I haven’t been able to fit the AT into my life’s plans at this point but love reading about others’ journeys and meeting thru hikers when I’m hiking and camping up here in NH.

    • Stephen : Nov 11th

      Thanks John! Maybe when I get up that way we could link up for a day section if interested? Appreciate you following along on my journey!


What Do You Think?