For some reason I get a lot of crazy looks followed by a ton of questions when I tell people I am planning on hiking the Appalachian Trail. Here is a list of the top questions I am asked.
Sometimes you need to add a bit of adventure to your life. I'm in a position where I can go, so I decided to go.
Why the Appalachian Trail
I really enjoy backpacking and liked the idea of doing a long trail. I'm more familiar with the AT than the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. My parents also have a cabin in North Carolina that is a few miles off of the trail. I think it will be neat to pop by their place on my hike.
What about safety? Are you going to carry a gun?
No, I'm not going to take a gun. Or a tomahawk for that matter, Tiffany. The trail passes through fourteen states. I don't want to deal with all of the legalities or the extra weight.
Crime is statistically, significantly lower on the trail than it is in urban areas. Backpackers are a pretty tight nit community. Generally you don't have to worry about any danger from people. There are a few bad apples, but you can always hike past them if you feel uncomfortable.
The bears on the trail are black bears which are generally non-confrontational. Usually yelling will scare them away.
Are you going to camp the whole time?
For the most part yes. I am bringing a light weight tarp tent to camp in. There are also shelters along the way. They are basically 3 wall cabins with a wood floor you can sleep on. On average the AT has one about every 10 miles.
Periodically I will stop in town to resupply and take a nero (nearly no miles hiked that day) or a zero (no miles hiked). There are hostels along the way that cater to backpackers. They typically offer laundry, showers, and a bunkhouse to sleep in.
What kind of gear do you need for this
Here is a link to all of the gear I am starting with. Once it starts to warm up, I will send some of this stuff home and switch to cooler options.
What about food? Are you going to live off of the land?
I won't be hunting and foraging; I'll be buying my food in small towns along the way. Resupply points between three to seven days apart. Sometimes the trail goes right through little towns, other times you can hitchhike into town. Again statistically there is very little danger here. The people who live near the trail are familiar with the thru hiker season and don't mind letting smelly backpackers ride in the back of their truck into town with them.
What are you going to eat?
Mostly shelf stable foods that require little to no cooking. Peanut butter, beef jerky, trail mix, tuna packets, ramen, pasta sides, salami, hard cheeses, pop tarts, protein bars, etc. Typically I eat prepackaged foods for breakfast and lunch, and then for dinner I will make a hot meal. I have a small gas powered stove with an aluminum pot I can warm everything up in.
How long is this going to take?
It should take about five or six months.
How many miles is it?
The trail runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. The trail fluctuates in distance each year as portions of it are rerouted. Currently it is 2189.8 miles according to AWOLs guidebook. I'm also starting at Amicalola Falls and doing the 8.8 mile approach trail. Once you finish the trail on Mount Katahdin, you also have to hike back down the mountain. So lets just call it an even 2,200 miles.
How many miles a day will you need to hike?
My goal is to average 15 miles a day. At the beginning I will be hiking less until I get my "trail legs". Then in the middle I will be hiking more. Toward the end the terrain gets much more challenging, so I will go back to hiking fewer miles.
What are you doing with all of your stuff while you're gone?
I set my apartment lease to end just before I leave. All of my stuff is going into storage. My dad is going to take care of my car.
How much is this going to cost?
Most of the estimates I have read say to budget $1,000 for every month you on the trail. That is part of the reason I am shooting for 5 months, but I have budgeted for 6. That number doesn't include gear to start. It is for food, transportation, lodging, and gear replacement on the trip. For example it will likely take me 4-5 pairs of shoes to complete the trail.
For gear I've spent close to $2,000. Some of which was trial and error and won't be coming with me. That number for gear is on the high side of what is truly necessary for the trail. Low side would be $600 and high side would be $3,000. It's pretty easy to get carried away with spending money on lighter, better gear. I rationalized most of the spending by selling old gear I was upgrading from and other things I no longer used to offset the cost. Net cost to me were much lower.
Outside of those costs things are more person specific. For example I have the cost of movers, storage, car insurance (even though it will be parked 99% of the time; annoying), health insurance, cellphone bill, and GPS tracker plan (thanks again to my family for help with this one).
Lastly are opportunity costs. What is being given up in earnings potential? Lost job growth opportunities? How long will it take to find a job after returning?