You know the reward, now are you ready to earn it? Hiking the trail is not going to be easy so from now on, you can think of this as a boot camp blog. Below is a guide to help you prepare for everything you need to be ready for before going:
Mental Preparedness: Okay, so first of all, there’s no way in hell you’re going to survive a 2,000+ mile, 7 month long hike without being mentally prepared to do so. So how do we mentally prepare you ask? Figure out the why. What’s driving you to go, and what’s going to continue to drive you on the trail when its 40 degrees and raining, everything you have is soaked, and you’re cold and hungry. We all possess something that will motivate us, but this answer will be different for everyone and I suggest you think about what your answer might be before leaving, otherwise you might be setting yourself up for early failure.
Don’t Be a Fat Ass: You’re insane if you think you’re going to make it without training. Trash the McDonalds, get up and get your ass in shape: Try a stair climber, strengthen everything, get your cardio in, it’s that simple. Training guide here.
How Do I Find Time for this Shit?: Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re all thinking. There’s no time to create a 7 month pause in your life. I’m here to tell you, yes there is. Society tells you that you always have to be busy and working and if not, you might miss out on important opportunities or worse, ruin your life. There’s a perfectly good gap between the time you graduate college and the time you get a job where you can take the time to embark on this journey of a lifetime. Hell, it’s probably a good idea to make sure you know who you are and what you truly want to do with your life before you end up stuck in jobs you hate for the rest of your life. Additionally, leaving for the trail in May has you getting back around November, helping you avoid the coldest months in the year.
What the Hell Do I Bring?: The goal here is called ultra-light backpacking. If you wanna make it 2,000 miles, you’re going to have to make some sacrifices. Also, in case you thought you were too lazy to figure out what to bring (and I know you did), I personally took the time to develop a well-researched, comprehensive list for you here. You also need to create mail drops for yourself. Basically, you send yourself stuff you’ll need in the mail in advance, and you can stop in the towns you sent your stuff to along the trail and resupply.
Should I fear for My Life?: My number one suggestion: don’t go alone. While yes, crime is infrequent on the Appalachian Trail, your level of safety raises tenfold by going with a group. 4 people is the recommended number of people to travel with on the AT, enough to ensure protection but not too many to damage the environment significantly. Another thing you have to worry about is your health. Use bug spray, wear light colored clothes, and inspect for ticks, no one wants Lyme disease. Although Lyme disease sounds bad, your greatest enemy will be norovirus, and this is why soap on the trail is essential (sorry but hand sanitizer isn’t going to do the trick). Make sure you shower and use the bathroom 200 feet away from a water source, and cover up your excrement in a hole. Filter your god damn water, and dear lord, don’t share food with strangers because you never know who the dirty birds are. More info for health on the Appalachian trail here.
Lions and Tigers and Bears, OH MY!: Okay, last thing you have to worry about I promise: bears. Typically bears will hear you on the trail and know to stay away from you before you ever come close to an encounter with them. However, you will encounter bears if you leave your damn food near you. Don’t cook next to your tent, don’t hang your bag of food next to your tent, too low to the ground, or too close to the trunk of the tree you’re hanging it in (yes, bears will climb!). More info on beating the bears here.
For more specifics about the Appalachian Trail, visit their website.