Hiking the Appalachian Trail: A Beginner’s Guide

Brian McPeek on hiking the Appalachain Trail

It’s legendary, it’s beautiful, and it’s a challenge.

The Appalachian Trail, 2,193 miles from Maine to Georgia, offers a cross-section of nature and landscapes, from the rocky terrain of New England through the unforgettable Shenandoah Valley and the sweeping ranges of Georgia.

Whether it’s an attempt to hike the entire stretch or conquer a more leisurely route, the trail is appropriate for beginners and experts alike. And everyone is rewarded with some of the world’s most gorgeous views.

Thinking of hiking the Appalachian Trail? Here is a rundown of what you should know by Brian McPeek.

The Basics

The Appalachian Trail is one of the oldest in the United States, and it still is one of the longest. It’s also one of the most popular, and therefore is very well marked and organized for hikers.

Maintained by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, it’s divided into five sections: Northern New England, Southern New England, Mid-Atlantic, the Virginias, and the Southern Appalachians.

More than 30 clubs help with maintenance on the ground and services for hikers. At 554, the Virginias is the longest section, and the highest point, Clingmans Dome is in the Southern Appalachians. About 3,000 people try to walk the entire trail annually.

Fitness Level

Whether thru-hiking (hiking the entire trail) or not, the Appalachian Trail is full of challenging spots, from steep trails to high mountain climbs and not-great weather. Generally, those looking to hike the AT should be in good shape to avoid common aches and pains — or worse.

Ultra-marathon runner shape is not a requirement but upping your leg strength and aerobic fitness should be goals before heading out. Keep this in mind: It takes an average of 12 miles a day to conquer the trail in one season.

It’s not all rough though. Easier hike sections include the southern end, 75 miles from northern Georgia to Southern North Carolina and the Nantahala Mountains, a 29-mile hike that takes about three days.

Brian McPeek Appalachian Trail hiking

Gear Needed

It’s a must to prepare for a lot while hiking the trail, including variable weather and trail conditions. It’s also a must to carry a lot, but make sure it’s light and small for the 4–6-month journey.

The essentials: a light, comfortable backpack that is strong and waterproof; shelter, including a hammock or a tent; a sleeping bag, quilt, or sleeping bag; appropriate layers of clothing; and strong shoes and socks. Don’t forget first aid and navigation, including a compass or vital GPS tools.

Top Tips for First-Timers

Shelter: Yes, the trail features accommodating wooden shelters for hikers every 10 miles or so, but if you plan to camp out, stake out a spot early. It’s always first-come, first-served, and lights are out by 9 p.m.

Don’t Do Too Much at Once: The trail is intimidating at first, no matter the previous hiking experience. The best approach is taking one day at a time, spacing out energy, and enjoying the surroundings as much as possible.

It’s Costly: When factoring in essential gear and extras, it’s common for a hiker to spend between $4,000 and $8,000 to hike the trail effectively and comfortably. The reward: The top of Katahdin in Maine, the northern terminus, and a feeling of supreme accomplishment.

By Brian McPeek

Brian McPeek official blog

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