Before embarking on an Appalachian Trail thru-hike, set yourself up for success by engaging in some pre-hike training. Though physical preparation is important, I’m going to start this article with the mental prep you should consider because frankly, it is the most crucial to your success. Hikers who begin their journey in the best physical shape often fall short of completing a thru-hike because they were mentally unprepared. Read on to begin training for your successful thru-hike right now!
Personally the most beneficial preparation I did was to read Appalachian Trials by Zach Davis. Best money you’ll spend! Those who read his book and do the few short homework assignments tend to be more successful in their goal of a thru-hike than those who do no mental preparation. Zach does a great job of preparing you for the internal battles you’ll face in attempting to walk across fourteen states. He suggests writing on a few topics before you leave and carrying your writing along with you so that you can revisit it when you’re having tough days. Let me tell you, on the tenth day in a row of walking through cold rain when my spirits were at their lowest point, having these pre-trail ramblings on my phone gave me the motivation I needed to continue walking! Check out the free app you can download on your phone, Diaro, where you can journal on the go and revisit your entries any time you need a lift.
Another little tip I used was to prepare myself for the lonely times, scary nights, tough climbs by coming up with mantras to recite when the going got rough. A few of my favorites were to remind myself of “Mind over matter”, “One step at a time,” and “This is also part of the journey”. Everyday will not be sunshine and butterflies, but the best part of the experience is to learn more about yourself than you ever imagined! Falling down on your butt in the mud a time or two, smelling your natural human scent after days without a shower, and desperately missing home are opportunities to learn what you’re made of. Honestly these tough times make that magical 78 degree, sunny day more memorable and enjoyable. And remember, most of your days will be sun-filled with occasional rainbows and butterflies thrown in. 😉 The other times? Embrace the suck. At the end of it all, you will be SO GLAD YOU ENDURED!!!
Ok, so you’ve bought Zach’s book, you’ve done the homework assignments he suggests, you’ve researched gear and trail information to ensure you’re fully planned and prepared for an impressive undertaking. Now what else can you do to give yourself the best chance of success? Physical training of course! The A.T. is not a simple walk in the woods as Hollywood and Bryson illustrated so accurately. It is hard! When you finish that tough 3,000 foot climb lugging your 30 pound pack on your back, there’s always another mountain standing in your way. The best physical training you can do to prepare is to get out and hike mountains with your pack. If you’re like me and you live in a mountain-free zone, do the next best thing! Join a gym, wear your loaded pack on the Stair Master or elevated treadmill and climb. Start with 15 minutes, building up gradually until you can climb for 30 to 45 minutes with your pack on your back. If you’re feeling really good, start upping your step speed and really start booking it! In addition, wear your pack for hours at at time as you engage in your normal daily activities. Yes, you’ll curse yourself a time or five during training, but I guarantee you the first day you hit the Appalachian Trail, your body and your spirit will sing songs of joy. You limit your risk of injury by physically preparing your heart and your legs ahead of time.
Preparation is key to a happy, successful thru-hike! If at any time, you feel discouragement that you can’t shake or simply have a question, email Clarity! I want you to succeed, enjoy the journey, and fall in love with our Appalachian Trail. Take care of it, yourself, and others. Good trail karma will follow. Cheers!