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Backpacker Magazine – November 2008

American Classic: Hiking the Appalachian Trail

In this ultimate guide to the country's favorite footpath, you'll find our picks for the best hiking and camping, and a complete plan for thru-hikers. Plus, meet a man who has made it his job to help AT hikers.

by: Michael Lanza

Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area, VA (Jeff Zimmerman)
Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area, VA (Jeff Zimmerman)
Great Smoky Mountains (Kevin Adams)
Great Smoky Mountains (Kevin Adams)
Near Maine's Grafton Notch (Tim Seaver)
Near Maine's Grafton Notch (Tim Seaver)

PLAN A THRU-HIKE
Dreaming of a thru-hike? Prepare for success by learning the obstacles–and how to beat them.

KEEP IT SIMPLE
Don't let the length of the AT confuse things: It's a hike, not an Everest expedition. Get started on the right path by dispensing with three common AT myths:

1) Planning: Ignore those who recommend an organizational jump-start six or eight months in advance. Calculating where you'll camp every night is an exercise in futility, and spending thousands of dollars shipping resupply boxes across 14 states from Maine to Georgia is a waste of time and money (see "Hike Smart").

Hiker to Hiker
What it takes: Essential qualities for a successful thru-hiker include "a sturdy physique, exceptional determination, and ingenious adaptability." –Earl Shaffer, a World War II veteran who became the world's first thru-hiker when he walked the AT end-to-end in 1948. He used road maps to navigate.

2) Gear: There's no magic product. Sure, you should carry less than 30 pounds total with food and water (check page 53 for help), but remember: Even a one-pound pack can't walk for you.

3) Mileage: It's not important to stay "on pace" for the first month. In fact, the opposite is true. Nothing kills a thru-hike faster than going too far, too soon (see "Hike Smart" for how to master the first 40 days).




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Apr 29, 2013

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Jeff
May 23, 2012

To ERICS post about baxter state park. ERIC, you need to check your facts. Baxter may be open, but most of the time, Katahdin trails are closed until around June 1st. The parks director makes the decision after hearing from the rangers. Some years it is earlier than others. Always call first before making plans. The fine for hiking closed Katahdin trails is $200 per person. Just thought you should know.

Larry Budd
May 18, 2012

Another place to plan an A.T. hike and read a 1989 Backpacker article on hiking the A.T., P.C.T and C.D.T is http://thetrailhead.ning.com. We got back on last summer in Pennsylvania. Port Clinton Hotel to Bear Mountain Summit. The trail is perfect for section hikes too!

Eric
May 18, 2012

WRONG INFORMATION:
This is a comment to the statement "Baxter Opens June 1". WRONG!
I don't even understand how you could make this mistake. Considering the reader following of Backpacker, many people just got really really bad information. Actually the park is open year round. However, they only allow overnight camping from May 15th to October 15th (for the summer season), and December 1st - March 31st (for the winter season), the other times you can get in and do what you want, but can't spend the night. If the author performed a simple Baxter State Park website check then the correct information would have been known.
Thanks,
Eric

Yukon Don
May 17, 2012

Which foods are the most recommended and how much per day?

Robbie
Apr 21, 2012

Section Hiker here. Don't have time yet to do a full thru hike but catch a week to a month every summer, while hiking locally on weekends. I agree with some of the comments on food. My sisters and I undertake a different section of the AT every summer. Our packs have lightened as we learned our needs and wants on the trail. We are down to 30# packs without restocking. We dehydrate veggies and shredded meat. Evening comes and we cook rice and add the veggies and meat and eat very well compared to the poptarts and protein bars and hiker meals we've seen. Dried fruit livens up the oatmeal without added sugar. When we come off the trail we are in awesome shape. I have lost 7 pant sizes since the first time we took to the trail and feel better than I ever have in my life. I am proof you don't have to be in tip top shape to hike as long as you enjoy your hike and stick to it for the time you have allotted. Measure your hike by pleasure gained, not miles. The trail is beautiful and the company is grand.

hhiker33
Apr 12, 2012

I thru hiked in 2009. I found this article very helpful. I even bought some of the gear recommended. It all held up well. Maine was my favorite state. The rocks in Pennsylvania suck, but it is only a relatively short area in the north. Don't worry about the bears, they are a treat to see, but carrying guns, pepper spray, or knives is the sign of a rookie, who is carrying extra weight for nothing.

TRUST ME!!!!
May 06, 2011

I know few people will likely see this comment, so I am going to put this in all caps. NO MATTER HOW ULTRA-LIGHT YOU WANT TO BE, IF YOU HAVE ANY KIND OF BOWEL PROBLEMS YOU'RE GOING TO WISH YOU HAD MORE TOILET PAPER. I pulled out the cardboard tube and just took a portion of a roll. I was stupid. Fortunately, I came upon a park-maintained visitor center with a facility from which I took a small portion of toilet paper. Had this not been available, I would have had some of the worst rear-end problems. On a similar note, chaffing is oftentimes helped by applying neosporin. Just a few tips from a section hiker.

Lauren Ryan
Feb 11, 2011

I don't fear the bears getting at my food as much as I do the mice. I bought a Grubpack mouse proof food bag specifically for my treks on the Appalachian Trail. It's a lightweight, rodent proof backpacking food container. I hang it like a usual food bag. It's not a bear bag, but mice and squirrels can't chew through it. They are sold online. A yahoo/google search will find it.

Rick a.k.a. Woollyworm
Jan 08, 2011

Hey Eric, don't think so much about bears. My experience has been the only way I see them is if they didn't see me first. Hang your food bag though. I use two pieces of kernmantle 3mm line 30 feet long and hang the food bag between two trees. Nothing has ever gotten it. I eat a lot of Mountain House, Ramen Noodles, Nutrigrain bars, some GORP. Get to a trail town and it's burgers, pizza, anything. Cook on an Etowah Outfitters alcohol stove with Heet in the yellow bottle as fuel. My pack with one to two weeks worth of food will weigh 30 to 35 pounds. I could get it down even lower than that because there are some wants in there along with the needs.

c29368
May 09, 2010

@Old Dog Dave
Hey I grew up hiking the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, and am also a weekend warrior myself. The area has a lot to offer in terms of trails, and other places of interest. 7 miles south is Kirkridge shelter, super nice and clean. Heading north you will go through Delaware Water Gap. Stop by Edge of the Woods Outfitters if you need any supplies or information, they are located in town. The AT will cross the Delaware River via Rt. 80. From the Dunfield Creek parking area you can take the red trail hiking up the relatively steep Indian Head. That will loop back to the trailhead and the AT. Water Gap to Culvers Gap is a nice weekend hike, about 30 miles. North of Water Gap is Worthington State Forest. They have a designated backpackers site about 3 miles north of the trailhead @ Dunfield Creek, plenty of grassy tent sites, bear boxes, and an outhouse. Head north and you will see a sign for Mohican Outdoor Center which is run by the AMC, they offer a lodge and rooms to stay. The next shelter is Brink Road shelter about 24 miles north of Water Gap. New Jersey is full of Black Bears so watch your food. I also believe open fires are prohibited along the AT in New Jersey.

c29368
May 09, 2010

@Old Dog Dave
Hey I grew up hiking the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, and am also a weekend warrior myself. The area has a lot to offer in terms of trails, and other places of interest. 7 miles south is Kirkridge shelter, super nice and clean. Heading north you will go through Delaware Water Gap. Stop by Edge of the Woods Outfitters if you need any supplies or information, they are located in town. The AT will cross the Delaware River via Rt. 80. From the Dunfield Creek parking area you can take the red trail hiking up the relatively steep Indian Head. That will loop back to the trailhead and the AT. Water Gap to Culvers Gap is a nice weekend hike, about 30 miles. North of Water Gap is Worthington State Forest. They have a designated backpackers site about 3 miles north of the trailhead @ Dunfield Creek, plenty of grassy tent sites, bear boxes, and an outhouse. Head north and you will see a sign for Mohican Outdoor Center which is run by the AMC, they offer a lodge and rooms to stay. The next shelter is Brink Road shelter about 24 miles north of Water Gap. New Jersey is full of Black Bears so watch your food. I also believe open fires are prohibited along the AT in New Jersey.

Old Dog Dave
Apr 26, 2010

Is there anyone out there who is a weekend warrior like me? I only get Fri-Sun for Backpacking trips. Harriamen State Park is the closest AT connection for me. I have no desire to do the whole AT. But I Love 5 to 7 mile days with a nice secluded campsite. Does anyone have an opion about visiting the Deleware Water Gap area? What is the camping overnight in this area like? I love the outdoors, I just don't like focusing on getting from point A to point B before sundown. I like to experience nature not break the land speed record to get to the next shelter. Is this real Backpacking or should I keep my day job? I'm 60 years young.

Mike McKuen
Feb 28, 2010

Hello All;

I could use some advice. I'd like to go on one last camping trip with day hikes. My wife is due in July with our first child so I feel the need to get this out of my system before it's too close to be able to leave for any length of time when she's near her due date. I live near Madison, Wisconsin and would like some advice on a great camping area with awesome views and hiking. I'm leaning towards the Appalachian Trail at this point. I don't have anywhere near the time for hiking it all, but if someone could recommend a few breathtaking areas where me and a buddy or two could camp and hike for a week to ten days I'd be grateful. Thanks!

2008 Thru Hiker Sitesee
Feb 15, 2010

Start slow 10miles/day for 30 days.
Wear lightweight knee braces, til you lose weight.
Eat cold food on trail. No need for cookware.
Just carry a spoon & Titanium cup.
Treat water as needed with ultraviolet treatment.
Carry chemical water treatment as backup.
Nylon shorts,UnderArmour tank top, one set long underwear and Montbell light down jacket with best lightweight rain gear you can afford is all the clothes you need. If pack weight is over 20# you're carrying too much.

Bert Nemcik, AT2002
Dec 31, 2009

Mice! They're the most obnoxious critters along the trail. They are voracious. To foil them try this.

Get two pieces, 3-4'long of 30lb. test monofilament line and tie a loop at each end. When you stop at night, eat, drink and be merry and then hang your pack and your food bag from the monofilament line in any shelter or in your tent.

Mice cannot climb the line. They will everything else.

Thus, foiled, mice will leave you alone.

I carried traps too and bated them with peanut butter and enjoyed ridding shelters of the critters. My record was 6 mice in 25 minutes in one shelter in the Great Smoky Mountains.

See you down the trail...

Shadow

PS...Enjoy!

Bubba
Dec 30, 2009

All this advice is great. Everybody's right. I'm again attempting a thru hike come March, so being a hiker, I also have some opinions. If you take the approach trail from Apalachicola State Park, the big stream is the last water until Springer, so carry 3 liters. It's 8 miles but it feels like 20 up hill mostly. Better to skip the approach trail. Pee bottles are not a good idea. I would carry an additional light cheap bag that you can donate to a church for the early cold. Use your jet boil to turn your water bottles into a hot water bottles to sleep with. Jet boil is coming out with a lighter weight unit next year, but you can cut it down, drill out the plastic, ditch the cup.
Information makes the difference, where you are how far you need to go, next water, etc. Get the companion book. GPS with topo maps would be nice, too, if it is light enough.
You don't eat much food on the trail if you're a heavy man. 1 mountain house a night is sufficient to start with.
Be adaptable, shelters are removed, hostels close. Hammocks are the best sleep in warm weather. Take a syringe without a needle to clean/irrigate wounds & blisters. Wear nylon shorts, capaline shirt, nylon socks with nylon liners, no cotton. polypropylene long underwear while it's cold. Baklavas would be best, but you can't find them down South much.

daverep
Oct 04, 2009

Having spent a few thousand miles on the AT I feel like an expert like everyone else. The most I did was 1000 in one summer. My opinion- take several weekend trips and a few week long vacations on the trail to tune up the gear you'll take. Food takes care of itself. The young can digest anything and turn it into miles. The older you get the better you must think about nutrition. When I went on the 1000 mie trip I was in the best shape of my life. Biked, hiked, ran, black belt, yoga. The trail whooped my ass. Period. The only way to get in shape has been spoken before here. Take it slow and hike your own hike. Also- life is good, the trail is good. Don't be afraid. It's the east coast and people are never far away. Emotional control is by far the deciding factor on who stays on the trail. It's an experience that will be the best time of your life, so rest when you have to and move it on down the trail when your body and mind says go. Love life and expect the best and you will have something inside you that will last the rest of your life.

daverep
Oct 04, 2009

Having spent a few thousand miles on the AT I feel like an expert like everyone else. The most I did was 1000 in one summer. My opinion- take several weekend trips and a few week long vacations on the trail to tune up the gear you'll take. Food takes care of itself. The young can digest anything and turn it into miles. The older you get the better you must think about nutrition. When I went on the 1000 mie trip I was in the best shape of my life. Biked, hiked, ran, black belt, yoga. The trail whooped my ass. Period. The only way to get in shape has been spoken before here. Take it slow and hike your own hike. Also- life is good, the trail is good. Don't be afraid. It's the east coast and people are never far away. Emotional control is by far the deciding factor on who stays on the trail. It's an experience that will be the best time of your life, so rest when you have to and move it on down the trail when your body and mind says go. Love life and expect the best and you will have something inside you that will last the rest of your life.

Ninja
Sep 30, 2009

Thankx 4 the help. im 17 and just packed my bag lastnite. I live in Sc bt i Gtt walk there

Jeff Walden (Mercury '08)
Mar 28, 2009

Also, yes, hiking the AT is not a complicated prospect. Pack like you normally would for any backpacking trip, head to one terminus or the other (south if it's March to mid-May or later if you push, north if it's mid-May or later, but note you need to reserve a spot in Baxter for the latter), get enough food for the first bit of trail (don't be afraid to be generous so you'll learn how much you need and so you can go slow if you want), and hike until the resupply point. Lather, rinse, repeat. I made my site reservation at Katahdin Stream a week in advance, packed and bought food the day before my bus ride to Medway, and was hiking up Katahdin the day after. Prepare to be slow at the start, adjust to the pace you prefer, and just keep at it; there's nothing complicated about a thru-hike except possibly getting enough time for it.

Jeff Walden (Mercury '08)
Mar 28, 2009

To ericleeobrien@hotmail.com:

Don't worry about bears. Really. At all. Every bear I saw on the trail bolted the other direction as soon as it knew I was near save for two that watched me from fifty or a hundred feet away and then wandered off. This included several that were thirty feet up in trees when they heard me (see one of them and you'll laugh uncontrollably at anyone who suggests climbing a tree to escape a bear) who were on the ground in two seconds and gone before I even thought to pull out a camera. Use bear cables/boxes (when available) or hang your food when you're in bear country (or when shelter registers note bear activity in the area) and you'll be absolutely fine. Appalachian Trail bears are more afraid of you than you are of them, period, full stop.

Steve "Chaco" Chase
Feb 27, 2009

You all make it sound so complicated...One set of clothes,1 spare socks, long johns,Thermawrap jacket,Versalite bag,Z-rest pa (cut down)Golite Jam pack,rain gear,balaclava,sun hat and a pair of Chaco Z1 sandals. 11 and 17 lbs packs WITH food and water!!No stove,cold food bought along tha way and we had a GREAT time!

Chaco and Toesocks NOBO 2008

Voodoo
Feb 25, 2009

I hiked the trail in 2008. It took seven months, but I took a lot of side trips to large cities for weekends and then some music festivals or fellow thru-hiker's homes for celebrations.

The best part about a NOBO thru-hike is the camraderie. You can't read about it and understand, but all thru-hikers feel a kinship with one another that might be similar to say, war veterans.

About the article, I agree with your take on food and planning. I'd say 1% of the people I met out there were successful in planning their trip. I gave up after two weeks. On food, it's the same, your tastes shift so drastically from week to week. You might dream about bananas one week or tortillas or ground beef. But if you only have some dried cous-cous casserole coming in your dropbox that you planned out seven months ago, something's going to either be dropped in a hiker box or shipped ahead at an extra and useless expense.

What I disagree with is your section on fitness. Sure, some fit people took to the Trail, but I also saw some downright skeletal people finishing, and I witnessed people in Damascas, VA popping out of the complimentary Trail Days wellness testing with 7 and 8 percent body fat, with the outlook grim that they would be able to eat enough in calories to sustain themselves.

Is it good to be in shape? Sure. But what that study you cite doesn't account for is the factor of "drive." It only stands to reason that people who can stick to a workout routine pre-Trail and be in superior shape will also stick to their thru-hike, but other people have drive besides the fit ones. I lost 25 lbs. on the AT. My girlfriend lost 20. Our friend DahWeHe lost over 50. Burrass over 50, as well. I can keep going ...

Stoves, too. Alcohol is correctly listed as the number one, but let's be real. The envy of the Trail? JetBoil. It's a lil' bulky, but it was awesome to behold and a constant source of wonder in the shelters. Shoes: switching out every 250 to 400 is needlessly wasteful, unless you're wearing reg. ol' trailrunners from Nike or something. Most mid-boots like the Keen Voyageur should last a hiker at least 600 miles. My girlfriend's ASOLO boots - it only took her two pairs to make the entire trail, and she didn't switch out the old ones until she'd made it all the way to Dalton, MA.

Anywho, there's a lot in here that's good, but there's a lot more that you can't know until you make it out there and try. With that said, go on and hike, dammit. It's the chance of a lifetime.

BS_hikestuff
Feb 07, 2009

You people are amazing, telling someone they are completely wrong about trail food.
Food is personal, food is intimate.
Obviously people should stay away from processed foods.
Foods that are more like the ones that grow out of the ground are the best. How do you do this on the trail?
I recommend doing some dehydrating of things in season, it is worth it. Your body will thrive as opposed to breaking down.
At the end of the day you will be stronger as opposed to full of sugar, refined flour, and stimulants.
Take care of yourself, put real food in your body.
And if you feel that a map is helpful and might save your life, I say take one.
Hope everyone enjoys the trail, and support the causes that you love, buy local, eat less meat, recycle, and support other hikers.
Thanks

ericleeobrien@hotmail.com
Jan 30, 2009

Thank you to all you experienced hikers for the advice; I'm still in the dreaming stage myself for an AT ThruHike. I've contacted Harpers Ferry and received some preliminary information (including a surely someday-valuable hand-written letter), started a file, read and saved several long articles on the TH, and read an awesome book on "ThruHiking the Appalachian Trail" (exact title unsure). Thanks to your advice in these comments, I'll certainly adjust some of my original starting plans, such as starting in at least early March instead of April 1st and adapting a custom pace rather than a pre-planned 14-mile-a-day goal (it's easy to divide 2,180 miles by 150 days and come up with a cold number to use as a goal). As a push-mower grasscutter, doing about 500 lawns a season (April--November), I feel I have the capability; what I worry most about is bears. I'm surprised people don't write about their bear encounters more often, and would appreciate any comments to my email address. Should I carry pepper spray? A USMC fighting knife (is this even legal)? Do we have a backup plan for defending our lives as a last resort, or just have faith? I definitely don't want to wear a cowbell, as suggested in some articles so you don't spook a bear. My dream is to hike the AT, then move on to all the others: Lewis&Clark, Pacific Crest, Continental Divide, and the new American Discovery Trail. Then canoe the 1,000-Mile Waterway through the Everglades along south Florida's gulf coast. I don't need the rest of the world (foreign countries) with all we have right here in America to explore. If I was rich and unfettered with responsibilities, and had gotten America's adventures over with when I was younger, then maybe I'd have kayaking/trekking The Amazon River on my radar (read a great book something like "Rafting the Amazon", highly recommend, a documentary-type about a group of National Geographic writers/adventurers who wanted to find the source of the Amazon, all the way over on the west coast of South America, at first thought to be trickles of water and a small stream from snow melt high in the Andes, but turning out to be the less romantic, barely-perceptible drips from a huge, high glacier in Chile...still cool though...where they started their adventure as a hike and put in kayaks as soon as the drips turned into running beads of water and then tiny streams then rivulets and finally into the first large-enough stream to hold a kayak. It was like a prehistoric adventure, similar to the original Lewis & Clark Expedition, that is harder and harder to find in this day of expanding global inhabitation and "civilizing" the natural world). Anyhow, just thought you seasoned hikers would enjoy hearing a frame of mind from someone yet to strike out on The Trail and remember that stage of your pursuit(s). Do any of you thru-hikers want to do the other major trails someday?

Rob
Jan 10, 2009

Oh yeh. For food, make sure you add stuff that makes food taste good. 50g worth of flavouring sachets isnt going to hurt you, and good tasting food goes down easier.

Rob
Jan 10, 2009

Oh yeh. For food, make sure you add stuff that makes food taste good. 50g worth of flavouring sachets isnt going to hurt you, and good tasting food goes down easier.

Rob
Jan 10, 2009

Maps are important, but only if their topographical and show local roads, towns, etc etc. Otherwise, if you make 1 wrong step and end up off course, atleast you can use the map to check a local feature and walk/trek back to the trail. Better then never being seen again, eh?

Mike (Sasquatch)
Jan 05, 2009

I freely admit, I have not thru-hiked the AT (though I am anxiously and excitedly counting down teh days). However, I have long distance hiked MANY trails, in addition to back country camping since the age of 7, and completing Air Force survival training. I think the author is accurate in most of what has been written.

Stop looking at what is directly said, and look at the spirit of what is written. The author stipulates using a drink mix. The reason is not simply to replace salt and other minerals, rather the idea is to make you drink more. It is a fact that most people are more inclined to drink flavored drinks than plain water. If it gets newbies drinking before they're thirsty I say it's a GREAT idea.

Yes, we all know that you should eat healthy, but I have seen plenty of hikers not eat dinner, because they could not stand to eat one more freeze dried meal. Noodles, while not being the best thing for you, can often create a change of pace and be a welcome addition to any meal...not too mention they weigh next to nothing. On the same note, healthy peanut butter tastes really plain, and plain is not what you look forward to after a 15 mile day in the Whites! By the way, the promise of a burger, shake, and fries has gotten many o' hikers to suck it up when they are tired and push on through the rain.

I will conceed that mail drops are a matter of preference, but again, the authors main point was to minimize anything that forces you to follow a specific pace. There is nothing worse than hiking with a great bunch of people, moving at a fantastic/comfortable pace, only to realize you will have to stay in town for two days (three if you miss judge near a Sunday) to wait on your mail while your new found family moves on.

I will agree, a map and compass should always be carried whenever you are in the woods, but if you can't use them, why bring them. Now my point here is that you should not only carry them, but know how to use them. But, perhaps the author was playing to the fact that most people have no idea how to read a map or compass. Not saying the author is right...I'm just saying :)

So, the message to all of you new hikers is: Hike your own hike, know how to properly use your equipment, and eat what you want. What's the point of burning 5000 calories a day if you can't put back a few of them via the best tasting burger you will ever eat. Trust me, after a 20 mile day, almost any burger will taste amazing!

-Sasquatch

Yukon Jack
Jan 03, 2009

As a thru hiker I disagree with much of your information in this article just ask anyone who carried maps how often they were asked to see there maps they weigh very little and could be used in an emergency to get off the trail the fastest way which may be important if bitten by a rattle snake or some other medical emergency comes up. Also you wont piss off those who have carried and payed for there maps by constantly asking to look at there maps. I also totaly disagree with your opinion on mail drops the small cost of six mail drops or so a month at less than fifty dollars amonth is more than saved by being able to buy your foods (the ones you like not the ones that happen to be available in a local gas station or corner store that many towns only have)in bulk I do agree on adding a couple things from town that you happen to be craving to your regular mail drops but having to pay inflated prices by not bying in bulk and at stores that are priced to compete in a major market will save you more every month than the cost of the mail drops and you will have a much better selection of the foods you like and won't be paying over a dollar a package for ramen either. I know many a time that some one ate only one or two things for a couple of days because of pore selection of foods in a town resupply or of people having to buy a package of something they wanted that only came in a big box that was to big to take it all with them when they only would use a small amount before the next town so they paid for way more than they could carry and would leave or give away what was left or would go without if you want to eat healthy and have items that are not found in every gas station you will save money eat better and as food is one thing that every thru hiker is always ready to enjoy be much happier with your favorite foods to make your trip more enjoyable. I couldn't count the times that people commented on how good my meals looked while they ate all they could find in the last small town they resupplied at peanut butter and jam in a glass jar(this can be messy if it breaks) and ramen noodles that they payed five times as much as I did not to mention they couldn't find dehydrated vegetables and many other things I would add to mine to make them more enjoyable and nutritious and different than the same old plan ramen noodles that can get very boring after eating them dry and cooked for several days in a row.I do think that your food needs will change so have someone you can trust to add or delete to your food drops as needed I know that I started eating one package of instant oatmeal with dryed fruit and a cearal bar for breakfast and by the time I got to new england I was up to four packages and at least a couple of cereal bars along with fruit nuts and seeds so be flexable as you needs and wants change but you can still enjoy your favorite staples at a greatly reduced price by bying in bulk and shipping to yourself. I had my sister mail my food drops for me and only had one not show up on time on the whole trip this wouldn't of been a problem as I would of just bought food from the town on this occasion and had it sent ahead at no cost except it had my cold weather gear in it also so I had to hitch hike back to get it. I never had a milage that I had to do I just played it by ear and listen to my body if I felt good and the weather was nice I would walk more if I was sore or had bad weather I would do a nero ( less than ten mile day near zero thru hiker slang ) enjoy each day and the hike will be over before you are ready for it to end. If you eat poorly and stress on doing set milage days and don't enjoy each day it will be a long walk that you may never finish.

Ronald Morrissette, Jr.
Jan 02, 2009

Ronald Morrissette, Jr.
Jan 02, 2009

Peter Lane
Jan 02, 2009

The article seems to suggest that maps are not needed. I disagree. There are places where it isn't well blazed, and some confusing intersections. And maps are always one of the "10 essentials."

Cole
Nov 20, 2008

Hike your own Hike! Yes start out slow, I say 12-15 miles per day then work up from there. Buy as much as you can while on your hike, next September you might be sick of beef jerky, for instance.

B2K
Oct 23, 2008

I disagree about running, and especially cycling, being bad for joints. For those who are overweight or are new to running...yes, your kness may hurt for a bit...but the body is made to run/walk. Your joints, especially the knees, are designed to handle the load and your joints will actually improve with time. Long-term research shows that there are no adverse effects from running on the joints, barring an injury...but the joints can actually strengthen. As far as cycling goes...I don't know how much more low-impact you can be on your knees. As a triathlete, I run and cycle both and have for many years and have had very little go wrong.

MinnesotaSmith
Oct 20, 2008

I believe much of your advice on pre-hike conditioning is not the best.

1) Aspiring AT thruhikers will need relatively little upper-body strength relative to the demands they will make on their lower bodies. Therefore, pushups and other arm exercises are of modest value as pre-hike preparation. This is especially true for AT thruhikers that start in Georgia, as about 90% do. For the few thruhikers that start in Maine, where the first 400 miles of the AT have considerable technical terrain, or hand-over-hand climbing, this is somewhat less accurate.

2) Running and cycling are tough on the knees, a body part where chronic, accumulating difficulties commonly force thruhikers off the Trail early on. Better to do extensive slow, gentle walking on soft surfaces (with light or no pack), alternating days on and off, until considerable distance stamina has been built up. Then, heavier pack weight, lots of ramp work, and overnight LD shakedown hikes become appropriate.

3) Joint problems in feet, ankles, and higher are more likely to end thruhikes than foot blisters, which can heal quickly. Better to train for a thruhike in thick, maximum-cushioning footwear (not boots). I favor New Balance 1201 trail runners myself.

Blisters primarily come from poor-fitting/overly heavy footwear, excessive speed/daily mileage early on in a hike, or hiking with wet feet that aren't properly cared for. All these are highly avoidable. I had perhaps two blisters in the first 250 miles of my thruhike, while seeing some hikers with 5 times that many before getting out of Georgia (about 60 miles of the AT).

4) Electrolyte drinks are a poor idea IMO for hikers in almost all situations, whether on the Trail, or in pre-hike training. They contain excessive salt, little needed potassium, and considerable simple sugars that yo-yo the body's blood glucose level, helping result in a sugar "crash". These additives also slow down absorption by the body of the water in the drinks. As dehydration is the main problem hikers tend to have that a drink can help with (in all weather), it is better if hikers drink straight water, which absorbs faster than any other drink.

I drink primarily water on the Trail, with some decaf green tea, milk from nonfat dry powder, and occasionally sugar-free hot chocolate during cool weather. In town, along with water and green tea, I drink low-salt tomato juice, skim milk, and fruit juice without added sugar. I particularly favor orange juice with pulp that is not from concentrate and is without added calcium (used to mask nearly-gone bad OJ).

When staying in hostels that have freezer access, consider freezing a quart or half gallon of skim milk or fruit juice that comes in a plastic container. Wrapped in clothing, it will still be cold upon arriving at the next day's camp.

MinnesotaSmith
Oct 20, 2008

Where do I begin on your nutritional suggestions...

1) Hikers arguably in almost all cases short of elite racehikers in hot day desert conditions get more than enough salt already in their trail foods to avoid hyponatremia. They do NOT need to add extra, or to preferentially seek out high-salt foods.

2) Roasting nuts reduces their nutritional value and how long they keep, so hikers should eat nuts when raw and unsalted nuts only.

3) French fries are a poor food choice, being made of insulin-bomb potatos and low-grade fat.

4) Milkshakes have excessive saturated fats, which no one needs much of. Margarine (commonly orginally from soy oil) has been hydrogenated, creating chemicals that do not exist in nature, and a dubious choice to put into one's body. Like Ramen, SPAM other than turkey, bacon, Vienna sausage, hot dogs, and anything hydrogenated, those are best avoided.

Fats consumed while hiking should ideally come primarily through nuts such as almonds or walnuts, good-quality peanut butter, olive or walnut oils, fish oil capsules, and such, all of which have low satfat and high EFA (essential fatty acid) content.

5) Trail mix inevitably contains ingredients a hiker will favor less than other ingredients. Making your own trail mix instead of buying commercial ones partially helps with this. The best solution is to not mix ingredients, but eat nuts, dried fruit, etc., that are kept separate.

6) Most peanut butter has added undesirable simple sugars and high-satfat greases such as palm/hydrogenated soy oils added to it, along with excessive salt. PB used while hiking should have as few extraneous fillers as possible. High-quality PB can be obtained from many health food stores (along with bulk raw shelled unsalted nuts).

7) LD hiker primary nutritional deficiencies IMO tend to be: Calcium, protein, potassium (best from dried fruit such as apricots), A/C/K vitamins found in dark green high-nutrition vegetables such as spinach (NOT celery/lettuce, which are worthless), and B-complex vitamins found in whole grains. All these are obtainable while hiking from trail-practical foods.

8) Note that Ramen supplies none of the above nutrients commonly deficient for LD hikers. Like potatos and white-flour bread, it has an unacceptably high glycemic index for anyone concerned about their health. I did not cook ONE Ramen on 9 months on the Trail, so avoiding it can be done.

9) And, as nutrients in supplements tend to be lower-quality than those found naturally in good food, and many essential ones are low or absent altogether in supplements, it is necessary for hikers to get as many nutrients from food as possible.

10) Soy products have many health drawbacks, so I strongly suggest minimizing eating products while hiking that have significant soy content such as TVP, dried soy milk, etc. (So much for Mountain House-type products, which commonly are adulterated with soy, but they're white-flour/potato-based, low in fiber, virtually vegetable-free, and overloaded with salt anyway like Ramen, so no loss.)

I've written extensively on hiking nutrition on my trail journal for my upcoming second thruhike, for anyone that wants more information on eating healthily during long-distance hiking: http://www.trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=8057

MinnesotaSmith
Oct 18, 2008

I hiked the whole AT in 2006, and plan to do so again in 2009. You are completely wrong on maildrops. I used them extensively in 2006, never losing one. For healthy food, it's essential to use mail drops on much of the AT. Also, April is pretty late to start for anyone who needs much advice on thruhiking. That forces a fast pace, and gives little wiggle room for injuries, family emergencies, blueblazing side trips, etc. I started February 14th (with more than a few others), and never regretted it. Oh, and you're wrong on map and compass. Compasses are sold dime-size, and most thruhikers I saw that made it past 500 miles carried maps. They're a safety item, and make the trip more interesting, as you can identify features.

Gimo AT '03 Ga-Me
Oct 17, 2008

Wow I can't believe it. You are exactly right in that we made Damascus in 39 days, But it was not a goal or a plan. We started in good shape, being marathon runners, but still had to hike ourselves into shape. We had no mileage goals in the first couple of months and surely none planned months ahead of time while sitting home dreaming of our adventure.
Gimp

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