Things I Learned in my First 100-ish Miles as an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker


Yes I’m over 300 miles now,  I actually wrote this in advance of entering the Smokies while reflecting on my first 100 miles, then I was editing it which caused me not to post it right away,  and then my phone broke etc. So it’s been delayed.

I still agree with everything I said except maybe that I no longer care to try to massively destink my clothing. Yup, my descent into hiker trash is coming along nicely. Ahh the snobby teenager in me is probably having a heart attack.

So Here Goes:

(1) Gear

Having the right gear is important. I was surpised by how many folks don’t seen to know what they need. The internet is full of lists. Please for your own sake, do not come out here with cotton clothing, sleeping bags that aren’t warm enough for the coldest nights, or without proper layers. Don’t bring 70lb packs either (looking at you Giant and your full sized can opener and literal cans of beans). Bring good rain gear, but know that it often soaks through anyway. Folks are going home because they brought gear because it was super lightweight but it didn’t work for the circumstances or because they cheaped out and the gear isn’t comfortable / suitable. Buy right or buy twice.


(2) Guides Books

Get a good guide or multiple guides (AWOL and Farout being the best). I use Farout at least a dozen times a day. It’s important to know how far to the next shelter along with how much gain /loss. Loss is often as bad as gain – your knees will hate you. Yes, even YOUR knees will hate you Mr. or Ms. 18 year old skinny lifetime athlete. Lots of young healthy people are limping around town in braces and KT-tape.


(3) Learn to use your poles.

There really are ideal ways to use hiking poles to improve stability and reduce impact on your joints. When holding your poles your elbows should be at a 90° angle. when going uphill make your poles 2 inches shorter, when going down hill make them 2 inches longer (than your flat land lenght. At first you will resist this, don’t. It’s annoying to change the pole lenght a few times a day, but it’ll make your experience many times better and might save your knees.


Also learn to use your poles to vault over deep steps. Plant your poles and swing. It reduces impact and lets you maintain forward momentum. Don’t stop and climb down unless it’s a huge jump. I watched a mountaineering team do this once and I was in compete awe. I’m sure there are YouTube videos. Watch a few and practice. You’ll have a much better time if you can get full use out of the poles. 


(4) Water –

Always, and I mean always, know where your next water source is. Water weighs a lot, don’t carry more than you have too, but don’t run out too far from your next fill up. I carry two 1L smart water bottles and a 2L Cnoc. I try to avoid carrying more than 1.5L at a time. But when heading to camp I typically get 3-4L. Sometimes this means pouring some out in the morning, but it’s always better to have it. Also, always check to make sure there is water by the shelter, sometimes there isn’t if it’s on a mountain top. Oh and you will be dehydrated. You have to drink wayyyy more than you expect. Drink so much it hurts your stomach, then drink more. Gatorade might be easier to tolerate. But you need to keep up your drinking. I love water and I’m failing at this. Every town day is a rehydration day. I don’t have an answer to this yet.


(5) Medicine

Don’t skimp on this. Bring Neosporin to treat popped blisters, cuts, and infections – people used to die of infections and you will be filthy out here 24/7. Bring immodium/pepto in case you get noro or giardia – it won’t make you better, but it might releive your symptoms long enough to help you self-evacuate. Don’t forget ibuprofen – everything is gonna hurt. If you have allergies bring allergy medicine – there is a ton of pollen out here. 

You don’t get bonus points for having the lightest possible bag if you aren’t prepared to handle medical issues on the trail. I’ve seen some nasty feet already, don’t forget the gold bond. Y’all need to be able to treat your injuries or you will be off the trail – we’ve seen it happen already.


(6) Bring actual soap and use it –

lots of people are catching Noro this year. I’ve seen two people with Noro who got themselves out of the woods, but they were so pale they looked like zombies. I’m also hearing about a lot of rescuses (this is where folks come in and help walk the sick person out of the woods). These folks often end up getting treated at the hospital and from what I hear many go home instead of returning to the trail. 😢 An ounce of prevention goes a long way.


(7) Money,

A lot of folks out here are already running out of cash. I know this isn’t something you can wave a wand and make more appear, but if you only get one chance in your life to come on the trail, save up a lot more than you expect to need. 


Also, don’t expect that you’ll never have to go to town. Town is where you wash your filthy clothing, shower, resupply, charge your batteries, ride out very bad weather. Most of us need a bit of R&R. Town is a much needed break from the trail. Also a lot of the trail social life happens in towns – budget for a few beers and restaurants each week.


Also, if your gear isn’t working out you may have to go home unless you can afford new gear. For some folks this means 1000’s of dollars in unplanned expenses. BTW – REI will accept mailed in returns which means you might get some of your money back if you bought from them originally. 


(8) Bring repair kits for your gear.

Duct tape wrapped around your poles, tenacious tape, patch kits, don’t leave your tent pole splint at home to save weight. Sometimes gear breaks and you need it all to work at least long enough to get to the next gap for a shuttle. My hiking buddy has had so many gear mishaps it’s amazing she hasn’t thrown in the towel – but thankfully we’ve always been able to solve the problem. 


(9) Toilet Paper

Toilet Paper weighs a lot less than you expect, so bring a lot of it. Prepare for the ‘poopacolypse’ if you get Noro – you’ll appreciate it. If you don’t get Noro you’ll be thankful you brought so much because you’ll go through it faster than you expect. Get the amount of toilet paper you think you’ll need, then double it, then double it again. Ladies, get a kula cloth or hankercheif to wipe. Oh and FFS bury your TP or pack it out and don’t put wipes in the privy, they don’t break down and some poor volunteer has to remove them.


(10) Laundry day clothes.

Have something to wear while washing your clothing, otherwise get good at tying a sheet toga. Also, don’t expect that your clothing will smell fresh again after a single wash. But if you are in town you can buy white vinegar or baking soda and soak the smell out of your stinkiest items before washing. Omg, kula cloths with days of dried urine smell gross.


(11) Hygiene

Your hands will be filthy, your nails will be caked in black dirt. Wash them whenever you can (but don’t get soap in the water source). There will still be dirt caked into your skin after you wash- unexpectedly, this only bothers me when I’m in town. 


People tell you that you’ll get over being dirty and smelling – I didn’t beleive them. But this is shockingly true. We as hikers smell, it sucks, but you really get used to it. It’s the day hikers and all their purfume that are hard to take.


(12) Shuttles will come to any road or gap.

It’ll cost you but you are very rarely far from help or town. Most big towns so far are only a 2-5 day walk apart. Maybe 40 miles, but with a lot of minor roads in between. It’s rare for me to go a full day without seeing a car. 


(13) Butt Sweat is real and problematic.

It runs down your back then into your crack. If you can’t find a way to wick it your skin will chafe or get irritated. Carry an extra cloth for butt sweat.


(14) A snot and sweat cloth is important.

Keep it attacked to the front of your pack. Don’t confuse this with the aforementioned butt sweat cloth.


(15) The weather is schizophrenic,

I was sweating through 80°F temps two days ago. Tomorrow, I’ll be hiking through snow. Don’t send your winter clothing home… ‘false summer’ will try to lull you into a sense of security, do not fall for it. 


(16) Privy, poop, and seeing a lot of butts.

Privies often don’t have doors, call out as you approach to make sure they are empty . Also, don’t expect to find any TP in there. Many privies are for pee or poop – often is easier to just pee behind a tree – even for us girls and especially at night. Some prives are poop only. The difference is how they intend for the poop to mulder.


You will have to dig catholes from time to time or when you stealth camp – this is embarrassing at first, (if your friends are jerks they might tell you they won’t make things uncomfortable for you before blasting Eye of the Tiger as you dig your cat hole. Apparently, I am a jerk.)


Eventually, you start congratulating your friends on their successful (or well timed poops). The longer folks are on the trail the less modesty we all have. Folks will change all their clothing in the shelter – only sometimes will they warn you. Your trail family will likely be better at identifying your ass from a photo lineup than you are. Sometimes, there is no cover and you just gotta go. That’s when you hope nobody on the trail is gonna show up coming the other way. Some of the time your timing will fail you in spectacular fashion – please don’t applaud till the end of the performance to prevent distracting the person. Some people get their trail name from poorly timed performances- Blue Moon I’m looking at you…


(17) Can’t Eat

I didn’t expect that eating was going to be my problem, but a lot of folks are really struggling to eat. No hiker hunger, no appetite = bonking and or massive weight loss. This sounds great at first but this is a marathon (actually about 84 marathons stacked on top of each other) you need to have the health to finish. This means getting calories in to fuel your body and build muscle. I’d love any advice y’all have on this, it’s a tough one.


(18) If you didn’t train by hiking with a full weight pack uphill you didn’t train.

Things are gonna hurt, weirdly at first it was my hip abductors that really took the brunt of long days of hiking with my pack. Go slow to build up, it gets easier.


(19) Learn to pack your pack.

It should be balanced. Your lightest items on the bottom, heavy items in the middle, as close to your body as possible. It should sit up on its own and not fall forward or backwards or to either side, otherwise you’ll be using your body to support its sway all day. If your pack is packed wrong hiking will be harder that day.


(20) Learn to adjust your pack.

Remember your waist belt is supposed to carry 80%+ of the weight. Use load lifters and other straps for comfort. Don’t be uncomfortable. 


(21) You will get stronger.

We went from 7 mile days to 12 miles days in about 2 weeks and we’ll improve more as time goes by. But just because you can put in the miles doesn’t mean you should. Scale back from time to time to avoid getting hurt. Recovery days are important


(22) It gets easier, I promise.

But you have to put in the work. Do not yellow blaze past hard sections. In the end you will only be cheating yourself. 


(23) I’ve avoided walking in the heavy rain so far.

It has cost me about 5 zeros. I think I’m enjoying my hike more than the folks who choose to hike on in the bad weather. You don’t get a medal for putting up with the most discomfort or for suffering the most. Hypothermia is real and it sucks, I struggle to stay warm, it doesn’t make sense for me to expose my body to cold rain this early in the hike. 


(24) Last one to Katahdin wins!

Unless you are going for a FKT or have a hard deadline don’t race to the end. Take the blue spur trails, see the views, visit the shelters that are wayyy off trail. You may never find yourself in these places again., why are you missing the experiences? Remember it’s the journey, not the destination. I have never regreted spending a few minutes going to a view point. ai have never failed to make my daily destination because of it.


(25) Ear plugs or head phones

If you are gonna sleep in a shelter. people snore and mice scamper.


(26) You will lose a lot of weight.

Start in tight *but stretchy) clothing because you’ll shrink into it soon. 


That’s it for now. Good luck hikers! I’ll probably write and post another update to this after another few hundred miles and tell you what has changed.

 Writing this conclusion from beyond mile 300 mark is making me reflect on the changes I’ve seen in the people around me. Just last night we were talking about the greatest bloopers we saw in those first few days and I can’t help but wonder how many of those people are still on the trail. It’s not like it’s announced when folks leave,  you just don’t see the names in logs anymore and they slowly fade from your mind.

There are a lot less hikers out today than there was a month or so ago. Folks are still dropping out. Some are sick,  some are injured, some have been yellow blazing the hard parts and just can’t keep up anymore.  It’s hard out here. I don’t know all the reasons people leave,  but I can see how easy it might be to run away to your safe place. Stay strong, it is getting easier every day.

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