How to Plan a Thru Hike of the Appalachian Trail

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So you have decided you want to start investigating what you need to start. Planning your thru-hike is something that will take some time and preparation along with assembling the proper gear.

This guide will help you organize and build your strategy as to a long-distance hike through the Appalachian Trail.

Make a note to favorite this page to be able to come back and refresh yourself over time as you complete steps in your process.

Planning Your Thru-Hike Strategically

A large part of how to plan a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail needs to be well thought out and covered as you don’t make this kind of jump on a whim.

Well, some people do, I can’t argue that there are some people who don’t have anything holding them from making the choice.

If you are like most people in the world though you have commitments and things you can’t just ditch to go hike for months without some form of preparation.

In this post, we want to cover all these little parts to ensure you are fully prepared for the adventure of your lifetime!

Make the Commitment

This is probably the one thing that is overlooked when starting to think about thru hiking. This one facet though is of the utmost importance as it is the will to continue through with your commitment to completing the trail.

Hiking thousands of miles may sound daunting, but in person, it will feel overwhelming. This feeling of being overwhelmed causes many people to stress out and quit when they don’t need to.

Start today in building your mental fortitude up as it will be used time and time again on the trails and will serve you well.

Start Reading And Researching

This should start about a year prior to any planned trip as you should spend some time engaging in the area and the content available.

Since we live in an internet age I would suggest finding any forums and other sources of information also as you can pose questions and get more specific answers if you are unable to find them online.

I would recommend this awesome planning book and this awesome guide to learning more about the trail, I would get them in paperback or hardback and not digital as I like to mark them up.

If you feel you may need some help with mental preparation then this book is amazing to help get your brain on track.

Learn The Trail From Start To Finish

This doesn’t mean you need to memorize the trail and every place along the way. You definitely should understand the general path and what you will encounter along the trail from start to finish.

This is how you ensure you are properly prepared for the trip you are going to plan.

Understand the different environmental variables for any stretch of the trip, knowing where it can be cold, snowy, or humid will help you ensure you are properly prepared for your journey ahead.

Learn The Common Pitfalls

What you are wanting to understand and investigate here is what are the most common issues experienced on the trail that may impact your trip. This may be as simple as not being prepared for bugs to lost glasses and having no spares.

This shouldn’t take a long time for you to specifically research but you want to be generally aware of these problems to allow you to pre-address them for your own journey.

Learn About Re-Supply Points

Understanding the places you will want to stop along the trail will help you know what to do should you experience issues or problems on the hike.

This is so you know the roads, cities, and areas where you can get more gear, find a room or place to stay and get clean, etc.

This also would be the time where you research drop shipping yourself items you plan to pick up along the way. Knowing where you want things to be will be important for if plans should change or needs change.

For example: If you sent cold-weather gear where you expected the need for it but weather hits weeks sooner you will know where you need to go to purchase gear if it is too far to get there prior to the weather impacting your trek.

Building Your Plan Or Roadmap

Now don’t get started on the fact that you basically are going to chuck your plan on day one once you start your thru-hike.

You need to start getting yourself organized and prepared for the time that you will be missing and the money requirements for everything to continue to work while you are away.

This focus and planning will help you tremendously when you get on the trail along with helping ensure that you have taken care of all the items of your daily life.

This way they will not weight heavily in your head once you start on your hiking expedition.

Start Planning Your Budget

Darwin Has Some Tips On Planning Thru Hikes

This will be a major stumbling block for many people which will have to be worked out to ensure a successful and fun trip. Money is always a topic that gets people upset and that is most definitely not my plan here.

You need to consider at a minimum your 3 budget containers to have a favorable trip. So you may want to know how much does it cost to thru hike the Appalachian Trail?

An Appalachian Trail thru hike attempt typically costs around around $6,000 or $1,000 per month on the trail. For many though they will spend far more than this, due in part to a lack of budgeting, or in many other cases a complete lack of self-control, or possibly an injury and time off for recovery.

These are your starting money to purchase equipment and get yourself to the trail, your budget for food, goods and rests on the trail, and the last is your budget when done to get home and get back into your life.

Gear Up And Starting Budget

This will more than likely be your largest expenditure if you aren’t already a backpacker. Assembling your entire pack will take a decent chunk of cash to allow for your needs at the start of the trail.

Another part of this budget is your planning on how to reach the trail. For many, this won’t be a close location and you will need to either purchase tickets by plane or train or drive.

Any of these options will cost an amount of money that you will want to figure into this budget.

On Trail Budget

The overall consensus from books and online shows an average amount of money spent while on the trail comes in approximately $1000 each month.

This may seem expensive and over the top but it is the average, you can spend more or less depending on your planning.

I would set this as your bar to how much to save, that way if you don’t spend it you have some in reserve in case anything should happen.

Worst case this can then be rolled into the after trail budget to get home and get yourself back into civilization with some cushion.

After Trail Budget

This cost will depend on what you did prior to heading out on the trail. If you had to quit your job then you will want this to be large enough to sustain you while you are finding employment.

If you were able to take a leave of absence or take paid time off then this will be able to be less overall money.

This needs to also include the money to get back home from the end of the trail. This may just be gas money and associated travel costs or it may be the airplane costs for you and your gear to get back home.

Start A Plan To Manage Things (House, etc)

Do you rent or own a property? You will need a plan to either get out of a rental or sub-rent depending on your building and company. If you own a house what are you doing for the 3-5 months you will not be onsite?

Bill payment is another point you will want to focus on, if no one is there you could look to turn off gas, electricity, cable and possibly other bills as you wont be using their services while you are on the trail. This could save you thousands over the life of your trip.

Mail is another service you will want to work out prior to your travels. Typically you can put a hold on your mail and they will keep it on on site for you at the post office, then when back you would go to the post office to pick up your mail and take the hold off so deliveries start again.

Plan A Dentist Visit And Checkup

Honestly, I hope most of you are already going to the dentist every 6 months and shouldn’t need this reminder.

For those who don’t go very regularly, you have to get yourself in before you leave to ensure you have no issues which will be exposed on a long trail hike.

You will want to ensure you have cavities filled and that you have no molar issues or other problems as nothing will derail your trip faster then a tooth and mouth issue.

Remember you will be eating more sugar and carbohydrates which help bad things grow inside your mouth. Pair this with the ability to brush well less of the time and you start to see the picture.

Medications (Either plan ahead or get up front)

For those of you who are taking medications then you will want to start talking to your doctor and pharmacy on how you can manage this on a multiple month trip.

Many times your physician can help you get more medicine up front that you could just carry with you.

Other times you can possibly work with the pharmacies and doctor to have prescriptions sent ahead to the next appropriate area where you intend to come into a city.

This way you don’t have to carry the extra weight the whole trip, this obviously will depend on your doctor and pharmacy being willing to help.

Assemble Your Gear

This will require some time and thought, are you an ultralight hiker or backpacker or are you just going for the budget loadout? Are you shooting for somewhere in the middle?

These are questions you will need to ask yourself to understand how you want to hike and camp for 3-5 months of trekking.

You want to take some time to research the proper gear for your time of hike and look into what others take with them that list it online.

Start Researching Gear For Your Hike

What are people suggesting for tents, backpack sizes and temperatures for sleeping bags or quilts? What kind of clothing are they suggesting based around your start time, is it very cold or starting towards warmer humid summer days?

These are the items and thoughts you should keep to the forefront of your decisions when looking at making purchases to ensure you get the gear you will actually need for your AP hike!

Take Advantage Of Sales

Since you are starting to plan out your gear a year or so in advance this allows you some ability to really utilize product sales to purchase more expensive gear at a decent cost.

Most of the time the amount of gear required can be somewhat cost-prohibitive, but if you take the time and opportunity you can find gear at large discounts throughout the year to help balance costs.

Perform Shakedown Hikes

Go take your gear out on a hike and go for a few days to test out what you have for gear. Take considerations in for the gear and make note of what you use constantly and what gear you may not have actually used at all.

Start to whittle away those little items that you aren’t using which will help you when planning a long-distance hike as you don’t want to ditch it at the trail, you would rather ditch it at home instead.

Perform Evaluation Hikes

You will need to get some miles out in simulation and preparation for the Appalachian Trail thru-hike.

These simulation runs should match as close as fully possible to your end gear load out you planned for the trail itself.

This is to ensure you have the time with the pack to wean out unnecessary gear and to let you know if you are lacking gear for another need.

This also will help you know if it is too heavy or if you are too light and can help you to dial in overall weight and ensure you are comfortable.

Knowing And Testing Your Physical Limits

Start Building Endurance

The next step is to start getting your hiking legs by getting out and doing mileage at a slow speed, preferably while carrying either your pack or something similar in weight.

This will help your body adapt to carrying the weight for long distances, aim for 2-3 miles per hours in these walks hopefully with some good uphill and downhill sections.

I have heard plenty of people say that you can get ready through Crossfit or other physical fitness.

While this will increase your strength it doesn’t increase endurance and while not detrimental it is definitely not going to provide you as much benefits as you may be expecting.

Gear Familiarization And Training

Make sure you know your gear, ins and outs, how to use it, what to do when it breaks or isn’t working as expected or intended.

You need to really put everything through the paces to ensure you understand how it works, but more how to fix something when it breaks.

Out on the trail you don’t have the ability to just go buy something if you encounter a defect. These defects and their resolution is why you want to spend time out with your gear adapting and learning how to have it become an extension of you.

This time being spent will also help you in determining what items are worth their weight and which things you don’t use. This process will help you to tighten up your pack while simultaneously lightening your load overall.

Food Management

This process of performing evaluation hikes is, in most cases, the best way to understand what you will need on a daily basis. What you will find is that you will typically over pack on food during these initial trips.

Use these shorter duration hikes to take it in and to learn how to gauge what you need overall, and what you can’t live without.

I would also suggest finding some items that you would think are your favorites and least favorites as you can pack these for that first leg into the trail.

I would also suggest that you bring a stove and attempt cooked foods on these trips with a burner and stove.

See if you really want warm or hot foods and then make trips where your focus is on cold foods through salami, cheese and cold soaking without a stove to find your best option for you.

Deciding On Your Start Date

Now the challenge of choosing your start date. This needs to be a time where you will be ready to leave and travel already planned.

Most start in March which means traveling through August if you go a full 5 months to complete the trip.

This choice in date will impact the clothing and overall temperature you will hike in for a large part of your thru-hike. The earlier you start the sooner before you get to the warmer months and increases in bugs.

Throw Plans Out The Window

This just means that you can try to have a pre-planned out timeline and strategy of here by day 1, to here on day 2.

I want to stress to you that this is all good to believe but know that the best plans are typically broken by the first time you touch the ground and start your hike.

Know That Plans Will Change, Don’t Stress

Knowing that this will happen doesn’t mean you will cognitively accept it until you get out on the trail and start hiking.

Please know that you will have to alter plans based on weather, animals, pack issues and possibly food issues.

Don’t have yourself so mentally locked into a plan that you can’t adapt and adjust along the way.

Put Your Life On Hold

Now we are to the weeks before you are ready to start on your Appalachian Trail hike. You will need to now enact those ideas and planning from above.

You need to get your time off from work or you need to quit depending on your circumstances.

You need to hopefully be out of your lease or rental if in an apartment or similar housing. If in an owned house have a property manager possibly help and keep your property making money by being a rental.

Make sure you put all your house needs on hold if the house is going to “Go cold” while you are away, you don’t want to be paying for cable, telephone, or other services while you aren’t going to be there.

This would include shuttering car insurance for 4-6 months which they should be able to assist with.

Hit The Trail

Planning your thru-hike is over, now you need to hit the trail and start putting all that preparation and training to good use! This is where your real journey begins with an exploration of yourself and the environment!

Make sure to have purchased insurance if you quit your job to keep you safe if you should have an emergency!

Start At A Simple Manageable Pace

Many people starting their hike believe they need to start off at a rocket ship pace. This is precisely the opposite way you should attempt to start the trail, take time to see the sites, let your hiking legs kick in without being pressured.

This will also help ensure that while you get used to all the motion you won’t develop as many blisters and other issues where you are full of adrenaline and may not notice them right away.

Don’t start out giving yourself injuries you will have to deal with for months on the trail.

Enjoy The Freedom And Trail

Take in the sounds of life, life before cars and major cities. Enjoy the removal of shackles from having to be at a job at 7am sharp, it is a nice and sometimes crazy change to the normal day to day you have lived for probably your entire life.

Enjoy watching the birds and the deer living their lives and learn to try and salvage some of that peace in your mind. Don’t just wear headphones and try to drown it all out, save that for when you need it!

Enjoy The People And Interactions

Talk to people, you are minus the electronics which keep people from talking. Go listen to stories and be entertained by all the road warriors out there taking the time in their life to find what they are looking for, maybe it is something you want also.

Embrace the tramily you find and be a part of the group, tell stories and let people know who you are and why you are there.

Whether it is just to challenge yourself or to find yourself, many others are out for the same thing and you have no need to be quiet and contained.

Embrace The Suck

Know that there are going to be some super hard days and some super good days along the way. Make sure you change your mindset to adapt and overcome instead of allowing the days to dictate your feelings.

Also, don’t quit on a bad day. That isn’t how you want to remember your journey if you end up having to quit, find a good day where it is awesome out and use that as your mental note to the amazing work and effort you did to get yourself to this moment.

Final Thoughts on How to Plan a Thru Hike of the Appalachian Trail

The biggest thing you should focus on is enjoying yourself and taking in the experience. For many people this will be the only time they will do a journey like this, it may be that way for you without you even acknowledging it.

Build on your strengths and work on your weaknesses, become a better human being than you were when you started. When you get back or while on the path leave a comment below as I would love to hear all about your personal journey.

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