Hey guys! I get asked these questions a LOT, and I think they could help others who are just getting started. My answers only reflect MY experience. There are multiple other ways to do things, but I will try to explain the most common ways I observed thru-hikers doing the following tasks.
Frequently asked questions:
Was it hard?
Yes. Every day had its challenges, but it was worth it. Maine was the hardest state as far as the terrain goes. Check this out and look at a few of the pictures in the gallery: Mahoosuc Notch. This mile is the most difficult on the A.T. and can often take upwards of 2-3 hours for thru-hikers. Plan to slow down your pace in New Hampshire and Maine.
For a 21-second video of the Mahoosuc Notch, click here. Look at that terrain!
How do you keep your phone charged?
I started out with this nifty little Photive powerbank found on Amazon for $25. As long as you juice it up when you have access to electricity, it should give you 1.5 – 2 full charges while out on trail. I used it for the first half of my hike, but when I decided to get rid of my music player and start using my cell for audiobooks and music, I purchased this “EasyAcc” one instead for $20. It was a bit heavier, but it allowed me to rid myself of the weight of paperback books and my MP3 music player, so it balanced out. With the “EasyAcc” powerbank, I’m honestly not sure how many charges I could get because the thing never ran out of power for me in between town stops, even when I would charge my phone nightly. In cold weather, I slept with it in my sleeping bag to keep the battery warm and juiced. In addition, I suggest keeping your cell phone on “airplane mode” most of the time to conserve your phone’s natural battery charge. Luckily Guthooks and other GPS programs work on airplane mode. Charge everything fully when you stop in towns.
Did you ever see any bears?
I saw eight bears total. There was one encounter in Shenandoah National Park where I followed one on trail for about a hundred yards. Check out the videos!
Following a bear on the A.T. part 1
Following a bear on the A.T. part 2
Bears are really nothing to fear on the A.T. There are no grizzlies this far east, and black bears are not out to get you, especially on the A.T. The bears are used to weird looking humans carrying poles and a pack on their back. Generally, they will run when they catch a whiff or hear you near, however, in places like the Smokies and Shenandoahs where hunting is not permitted, bears may not necessarily fear you as you see in the videos above. Be “bear aware” and follow a few simple guidelines to keep you safe in the instance of a bear encounter. I was one of the few thru-hikers who carried a 12 ounce can of bear spray with me for most of my hike. Though it wasn’t needed (and rarely is), it certainly was worth its weight in the peace of mind it offered me as a solo female hiker. It can be used in any circumstance where mace would come in handy, but be sure to keep it in a reachable side pocket on your pack. Of all eight bear encounters that occurred to me during my thru-hike, all were sudden sightings with little time or distance to plan or take action had it been needed. If bear spray empowers you enough to make you feel more comfortable in the backcountry, then it’s worth carrying it.
What did you eat?
I’ve written an article detailing my foods of choice. Click here to read it. As a personal choice, the ease of routine prevented me from varying my meals too much. Breakfast was either oatmeal or poptarts, though the longer I was on trail, the less time I spent cooking and cleaning dishes in the morning. Poptarts were just easier. Lunch was a tortilla, many thru-hikers’ bread of choice because of its large number of calories and longevity. Inside the tortilla I would spread either a tuna packet or peanut butter and jelly. Dinner was always something that required nothing more than boiling water, a Mountain House meal or a Knorr Pasta side, both of which can be cooked in their package. Hint: If you cook a Knorr in its package, you need to carry a tiny binder clip so the package stays folded and sealed while cooking. The pasta will need to sit for about 20 minutes before it’s ready to eat, but you save a hell of a lot of fuel and dirty dishes by doing it this way. Ramen noodles are another thru-hiker staple. Be sure to add some kind of protein to your noodles to rebuild some of the muscle that you will break down by excessive exercise. Cheese packs out well, even in the summer! Go for the sharpest kind you can find as it retains its consistency for longer. Other protein options are tuna, summer sausage, jerky. You’ll meet a few hikers who go the entire trail without carrying a stove. There were a few times I mailed my stove ahead of me, especially during the summer when warm food was less comforting, but for the most part, dinner was my time to relax and enjoy cooking a warm meal.
Thru-hikers eat many snacks along the way. Most commonly these are various types of bars with Clif Bars being a favorite, packs of crackers, Little Debbie cakes, or candy bars. Look for high calorie and low weight items. The highest calorie food with the lowest weight are the not-so-yummy packs of Lance crackers. Chocolate, and for me, Sour Patch Worms, are keys to getting through discouragement. Pack out some treats! You deserve it!
How did you carry everything?
A cool feature of the A.T. is the frequency with which it crosses roads that lead into towns. Only in the Hundred Mile Wilderness of Maine did I ever have to carry more than 5 days worth of food. The general rule of thumb is to carry 1.5-2 pounds of food per day. My pack’s base weight (that is, its weight without food and water) is 19 pounds. I had very little trouble carrying all that I needed in my Deuter pack. Definitely plan to visit an outfitter and try on a bunch of packs with weight inside. A good fit and a solid pack is crucial to your ability to successfully carry your world with you for a few months.
Were you ever in an uncomfortable situation hiking solo?
Most hikers eventually have to hitchhike to get from the trail into a town for resupply. The whole “stick your thumb out” thing was kind of awkward at first, but people near trail towns are used to hikers thumbing rides and are generally very friendly and trustworthy. Follow your gut. If you ever encounter anyone who makes you feel uncomfortable, say you’re still waiting on your friends who are a bit behind you. You’ll meet tons of trail friends, and ladies, we tend to help our male hiker pals score rides I hear. So if you don’t want to hitch solo, you’ll usually have no problem rounding up a friend or so to thumb it with you.
How much weight did you lose?
None. I’m a girl. We don’t lose weight on trail. Figures.
How long did it take?
My hike took 6 months, 2 days. This time frame allowed me plenty of time to stop and smell the roses whenever I wanted, to take zero days with friends fairly regularly, and to stop prematurely some days to simply camp out at a beautiful spot. The journey is too powerful to rush through in my humble opinion.
How much did it cost?
Towns are where the money is spent. Stop more, spend more. Keep walking, spend less. Set aside $3000-$4000 for a thru-hike. Many hikers end their trek prematurely due to lack of financial planning.
How did you train?
I’ve always been a bit addicted to exercise, but I did change my gym routine a bit two months before embarking on my journey. In addition to regular weightlifting, I began wearing my full pack to the gym and climbing on the Stairmaster. It’s also a good idea a couple of weeks before your hike to wear your pack all day for a few days at a time so your body gets used to enduring its weight for 10-12 hours straight. These strategies really helped me make good miles and limited my chance of injuring myself at the beginning of my hike. I promise you, you might hate yourself after 20 minutes on that stairmaster, but once you start your epic journey of a lifetime, you’ll NEVER regret that you trained for it. You’ve put a lot of planning and preparation into this adventure. Do what you can to set yourself up for success!
In addition, and possibly of greater importance, train yourself mentally. Oftentimes the most physically fit hikers bail out because they weren’t prepared mentally. I highly recommend reading Appalachian Trials by Zach Davis and completing the suggested exercises. There were a handful of times I was tempted to quit the trail prematurely. The weather sucked for weeks on end; my motivation was low the last half of my journey. However, my homework paid off and kept me walking when I wanted to give up. Stay tuned for a blog article on the psychological trials I encountered during my walk and how I managed to overcome them.
No Boys Allowed Below. Please.
Girls only FAQ:
How did you deal with your period on the trail?
Many females ask me about this. There are several options. Many hikers I know use a Diva cup and sing its praises. I’ve never used one personally. I talked to my doctor who agreed to let me stay on continuous birth control pills (skipping the placebo week and going straight to the next pack). This worked beautifully for the first three months. The last three months were frustratingly unpredictable. Be sure to seek the advice of your doctor if you decide to go this route.
Did you use a GoGirl?
A GoGirl is a tool that allows women to pee while standing. Unfortunately, I ditched mine a week into my thru as much as I wanted to like it. It was not full-proof, and when I have to go a few days in between showers, my method of peeing MUST be full-proof. Pee stinks. I’m sure it was user error, honestly, but give yourself plenty of practice time using this gadget before your hike begins.
Peeing in the woods isn’t as bad as it sounds. I find it helpful to find a downed tree or a rock to prop myself. The trail has plenty of both. 😉