Prepare Now for a 2012 A.T. Thru-hike

Thru-hike preparation for Appalachian Trail

Backpacking the Appalachian Trail and thru-hike preparationTakeaLongHike on the Appalachian Trail

If you are thinking of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail next year, you should begin your preparations now.

What’s the rush? Perhaps if you’re very young you can wing it, but if you want to finish the A.T. in one go, now is the time to start your physical training, study the literature, and lay down some plans. 

Meet Mike, a fellow hiker in the southeastern Massachusetts chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club.  He plans to hike from Georgia to Maine next March and is now in training. He’s overcoming a medical problem and had to first check in with his doctors to get the okay.

Mike, in his sixties, works out at the gym at least twice a week, primarily on the treadmill. He hikes with the AMC every Thursday from 6-8 p.m., and selects other hikes to supplement his training. He just signed up for AMC monthly conditioning hikes which begin next weekend; these hikes increase in mileage and difficulty, culminating with strenuous climbs in the White mountains.

Mike follows current A.T. hikers at and reads from past journals those hikers in his age group who finished the trek. He’s also studying published books about the A.T. so he can decide on equipment needs, food, how to get supplied while on the trail, etc. He’s doing everything he can to make himself ready for a challenging thru-hike. We’ll check in with Mike from time-to-time as he continues his preparations.

 The picture of the blaze was taken on the A.T. in Connecticut.

Hiking Tip–Physical preparation

Preparing for a thru-hike of a long-distance trail

How does one physically prepare for an extended hike? Most people, if they are heavy, will attempt to drop weight and work out. Many in decent shape will do more running, or jump on a treadmill. All of this is good, but there is something else you need to do.

Take a look at the pictures. In the one with the blaze on the tree, that is the actual trail to the left of the blaze. This is a particularly rocky section of the AT in Pennsylvania. No matter how many times you jog around the high school track, your legs and feet are not prepared for this. Nor roots. Roots are everywhere and anywhere–even on rocks like shown above. Tip: Start backpacking in fields, forests, and parklands near you, and build up to shakedown hikes over diverse terrain. 

This way your legs and body adapt to field conditions. Although I haven’t done it, I think climbing up and down stairs in a stadium, with your backpack, will help you if you live in the city. Best of all, build yourself up to a full backpack with all attachments (tent, sleeping pad, etc.) and get outside and go. Don’t do too much, too soon, too fast; build yourself up.