How I Prepare for the Appalachian Trail Hike

How do you prepare for more than 3,500 kilometers of hiking? How does one go from life as a corporate lawyer to life as a full-time backpacker (admittedly going through 16 months of life in the Rockies)? How do you mentally and physically prepare for such a gigantic adventure? I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but that’s how I do it.

learn by reading

I’m a big reader and love a research project, so I’ve spent many, many hours reading the adventures and advice of those who came before me. In addition to the great ones (Facebook groups, YouTube, and hiking websites including the Trek), I’ve read some cool books on different aspects of trail life.

Books I have read

  • Long Trails – Liz Thomas – great overall resource
  • Appalachian Trails – Zach Davis – great mental strategies for tough times
  • A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson – the book that started it all for me
  • The Improbable Through Hiker – Derek Lugo – a fun personal story of life on the trail
  • Stumbling Through – Digger Stolz – another fun personal story

The best resource I have come across is the book “Long Trails” by Liz Thomas. It’s not specifically an AT book (it covers the three major long trails in the US and other long trails), but it gets right into the nitty-gritty of preparation and life on the trail. I borrowed this one from the library early in my AT planning, and learned a lot. I plan to ride it again soon so I can check my preparation against it.

Learn by doing

Being in the Rocky Mountains, it didn’t really get warm enough to do any prep for hiking/camping. Even today we had a big pile of snow on the high mountains. So from a camping perspective, my “practice” so far has been:

  • Pitch my tent twice (once inside, once on my terrace)
  • Sleep on my mattress/pillow for one night (on the floor of my apartment)
  • Cooking a freeze-dried meal with my camping stove
  • Try different sides of pasta to see which varieties I like (a common track food apparently)

Everything was quite successful even if I’m not sure I did the cooking part well. The instructions on the freeze-dried “lasagna” said to put half a liter of boiling water and let it sit for 15 minutes, which I did. What I ended up with was basically lasagna soup since there was so much liquid involved. I tasted about how I would expect a lasagna soup to taste, so not too bad I guess!

I’m booked to hike/camp next weekend, but recent snowfall and rain means that may not continue (camping is currently inaccessible without snowshoes). So it could be hiking from my house and camping on my patio!

Learning by doing

I live in much of the world for hiking. There are loads of trails right on my doorstep and the ones that don’t go up a massive mountain are in pretty good shape at the moment. I went out for four practice hikes with a fairly loaded pack (all but food and water), my longest so far being 2.5 hours. I will continue to increase this over the next month and a bit.

As a runner training for a hilly run 9 days before I started my hike, a lot of my hiking training was my running training. I’m currently doing a mountain running challenge here in Canmore, which is basically a fast hike with brief periods of running, straight up the mountain (and then back down afterward). It definitely helps strengthen my leg muscles!

I also do a strength training program, in addition to weekly bike rides and swimming.

So I guess the majority of my training is not specific to hiking, but more to fitness and strength. Hopefully this, combined with other training hikes, will physically prepare me for day one (i.e. summiting Mount Katahdin!) and beyond. I will then rely on the other skills I have acquired to make it to Springer Mountain in Georgia.

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About Ethel Partin

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