/r/AppalachianTrail FAQ

(Note: This is an on-going community effort at an FAQ. If you’d like to make an edit you can do so by going here )

What is the Appalachian Trail?


NOBO, SOBO, “thru-hiker”, “section hiker”, White Blaze? You guys throw around a lot of terminology...what does all that mean?

What is like to thru-hike the AT? What should a future thru-hiker be expecting the trail experience to be like?

        -The Weather

        -How many people to set off to thru-hike the trail actually finish it?

        -Thru-hiker weight loss

        -The “Trail Blues”

If I only want to hike a section of the AT, which section should it be?

-Resources for Section Hike Planning


Any etiquette I should know about as a beginner?

How long does a thru-hike take?

When do people generally start?

How many miles a day can I plan on covering? 

How do you get food?  What do you eat for 6 months in the woods? 

-Buy-as-you-go versus Maildrops

-What kind of food does a thru-hiker live on?

How do you get water?

What does a thru-hike cost?

Will I get eaten by a bear, or bit by a rattlesnake?

I’ve seen Deliverance. Should I be carrying a gun? 

I want to plan a thru-hike.  Where can I get more information? 

What gear do I need for a trip on the AT?

        -Basic Gear Checklist


What is the Appalachian Trail?

From the ATC website: 

                The Appalachian Trail is one of the longest continuously marked footpaths in the world, measuring roughly 2,180 miles (3515km) in length. The Trail goes through fourteen states along the crests and valleys of the Appalachian mountain range from the southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Georgia, to the Trail’s northern terminus at Katahdin, Maine.  Known as the “AT,” it has been estimated that 2-3 million people visit the Trail every year and about 1,800–2,000 people attempt to “thru-hike” the Trail. People from across the globe are drawn to the AT for a variety of reasons: to reconnect with nature, to escape the stress of city life, to meet new people or deepen old friendships, or to experience a simpler life. The AT was completed in 1937 and is a unit of the National Park System. The AT is managed under a unique partnership between the public and private sectors that includes, among others, the National Park Service (NPS), the USDA Forest Service (USFS), an array of state agencies, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and 31 local Trail-maintaining clubs.

Hiker Terminology:

AT--Short for “Appalachian Trail.” Each letter should be pronounced.

Thru-Hiker--A “thru-hiker” is someone who has, or is in the process of attempting to hike the entire trail, and is generally defined as completing the entire trail within a calendar year.

NOBO--Short for “Northbound,” describes the direction of the thru-hiker as they begin at the southern terminus at Springer Mountain and head north to finish their journey at Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Also known as GA-ME

SOBO--Short for “Southbound,” describes the direction of the thru-hiker as they begin at Mt. Katahdin in Maine and worth their way south toward Springer Mountain in Georgia. Also known as ME-GA.

Flip-Flop--This describes thru-hikers heading any direction who choose to stop at some point along the way, travel to a terminus and head the opposite direction to complete their thru-hike. For example, a northbound thru-hiker leaves from Springer Mountain and makes it to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. For any number of reasons, the thru-hiker then jumps ahead to Mt. Katahdin and travels south in order to complete their thru-hike back in Harper’s Ferry.

Yo-yo--Describes a hiker who completes a thru-hike in one direction, and then immediately begins hiking the trail in the other direction. For example, one who starts in GA, hikes to ME, then hikes back to GA.

Section Hiker--Many hikers complete the entire AT in sections, hiking portions of the trail separately over the course of individual trips. Not all section hikers may have the intention of completing the entire AT. A “section” has no defined length - it can be half the trail, or just a few days. In thru-hiker parlance, a “section hiker” usually denotes someone hiking for a longer period of time than a “Weekender”.

Weekender--A hiker on the AT who will be on the Trail for only a short period of time, most often a weekend.

Purist--A thru-hiker determined to hike every inch of the white-blazed Trail and not skip any part, no matter how short. The purity can go as far as backtracking across roads to compensate for being picked up on one curb and dropped off on the other, thus “skipping” the width of the roadway, or making sure to re-enter the trail from the same point when leaving the trail to use the bathroom. There is no “right way” to hike the trail, the matter of “purity” is up to the individual hiker.

White Blaze-- The entire AT length is marked by periodic 2”x6” white rectangular paint blazes on tree, posts, rocks, etc along the trail. Generally the trail is so well marked and traveled that maps are not necessary to follow it.

Blue Blaze-- Blue blazes are used to mark ancillary trails. They may lead to water sources, shelters, campsites, scenic overlooks, road access points, or foul-weather bypasses. There is generally signage at the intersection with the AT to explain where the blue blaze trail leads.

Zero Day--A day in which zero trail miles are hiked. Can be a rest day in town or on the trail, or an opportunity to get non-hiking errands completed.

Nero Day--A day in which almost no miles are hiked; usually into or out of town.

Green Tunnel--Trail under tree limbs, with forest or undergrowth on both sides. This is a large majority of the trail, though there are frequent and sometimes spectacular overlooks and rocky areas. Also the name of a video consisting of thousands of pictures stretching the entire trail.

Yellow Blazing-- Walking along a road, or getting a ride in a vehicle, to bypass a portion of the trail.  “Yellow” refers to the road stripes. Generally a derisive term.

Aqua Blazing-- Similar to Yellow Blazing, but utilizing a waterway and a boat instead of a road and vehicle.  There are a couple of trail portions, most notable Shenandoah National Park, where the option to canoe/raft a river that generally parallels the AT exists.  

Slackpacking--  Hiking without your backpack, or with just day-hiking supplies. (hence having some “slack” in your pack)  Typically accomplished by having someone with a vehicle dropping the hiker off at one place in the morning and picking them further on down the trail later in the day.  Slackpacking is frequently combined with off-trail stays in hostels or trail towns, as it allows trail miles to be covered while still sleeping in civilization at night.  It can be a topic of some debate (see “Purist” above), but since the hiker is still physically hiking all the trail miles, it is much less controversial than Yellow Blazing or Aqua Blazing.

Yogi-ing-- (as in “Yogi the Bear”) Yogi-ing has been defined as “the good-natured art of ‘letting’ food be offered cheerfully by strangers without actually asking them directly”.  It should not be confused with begging.  Yogi-ing is usually a form of informal barter: the thru-hiker trades answers to questions about their hike with day-hikers, picnickers, campers, etc, in exchange for an offer of food or refreshment.  


The Thru-Hiking Experience:

Weather--Temperatures at the trail termini can be quite cold in the spring and fall, and snowfall can occur in the higher elevations of the southern Appalachians well into April. Summers in the central portions can be stiflingly hot, wih temperatures over 100 degrees F and high humidity. Rain is common throughout the trail; statistics tindicate that hikers can expect to be rained upon 1 out of every 3 days.

Difficulty/completion rate--About 1 in 4 people who set out to thru-hike the trail will successfully do so. The reasons people quit certainly vary. It can be injury, difficulty, homesickness, running out of money, or just losing the desire to continue hiking. Many people who do quit, as much as 30% of the entire group of potential thru-hikers, do so very near the beginning of their hike. Reasons include going into the thru-hike with inadequate research and an unrealistic expectation of what the trail would be like. The AT is surprisingly rugged. Hikers who come in expecting to prance through fields of wildflowers are often dismayed when they instead receive days of trudging through mud and bugs.

Body Weight Loss--It is nearly impossible to carry, and eat, as many calories as a backpacker will burn in a day. Weight loss is not uncommon. Men in particular can expect to lose a significant amount of weight, in both fat as well as upper body muscle mass. Women tend to lose less weight than men, partially due to offsetting the fat weight loss with increasing muscle mass.


The “Trail Blues”--The “Trail Blues” are something many hikers go through along the way. Eventually, the length and/or difficulty of the journey weighs on them and they lose the passion for thru-hiking. For some, the Trail Blues lasts only a day. For others, much longer. It can lead to quitting the Trail, or it can lead to a further commitment to finish the Trail and complete the goal.

Suggested Section Hikes:


        99.9% of the AT’s 3 million annual users do not set off with the goal of thru-hiking the entire length of the trail.  Their goal instead is to hike a much smaller portion of it, ranging from an afternoon’s dayhike to a multi-week, or even multi-month hike of just a section of the trail.   If hiking a section of the trail is your goal, the next logical question is usually, “Well, which section?”  Not all of the trail’s 2200 miles are equally exciting.  

Below is a list compiled by Gramps14 of suggested section hikes:

        -Planning Resources for Section Hiking:


Trail Etiquette:

There are no secret handshakes or anything like that. "Don't be a jerk" would probably be the best etiquette advice--just like in real life, most situations come down to that.

-- Little things that come up with new hikers on the trail:

-- A lot of thruhikers end up acquiring a false sense of entitlement. They think they deserve something out of people because they're thruhikers, and forget that not everybody gives a shit like they do. Be humble and appreciative, and don't get upset when you don't get a freebie from that family of campers with obviously too many burgers and brewskies. And it’s easy to do in places like the Smokies and the Shenandoahs when they're full of stuck-up day hikers and weekenders that fill up the shelters before noon and crowd you out, nor do they want your stinky company ruining their good time.

--Don't mess with other peoples' stuff. It's pretty common for hikers to stash their packs by the side of the trail while they go down a side trail for water or a view. Just leave their stuff alone. However, if you find a lone item that seems to have been dropped or forgotten, it can be polite to carry it along to the next shelter and see if anyone there recognizes it.

--Remember that you're like a spokesperson for the trail, so try and project the right image when

you're on the trail or town. If you're staying in a hostel or hotel, clean up after yourself. The $40 you paid for the room doesn't cover cleaning up your leftover food or bere cans. Make it easy for them to like hikers. There are hotels along that trail that become “hiker unfriendly” because a previous hiker had trashed the place. On other trails, AT hikers do get a bad name for being arrogant or entitled. Just don't be that person and try and point it out when you see it. Some may be at an age where they can't see the damage they're doing and to them they’re just having fun.

--Don't comment on other peoples' stuff as a way of saying what they're carrying is wrong or that they should have made a different gear choice. It's annoying. You'll see people trying to hike with 50 lbs. of stuff, but they'll figure out that it's too much on their own.

--If you snore really loudly, it is polite to tent it instead of sleeping in a crowded shelter (unless it's bad weather).

--A lot of tourists like to give thru-hikers food, which is great, but please don't go up and just ask for it. It makes us thru-hikers out to be homeless bums.  See “Yogi-ing”, under Hiking Terminology.

-- Not everyone wants to hear your music.  Keep it to yourself unless you’ve asked permission of everyone nearby.  

--Hikers go to bed early.  Once the sun goes down bedtime is soon to follow. Please be respectful of that. In thru-hiker parlance, 9:00 pm is referred to as “hiker midnight.”

Thru-Hike Length:

Generally a thru-hike takes 5-7 months, depending on a variety of factors including hiking speed and number of days off taken.

Typical Hiking Dates:

A typical NOBO thru-hike starts in March to early May, and finishes between August and October, with Baxter State Park closing to camping on October 15. Note: depending on the weather, the Rangers may close Mt. Katahdin to hikers earlier than October 15th.

A typical SOBO thru-hike starts in June to July, and finishes in November or December.

Hiking Speed:

Over the course of an entire thru-hike, the average daily mileage hiked is typically around 12 miles (19km)  per day, but that number varies wildly over the course of the entire hike. Hikers generally start slow, achieve their maximum miles per day (as many as 25-30 miles or 40-50km) in the long days of mid-summer, and then see their miles per day come back down as the terrain at the end of the trail becomes more strenuous. It is good advice to resist the temptation to hike big miles every day at the start, since this can bring on stress injuries or knee problems. Keeping your average low at the start will help your body adapt and get your “thru-hiker legs.”


Typically every 3-7 hiking days the AT passes close enough to, or occasionally directly through,a town that will provide an opportunity get off the trail and into civilization. For restocking one’s food supply, there are two basic strategies: “buy-as-you-go” and “maildrops.” These can be used separately, but are more often combined. Flexibility and adaptability are keys to success.

Buy-as-you-go--Buying all of your food at grocery stores and other shops along the way is becoming more and more popular among thru-hikers. It allows you to adjust and tailor your food supply to your changing needs and tastes. There is an uncertainty factor with this strategy: Not every trail town has a well-stocked grocery store. Sometimes a town will have a big grocery, sometimes a small one, and sometimes no grocery at all. One will probably have to resupply with food from a gas station or convenience on at least a few occasions.

Maildrops--The alternative to buy-as-you-go is to have packages of food and supplies, called a “maildrop,” sent to you through USPS to receptive locations along the way (post office branches, hiker hostels, grocery stores, etc). By mailing yourself food you selected ahead of time, you can be sure of exactly what you will be getting and will not be reliant upon whatever you can find in town. There may even be cost savings from buying in bulk or preparing your own food (just be sure to factor the cost of packaging and shipping into the cost calculations). Maildrops are not without downsides: one must select food months ahead of time without knowing how needs may change along the way; tastes may change along the way and you may find that you no longer want to eat the food you’ve already bought and mailed; and maildrops can tie your hiking schedule to the post office schedules.

Most hikers end up using some combination of Buy-as-you-go and Maildrops. Even if not used for food resupply, the Maildrop system is useful for situations such as receiving care packages from home and swapping out gear as the seasons change.

The protocol for sending a thru-hiker maildrop is to address the package:

Hiker’s Name ℅ General Delivery

City, State and Zip Code of Post Office

Please hold for AT thru-hiker, ETA __/__/__

Always use the hiker’s real name, NOT their trail name, as the hiker will have to present ID to pick up the box. Typically the package will be held by the post office for up to 10 days to allow time for the hiker to arrive and pick it up.  

Food On The Trail:

        (Based on The Food Network's brief advice on eating well on trail post)


 Eating on trail revolves around a few basic facts: there's lots of water on trail, you want to keep packweight down as much as possible, you need LOTS of calories, and bland repetition can lead most people to hate eating anywhere except in towns. I'm here to take all of that into consideration and give you as many options as possible.


Most people have a selection of staple foods that they can consistently eat without getting tired. The purpose of a staple food is to provide calories, bulk, and a comforting sense of fullness and warmth, all of which make hiking a lot easier. The problem is that all too often, people just stop with a staple food, and I'll work on correcting that in this article. When I say staple, I mean some sort of a dehydrated carb-based food that is light, can cook in the trail's plentiful water, and fills you up. The most common staples I know of are:


-Lipton Sides, of both the noodle and rice varieties

-Instant Potatoes

-Homemade or luxury (Mountain House) dehydrated meals

-Dried, precooked grains like quinoa, oatmeal, etc.

Most of the people I met on trail who were experiencing food fatigue did so because they were simply boiling their two cups of water, dumping in the staple, and eating. The flavor doesn't vary, and worst of all, this food alone does not give you a lasting sense of fullness. This is no reason to think that staples are a bad idea! What we need is to think of every staple as a kind of canvas upon which we can build a full meal! With every staple, I want you to consider in your shopping that you have four other main trail components that are not optional but ESSENTIAL to good eating: proteins, fats, vegetables, and seasonings. Let's explore:


No matter what your staple, a great lunch or dinner on trail benefits heavily from the addition of proteins. Not only do you get longer-lasting energy, proteins contribute to your body's natural process of rebuilding all those muscles you're destroying by lugging that damn pack up and down the mountains. It was not long ago that proteins were a serious problem on trail; luckily for us now, we have LOTS of great options for putting protein in a meal.

-Foil-pack tuna and chicken - The hiker's godsend. You will be able to find foil-pack tuna in every grocery store and many convenience stores on trail. The health-conscious should consider that mercury levels in tuna can theoretically have long-term effects if consumed in mass quantities, so keep that in mind. HOWEVER, if you do nothing else, you should consider carrying one foil pack of tuna or chicken with you per day of resupply. Tuna goes beautifully in any Lipton Side that's cheesy or heavily spiced, and chicken can go in just about anything. Food Network Tip (FNT) - consider adding the meat a minute before the meal is done. If you add it at the beginning, it can turn into a fibrous, mushy mass.

-Cured Meats - I was a HUGE fan of carrying cured meats on trail. The original purpose of curing meats was to make it possible to carry proteins without refrigeration, but a lot of people still fear getting food poisoning. Smoked sausage, kielbasa, etc, are outstanding for flavor and fat, and I had no problems carrying them in a pack for 3-4 days. You can carry bacon too! Most commercial bacon is water-cured, and will start to smell weird after a day or two, but FNT the local or store-brand stuff keeps much longer! Look for the more-expensive, thick cut store brands, which have MUCH less water in them, and they'll be good for a full 4-5 days.


This is where a hiker lives or dies. In my personal opinion, carrying fats can make the difference between making it to Katahdin or dropping out. They're that important. Every meal you cook should have SOME addition of fat, because it is by far the densest source of calories and by far the longest-lasting.

-Olive Oil - perfect in just about everything. I personally carried an 8-oz plastic bottle of olive oil at all times. The weight is worth it.

-Butter - the Food Network secret. If you buy store-brand butter, (FNT) remove the paper wrappers and slam the four sticks into a single or double quart ziplock bag. No leakage, and you have one of the best-tasting fats on trail. It will stay good for over a week. HOWEVER, Kerrygold or other high-quality butters are much firmer and keep even better than that! Treat yourself if you can.

-Cheese - All store-bought cheeses are perfect for thru-hiking. Do not worry in the slightest about them going bad during your 4-5 day resupply. Add cheese to everything, or snack on it alone. If the cheese gets some mold on it, you got it wet; just cut off the mold and feed it to someone's dog. Melt cheese in the water for your staples and be amazed at how much more delicious and filling all your meals are. Cream cheese is fuckin awesome. Parmesan, Romano, and other hard cheeses will last for a month in your pack, no joke, plus they are flavor bombs!

-Peanut Butter - It's almost all fat, and people love it. It makes a surprisingly good addition to meals, or alone in sandwiches or spoons.


Yes, veggies. Now, you may not be as crazy as I am, carrying a damn cutting board on trail, but certain vegetables are beautiful additions to your staples. Onions, peppers, garlic, asparagus, and pretty much any other non-starchy vegetable are excellent taste additions, and give vitamins and minerals as well. Eat the most perishable ones first. (FNT) Cut up your vegetables and throw them in your cookpot BEFORE the water, with oil/butter and spices. Let them saute for a minute or two, then add the water to pick up all that great flavor. Your meals will instantly be amazing. Don't forget about ramps! If someone shows you what the native trail onion, or ramp looks like, pick them and eat them like this whenever you can. They're free, and they don't weigh down your pack.


This is where I think the real artistry is. Most seasonings weigh relatively little for the huge amount of flavor that they pack, and will save you from food fatigue. You do NOT have to go crazy like I did, packing a full half-pound stuff sack. I did that so I could drop into shelters at dinner time and run around dumping spices in people's meals to make their lives better. Here are some very basic suggestions:

-Hot sauces! Wal-mart and other places carry 2 oz plastic bottles with flip tops that are perfect for sauces. Sriracha will make you the most popular person on trail. Even basic vinegar hot sauces can add a fabulous contrast to the bland bulk of your staples. This is two ounces you should carry with pride.

-Herbs and spices! If you're the type who loves camping with ramen, may I suggest carrying dried dill? Try it out yourself at home; it's an excellent foil for the saltiness of ramen. Black, white, and red pepper are FABULOUS in mashed potatoes and Lipton Sides: if you want to go hog-wild like I did, get a plastic pepper grinder, and amuse yourself by going up to people and asking, "Would monsieur care for any freshly-cracked pepper on his potatoes?" :D If you like more intense flavors, find a spice blend, like Italian seasoning, Cajun seasoning, or McCormick blends. I carried spices in half-sandwich sized ziplocs, and if the store container was large, I'd split it with others when I resupplied, or dump the bottle into my bounce box. (FNT) Try cooking trail foods at home with these kinds of additions, and decide what you like best!

-Dried veggies! Sun-dried tomatoes are so badass, I have to include another category for them. Put them in the water when you start cooking and be amazed at how something that weighs so little can make your food so satisfying. You can go crazy with any other dried vegetables you find. I even carried those French's fried onions once, and they were bad-the-fuck-ass.


So, for hot lunches and dinners, take the elements above, and create a wealth of variations that aren't just amazingly tasty, but far more satisfying than basic trail food. Here are a few example recipes:

  1. Saute bacon and onions in pot with butter for 1-2 minutes. Add 2 cups of water and ramen + seasoning. Stir in cream cheese at the end.
  2. 2 cups of water plus sun-dried tomatoes, Italian seasoning, butter, and olive oil. Add Creamy Garlic Shells side. In the last minute, add half a foil pack of chicken.
  3. Saute garlic, onions, ginger, and sausage in oil. Add 2 cups of water, PEANUT BUTTER, then an Asian rice packet. Tuna goes in a minute before it's done. When it finishes, garnish with Sriracha.

(FNT) If you carry a jetboil, like I did, or any other jet-cooker, you can make a motherfucking casserole on trail, and this was one of the things I would blow people's minds with. Saute vegetables and meats in oil with spices, add cheese and a Lipton side, and cook. At the end, take some cheese and a packet of crackers, smashed up inside the wrapper. Put the cheese and cracker crumbs ON TOP of your finished meal, and invert your burner like a cooking torch to toast and crisp the crust on top of your fabulous creamy casserole. Members of the opposite sex will line up to do you if they see this in action. ;)


In 2010, the summer was brutally hot, and I lived off of cold lunches for a change. If you've stocked yourself by my instructions, all you have to do is change out your staples! Buy packages of bagels, tortillas, or any kind of bread you can trust yourself not to smash in your pack, and go bonkers. Tasty sandwiches are filling and easy.


Your boring oatmeal can easily be spiced up with a pinch of salt, sugar or maple syrup, and CINNAMON. Don't forget the butter! I found that coffee was often annoying on trail, so I carried strong black tea, but when I found yerba mate, I fell in love! Look it up, if you don't know about it. It makes an excellent hot morning pick-me-up.


I don't have any revolutionary advice to give here. Let's get creative! Seriously, you'll find that your cravings will manifest themselves on trail. Make your own gorp; I personally chose just cashews and raisins, and kept a pound bag the whole time. Bulk candies make a lot of people happy.


I think people get bored of trail food because they don't realize how important variety is, and they think that cutting down on pack weight is more important than enjoying their meals. Eating in the style I'm proposing actually SAVES you money because you won't HAVE to go crazy every time you go to town, eating restaurant food as a respite for the bland-ass shit most people call trail food. But most of all, the satisfaction and nourishment of a delicious trail meal can make the difference between hiking and quitting. Get out there, hike well, and eat well. Bon appetit!

-The Food Network: GAME 2010



Most of the water a thru-hiker drinks comes from naturally occurring sources, such as springs and streams. The guidebooks and maps will typically list available sources along the trail. Most thru-hikers choose to treat the water to reduce the risk of consuming water contaminated with microorganisms such as giardia. Methods of water treatment include boiling, filtering, and chemical treatment.


The thru-hiker can expect to spend somewhere between $2,500 and $10,000 on the trip, with the $4000 to $6000 range being the most common in recent years. Hiking speed, number of overnight town stops, and personal habits such as drinking alcohol and smoking can all be big factors in how much a thru-hike will ultimately cost.

Animal Encounters:

Probably the first thing every prospective thru-hiker worries about are black bears (no grizzly bears exist in the wild anywhere along the AT). “They’re more afraid of you” applies here as well as other black bear habitats. Most often, the bear will hear you coming and will run away before you ever see it. Sometimes, however, you will encounter a bear that is not so nervous around people, maybe because it has been fed before or because too many humans have been encroaching on its territory. If you come across a bear like this, it is best to clap or bang your hiking poles together and maybe give out a “Get outta here!” Almost always, the bear will then leave your area. If not, look at its feet and not its eyes, and walk backward away from it. Turning your back on any bear can encourage a predatory response.

Proper camping protocol says that you should hang a bear bag every night and sleep a good distance from your food. In practice, this doesn’t often happen. Food is typically hung within the shelter, or only hung at head height when tenting. Even so, it is extremely rare to have any problem with a bear. However, it is best that you never cook in your tent, eat inside your tent, have any food or wrappers on your person when you sleep, and that you do not apply any scented lotions to your body at night. These would encourage any bear to investigate the smell and come too close for your comfort.

But all in all, it is a rare and wonderful experience when you encounter a bear on your thru-hike. You are likely to see enough that you lose any irrational fears about the animal, yet keep your respect for the powerful and beautiful creatures that they are.

Snakes are another animal you will encounter on your hike. Black snakes (also known as Rat Snakes) are almost always black in colour and are not venomous. Do not handle a black snake, however, as they have bad attitudes and their bite stings. You may also see a few garter snakes, which are also harmless.

There are two venomous snakes you may encounter along the way: the rattlesnake (we will use the general ‘rattlesnake’ term instead of specifying the four different kinds) and the copperhead. Both are pit vipers. The “pit” is a special organ in their head to detect heat. Both have a diamond-shaped head, whereas the black and garter snakes do not.

Rattlesnakes are more docile than you may think, and it is extremely rare for a hiker to get bitten. As rare as it is for a rattlesnake to bite in the first place, only 1 in 5 times that a rattlesnake bites a human does it inject venom. If you are bitten, apply light pressure (NOT a tourniquet) just above the wound using a strip of clothing.

Copperhead bites are not typically fatal except to the very young or old, or to anyone with any autoimmune issues. Still, the bite is one of the most painful snakebites around, causing a lot of pain and swelling. It is highly recommended that you seek medical attention for a copperhead bite.

Guns on the Trail:

Generally speaking, the AT is safer, from both an animal encounter and a human point of view than wherever you are reading this from right now. If you take into account the 3 million people who use the AT yearly and the number of incidents in which a gun would be useful, you have better odds of winning the lottery than of ever needing to use a gun in self-defense. Of course carrying a firearm is a personal decision, to be left up to the individual. A couple of points to be aware of should you decide to carry: The AT passes through 14 states, each of which has different licensing requirements which will make carrying a firearm legally in all those different jurisdictions very difficult. A firearm that’s been hidden to avoid being seen carrying illegally will probably be so inaccessible as to be useless in an actual emergency. Also, generally speaking, the community of thru-hikers tends to be anti-gun. A hiker that is known to be carrying a firearm will find that other hikers are likely to go out of their way to avoid them.  

Planning resources:

-Keep in mind that predictions about gear, mileage, arrival times, campsites/shelters made months in advance when not on the trail are rough estimates at best and likely to be wildly inaccurate- most thru-hikers plan out only the next few days and stay flexible.

-Postholer.com's interactive AT map can be very useful for getting an understanding of where the trail runs.

-The ATC maintains a Parking, Shuttles & Transportation page that lists Shuttle Services, Public Transportation options, as well as information on trailhead vandalism reports.  Very helpful for figuring out the logistics of getting to and fro the trail for section hiking, or in case of emergency.

-For both pre-hike and on-trail planning, be it for a thru-hike next year or where to stop for lunch, the guidebooks are probably the single best resource available. There are currently two options for guidebooks:

-AWOL's The AT Guide, produced by David Miller

-The AT Companion produced by The ALDHA.

-Two good online resources for determining where to resupply along the trail are:

-The 5 part Re-Supply Along the Appalachian Trail article by Jack “Baltimore Jack” Tarlin at Whiteblaze.net.

-The 10, 12 and 15 day Thru-Hike Plans from The AT Guide.


Gear selection is as individual as each hiker is, and it’s probably safe to say that no two thru-hikers have ever hiked the trail with the exact same set of gear. Gear is a topic of almost endless discussion amongst backpackers, but there is no “right” answer when it comes to gear selection.

Although not specifically AT related PMag’s $300 Gear Challenge Gear List is a great resource if you’re starting from a blank slate when it comes to gear.  It covers everything you need to hike the AT, while spending as little money as possible.  

Basic Gear Checklist--


Sleeping bag

Sleeping pad

Shelter (tent, tarp, hammock)

Headlamp or small flashlight

Water carrying (bladder or bottles)

Water treatment (filter or chemical treatment)

Stove, including fuel and lighter


Eating Utensil

Small knife or scissors

Small first-aid & repair kit

Guidebook, maps

Insect repellant (not needed immediately at the start for a traditionally-timed NOBO hike)

Toiletries (toilet paper, toothbrush, toothpaste)


Pen and paper (for journaling, trail notes)


Trekking poles

Backpack rain protection (pack cover or liner)

Stuff sacks (as needed for organizing gear)



Shorts or convertible hiking pants

Base Layer long-sleeve shirt and long underwear (for cold weather)


Rain jacket

Insulated jacket / fleece (for cold weather)

Wool / fleece hat and gloves (for cold weather)


Fit: Proper footwear should feel good right out of the box. Be sure to wear your selection on the incline available at good hiking stores. Facing the decline, your toes should not hit the front of the shoe, even if you simulate walking. Facing the incline, your foot should not lift much at all out of the heel, but be a pretty snug fit. Even boots should not require any real amount of breaking in before you go hiking, though any amount of breaking in beforehand never really hurts. An aftermarket insole for your shoes is recommended can improve both comfort and stability.

A thru-hiker has several choices for hiking footwear, each with their own pros and cons:


                Pros:        Long lasting

                        High level of foot protection

                        Frequently available as waterproof

                Cons:        Heavy


Heavy (this point is worth repeating)

                Trail Runners / Hiking Shoes:

                Pros:        Lightweight


                Cons:        Less durable (expect to replace a few pair throughout a thru-hike)


                        Lower level of foot protection

                        Less waterproof

Barefoot Shoes:

Pros:        Very lightweight

Cons        Lower level of foot protection

Besides footwear to hike in, many hikers carry a pair of “camp shoes” with them, to wear primarily at shelters/campsite or in town. These can be quite nice to allow your feet to breathe after a long day of hiking, or to allow your hiking footwear to dry. Low weight and comfort are the most important criteria for camp shoes. Crocs, sandals and flip-flops are popular choices.