How to Achieve Thru-Hike Success

Appalachian Trail

Of the nearly 2,000 people who attempt to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail each year, only one in four are successful, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). Odds like that mean that anyone interested in completing the trail from start to finish will do well to take several months to prepare.

After all, the Appalachian Trail is a massive undertaking—perhaps the most challenging in someone’s life—so prepare accordingly. Here are some helpful tips to make your thru-hike a success.

Why Thru-Hike the AT?

The Appalachian Trail is a bit more challenging than the 5-mile out-and-back loop of your nearest park; it’s roughly 2,200 miles of trail that passes through 14 states, spanning between Maine and Georgia. Aside from the obvious planning, those who endeavor to thru-hike the legendary trail will need tons of mental preparation, starting with their reasons for embarking on the trek in the first place. Many have found that writing this reason down on a piece of paper, along with a list of desirable goals resulting from finishing the journey, is a big help. Keep that piece of paper handy and look at it whenever you find yourself discouraged or down, and remember your purpose for hitting the AT. It will help, big time.

Ready Your Mind for the Trek

Mental preparation can give anyone an edge on other hikers, even those with years of backpacking experience or those perhaps in better shape than you. Staying focused, determined and mentally strong can keep you going when your body screams at you to give up. “The biggest challenge is not physical, but mental,” said ATC information services manager, Laurie Potteiger, in an interview with NewsHouse. Potteiger also asserts that “In the beginning, there is excitement. But once you’ve got pain, itches, discomfort from not showering, things change. You’ve got your trail legs, but day after day you’re filthy and stinky and miss home.”

Don’t Neglect Physical Prep

While mental strength is crucial, you can’t ignore working on your body strength either. Expecting to develop your “trail legs” during the first few weeks on the trail, without any prior training, will only end in failure, or worse: injury. Once you set a date to start your AT thru-hike, it’s smart to spend the months prior implementing an exercise routine, focusing on leg strength while carrying the exact backpack and gear you’ll be wearing on the trail. Start with very little weight, and then gradually add more as the weeks pass. The better shape you’re in, the greater your chances will be of succeeding and sticking with it when things are tough. Check out this website for a 5-point outline of AT physical preparation.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons