So you wanna hike the AT

Thu-hiking or LASHing (Long-Ass Section Hiking) this year? Here are 8 lies you might have been told.

1. “If you believe it, you can do it”   The right mental prep is crucial but wanting it and believing it is not enough, not nearly. There’s a matrix of requirements: wanting it, being fit enough, having the right gear, and having enough money. You can may be able to succeed with 3 out of 4 but having all 4 will greatly increase your odds of success. Fewer than 3 and you’re stretching your chances of success mighty thin.

2. “The trail will get you in shape.”    That’s a possibility…. so long as you’re already in pretty good shape. It might also kick your ass so hard you quit and go home with a whimper. Did you realize that the GA section of the AT is the second hardest part of the entire ? This trail does not start out easy and work up to being hard. It starts out hard!  The ATC says “Hiking the entire Appalachian Trail is a grueling and demanding endeavor. It requires great physical and mental stamina and determination.” You owe it to yourself to be in the best possible shape before you step off. You’ll enjoy yourself so much more.

3. “Hike at your own pace. It doesn’t matter how long it takes.”    Nice in theory but you have to be able to make it to the next shelter or water resupply spot. If you’re really slow because of your pack weight, cut that weight. If you’re a slow hiker who needs to take short days because of a lack of fitness, don’t press your luck… increase your fitness level before setting out and maybe start on a few sections.

4. “It’s a walk in the park. Bill Bryson did it!” From the ATC website “The terrain is mountainous for its entire length, with an elevation gain and loss equivalent to hiking Mt. Everest from sea level and back 16 times. The treadway in many places is rocky or filled with roots or mud. Maine and sometimes other states require fording of streams that can be hazardous after heavy rains. Sections that could be described as flat or smooth seldom last long.” The trail will kick your ass. The trail in March can have icy patches between rocks. You will slip and fall in the rocks and snow. You’ll fall on your ass wearing your only pants 20º temps. When it warms (slightly!), the trail will reach roots up and grab your ankle. You will fall in mud this time, thick black mud dotted with hard rocks. You might fall somewhat gracefully in slow-motion but you will again fall on your ass. Again while wearing your only pants but this time in 40º temps. You will wonder what the hell you’re doing out there. You’ll love it (mostly) but it *will* kick your ass. 

5. “Hike early to beat the crowd!” Yep ….. you and everyone else. It feels like each year, folks try to start earlier and earlier. You might possibly be ahead of the biggest bubble but you’re also going in colder wetter weather which means you’ve increased your odds of needing to hole up in town a few extra (expensive!) days. Seriously consider one of the ATC’s terrific suggested routes ! You’ll avoid the crowds and not start with the hardest part of the trail. 

6. “You really don’t need much. Gramma Gatewood used a shower curtain as a tent!” I’m not Gramma Gatewood and I bet you’re not either. You need the basics. Excellent quality lightweight gear in itself is no guarantee of success but having the right gear greatly increases your chances of not being miserable. You need basic skills and you need to know how to use all your gear. Be safe and practice setting up, using, and tearing down all your gear. Do it a few more times. If you’re not sure, check out Youtube.

7. “Everyone will …. love your dog … or be cool with you smoking weed …. or want to hear your awesome iPod playlist.” There are as many different personalities and preferences on the trail as off the trail. Just because you’re all hikers does’t mean you’ll all feel the same about things. It’s all about respect. And ask before bringing your dog into the shelter or lighting up near others. 

8. “You can’t get lost. Just follow the white blazes.” Yeah. You can get lost. You could die. Not too likely but not impossible. Learn how to stay found and how to find your way. Learn to use that cute compass. Take a class in compass skills or at least go though the series of videos in our Files section. We want you to stay found!