*Oct 29th: AT Presentation at Mazamas Mountaineering Center (43rd/Stark), 7pm, free
*Nov 1st: AT Presentation at the Oregon Trails Club Annual Weekend Backpacking Seminar at Nesika Lodge in the Columbia Gorge (registration required)
*Nov 12th: AT Presentation at REI Portland (limited registration, will be posted soon) 6:30pm
I know that planning a thru hike can be overwhelming no matter how experienced you are. I had those same questions everyone has about the AT (how do you deal with the rain? which towns require a resupply box? should I use a down sleeping bag?...). I'll do my best to sum it all up in an organized and concise way for you and I hope you all find it helpful! This would have been GOLD for me before a hike and would have saved me a ton of time, so I hope it helps!
STOP! Become an ATC Member
If you are planning a section or thru hike on the Appalachian Trail and you aren't an Appalachian Trail Conservancy Member, sign up NOW! It is shocking to me how many people hike the trail and aren't members or don't at least give a donation. There are no fees required to hike the AT yet it takes the effort of countless volunteers and staff to maintain the trail. It is only $40 and you get the perks of a subscription to AT Journeys and discounts on all ATC purchases. If you divide that $40 by the 2,185.3 miles of trail you'll be walking, that's less than 2 cents/mi. I know there are those cheapos out there trying to do this on a minimal budget, but for the sake of trail karma, just do it! If you don't, the trail gods will be watching and the storm clouds and mice will follow you the whole trail...
It seems that 90% of hikers on the AT use the AT Guide and solely that (without maps) to hike the trail. I know it's shocking that people don't carry maps, but the trail is so well marked that it isn't needed and if you go off, the blazes are a different color and you quickly realize it and turn around.I am in no way telling you to enter the woods without maps, but I am telling you that's what most hikers do. I would never go without some kind of map and I used an app which I'll recommend below for GPS backup. Some like the pocket profiles for an overview, but they are in no way needed to hike and the detailed elevation charts are on each page. It's a great guide and also includes all the town info you would need. It can be purchased Nobo or Sobo and with the option of having it bound as a book or loose leaf if you plan to ship the pages in sections. Only $15 and a steal for all that it gives you! I scanned it and had it on my phone as a backup and ended up using the scanned version instead and had the paper ones as backup. There is even an option to buy a pdf version that I heard has links that go directly to the website or phone number when you touch it. A portion of the purchase does go to the ATC. There are data books and companion guides created and sold by volunteers of the ATC, but I rarely saw one in use and only heard about how they were not as helpful as the AT Guide. It is unfortunate as I know many would like for 100% of the funds to go back to the ATC, so there is that option if you are one of those people.
Guthook's AT Hiker App
Um...Guthook's AT Hiker App is AWESOME!!! It isn't necessary to have this app to successfully hike the trail, but it certainly makes it a lot more enjoyable. I used this app just as much, if not more than the AT Guide. The two of them combined give you all the info you could possibly want. At the touch of a button, you can see your location on a topo map or elevation chart. There is a plethora of information as he has marked shelters, unofficial campsites, towns, water sources, viewpoints, road crossings, photos, and pretty much anything you can think of. This would not be in place of maps or a guide as it doesn't have all the same sites and sources in the guide, but it is a great supplement and sometimes has more info not listed in the guide. I know it seems pricey, but just buy one section and you'll be hooked! I loved seeing exactly where I was on a climb and the locations of the unofficial campsites which aren't mentioned anywhere else. No service is required as it works off your phone's GPS. He also has the app available for many other trails including the PCT and CDT. If you still aren't sure, here is the link to video demos of the app in action.
|Training in the rain gear.|
I also carried a light rain jacket, OR Helium, rain pants. and blue latex gloves to go over my gloves. The rain pants may have been overkill, but for me they were worth carrying for the few times I used them, mainly early in the hike. Some did use ponchos, just a rain jacket, or nothing at all. Just know you will get wet with all these options so it's how comfortable you are with being wet and how much protection do you want. In addition, I used a trash compactor bag as an inner liner in my pack and it kept everything completely dry. Yes, the pack was wet, but it dried quickly and will usually get wet anyway with a pack cover.
What Tent Should I Bring?
The thing about the AT is that it is not a remote trail with no shelter. It will have inclement weather, but your shelter can vary greatly person to person depending on your comfort level and pocketbook. It does get quite humid and hot at times, so an option of mesh and draft is nice. I used a cuben fiber tent from ZPacks called the Soloplex and I highly recommend it, but it is really expensive and understandably not necessary. There are shelters that many use, but don't count on them and be prepared to use a tent in the rain if a shelter is full. My advice is to go as light as you can and still afford it. There are a whole range of tents so don't fret. If you get a tent that is not free standing, I suggest cuben fiber over sil-nylon if you can afford it just because the sil-nylon sags and will be a pain to have to tighten it repeatedly through the night in rain. If you choose sil-nylon, the Tarptent, Light Heart Gear, and Six Moon Designs tents are great options. It won't be the end of the world, but just a pain from time to time. As for the free standing tents, with poles...if you don't mind the weight of carrying it, go right ahead. Just remember that it also absorbs a ton of water, will be even heavier after rain, and takes a ton of time to dry out too. A good option here would be the Big Agnes Fly Creek. These aren't all the options, just the more popular ones. Basically, you get what you pay for.
Down or Synthetic?
It is quite humid and wet out there sometimes, but if you keep your things dry, down is not a problem at all. It is much lighter, so I prefer it. I get cold easily and used my 10 degree down bag (which is probably 20 degree after the CDT) and down jacket the whole way and was fine...but I definitely could have gotten away with ~30 degree bag and it was used more as a blanket or not at all much of the trail. The down jacket was a pillow most of the trip, but the few times I used it, I was happy to have carried it. Again, I get cold easily. My point here is, if you want to use down, it will be fine.
Ticks are abundant along the Appalachian Trail and many hikers get Lyme Disease which can become serious quite quickly. I had my clothes professionally treated with permethrin and it seemed to work for both ticks and mosquitoes. I had one tick that actually bit me and it was a day I wore non-treated socks. People around me without treated clothing had ticks all over them at times. I used Insect Shield LLC, a company in North Carolina that sells and treats clothing with permethrin. Their repellency is invisible, odorless, EPA registered, and lasts for 70 launderings. Here is the link to the form if you're interested in having your clothing treated. They were wonderful to work with! The section where I experienced the full height of the ticks was the second half of Virginia, but it can occur anywhere anytime.
Peanut Eater's AT Planner
A great thing about the AT that makes it appealing to many hikers is that there is very little planning required. As far as I can remember, there aren't any places where I'd say you MUST send a resupply box. Now there may be a couple where you will walk out with 20 of the same overpriced bar and a jar of peanut butter, but you won't starve. One complaint I have about the AT Guide is that you do have to thumb through it to find towns and there isn't a list of them in an index with the mileages. I do, however, have a planner from fellow hiker, Peanut Eater, who made this spreadsheet I used and enjoyed on the AT and the CDT. You will need to specify it to your planned pace and your year's mileages/towns, but it's great! It is also a reality check to see the dates and mileages required to hike it in 5-6 months.
|Peanut Eater's AT Planner...click here to download.|
Trail Town Thoughts
|The trail as it goes through Hot Springs, NC|
Approach Trail or Not?
|The arch at the start of the Approach Trail|
The Whites & Maine
|Typcial rocky, rooty, Maine trail...|
|Screw hooks for wooden tent platforms.|
|Katahdin casts an early morning shadow.|
Other Random Tips/Suggestions...*It's called the green tunnel for a good reason. Much of the hike will be in the woods with few views once the trees leaf out. The mental drain will really happen as the heat and humidity sets in north of West Virginia. Be ready for it and have strategies for entertaining your mind and passing the time. I used music, audiobooks, hiking with fun people, and phone calls to make it more enjoyable.
*It will be tempting to stop in towns and socialize early on, but keep a good pace as it only gets pricier and more rugged up north. New Hampshire and Maine are the reward, but they won't feel that way if you are too tired, too late in the season, and/or too broke to enjoy it. Just remember that down south.
*Don't limit yourself to camping at shelters. You have a whole forest out there and there are tons of unofficial campsites. Change it up and make it an adventure.
*They call Pennsylvania "Rocksylvania" and that is deceiving as it's actually north of PA where it gets really rocky. The rocks don't start until well into the state (north of Port Clinton, PA, mile 1214) and when they do come it's in spurts, so your mileage won't go down too much.
*Your knees will HURT! I've never felt hiking in my knees and if you have knee issues, you may want to rethink this one. It is the downhill more than the uphill that takes many off the trail. Especially the last 400mi of trail...you're gonna feel it!
*Dampness+Rain+Humidity= Lots of chafing! From day one til the end I'd have flare ups of chafing like I've never experienced before. Just be sure to always carry something. I used body glide, but many others needed stronger things. Just carry something small all the time as it can come out of nowhere and it is quite painful.
*Verizon is, by far, the best reception on trail. I had reception each day (often most of the day), except for maybe a few days.
I think that's it...I hope you found this informative and helpful. Let me know if I've left any major common questions lingering and I'll do my best to answer them...