The Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike Checklist

Getting ready for a thru-hike is a daunting process. Unplugging from the stress of day-to-day life for a multi-month trek sounds incredible, but first, you have to actually get to the starting line. Not only do you have to prep for the logistics of the hike itself, but you have to make sure your home affairs are in order. That way, you can focus solely on the trail when the time comes.

Trust me: getting your ducks in a row before you hit the trail (while you still have cell service) will make your hike go much more smoothly. If you’re getting ready to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, make sure you complete everything on this checklist before you go.

The AT Thru-Hike Checklist: Do These 27 Things Before Starting the Trail

at thru-hike checklist

1. Pick a start date and register your hike. 
2. Practice your bear hang.
3. Learn to identify poison ivy and deer ticks.
4. Brush up on Leave No Trace principles.
5. Figure out section-specific gear.
6. Consider getting a Verizon phone plan.
7. Get your bills on autopay.
8. Health insurance.
9. Cancel car insurance and surrender plates/registration.
10. Cancel or pause subscriptions.
11. Visit your doctor: renew prescriptions + address outstanding health concerns.
12. Put your stuff in storage.
13. Notify your landlord and employer.
14. Notify your credit card company you’ll be traveling + make sure you know your debit PIN.

15. Entrust someone with your important personal information and passwords.
16. Designate someone to handle your mail.
17. Set your vacation reminder.
18. Shakedown hikes: test your gear + make needed returns and exchanges.
19. Gear TLC
20. Activate subscription for your GPS beacon + program the device and practice using it.
21. Download books, movies, music, apps, maps, etc. that you plan to use on the trail.
22. Get your blog/social media/etc. set up.
23. Familiarize yourself with the trail: outline a tentative itinerary + choose where you want to send boxes.
24. Arrange travel to the trailhead.
25. Personal grooming.
26. Try not to freak out.
27. Enjoy the comforts of home while you still can.

1. Pick a start date and register your thru-hike with the ATC.

at thru-hike checklist

The AT thru-hike checklist: Step 1 = pick your start date.

Planning a thru-hike is all fun and games until you commit to a start date, at which point the whole endeavor starts to feel thrillingly/terrifyingly real. There’s power in making this symbolic commitment, plus the sooner you do it, the sooner you can really start to plan in earnest.

Your start date will affect many aspects of the hike-planning process, from your packing list to your plane tickets. The majority of northbound AT thru-hikers start in March: it’s still cold then, but the end of winter is in sight. At the same time, you’re giving yourself plenty of time to make it to Katahdin and will still be able to enjoy a month or two of not-sweltering-hot weather.

The drawback of starting in March is that the trail can be incredibly crowded. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) asks all thru-hikers to register their thru-hikes via their voluntary ATCamp.org platform. Not only does this help the ATC track visitor use, but it helps hikers decide when is the best time to start based on crowds.

Avoiding particularly crowded days (the first and fifteenth of the month and weekends tend to be most crowded) will make for a more pleasant hiking experience for you and will help protect the trailside environment, which can be degraded by too much foot traffic.

Related: decide whether you’re starting from Amicalola Falls State Park or Springer Mountain.

We recommend starting from Amicalola for several reasons: 1) Amicalola is significantly safer and easier to access by road than Springer. 2) By starting there you can register your hike and get a hangtag and pack shakedown at the Visitor Center. 3) The Approach Trail is incredibly scenic. 4) There’s an awesome stone archway at the trailhead, which is great for photos and feels incredibly symbolic.

Also, if you register your thru-hike and sign in at the Amicalola Falls State Park Visitor Center on your starting day, you can get a fun AT thru-hiker hangtag to wear on your pack and keep as a souvenir long after your thru-hike is over.

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2. Practice your bear hang.

The AT thru-hike checklist: Standard bear hang. Photo via James Cape.

Bears, mice, chipmunks, and other creatures are abundant on the AT, and they want to eat your food. Not only is this incredibly irritating (and potentially expensive) for you, but it’s bad for wildlife. Specifically, bears that become habituated to human food can become dangerous to people and often have to be euthanized.

That’s why it’s so crucial to store your food properly. A hard-sided bear canister is the most reliable way to achieve this, but bear canisters cost money and are heavy and uncomfortable to carry. Most AT thru-hikers opt to hang their food from tree branches instead. While this method isn’t foolproof (no method is) it’s effective when done properly. Emphasis on properly.

READ NEXT – The Backpacker’s Guide to Bear Bagging

A good bear hang should be four or five feet from the trunk of the tree, 12 feet from the ground, and four or five feet down from the branch it’s hanging on. It’s tricky to get it right. Just getting your paracord over the branch you were aiming for (without tangling it in the surrounding vegetation or braining yourself with your bag-o’-rocks) is hard enough, and you can feel like a real idiot standing on the outskirts of camp throwing and re-throwing your line in search of the perfect hang.

The more you practice ahead of time, the better things will go for you. With enough repetition, you’ll brush up on your knot-tying skills, develop some muscle memory for how to throw the line, and get a sense of which branches will and won’t work for your bear bag.

Pro tips:
  • Setup is key. Invest the time walking around camp looking for strong, clear branches that your throwing arm can reach. It will pay dividends. Related: pay attention to your surroundings. Make sure you can find your way back in the morning, and don’t hang your food bag off a tree covered in poison ivy (or over the edge of a cliff).
  • MAKE SURE YOU’RE NOT STANDING ON THE ROPE BEFORE YOU THROW! Lest the rock bag snap back and hit you in the head.
  • Hiking with a group? DO NOT try to hang four peoples’ food from the same rope. It’s a shitshow. No more than two food bags to a line.
  • Tying off the rope: rough tree bark is surprisingly grippy. A couple of loops around and a half hitch is usually more than enough to keep everything in place. No need to go nuts.
  • 40 feet of paracord minimum. Keep a small carabiner attached at one end with a figure 8 knot so you can quickly and easily clip your food bag on.

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3. Learn to identify poison ivy and deer ticks.

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The AT thru-hike checklist: Consider saving pics to your phone for quick reference. Photo via.

Poison ivy abounds on the AT. Make sure you know what it looks like because you will absolutely be at risk of brushing up against it. Look for leaves of three and hairy vines. When in doubt, if it’s a plant, don’t touch it. Poison ivy loves edge habitats where open fields transition into forest, so be especially alert near trailheads and when crossing meadows, powerline cuts, etc.

Similarly, deer ticks can be found all along the Appalachian Trail. Deer ticks transmit Lyme Disease, a serious illness that can last for years if you don’t catch it early. Deer ticks are tiny but look different depending on what stage of their life cycle they’re in. They don’t necessarily go dormant in winter, either, so there’s never a time when you’ll be 100% safe from getting a tick bite on the AT.

The AT thru-hike checklist: Stages of the deer (aka blacklegged) tick life cycle. Photo via.

Your best defense is to 1) treat all your clothing and gear with permethrin, 2) do frequent tick checks, and 3) be able to recognize deer ticks, as well as the signs and symptoms of Lyme. (These include fevers, aches, and fatigue. Some sufferers develop a characteristic bulls-eye-shaped rash around the bite, but others get a less-distinct rash or no rash at all.)

Remember, if you do get bitten by a tick, use a tick key or a credit card to gently scrape it out. Burning/suffocating the tick is bad because don’t want to shock it into barfing into your skin, which increases the risk of transmission. Meanwhile, randomly tugging on it risks breaking the mouthparts off inside you, which also increases the risk of transmission.

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4. Brush up on the seven Leave No Trace principles.

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The AT thru-hike checklist: Abandoned gear along the Approach Trail (likely left by someone who didn’t plan ahead and prepare). Photo via Harvey Howard.

The Appalachian Trail is at risk of being loved to death. It’s incredibly popular, not just among thru-hikers, but also section and day hikers. Heavy use can lead to trampled vegetation, erosion, litter, overflowing privies, and animals that have learned to associate humans with food.

As a thru-hiker, it’s your responsibility to take care of the trail and role model good Leave No Trace behavior for others. While the best way to protect the trail is to not all hike in the same area at the same time (this is where registering/choosing your start date carefully comes into play), it’s also important to take a more active role by observing the seven principles:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  3. Dispose of waste properly.
  4. Leave what you find.
  5. Minimize campfire impacts.
  6. Respect wildlife.
  7. Be considerate of other users.

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5. Figure out section-specific gear.

The AT thru-hike checklist: You’ll probably swap cold-weather gear for summerweight alternatives along the way. Photo via Eloise Robbins.

Cold weather gear will likely serve you well for the first month or two of your thru-hike, especially if you start in February or March. Snow, ice, freezing rain, and cold winds can plague the AT—especially exposed or high-elevation regions such as the Smokies or the Roan Highlands) in late winter and early spring. You’ll want at least a 15˚ sleeping bag (if not warmer), a pad with a good R-value, plenty of warm clothing layers, and potentially microspikes for added traction on icy stretches.

But eventually, the weather’s going to go from icy cold to unbearably hot and humid. You’ll be able to shed excess pack weight by shipping home bulky winter clothes and gear, swapping them for airier, more comfortable summer counterparts.

READ NEXT – Gear Suggestions for an Appalachian Trail Winter Thru-Hike. 

Make sure to account for multiple sets of section-specific gear in your budget. Have your summer setup ready to ship to you when the weather changes or plan to buy from trailside outfitters along the way. Either way, do your research ahead of time and familiarize yourself with all the gear you’ll need during your thru-hike, not just the kit you’ll be starting with.

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6. Consider switching to a Verizon phone plan.

Verizon is widely considered to have the best cell service on the Appalachian Trail. While some may consider switching carriers just to get slightly more cell service on a six-month hike to be overkill, it’s worth at least considering.

Be sure to research plan costs thoroughly before doing anything rash. Factor potential phone bill changes into your thru-hiking budget. If you currently have AT&T, your service won’t be as good as with Verizon but the difference isn’t as dramatic as it is with smaller carriers like TMobile. If you’re carrying a GPS device, especially one that allows two-way texting like the Garmin inReach Mini, switching carriers is probably unnecessary.

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7. Get your bills on autopay.

Time means nothing when you’re out on the trail. Business hours? Bank holidays? Due dates? Grace periods? What even are these things? Will they mean anything to you when you’re a hungry, rain-sodden, free-spirited hiker trash? You’ll tell time by the distance to the next town and the weight of your food bag, not by days of the month.

If you don’t have your credit card, phone bill, insurance, etc. on autopay, you’re probably going to end up missing at least a few payments due to lack of cell service or just plain forgetting. Don’t burden yourself with bills while you’re out having the time of your life in the mountains. Just put it all on autopay and make sure you’ve factored recurring payments into your budget.

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8. Make arrangements for health insurance.

at thru-hike checklist

The AT thru-hike checklist: Plenty of opportunities to get hurt on the trail, so make sure you figure out your health insurance.

Thru-hiking the AT places you at risk of sprained ankles, broken bones, norovirus, dehydration, exposure, and more. I’m not saying thru-hiking is more dangerous than regular life (walking everywhere lowers your risk of getting into a car accident, for instance, and the exercise and fresh air will do wonders for your long-term health) but regardless, you should probably have health insurance while you’re out there.

Coverage isn’t a given since you’ll be out of work at least part of the year. You’ll have to put some work in to make sure you’re covered.

Basic Options:

  • Medicare (for retirees)
  • Medicaid
  • COBRA (so you can continue job-based coverage for 18 months after leaving the job, but it’s expensive y’all)
  • Affordable Care Act coverage
  • Travel insurance (World Nomads is the best travel insurance for thru-hikers)
  • Catastrophic or accident insurance, or short-term health insurance

Health insurance in the United States is pretty complex stuff. (Newsflash! Alert the press!) If you’re not sure which option is best for you, it might be spreadsheet time. Click here for an exhaustive (yet easily digestible) overview of thru-hiking health insurance options.

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9. Cancel your car insurance.

The AT thru-hike checklist: You won’t need the added expense of insurance while your car’s sitting idle during your thru-hike. Photo via Hannah Goodman.

You won’t need your car on the trail, so unless you’re letting someone else drive it while you’re gone, cancel your car insurance before you head out. The money you save by eliminating this bill can go into your pizza budget.

Important: in most states, you have to surrender your license plates and registration to the DMV before canceling your insurance. If you don’t, you may face hefty fines or suspensions for having an uninsured vehicle. No one can drive the car legally once you’ve done this (until you get back and go through the hassle of re-registering and insuring it).

Different states have different rules surrounding the whole insurance-registration-tags nightmare, so check your state’s laws. For instance, in Virginia and Connecticut, you can place your license plates on temporary hold if you don’t intend to drive or have insurance for a while without having to straight-up surrender the tags.

You’ll also need to find someplace to store your car. Ideally, someone you know will have enough space that you can park it on their property for a few months. If they really like you, they may even start up the engine once a week to make sure it doesn’t die while sitting idle for months on end.

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10. Cancel or pause unnecessary subscriptions.

The AT thru-hike checklist: Cancel subscriptions. Just saying, you probably won’t be reading Better Homes & Gardens out there. Photo via Hannah Goodman.

In addition to magazines and newspapers, many people subscribe to weekly or monthly deliveries of everything from CSA produce to makeup and dog food. Make sure you cancel or pause it all.

You won’t be able to use it on the trail, and you may not even have an address to receive it at anymore. Your friend who’s handling your mail for you while you’re gone probably doesn’t want your Fruit of the Month shipments piling up for the next months. Save yourself some money and hassle. You can always renew when you get back.

Note: You should also give serious consideration to any online subscriptions you hold (streaming services, Amazon Prime, etc.). Since they’re web-based, you might still get some use out of these things while hiking. If you’re a music-lover, you could still use a music streaming service, for instance.

I seriously debated keeping Amazon Prime when I thru-hiked the AT, figuring the two-day free shipping could come in handy. In the end, though, I decided I was unlikely to need it, as most of the stuff I’d need to buy on the trail would come from either REI or a local outfitter.

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11. Visit your doctor and renew prescriptions.

Get a once-over from your GP and make sure all systems are functional before you hit the trail. Let them know what you’ll be up to for the next few months and ask about any health concerns you may have. Before I hiked the AT, I told the doctor I was scared of getting Lyme disease on the trail. Once she understood the situation and my concerns, she wrote me a script that I could take with me in case I got bitten. (Fortunately, I never needed it.)

If you have any regular prescriptions, get them all renewed now so they won’t expire in the middle of your hike.

Now is the time to address outstanding health concerns. Visit the dentist (you should be doing this every six months anyway, and that’s about how long most thru-hikes take). Are you recovering from an injury? Get your butt to physical therapy and do your best to resolve this before you get going.

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12. Put your stuff in storage.

pct thru-hike checklist stuff

The AT thru-hike checklist: You won’t take much with you on the trail. All the rest must be gotten rid of or stored. Photo via Jennifer Foster.

Assuming you’re moving out of your house/apartment before thru-hiking, you’ll need to pack up your stuff and find a place to store it for a few months while you’re gone. This could be your parent’s/good friend’s garage, or it could be a storage locker with a cheap monthly subscription fee.

Now is a good time to offload accumulated clutter. Many thru-hikers come back from the trail itching to downsize anyway—might as well save yourself (and your friends and family) the hassle of storing a bunch of crap you’re going to get rid of soon anyway. The less stuff you have, the less painful this process will be.

If you WON’T be moving out of your home while you’re gone, that’s another story. You might want to enlist a friend or family member to house-sit or at least look in on your place now and then.

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13. Give your employer and landlord notice (if applicable).

You typically have to give 30 days’ notice before terminating a lease, but check the terms of your lease to be sure. You might have to pay a fee or jump through some other hoops.

As you probably already know, the rule of thumb when leaving a job is to give two weeks’ notice, though this is a matter of courtesy rather than a legal obligation. Still, there’s no point in burning bridges if you don’t have to. If you already have a great relationship with your boss, they may even be able to work something out with you so you can return to your position after the hike. You never know unless you ask.

Even if that’s not the case, leaving your job on good terms can open doors for you later on. The etiquette for how much notice you should give an employer before leaving a job varies by industry. I know someone who gave their boss two months’ notice. He reached out again after finishing his thru-hike and ended up getting rehired by the same company (with better terms).

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14. Call your credit card company + make sure you know your debit card PIN.

You don’t want your bank or credit card company to freak out and freeze your card when you start using it in a bunch of random small-town gas stations hundreds or thousands of miles from home. Call ahead of time and tell them the approximate dates and areas you’ll be traveling.

Many shuttles, hiker hostels, and other trail town businesses are cash-only. You NEED a reasonable way to get cash on the trail without having to schlep hundreds of dollars around the forest all hike long. To that end, if you don’t know the PIN on your debit card, start the process of recovering or resetting it right away.

I recommend carrying a debit card, a credit card, and at least $20 cash at all times on the trail. Cash because, again, many shuttles and hostels don’t accept cards, a debit card so you can get more cash out as you spend it, and a credit card so that if you run out of cash and one of your cards is lost/stolen/frozen for any reason, you have a backup option. Check that the expiration dates on your cards don’t coincide with your hike.

Also, consider downloading Venmo so you can pay fellow hikers back for shared expenses in town, etc.

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15. Entrust someone with your personal information.

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The AT thru-hike checklist: Make sure someone back home has access to your records and passwords. Photo via Hannah Goodman.

Because sometimes, stuff goes wrong, and it’s really hard to deal with it from the trail. Make sure someone you trust has access to your important accounts. Ideally, add them to your bank account so they can call or go to banks in person to take care of business without having to impersonate you.

Otherwise, give them access to your login info. If you don’t already use a secure password service like LastPass, now would be a great time to start. That way, you can keep all your important passwords in one safe place and give the person your master password for LastPass. (Make sure you don’t forget this one! Take it from me. It is a full-scale pain in the ass if you do.)

Also, scan your driver’s license and health insurance card and give your trusted friend a copy. Keep another digital copy on your phone in case something happens to the originals.

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16. Designate someone to handle your mail.

pct thru-hike checklist mail

The AT thru-hike checklist: Designate someone to handle your mail.

If you’re moving out of your home/apartment, go to USPS.com and forward your mail to another address. Consider asking the person who’s handling your regular mail to also manage your trail mail: sending you replacement gear/resupplies and receiving gear you mail back as you lighten your pack.

Depending on how much mail you plan to send and receive, this could potentially be a big job. Be organized and make it as easy as possible for your designated mail helper.

Whenever possible, put the boxes together and label the shipping address yourself so all they have to do is tape them up and drop them at the post office.

Sometimes you don’t know where you’ll want an item shipped. I labeled every piece of gear I planned to mail myself with a description and a number, then entered all the info into a spreadsheet that I and my friend both had access to. Whenever I wanted something, I could text her “send the blue gaiters (#4) to the following address,” eliminating any confusion for a non-hiker over what exactly gaiters are.

Pro tips:
  • Send packages to hostels and other businesses that accept hiker mail, as they will probably have more flexible hours than the post office.
  • Venmo is your friend for reimbursing shipping expenses, etc. Alternatively, give them cash before you leave.
  • Encourage them to use USPS as often as possible and to opt for flat rate boxes to save money.
  • Show them how to label hiker boxes: how to label something for general delivery, writing “please hold for AT hiker” and your ETA on the box, etc.
  • Leave boxes unsealed until it’s time to ship, so they can add/remove items at your request.

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17. Set your vacation reminder.

The AT thru-hike checklist: Set your email vacation reminder.

If anyone contacts you via email (other than political campaigners and Best Buy), you should set a vacation reminder on your email account. That way, you can easily let people know what you’re up to, the approximate timeframe of your hike, and that you’ll be slow to respond to email for the duration of the trek. This is a minor detail compared to most of the stuff on this list, but it will help keep your inbox under control. Particularly important if you conduct business via email, so people don’t think you’re giving them the cold shoulder.

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18. Go on shakedown hikes!

The AT thru-hike checklist: Go on shakedown hikes. Photo via Lacie Smith.

Shakedowns are SO important. The only way to develop the skills you’ll need for thru-hiking is by practicing.

Beyond getting in peak hiking shape, you need to test any new gear you’ve bought for the hike and make sure you know how to use it. If anything isn’t working for you, take care of returns and exchanges now. It’s equally important to use shakedown hikes to test old gear that you’ve had for ages. Make sure it’s still functional and that nothing’s wrong with it.

Test gear in the backyard or the public park if you can’t get to the trail for a proper shakedown. Just make sure Day One of your thru-hike isn’t the first time you’re setting up your tent or trying on your new trail runners.

Even if you’re an experienced thru-hiker, you should still do at least one trial run before hitting the trail. Even old hands can still learn something, and (I’ll say it again) you can use the opportunity to test new and old gear, get back in shape, brush up on rusty thru-hiking skills, and hopefully familiarize yourself with the terrain and conditions you’ll face on the AT.

Related: don’t rely on sales associates to tell you what to pack. By practicing with your gear, you’ll learn firsthand what YOU want and need on the trail, rather than relying on the advice of sales associates at your local outfitter. Unless they have definitive long-distance backpacking experience (and sometimes even then), they’ll likely sell you gear that’s overkill for thru-hiking. What constitutes overkill? You’ll find the answer for yourself, and quickly, once you’ve carried it through the mountains for a few days.

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19. Gear TLC: Permethrin, seam sealing, washing, etc.

The AT thru-hike checklist: Drying wet gear in the sun in Maine. You’ll be asking a lot of your gear. Give it some love before you go.

A little maintenance goes a long way:

Permethrin on everything. Permethrin is a long-lasting insect repellant that you can spray on your clothing, shoes, backpack, tent, etc. It lasts six weeks or six washes (whichever comes first) and is among the best ways to protect yourself from ticks and mosquitoes. I always treat my gear just before starting the hike.

Seam seal tent. It’s my unique pathology, but I like to reapply seam sealer before starting a long hike to ensure I don’t have leaks. Even brand-new tents don’t always come seam-sealed from the factory.

Check waterproof bags for holes. I have tons of waterproof bags, and they’re always getting holes. Best figure this out before you go. Fill the bag with air, roll it up, and press gently. If it holds the air, there’s no leak. If it deflates, well. Yeah.

Wash down sleeping bag and jacket. You should wash your down stuff once per hiking season. Over time, your body oils coat the fluff and weigh it down, impairing loft and warmth. Wash it gently in a machine without an agitator using down-friendly soap (regular detergent ruins down), then tumble dry on low with tennis balls to work out any clumps.

Test water filters and backflush. Sawyer filters can seize up if they sit for a long time. If yours has been in storage awhile, test it before you go. (You should test ALL your gear before you go (see above), but this is something I specifically check, having once accidentally started a hike with a bad filter.

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20. Activate your GPS subscription and send a few test messages.

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The AT thru-hike checklist: Activate and test your GPS beacon. Pictured: the Garmin inReach Mini. Photo via Hugh Owen.

If you’re carrying a GPS device such as a Garmin inReach or a SPOT Gen 4, activate the subscription ahead of time. Load contact info into the device for anyone you want to keep in touch with along the way. GPS beacons aren’t the most intuitive things to program and use. Give yourself time to learn how to operate yours. If you’re planning to send check-in messages from the trail, send a few test check-ins from home to ensure everyone’s receiving them.

The Garmin inReach and SPOT both allow you to pre-program messages that you can send with the touch of a button. (The Garmin, unlike the SPOT, also supports two-way text conversations).

READ NEXT – Garmin inReach Mini Review

Many hikers, especially SPOT users, program a standard “I’m OK, another great day on the trail” check-in message that goes to their whole contact list, as well as an “I’m alright but need some non-emergency help, please give my location to local law enforcement” message that only goes to a few trusted individuals (whom they’ve briefed ahead of time on how to respond to such a message). The second message is useful if you, say, break an ankle and need help but not as much help as 15 search and rescue personnel and a helicopter.

Remind your contacts that they shouldn’t immediately start panicking if you sometimes miss a nightly check-in. Explain that cloud and tree cover can block reception so that messages occasionally aren’t delivered, and that sometimes you might just plain forget to press the button.

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21. Download books/movies/apps/maps.

pct thru-hike checklist phone

The AT thru-hike checklist: Make sure your phone has enough storage space for tons of photos.

Take advantage of having a solid internet connection to download books, music, etc. on your phone. It’s a long trail. You might want some entertainment for lonely zero days, evenings in the tent, or long days of hiking.

You can download music and podcasts to listen offline if you have Spotify Premium, for instance. Most video streaming apps, including Netflix, also allow you to download shows and movies (though they usually go away after 30 days).

Just remember that these things will all drain your cell phone battery (especially video). If you plan to consume a bunch of digital media out there, bring a battery bank like the Anker so you can recharge on the go.

Make sure you also have any apps you’ll need. Download Guthook (now FarOut) and make sure you have relevant maps and features (the topo map layer and waypoint photos are both very useful) downloaded for offline use. Other handy apps include Venmo, Audible, Spotify, Google Maps, PeakFinder, and iNaturalist.

At the same time, delete any unnecessary apps and photos to free up storage space for the bazillion pictures you’re going to take over the next 3-6 months.

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22. Get your blog/social media, etc. set up.

Your friends and family back home will want to know where you are and what you’re up to out there. Keeping a blog, vlog, photo album, or social media page is a convenient way to share pictures and updates with everyone in your world. Bonus: you can look back on it years later and reminisce about your adventure.

If you’ll be blogging, get it set up early and do a few posts before you go. Doing so will get you in the habit of writing and your loved ones in the habit of checking the site for updates. Plus, it’s an excellent way to familiarize yourself with the blog platform. Make sure you download the app and practice blogging from your phone (if applicable).

If you plan to use social media to share your hike with the world, make sure your account is up and running. Some people do private Facebook pages to share pictures and updates—if you’re doing this, get the page set up early and start inviting people to join. Same if you’ll be uploading your pictures to a shared Google drive! (Google Photos is a great way to share photos with your network. It also ensures that your pictures are backed up to the cloud whenever you have cell signal and frees up storage space on your phone).

Apply to be a Blogger or Vlogger for The Trek

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23. Make a tentative itinerary.

at thru-hike checklist

The AT thru-hike checklist: Plan your first few days on the trail and identify spots where you want to send mail drops.

There’s no point in trying to map out every day of a multi-month hike in advance—too many variables. Instead, I plan my hikes from one resupply to the next. Before starting the trail, I make a tentative daily plan for the first few days, noting potential campsites, water sources, viewpoints, etc. That way I’ll know what to expect and how much food to start with.

While I’m at it, I check the weather. In addition to standard weather apps, ATWeather.org is a helpful resource for highly localized, elevation-specific forecasts along the AT.

Beyond that, I’ll glance ahead in my guidebook before starting the trail so that I’m at least generally familiar with what’s coming. I find it motivational to identify highlights of the hike ahead of time. Knowing a bit about the trail ahead also helps me hone my packing list, resupply strategy, and rough—rough!—timeline.

Most hikers prefer resupplying in town and don’t do many mail drops. However, the AT has a few “dry stretches” where there aren’t many grocery stores and/or food is expensive.

You can send yourself packages in those areas to save money, break up long stretches of trail between grocery stores, and ensure you have good food throughout the hike. Put these boxes together in advance, label them, but don’t seal them yet. That way your mail support person can add things to the box until the last minute.

Check out our list of the best Appalachian Trail resupply points for a comprehensive breakdown of resupply options everywhere on the trail, including where to send boxes.

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24. Arrange travel to the trailhead.

The AT thru-hike checklist: Many thru-hikers reach Springer via the strenuous Approach Trail. Photo via Nadia Fenay.

If someone can’t give you a ride to Springer, catch a bus/train/plane/rental to Atlanta. Price out different options and see what fits your budget. You’ll need to rely on hitchhiking, rides with trail angels, or a paid shuttle to make the roughly 75-mile leap from Atlanta to the trailhead. Look for rides on AT Reddit and Facebook groups. Alternatively, click the READ NEXT link below for a list of shuttles.

READ NEXT – How to Get to Springer Mountain

Bear in mind that you can’t bring certain items, like stove fuel, on a plane. You’ll have to get them when you land. Even if you’re not flying, it’s a good idea to check on the location of the nearest grocery store and outfitter—never know when you might need to make a last-minute supply run.

Once you get to Amicalola Falls, then what? Will you camp right there (there’s a free shelter behind the Visitor Center) or hike in a few miles?  Based on your schedule, will you be arriving early in the morning or late in the day? If the latter, is it better to rent a room at the Amicalola Falls Lodge for the night and start fresh the following morning? All personal questions, all things you need to consider when laying your plans.

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25. Personal grooming. Do it.

pct thru-hike checklist grooming

The AT thru-hike checklist: #beardgoals, but also, enjoy the luxuries of personal grooming while you still can.

I like to get my hair trimmed before leaving for a long hike, knowing I probably won’t touch it while I’m out there.

Some people shave their heads before hiking. Short hair keeps things cooler, more manageable, cleaner, and it’s easier to spot ticks. Others grow out their hair (and beard, where applicable) for a little extra insulation if they’re starting in cold weather.

Also, nails. Some people like to paint them so they don’t have to see a thru-hike’s worth of accumulated dirt and grime build up underneath them. At the very least, cut them short right before you go.

As in any other life situation, how you groom yourself is a personal decision, and there’s no right or wrong answer. However, if it’s important to you, this is something to at least consider while you’re still in town.

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26. Try not to freak out.

at thru-hike checklist

The AT thru-hike checklist: Don’t let pre-hike jitters get the best of you. You’re going to be fine.

Easier said than done, I know. I was incredibly nervous in the final days leading up to my thru-hike. As I left home for the trailhead, I felt as though I were being led to my execution rather than finally making good on the dream of a lifetime. Once I actually set foot on the trail, though, my nerves calmed down right away. It was like sinking into a warm bath.

Try not to worry too much: just focus on getting to the startline and trust that you’re prepared enough to handle whatever happens once you’re there. You’ll make your packing list and check it twice. You’ll make miles and friends and remember how to set up your tent at the end of that first long day. It will be fine.

Besides, you shouldn’t squander your last few days at home with worry and stress. Which brings us to the last point on the AT thru-hike checklist…

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27. Enjoy the comforts of civilization while they last.

My partner slept outside in his tent the entire month of January leading up to his thru-hike for practice. Not me, though (we hadn’t met yet at the time.) I was keen to luxuriate in soft, clean sheets, indoor plumbing, and fresh produce while I had the chance. Not that I never got to experience those things during my thru-hike, but they were few and far between.

Be sure to schedule plenty of face time with close friends and family before you go. You may not see them for several months, after all.

The lead-up to your thru-hike is undoubtedly a time to rigorously prepare for the journey, but it’s also a time to reflect and enjoy the life you’re about to (at least temporarily) leave behind. So eat your favorite foods. Spend time with the people you love. Take a long, hot shower. It could be a while.

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What’s on your AT thru-hike checklist? Let us know in the comments below.

Featured image: Graphic design by Chris Helm (@chris.helm).

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Comments 6

  • pearwood : Nov 30th

    Thank you!

    Reply
  • Russ1663 : Dec 1st

    Thanks Kelly, thats quite a good checklist and starting point. I would mention prescription meds, carry them in the pharmacy issued containers. If passing through a TSA check point the meds shouldnt become issue. Me, being 72, I have a few bottles in their own dry bag. If you are out for a thru hike, refills will have to be managed through your pharmacy system. Carry a waterproofed daily med list in the bag as well.

    Best of trail luck to all

    Reply
  • Rick : Dec 3rd

    Fantastic article. Starting my AT NOBO in March 2022 and it was awesome to find so much useful information in one place. Thank you!

    Reply
  • Michael S : Dec 3rd

    My list used to have 7 of these. Now I’ve got 26. #13 will not be a thing. This is very helpful, for no better reason than thinking about this before and putting the list in a personal order.

    Reply
  • Robb jubin : Dec 18th

    Cancel your auto insurance only if you have no loan, the car is old enough it is not worth anything, no one else is driving it it, you don’t mind having a lapse in coverage that may cost you more when you try to get insurance again , or you got rid of it. If you have a balance, the provider of the loan requires coverage. If you park it in a friends yard and a tree falls on it, you may have no coverage because homeowner policies do not cover autos. If someone else is driving with permissive use, it is still on your policy because the policy follows the vehicle not the driver. If you have a lapse, insurance carriers may not want you and you will need to seek a non-standard carrier that costs more typically.

    Reply

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