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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.

Don’t run out of steam: Thru-hikers burn 3,500 (women) to 5,000 (men) calories a day.

Stay energized with this fueling plan:

  • Your diet should be slightly higher in fat than normal–about 50 percent carbohydrates, 35 percent fat, and 15 percent protein, according to hiker/nutritionist Brenda Braaten. A study of AT thru-hiker diets found a similarly ideal ratio (49/37/14) after 500 miles on the trail. The reason: Energy-dense fat is more efficient to carry, and a steady supply helps preserve muscle glycogen stores.
  • Don’t pack foods you think you should eat. Pack foods you like.
  • You’ll be tired, so keep meals simple. Stick with easy-prep foods that require no or little cooking (boiled water only).
  • In towns, treat yourself to cravings like fries and milkshakes–it’s a nice reward, and it’s smart to make up the calorie deficit thru-hikers generally run (about 1,700 calories per day for women, 2,200 per day for men, according to one study).
  • Don’t skimp on salt. You need it, and potassium, to prevent cramps.
  • If you’re losing too much weight and depleting your body’s fat reserves and muscle mass–leading to long-term exhaustion–slow your pace and increase your calories. On average, successful thru-hikers lose only about five pounds over the course of the trek.
  • Weigh your food. Carry 1.5 to 2 pounds of food per day, or about 3,500 to 4,000 calories.
  • Minimize weight with energy-dense foods, like nuts roasted in oil (170 calories/oz.), raw almonds (162), peanut butter and squeeze margarine (160), chocolate and cookies (140), and trail mix (130).
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