6 Last-Minute Tips Before You Begin Your Thru-Hike

It’s here – Springer fever is in full swing and in just a few short weeks the start of the AT in Georgia will be swarming with hikers.  Are you one of them?  Here are a few last-minute tips to consider for your first days on the trail.  And best wishes to you!

1. Check your feet the first hour on the first day.

I think this is the hardest tip but the most important. Why is this so hard? Because none of us want to sit down on a rock or log in the first hour of our hike and take off our packs and our shoes and socks – it seems so unnecessary!  Plus it might be cold or rainy.  Better to just keep going. 

But blisters form fast.  And if you wait until you’re in camp to check your feet, you may be too late.  However, if you catch hot spots in that first hour or two and cushion them with some tape, bandaids, or moleskin, you’ll be able to prevent blisters from starting, and happy feet are crucial to a successful thru hike.

2. Slow down.

It is not a race to Katahdin. Your mileage in your first week on the trail is no indication of anything at all. Not your success, not what your mileage will be in two months, not whether you will complete a thru. Your mileage in your first week is just that – your mileage in the first week.

I hiked 45 miles in my first seven days on the trail.  That is really low.  And I loved it.  Hiking short days gave me plenty of time to rest my body, adjust to being in the woods, and reflect and just be. (Note I was a flip flopper so my short days were happening in the warmer month of May in Virginia, but if I were to start at Springer in March or April I would still begin with short days.  I would break the Approach Trail up and not do it all in one day, either making a reservation at the Hike Inn or stopping at Black Gap Shelter.  Or if skipping the Approach Trail I’d probably stay at Stover Creek Shelter or Three Forks.  No need to do an 8 mile day on the first day.) 

3. Plan for an early zero day.

Or at least an early low mile day.  Use this time to regroup, rest your body, contact your loved ones, check your gear, and make any major or minor adjustments.  My third night on the trail (in Daleville, VA) included a stay in a motel and it was perfect for me.  My phone had died – I hadn’t overridden the auto settings and it was turning itself on unbeknownst to me, and I was grateful to have a night to charge it and contact my family to let them know I was fine.  I also iced my knees, cleaned up some very muddy gear from two days of rain, and simply rested.  If I were hiking northbound from Springer I would take a zero or at least a nero at Neels Gap whether I felt like I needed one or not.   I’d either stay at the hostel or or nearby cabins.  I would pamper my feet, rest my joints and eat some delicious food.  I’d enjoy stopping to relish the beginning of this grand journey.

4. Keep records and take photos of things besides scenery. 

You think you’ll remember every detail but over time you won’t.  Write down where you camp. Write down your daily miles. Write down who you meet.  You’ll be so happy to have that information when your hike is over.  Take photos of the people and the shelters.  Take photos of regular camp life. Those will be some of your fave pics once you’re home. Also, get the contact info of people who help you.  You’ll want to send them official thank yous once you’re done and let them know you made it!  You’ll want to send your Katahdin pic to everyone!

VA- Punchbowl

Regular camp life pics will be some of your favorites once you’re home.

Memorable meals made of tuna, pb, noodles, pepperoni and more need to be memorialized in photos!

Memorable meals made of tuna, pb, noodles, pepperoni and more need to be memorialized in photos!

5. Discover your own routines.

You’re going to figure out what works best for you.  When do you like to get water?  Before or after you set up your shelter?  How do you like to cook? What are your favorite meals?  When do you like to update your journal?  How much technology is just right for you?  When do you like to take breaks?  You’re going to be surrounded by different people with different systems, different gear and different routines.  Feel free to watch what others do, but ultimately choose what works for you. 

6. Be nice, be considerate and please please please leave no trace. 

Kindness is always a great option.  Considering others is simple. Are you a smoker?  Maybe smoke away from the shelter.  Want to stay up talking?  Notice who’s around and whether you need to move so others can sleep. Just because you are a thru hiker, you don’t have special privileges.  You don’t receive priority space in shelters.  You don’t get to be loud and obnoxious.  You aren’t entitled to anything special at all.  You certainly are not entitled to free food, lodging or rides.  If at any time you receive these things, be appropriately appreciative.  Always clean up all your trash.  Even those little corners that come off when you unwrap a bar. Cigarette butts are trash. Cans are trash. And toilet paper is trash. If it’s not going in a privy, pack that stuff out. (TP is the only stuff that goes in a privy.  No wipes, no trash, of course!) It all needs to be packed out. If you know you’re coming to a town where you can dump your trash, be an extra-good samaritan and pack out the trash you find in the fire ring too.

When you pack up camp, always turn around to see if you left anything behind.  Leave the space as nice or nicer than you found it.  If you’ve been stealth camping, no one should be able to tell you were ever there.

Best wishes to the class of 2016.  May your hike be everything you dreamed of and more. I know mine was!

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Comments 5

  • Dave Howie : Feb 26th

    Thanks, Carla! I’m stepping foot on Springer on March 4–less than 5 days away! This was a nice and helpful read. Just what I needed.

    • Carla Robertson : Feb 27th

      Awesome! So glad this was helpful, Dave! Very excited for you – enjoy your hike, take your time and savor as much as you can all the way to Maine!

    • Carla Robertson : Mar 24th

      So glad this was helpful to you, Dave!

  • Lone Star : Mar 5th

    Hey Carla, good advice! I like your approach for starting the trail and taking the time needed to get focused on routines, wellness and LNT. I will heed this advice as its one of my biggest concerns. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Carla Robertson : Mar 24th

      My pleasure, Lone Star!


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