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Tips to Hike the Appalachian Trail

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Adam Nutting hiking on the Appalachian Trail

CampingRoadTrip.com previously published an article by Adam Nutting on preparing to hike the Appalachian Trail. Given that hiking the Appalachian Trail is a huge undertaking that requires a lot of extensive planning, we decided to get back to Adam and ask him for more tips on how you can get ready to hike what he calls "the Disney World of hiking trails". Here's what we got.

CampingRoadTrip.com: How much did you have to budget for your Appalachian Trail hike? Can you break the costs into broad categories?

Adam: Each person is different on how much they are willing to budget, but typically food, lodging and other expenses while on the trail can cost upwards of $5,000 and most people will spend around $1,000 for their gear / kit. Both can be higher or lower depending on what you're willing to sacrifice or add. Just remember, even with food the more you take, the more weight you add. For food I budgeted $10 to $15 a day and I planned for 180 days as worst case scenario. Also adding in food in towns and whatnot I planned on $3,000 to $3,500.

Is there a top five must read list when researching the AT?

Appalachian Trials by Zach Davis.
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Five Million Steps by Lon Chenowith
The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide: Tools and Techniques to Hit the Trail by Andrew Skurka
Long-Distance Hiking: Lessons from the Appalachian Trail by Roland Mueser

What frequency do you need to leave the trail to resupply?

This depends on personal preference and if you are planning on picking stuff up in towns also. For me in the beginning, I will be starting with resupply drops every three to four days. As my hiker legs begin to show up and my ability to carry larger loads over longer distances I will increase the distance between resupply to anything between six to ten days.

Who sends the packages at the right time if they can only be held for 30 days?

I will have all my packages pre-packed and ready to be sent. My girlfriend, family, and a few friends back home will be my support team. They will be able to send my prepackaged resupply boxes and even send gear or things I might need along the way. I will also be sending home memory cards full of photos and video to be loaded onto computers to be saved. I will also be swapping cold weather gear out for summer gear and back again as I travel through the seasons.

What is typically in a package?

A typical package that I will be sending myself will have 3-6 days worth of meals. Breakfasts, dinners, lunches, drink mixes, tea, coffee, candy, energy / protein bars, and various other snacks. Gear such as batteries, memory cards for my camera, water filters, socks. Anything that will sustain me to get to the next resupply.

Why is prepackaged tuna packets and crackers a main staple of the trail?

These are very popular because they are filling, easy to prepare, and they are full of calories, protein, and weigh very little. Another popular meal among hikers is ramen noodles.

What does a typical week of meals look like?

I try to mix and match but for a six-day section I will have eight dinners, eight lunches, six breakfasts. Breakfasts for me are instant oatmeal and coffee or tea. On days that I do not want to cook breakfast I will end up eating a candy bar or power bar and some GORP (Good ol' Raisins and Peanuts) trail mix.

Lunches are something easy to eat and go. Things like crackers and salami or even pita bread and peanut butter. To a hiker, lunch is mostly to intake calories to get them to camp. Some people have been known to eat several Snickers candy bars for lunch.
Dinners would be Raman, Lipton Rice Sides, homemade and ready-to-eat meals such as dehydrated spaghetti and meat sauce or even pre-packaged, freeze-dried or dehydrated dinners from Mountain House or Backpackers Pantry.

Snacks are pretty much anything that can be eaten on the go. Energy bars, candy, trail mix, you name it. Each hiker has their own favorite snacks for the trail. You will most likely find Skittles in every one of my supply boxes for a snack.

For drinks I will carry an assortment of coffee, tea, and various powdered drink mixes. Hydration is key and after awhile you will hate drinking water so adding anything to it you can to make it taste better going down is a must.

Do you have any tips on how to pack your backpack?

You always want to keep all of your substantial weight situated right in the middle of your back. This way the pack will carry the weight on your hips and not your shoulders. Always have a place for everything and be able to find things quickly. Keep things you need often in outside pockets or in very accessible places.

What weight limit do you aim to carry?

Every pack has a weight limit that if you exceed the pack will no longer become comfortable and could cause the pack to fail. My pack has a max weight of 45 lbs. The goal is to have a base weight (before food or water) of about twenty pounds. Food is between ten to fifteen pounds and water weighing between five to ten pounds.

What are the key bits of gear you'll be taking with you?

  • Tent
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Backpack
  • Stove and Fuel
  • Pot for cooking
  • First Aid Kit
  • Boots / shoes
  • Compass and whistle
  • GPS Emergency Locator/Cell Phone
  • Knife

How many days' worth of clothes do you bring?

I will need to have four to six months' worth of clothing with me. Since I will not be taking an entire closet full of clothing with me you have to collapse everything down into as many reusable items as possible. The hardest part is accounting for all the seasons. Here are all of the clothing Items I will be taking with me:

  • 1 Pair of zip-off, rip resistant, quick-drying, lightweight pants (will have second pair waiting on standby)
  • 3 pair of lightweight Merino wool socks for hiking
  • 3 pair of lightweight liner socks
  • 2 Merino wool performance t-shirts
  • Lightweight down jacket
  • Merino wool thermal base layer pants
  • 1 Merino base layer long shirt
  • 1 fast-dry lightweight long-sleeve shirt
  • Lightweight rain jacket
  • 1 pair glove liners
  • 1 pair wool sleeping socks
  • 2 pair performance underpants
  • 1 pair sleeping underpants
  • 1 pair sleeping shorts

Water is the most important thing you have to think about. How much can you carry and how do you resupply? I'm guessing it would be a real pain to have to leave the trail every few days for it, especially as you'll be consuming a lot as you're hiking.

There are water sources along the way, and most shelters have water sources near them. Every long-distance trail has guidebooks that have the water sources mapped out for you along the trail. Even though the locations are marked, you might not always find water there. Rainfall, snowmelt and weather play a huge role in dried up watering holes. Use your best judgment on how often you should refill and always keep a little water in reserve.

The biggest thing about how much water you carry is weight. 1 Liter of water weighs roughly 2.3 pounds. Just because I have the ability to carry upwards of 20 pounds of water does not mean that I will ever need to. I will be carrying with me:

  • 1 3-liter hydration bladder
  • 2 1-liter collapsible water bottles, one for water, the other for drink mixes and another water
  • 3-liter bladder to be used to carry from the water source to bring back to camp and disbursed out.

On any given day I will need two or three cups of water for breakfast and dinner, plus a liter for a hydration mix like Gatorade or Scratch. Most campsites or shelters have water within close range so I will not have to pack the water in.

Do you need to filter water? If so, how?

Depends on who you ask. I always say yes. I am not a fan of getting the running trots while out in the woods. I prefer to stay out of the hospital due to dehydration because my body decided to have multiple evacuation drills. There are several common methods.

  1. Water Filters. There are many kinds of filters, everything from pump filters to filters that can be put on the hose of your water bladders.
  2. Chemicals. You can add things like iodine, bleach or even special water purification tablets. These can leave the water tasting funny and could cause possible stomach problems like diarrhea if chemicals are not used properly.
  3. Boiling. The downside to boiling is that it takes time and burns up fuel.

I prefer to use the filters. I do not mind carrying the extra few ounces to help keep me safe and healthy. I will be carrying several methods of water purification with me at all times. A main system and a backup system. Never hurts to be prepared.

How do you attend to calls of nature? Do you follow the Leave No Trace Principles?

When nature calls you answer. From what I have heard after a while on the trail you become more relaxed about nature calling. There are very rugged privies along the trail at the shelters. They are glorified holes in the ground with a set built above it. For times when you can't make it to those there are lots of trees to duck behind.

You should always follow the Leave No Trace principles but we all know that there are sometimes you just have to skip ahead in the book. Always make sure you step at least 20 feet from the trail and that you are not uphill or even close to a water source. Make sure to bury your business.

NEVER forget to wash your hands. Being very vigilant of washing your hands after “business meetings” with nature is very important. This way you do not run a chance of contaminating your water or your food. Also this helps keep away any unwanted trips into the woods late at night. If you are sharing the duties of cooking and cleaning with a trail partner make sure that they are washing their hands as well.

Why type of shoes will you hike in?

I prefer to hike in boots, but I have also been known to use trail runners. One thing to keep in mind is that for every ounce your footwear weighs you put one pound of stress on your back. The lighter the better.

How many calories will you have to consume each day?

In the beginning on average most thru-hikers will consume 3,000 or more calories each day. As a hiker gets farther into the trail they will eventually, on average, intake around 6,000 calories per day.

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