Backpacking the Appalachian Trail, how to prepare

Want to hike the AT? It's easy. Just follow the white blazes....for 2,200 miles.
Want to hike the AT? It’s easy. Just follow the white blazes….for 2,200 miles.

One of my life goals is to backpack the entire Appalachian Trail in one year. I’ve asked for the time off from my job next year in order to accomplish it. Though the odds of getting the time off from work are low, I’m still preparing.

The Appalachian Trail is a foot path, almost 2,200 miles long, stretching from Georgia to Maine. I estimate it will take me 6 months to hike the whole trail (that’s an average of 12 miles a day, 7 days a week). A healthy 18 year old boy could probably do it in 4, but…well…I’m not 18. Why would I want to do this? I wish I could say. It will be physically difficult. I’ll be cold and hot, wet and tired much of the time. I’ll sleep in three walled shelters that leak or my tent set up on ground that is never as level as it seemed before the night started. This is a young man’s game and I am neither young nor male. It doesn’t make a bit of sense. But I still want to do it enough to give up six months of my life toward the goal. Go Figure.

In addition to physical and mental preparation, I need to work through:

  • Gear—all the items I’ll carry with me
  • Food—and how to resupply along the trail
  • Daily Mileage charts—including locations of water and shelters

I’m starting with gear and lots of walking. I’m using several resources to select gear, but I’ve got two main sources. 1. The guidance of my personal backpacking hero, Skittles–who I met on his first long distance hike of the AT(he’s done it twice along with several other major trails) and 2. The advice of Mike Clelland, who has a website and book: Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips: 153 Amazing & Inexpensive Tips for Extremely Lightweight Camping.

backpacking, 2What is Ultralight?

Quoting Mike C: “It defines the base weight of a fully loaded backpack at the beginning of a trip. When you subtract the weight of consumables inside the pack (food, water & fuel) the remaining weight must be under ten pounds to be called ultralight.”

Short version: I can’t carry the 45 pound pack I used to. Ultralight is not just a goal, it’s a necessity. I’m not a kid anymore and I can’t abuse my body and still expect to finish. AND I want to actually enjoy this trip as much as possible. As I go forward, I’ll be posting about my changing list of gear and my goals to reduce the weight to just what I need to be safe, warm, dry and fed.

If you are interested in Ultralight backpacking, I highly recommend that you buy Clelland’s book and you watch all his videos. If you’re on the fence and not sure about the Ultralight idea, this is the video to watch. Mike shows you everything in his backpack:


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I'm a professional vagabond. I quit my cubical job in January 2014. Since then, I've hiked the Appalachian Trail, The Camino, and taught English in Vietnam, Turkey, Russia, Spain, Mexico and Peru. I'm exploring the world and you can come too!

7 thoughts on “Backpacking the Appalachian Trail, how to prepare”

  1. Excellent insight. You mentioned that you are not a “kid” anymore in your preparation for the physical demands of the Appalachian Trail hike. We have found that the daily practice of mobility is an imperative component to the success of any hiker while on the AT. Check out as a reference for body maintenance. 15 minutes a day any your body will be feeling like a kid again.


  2. Hi! I found this post really interesting and I sincerly hope that you will get time off from your work to complete the AT. You’ll succeed, I’m certain of that!

    Best wishes

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