Tips for thru hiking the Appalachian trail [Complete Guide]

So you want to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, huh? No small feat, but with determination and the right mindset, you can accomplish this life goal. It will challenge you both physically and mentally as you navigate everything from snow-capped peaks to humid forests. But the rewards of thru hiking the Appalachian trail and completing the trek are well worth the effort. You’ll form bonds with fellow hikers, experience the kindness of strangers, take in stunning vistas, spot wildlife in their natural habitat, and learn more about yourself than you ever thought possible.

This is your chance for an epic adventurous trip and to join an elite club of rugged individuals who can call themselves Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. To help you plan your thru hiking the Appalachian trail, here is a helpful guide which will tell you the must haves and must dos before and while on the hike.

Appalachian Trail Route Map

How Long is This Trail?

Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is one long hike, spanning 14 states along the Appalachian Mountains.

To thru-hike the entire Appalachian Trail, you’re looking at around 2,190 miles from Georgia to Maine. Be prepared for a 5-7 month trek to complete the full distance. The trail passes through 14 states, so you’ll experience everything from the thick forests of Georgia to the alpine meadows of New England.

With some pre-planning, section hiking the Appalachian Trail is absolutely doable and allows you to experience the changing scenery at your own pace. Thru-hiking may seem like a romantic idea, but keep in mind the immense physical and mental challenges. The majority of hikers don’t complete the full AT in one go.

Whether you aim to thru-hike or section hike, the Appalachian Trail offers an unforgettable adventure. With the right prep, gear, and determination, you can take on America’s most famous long-distance trail.

Think About the Budget of the Hiking

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A thru-hike along the Appalachian Trail isn’t cheap. You’ll need a budget of at least $3,000 to $5,000 for a successful hike. 

Unless you already own all the essential gear, expect to spend $1,500 to $3,000 on a backpack, tent, sleeping bag and pad, stove, clothes, boots, and other equipment. Buying lightweight, high-quality gear designed for long-distance hiking may cost more upfront but will make your journey safer and more enjoyable.

You’ll burn through a ton of calories, so budget $500 to $1,000/month for food. Stock up on high-calorie, non-perishable snacks like nuts, dried fruits, and energy bars. Also, plan to eat in town along the trail when possible.

While most nights are spent camping in the backcountry, you’ll want to stay in hostels or motels for showers and rest. Budget $30-$50/night. You’ll also need money for buses, shuttles and the occasional taxi into nearby towns for supplies.

Expect to pay $500 to $1,000 total for permits, camping fees if staying in campgrounds, and other miscellaneous charges along the trail.

Following these tips and budgeting properly beforehand will help ensure you have an amazing thru-hiking experience along the Appalachian Trail without worrying too much about money. The trail provides, but preparation is key!

Rules to Follow on Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail


To successfully thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, there are a few key rules you should follow:

  • Respect the Trail

The Appalachian Trail belongs to everyone, so tread lightly and leave no trace. Pack out all trash, stay on marked trails, and follow any posted signs. Many parts of the trail pass through private property, so mind your manners.

  • Hike Your Own Hike

Every hiker has their own pace, style and motivation for being on the trail. Don’t compare yourself to others or feel pressured into rushing. Go at your own speed and do what feels right for you.

  • Be Prepared

The Appalachian Trail poses risks like unpredictable weather, wildlife, and terrain. Make sure you have essential gear for different conditions, a map of the trail, a compass, pocket knife, water filter, fire starter, first aid kit, and anything else you may need in an emergency.

  • Stay Safe and Healthy

Injuries and illness are common on long-distance hikes. Listen to your body, stay hydrated, get enough rest, and pack a good first aid kit. Make smart decisions to avoid danger and take care of yourself physically and mentally.

Following these principles will help ensure you have an enjoyable and meaningful experience thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. Take your time, be prepared, take in the beauty around you and live in the present moment. The Appalachian Trail will be waiting for you when you’re ready for your next adventure!

What Clothes to Wear


When thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, the clothes you pack are critical to your comfort and safety.

  • Layers

Pack clothes you can layer for variable weather. Thermal undergarments, fleece, and a waterproof jacket are must-haves. You’ll want a hat, gloves, scarf and thick socks too.

  • Shoes

Well-fitting, waterproof hiking boots are essential for the terrain. Trail runners or hiking shoes are good for warm weather. Pack camp shoes like Crocs for at night.

  • Pants

Bring quick-dry hiking pants, thermal undergarments for cold, and shorts. Rain pants can keep you dry in downpours.

  • Shirts

Pack moisture-wicking t-shirts, long-sleeved shirts, tank tops and a fleece. For warmth, a down jacket is ideal.

  • Rain Jacket

A waterproof rain jacket and rain pants are must-haves for unpredictable weather. Choose a breathable material like Gore-Tex.

  • Undergarments

Moisture-wicking undergarments, socks and bras will keep you comfortable for long days on the trail. Wool or synthetic, not cotton.

  • Accessories

A warm hat, scarf, gloves, sunglasses and bug head net will round out your clothing needs on the AT.

Remember, pack as light as possible – you’ll be carrying this for 5-7 months! Choose versatile, quick-drying and weather-appropriate clothing. Staying comfortable in all conditions will help ensure you become an official AT thru-hiker!

What to Pack? Gear List for Appalachian Trail Hiking


The first tip for Appalachian Trail hiking packing list is to pack light. Only bring the essential hiking gear as you have to carry it on your back for miles over difficult terrain. Focus on functional, lightweight gear that serves multiple purposes.

  • Backpack

A rugged yet lightweight backpack that’s specifically designed for long-distance hiking. Shoot for a pack that’s around 50-65 litres. Any bigger and you risk overpacking.

  • Tent

A lightweight 2-3 person tent. Look for options less than 5 lbs that provide ample space. A freestanding tent is easier to set up on the trail.

  • Sleeping Bag

A down sleeping bag rated for 20-30°F that compresses small brands. Use a pretty good sleeping bag liner for extra warmth.

  • Cookware

A lightweight stove, pot, cup and utensils. There are some popular, compact choices. Don’t forget a spoon, mug and bowl. A pump, gravity or straw-style filter to treat water from streams and springs.

  • Essentials

Map of the AT, compass, pocket knife, hand sanitiser, toilet paper, baby wipes, toothbrush, sun protection, bug spray, bear bag, headlamp, batteries, chargers, first aid kit, and trowel.

By carefully selecting gear that serves multiple purposes at a minimal weight, you’ll be equipped for an amazing journey on the Appalachian Trail. The key is not to overpack – you really can survive and thrive with less! Focus on the simple pleasures of life on the trail.

How to Prepare?

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Before you embark on your thru-hike adventure, there are a few things you should know to prepare.

  • Permits and Regulations

Double-check if you need any permits for camping or backcountry use along your route. Regulations can change, so visit the national park websites for the latest updates.

Don’t ignore the importance of news updates of the area you are passing through. You can know the latest updates of trail by visiting the Appalachian Trail Conservancy here.

  • Gear

Make sure you have essential hiking gear like a backpack, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, stove, food, water filter, rain jacket, hiking boots, layers, map, compass, pocket knife, first aid kit, toiletries, sun protection, bug spray, pocket charger and a headlamp. Test all new gear on shorter trips first.

  • Physical Training

Get in shape before leaving. Start hiking, walking and exercising regularly in the months leading up to your trip. Aim for 10-15 miles a day with a full pack to train. This will make the hike more enjoyable and prevent injuries.

  • Weather

Be ready for a variety of weather from hot summer days to snowy spring mornings. Check historical weather data to know what to expect each month. Pack clothing for rain, snow, sun and varying temperatures. Be prepared to hunker down for a few days in case of severe weather.

  • Budget

Create a budget for your entire trip including gear, food, permits, lodging, transportation and emergencies. Costs can add up quickly, so budget more than you expect. Consider saving money by camping most nights, cooking your own food and hitchhiking into towns.

  • Take Your Time

Don’t feel rushed. Take breaks when you need them and enjoy the AT experience. Many hikers don’t complete the full trail in one season. You can break it up into sections and come back again to finish another time. Your safety and enjoyment should be a top priority.

  • Weather

The AT weather varies greatly by location and season. Be prepared for Appalachian Trail temperature changes, rain and snow. Check forecasts before setting out and pack layers, waterproof gear, gloves, hat, sunscreen, bug spray, and emergency blanket.

  • Terrain

The trail terrain constantly changes. Some parts follow ridge lines with 360-degree views, others dip into valleys. There are flat sections, but also difficult climbs and descents. Wear proper footwear, hiking poles can help. Be cautious, the trail can be rocky, rooty and muddy.

  • Camping

You’ll be camping most nights. Look for designated campsites or shelter areas. Follow leave-no-trace principles: pack out all trash, bury waste, and minimize impact. A tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, headlamp, food, water, stove, pot, and utensils are must-haves.

Also Read: Camping Tips for Beginners & Pet Owners (Do’s & Don’ts)

  • Safety

Let someone know your itinerary. Cell service is limited, consider a satellite communicator. Be bear aware, make noise while hiking and store food/scented items properly at night. Watch out for snakes, ticks and injury from slips/falls. Know how to navigate, read trail markers and carry maps.

The Appalachian Trail hike offers a strenuous but rewarding challenge. With the right mindset and preparation, you can have an amazing thru-hike and lifelong memories. Take in the beauty, push through the struggles, celebrate milestones and enjoy the simple pleasures along the way. The key is to start slow, listen to your body and save each moment. The end will come soon enough!


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So what are you waiting for? You’ve read the tips, check your gear list twice, and the Appalachian Trail is calling your name. It’s time to take that first step onto the trail, feel the crunch of leaves and dirt under your boots, and embark on the adventure of a lifetime. The challenges will be real, the rewards will be life-changing. You’ll forge lifelong bonds with fellow hikers and discover depths of perseverance and joy you never knew you possessed. The Appalachian Trail awaits. Get out there and start walking! You won’t regret a single step.

Logan Smith

I'm a wanderer rooted in California, USA. My love for traversing the globe fuels my mission: crafting travel guides and tips that empower fellow explorers. Drawing from my personal escapades, I aim to equip readers with practical advice for seamless journeys. Let's embark on transformative adventures together.

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