How To Hike The Appalachian Trail Alone: A Beginner’s Guide

There are trails on which you go for a day hike and then there are trails you go on to challenge your body and spirit.

At a mind blowing 2,190 miles, the Appalachian Trail is something that is discussed in the most serious hiking circles around.

Learning how to hike the Appalachian Trail alone might sound intense. For most people, hiking a portion of this amazing expanse is worth the effort, but there are a few daredevils that actually take on this insane challenge year after year.

Whether you want to hike a small section of it or you are going for the full thing, hiking this trail alone is not something that you can do without an adequate preparation. This is why we have compiled a quick breakdown to teach you all that you need to know about taking on this beast of a trail.

Let’s dive in.

What is the Appalachian Trail?

The Appalachian Trail, also known as A.T. is a legendary long-distance route in the USA that is known for its positively ridiculous length. The trail itself covers a total of fourteen states, eight national forests, and six national park units. It starts from Maine and ends in Georgia.

The fact that we have a trail that connects states like this without being disturbed at all is a beautiful thing, but this trail is not something that someone can merely take on. Covering the whole trail could take several months and demand advanced hiking knowledge.

This massive trail is something that most people break down to digest in some capacity. While it is geared more towards thru-hikers than daily hikers, this is one feat of nature and man-made ingenuity that can be an incredible accomplishment for those who are up for the challenge.

How Do You Hike The Appalachian Trail?

For most people, hiking the entire trail is just a grand impossibility. It is simply too long.

It isn’t just a matter of being prepared physically. In reality, finding the time to actually take on this trail in its entirety is a tough thing to do for the majority of people. This is why many folks break down the trail and only take on specific chunks.

The obvious approach to hiking the Appalachian Trail involves focusing on finding a portion of it you can handle and starting there.

There are many scenic sections of the trail that you can do. For instance, that could be a 29-mile hike in Nantahala Mountains in North Carolina. Usually it takes 3-4 days. Another popular chunk involves a four-day hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The AT is one trail that simply will not be done on a whim. It requires a lot from the people who take it on, which is another fine reason why so many people only do part of it. For those individuals who do the entire thing, it is a badge of honor that shows just how dedicated they were to managing the process.

Planning Your Trip

Since the Appalachian Trail covers a total over fourteen states, it is completely possible that your state holds a section.

If this is the case, you will probably want to start here when it comes to hopping on the trail. Finding a good section near you or that you can easily travel to is your best bet.

If you are going to take on the full trail, you will need to focus on finding all areas that will let you replenish supplies.

Realistically, it’s impossible to take everything you might need to take on this insane challenge without getting some kind of outside resources.

Make sure you pick a valid start and end point and then nail down all places you want to stop in between. Since even a section of this trail is a tremendous backpacking feat, you will want to be as detailed as possible so you can maintain your schedule.

Preparing For The Journey

Sure enough, it would be unsound to decide that you’re going backpacking without any training. Even an experienced hiker might not be in the right shape to accomplish a successful take on a given trip.

If you are going to walk on a much less a sizeable chunk of this trail, you need to go into it prepared. This means taking the time to focus on getting your body in shape.

You will want to begin challenging yourself more while hiking. You can start this process by extending the length and the elevation of your hikes.

After you have done that comfortably, you will want to start practicing longer and longer hikes while carrying your backpacking gear. It takes a certain degree of muscular endurance to pull this off, so don’t try to rush it.

Start dedicating some time for physical exercise and concentrate on cardio, muscular endurance, and leg exercises.

You will need to work steadily towards preparation. The last thing you want is to risk injuring yourself or wearing yourself out when you’re in the middle of nature alone.

Consider Your Safety

Whenever you go on a backpacking trip, there are some things that simply must be done just in case. When you make the decision to go on a trip just by yourself, these safety measures become that much more important.

The biggest thing you need to consider is the fact that your best bet at staying safe in the event something goes wrong is to make sure that someone knows where you are.

When you plan a trip like this, it is imperative to have designated checkpoints that allow you to check in with your loved ones so people know that you are not buried under a tree somewhere or injured on a trail without food or water.

When you go on an expedition like this, you want to have a specific itinerary. This is another reason training is so important. It will allow you to make an actual schedule that people can easily follow.

If you train appropriately, you should be able to tell how much ground you will cover and when you will show up at each new spot. This is important because it allows people to recognize when something might have gone wrong.

If you are supposed to be somewhere and don’t show up within a reasonable amount of time, it is important for someone to recognize that so they can call the authorities and get you help.

Beyond merely letting people know where you are, there are other safety precautions that you must consider. It is important to know what kind of emergency situations that you can run into.

Understanding the potential risks will help you to prepare for them. When you are out on the trail alone, you want to make sure you have all knowledge and tools that you will need in case disaster strikes.

Making sure that you can easily get water or that you have enough food is crucial. It makes sense to want to pack light, but make sure you have enough essentials for survival. This also means making sure that you have first aid kits, survival multi-tool, and a device with a GPS signal.

Finally, you will want to have the kind of items that save people in an emergency. Carrying a flair gun or something like bear spray can work wonders when it comes to surviving unfortunate circumstances.

You need to have a way to get help if you need it. Some people use satellite phones for this purpose because it gives them the chance to reach out in the event they are in true danger. Being able to flag down help can save your life in a critical situation.

Be Aware But Not Afraid

Taking on a challenge like the Appalachian Trail is a feat in and of itself, but doing it alone is a major decision. Spending this much time alone in nature is a transformative experience for many people. You will want to make sure that you have what it takes to go out there and handle it.

A common issue that people run into is panicking. In nature, panicking can take a bad situation and make it that much worse. Time and time again survivors prove that a lot of the time it is our mind that saves us, which means that you will want to remain calm at all times, no matter the circumstances.

It is okay and completely normal to feel nervous about taking on a trail like this, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In reality, this can be a truly amazing experience. Plenty of people take on this trail by themselves, and it is something that changes a person for the better a lot of the time.

You don’t have to wonder if you are capable of it or up to the challenge. As long as you prepare your mind and body in a way that matches the extreme nature of this trip, you will be just fine. Get excited. You are facing a serious accomplishment whether you do the whole trail or not.

Make Sure You Take The Right Supplies

When you set out on a journey like this, you should invest some serious time to do a proper research. Even a section of this trail equates to an extreme backpacking experience. Going in prepared can very well be the difference of life and death.

Do your research to make sure you take absolutely everything that you need. A little effort here can save you a sizeable headache or even injury later on.

Handling the essentials like food, water, and shelter is a your first step. Refer to the famous list of 10 essentials and stick to it.

Make sure you know what to do if something goes wrong with any of these elements. Make sure you know how to store your food when you sleep. Take the time to figure out exactly what you need and go from there.

Also, you’d need a lightweight, yet durable and capacious backpack. Depending on how much miles you’re going to hike, the minimum recommended volume is 50 L backpack. In addition, plan on taking some rain gear such as a rain cover, weatherproof jacket, and waterproof hiking shoes or boots.

Conclusion

The Appalachian Trail is a trial that backpackers everywhere dream of trying. It is the ultimate testament to human skill and endurance. In many ways, it is the ultimate way to get closer to nature in a world where we are constantly surrounded by cities and technology.

This is an incredibly fulfilling experience that might very well change your life. People have a tendency to find themselves out in nature, particularly when they are facing challenges like this. It might be intimidating to consider doing this alone, but you should know that it has been done before and it is something that you can absolutely do.

Don’t miss out on your chance to explore the truest backpacking trail in the country. You will be so excited to see what the trail has to offer you.

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Richard Remick

I am an avid traveler and adventurer, I love skiing, snowboarding, hiking and camping in Colorado in the Dillion area, and when I am in Florida you can usually find me on the water either paddleboarding or kayaking. My recent passion is scuba diving, I got certified a few years ago and "get wet" as frequently as I can.

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