Equipment Gear Icon Grey  

thru-hiking requires both physical and mental strength

Hiking 2200 miles across terrain that is often rugged and demanding requires physical strength, but it takes mental strength too. 

Physical Preparation Hiker Icon Grey

physical preparation

Before you begin your hike

  • The first few miles of any hike are often the toughest, and you will appreciate any physical edge you can bring to your trip during these first few miles. Don't overlook the basics!
  • Take a few overnight training hikes; be sure to seek out mountainous terrain or you won't have a clue about what you are getting into for 6 months.
  • Gradually get used to carrying weight on your back. Start out with an empty pack and add weight incrementally until you can carry all the items you plan to take. Then re-evaluate and pack only the necessities.
  • Cross-train—that is, find any way to make exercising a habit, no matter what form it takes before your hike.


On the Trail
At the beginning of your thru-hike, start out with a goal of about 8 miles a day. Gradually increase distance to avoid injury and enable your body to adjust to the rigors of carrying a full pack all day on rugged terrain. Plan a "zero" (a zero-mileage day) in town, or at least a "nero" (nearly zero miles) occasionally to give your body a chance to rest.

Allow several weeks on the Trail to get into peak condition. Younger hikers may need less; older hikers more. Knee and foot injuries, stress fractures, and shin splints force many hikers off the Trail—the risk of these can be minimized by keeping your pack light and your mileage conservative in the beginning.

In very general terms, the terrain of the A.T. is most challenging at the ends and easiest in the middle, although Maine and the northern half of New Hampshire are considerably more rugged than any other part. Northbound thru-hikers do their biggest miles from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia through Vermont; longer daylight hours also allow for bigger miles.

A very useful analysis of thru-hiker average mileage through different sections of the A.T. has been compiled by "Map Man" and is available on the WhiteBlaze.net web site here.

Mental Attitude Icon Grey

mental attitude

A thru-hike is a mentally demanding endeavor.
A fierce commitment to the goal of completing the A.T. is one of the most important ingredients of success; in fact, it may be as important as being physically fit. Although it helps to be athletic, people of all ages and abilities, and with all sorts of disabilities--ranging from blind hikers to amputees--have completed the A.T.

A positive outlook, a sense of humor, and being adaptable in the face of challenges can all be helpful mental attributes. Articulating to yourself why completing a thru-hike is so important to you and having a written record with you also get you through the tough times.

An entire book has been written about the topic with tips, exercises, and inspiration for prospective thru-hikers, called Appalachian Trials: A Psychological and Emotional Guide To Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail. Many thru-hikers have found the book, available here from TheTrek.co to be very helpful preparation. TheTrek.co also has many articles and blog posts about the mental challenges of thru-hiking, and lessons learned, and how to overcome them.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy also encourages prospective thru-hikers to join up with a local trail-maintaining organization or an ATC trail crew to do some trail work before their hikes. This can give you a profound appreciation for skills and techniques that go into creating the footpath, and help make the journey more interesting as you observe the handiwork of your fellow volunteers with each step. Find out about the rich and rewarding opportunities available along the A.T. on our volunteer page here

Workshops

Workshops or classes can offer the opportunity to learn a great deal in a short amount of time and help you avoid common mistakes.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) and ATC accredited instructors will offer classes for people interested in long-distance hiking. Courses will be taught by instructors accredited by ATC to offer a comprehensive workshop that encourages protection of the Trail.



P7152692

Hiking Workshops and Classes

The ATC announces classes for people with interest in hiking the A.T. Courses provide future long-distance hikers with knowledge for a well-prepared hike on the A.T.  These courses are taught by ATC Hiker Educator Accredited instructors.  These are informative workshops on all aspects of planning for a long distance hike on the A.T.—from the essential gear to the diversity of the A.T. experience.

Workshops, classes, and other events are listed on our Events page.

advice


ATC staff and leaders in the A.T. hiking community have partnered to share advice that's good for you and good for the Trail.

 

2.000-Miler Correspondence Lists

We maintain lists of hikers who have completed hiking the entire A.T. (or large portions of it) and who you can contact to ask questions not answered on this website. They are willing to share their experience and give advice. The lists themselves are not currently available online, but you may e-mail [email protected] to request a copy. Available lists include:

  • Alternative Hikes - Flip-flop, leapfrog and other non-traditional hikes.
  • Canadians - Hikers from Canada.
  • Couples - Couples that hiked the Trail together—including honeymoon hikers.
  • Day-hike/Slackpackers - Hikers who spent few or no nights on the Trail and had logistical support.
  • Diabetic Hikers - Includes insulin-dependent diabetics.
  • Disabilities and Injuries - Hikers with heart disease, food allergies, scoliosis, kidney transplants and other physical conditions requiring special attention.
  • Diverse Hikers - Hikers identifying themselves as African American, Asian, bi-racial, black, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander, and South Asian
  • Dog Owners - Hikers who hiked the Trail with their dogs.
  • Early Starters - Primarily northbound hikers who began in January and February.
  • General - Includes a selection of northbound, southbound, and flip-flop hikers.


  • Late Starters - Northbound thru-hikers starting in Georgia in May or June.
  • LGBTQ - Hikers identifying themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning.
  • Lightweight - Hikers with pack weights ranging from 12 - 30 lbs.
  • Military Veterans - Including hikers injured during military service.
  • Over 55 - Current age range on list: 55 - 77.
  • Section Hikers - Some have hiked the A.T. is two or three summers. Many have hiked the entire Trail over a span of 10 - 20 years, some longer.
  • Winter - Hikers with winter backpacking experience; primarily southbound and alternative thru-hikers.
  • Southbound - Hikers traveling end-to-end from Maine to Georgia.
  • Vegetarian/Special Diet - Vegetarians, vegans, and hikers who dehydrated their own food.
  • Women - Current age range on list: 23-62.
  • International - Currently includes hikers from Australia, England, Finland, Germany, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Scotland, South Africa, Switzerland.