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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.

Start in shape, and you’re more likely to enjoy–and finish–your thru-hike.

Don’t let anyone tell you to "just hike yourself into shape." While it’s true that you’ll inevitably gain trail fitness, that only applies if you don’t quit. A recent study of AT thru-hikers confirmed that people who start with a better fitness level (measured by VO2 max), lower body-fat percentage, and lower weight overall are more likely to be successful. So increase your odds of finishing, decrease your risk of injury, and enjoy that first month much more by starting this training plan three months before your hike.

Two to three times per week, do muscle-building exercises that incorporate your core. Examples:
1) Push-ups: Perform them while resting your legs on an exercise ball.
2) Lunges: While holding a weight or medicine ball, twist your torso to the side of the forward leg, then return to starting position and repeat.
3) Step-ups: Hold 10-pound dumbbells and pump both arms up and forward with each step.
4) Bicycle crunches: These are great for building core strength. Do them slowly, with good form (back flat, navel in, neck straight).
5) Supermans: Lie on your stomach on an exercise ball; lift and extend opposing arms and legs, pause, then switch and repeat.

Prepare your feet
1) Strengthen ankles by using a balance board at least twice a week.
2) Condition soles by wearing lightweight shoes on long dayhikes.
3) Apply tincture of benzoin or soak feet in strong, brewed tea. Both toughen skin. Treat feet daily, starting a few weeks before your hike.

Trail Fitness
Do regular aerobic workouts like running or cycling, but remember that nothing prepares you to hike all day like … hiking all day. Once a week, get in a five-plus-hour hike with a pack load equal to your AT weight. Go on at least one 30-mile shakedown backpacking trip.

Hiker to Hiker
Fuel up: "Have an electrolyte drink daily, regardless of weather. Several are available at grocery stores: Replenish, Crystal Light to Go [some varieties], and Gatorade, among others."–Tom "Evil Eye" Tanner, Lawrence, KN, 2007 AT thru-hiker

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