Hiking the Appalachian Trail: What You Really Need to Know

Updated on May 27, 2016
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Deb thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and is a Search & Rescue volunteer and writer living in Flagstaff, AZ.

The A.T. -- Beyond the Bare Facts

The person in that little photo is me, the hiker known as Ramkitten (on a really cold April morning in the Georgia mountains), here to share the wisdom gained from six months on the Appalachian Trail, all in one fell swoop!

Most of what you'll find about the Appalachian Trail on the internet and in guidebooks is very handy information -- things like....

....trail descriptions

....long-distance hiker planning guides

....lists and locations of water sources, lean-tos, hostels and hiker-friendly hotels, and trail towns.

And those are certainly helpful tidbits for folks who like to know what they're getting into, where they are at any given time, and where they're going.

I respect that.

But what about all the otherwise useless information every A.T. hiker must have in order to be truly prepared for life on the trail?

Well, as a former thru-hiker who had to learn these things the hard way, I'm going to share this information with you now so you'll be ahead of the game when you take your very first step on that infamous footpath.

**Most of the photos on this page were taken during my Appalachian Trail thru-hike, unfortunately scanned a bit too small from the original slides.

But what about all the otherwise useless information every A.T. hiker must have in order to be truly prepared for life on the trail?

Well, as a former thru-hiker who had to learn these things the hard way, I'm going to share this information with you now so you'll be ahead of the game when you take your very first step on that infamous footpath.

**Most of the photos on this page were taken during my Appalachian Trail thru-hike, unfortunately scanned a bit too small from the original slides.

A road crossing on the Appalachian Trail
A road crossing on the Appalachian Trail | Source

But First! The Bare Facts (Handy for Trail Chat with Family and Friends)

The Appalachian Trail....

...was completed in 1937.

...has its southern terminus on Springer Mountain in Georgia.

...has its northern terminus on Mt. Katahdin in Maine.

...is a unit of the National Park Service.

...is approximately 2,175 miles long, depending on re-routes in any particular year.

...was the first national scenic trail, designated in 1968.

...crosses six national parks.

Me at the New York/New Jersey line on the A.T.
Me at the New York/New Jersey line on the A.T.

More Trail Trivia:

The lowest elevation on the Appalachian Trail is 124 feet above sea level on the Bear Mountain Bridge, crossing the Hudson River in New York.


The highest elevationis 6,625 feet in the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, just below Clingman's Dome.


There are 165,000 white blazes along the length of the Trail.


More than 9,000 people have reported hiking the entire A.T.


It takes approximately 5 million steps to walk the whole thing. (I swear! I counted.)

Naked Hiking Day
Naked Hiking Day

Dates to Remember

A Date To Remember Along the Appalachian Trail

Mark your calendars!

June 21st is Naked Hiking Day! (Which you may not necessarily want to share with family and friends off the trail.

Here's more interesting reading about Naked Hiking Day:

Now, I'm not saying I hike in the buff or even condone it, but I did think you should know there's a designated day for being naked on the trail. And it's not just along the Appalachian Trail either, so you can certainly celebrate on another trail of your choosing.

A White Blaze on the Appalachian Trail
A White Blaze on the Appalachian Trail | Source

An Appalachian Trail Vocabulary Lesson

So let's cover some A.T. terminology before we move on....

If you're going to do any walking on the Appalachian Trail, I'd recommend learning the language of the natives. Here are some terms to get you started, beginning with the basic trail terms:

Blaze: A trail marker. In general, blazes may be as simple as a hatchet mark on a tree or an affixed marker made of metal, plastic or wood. Nowadays, blazes are often painted, like the one pictured here. The Appalachian Trail is blazed with white rectangles, 2 inches wide by 6 inches high, usually painted on trees, rocks, posts and other items found along the route. There's even a moving white blaze, painted on the inside of the canoe used to shuttle hikers across Maine's Kennebek River.

Thru-Hiker: One who completes the entire trail, hiking north, south or "flip-flopping," in one continuous journey within a single calendar year.

Section-Hiker: One who hikes the trail in segments (aka sections), with the goal of completing the Appalachian Trail end to end over time, often a period of many years.

Gaited Mule finishing his thru-hike on Mt. Katahdin, on September 25, 2000
Gaited Mule finishing his thru-hike on Mt. Katahdin, on September 25, 2000 | Source

Blue-Blazer: No, this isn't Appalachian Trail fashion-wear. But good guess! Actually, a blue-blazer is a hiker who takes side trails, often marked with blue blazes rather than the white blazes that signify the Appalachian Trail, thus avoiding ... or, rather, exploring areas around the A.T. To some "purists," blue-blazing is considered sacrilege. (But not by me, of course.)

Purist: A hiker who sticks to the official Appalachian Trail, being sure to pass every one of those 165,000 white blazes. To some blue-blazers (see above), purists are anal or even elitist, so the nit-picking can go both ways. When it came to my own thru-hike, I was in this category ... though I have much respect for the adventurous blue-blazers and hold them in the highest regard (just in case any are reading this).

Yellow-Blazer: Once again, not a fashion statement. A yellow-blazer is (**gasp**) one who skips portions of the trail by riding in a motor vehicle. Both purists and blue-blazers alike have been known to curse the names of those who yellow-blaze.

Flip-Flopper: This isn't a political term but, rather, an acceptable form of thru-hiking, in which a hiker halts his or her northerly or southerly trek at some point, jumps to the opposite terminus and continues the journey in the other direction, eventually ending up at the point of the "flip-flop," thus completing the trail. (Oh, did I just use the term in the definition? Oops, that's a no-no.)

Slack-Packer: A long-distance hiker who carries a daypack rather than a full backpack. This is accomplished by arranging to have someone bring the rest of the hiker's gear--tent, sleeping bag, extra food, etc.--to the end of a day's section, so that hiker has what he or she needs in camp without having had to shlep the extra weight. Slack-packing requires extra planning and logistics that simply carrying all of one's gear with them all day does not, not to mention necessitates having to make a certain pre-determined distance to retrieve the gear. (Wow, that was rather long-winded of me. Sorry.) Check out SlackPacker.com for more about this form of hiking.

Look, I'm slack-packin' on the Appalachian Trail!
Look, I'm slack-packin' on the Appalachian Trail!

Trail Name: I'll get into this more in a moment (there's a whole section below), but basically a trail name is a nickname used amongst the long-distance backpacking community.

And now for the REALLY important terms....

PUD: A pointless up and down. Generally, there's no particular view from the top of a PUD and no particular landmark of note. Same for the bottom of a PUD. A series of PUDS can be downright exhausting, more so than a 3,000-foot ascent and descent with a vista at the summit and a piddling forest creek at the bottom. One of the best known PUD sections on the Appalachian Trail is the 14-mile section known as the "Rollercoaster" in Northern Virginia.

Snot Rocket: Basically, an airborne booger. If you'd like to try it, place an index finger against the non-offending nostril, turn your head away from friends, family or anything of value to you, and blow. Now, try that again and see how far you can go. Ah, impressive! (You don't REALLY wanna see someone shoot a snot rocket ... do you?? Ugh, okay, fine, HERE: You can watch a football player eject a snot rocket, but I'm NOT putting this very short, very gross video on my page. Hmpf!)

Swass: Short for sweaty arse (this is a G-rated page, so I changed the terminology just a wee bit). Everything on a long-distance hiker becomes sweaty, of course, but this particular type is most insidious and seems to creep up on ... or in, rather, even the most fastidious of trekkers.

Lazy Unwashed Resting Stinky Hikers in the Grayson Highlands
Lazy Unwashed Resting Stinky Hikers in the Grayson Highlands

L.U.R.S.H.: An acronym for lazy, unwashed, resting, stinky hikers. You're sure to observe this phenomenon often on the Appalachian Trail in all sorts of locales--in meadows, beside water sources, at lean-tos, even in the middle of the trail. It's a most fascinating and aromatic scene.

NOTE: There may be a quiz at the end of this page!!

A.T. hikers at a shelter not far from the southern terminus
A.T. hikers at a shelter not far from the southern terminus

What's in a Hiker's Trail Name - And why....

Can you imagine hiking 2,000 miles and along the way hearing someone call you Joe? Or Sue? Or, god forbid, Deb? I know, it's horrible to think of it. That's why many, if not most, A.T. hikers use trailnames.

So, how did the trail name tradition start?

Well, from what I've heard, during the 70s, as Appalachian Trail section- and thru-hiking was becoming increasingly popular, two men with the same first name ended up in close proximity to one another on the trail. How awful! So people began referring to one of them as, let's say, Boston Bob and the other as Brooklyn Bob, and then probably started calling them simply "Boston" and "Brooklyn." You get the idea.

Speaking for myself, using a trail name is just for fun. I never had a decent nickname until Ramkitten came about, and it really made me feel part of ... something. One of the gang. I loved hearing, "Hey, Ramkitten!" or "Yo, Ram!" or "Ay, Kitty!" and several other variations on that theme when I'd come trudging along. A few people have asked me if I feel like a different person on a trail than I do elsewhere and, therefore, feel the need to use a different name when I'm backpacking. Nope.

Ramkitten with kittens at a hostel near the Appalachian Trail
Ramkitten with kittens at a hostel near the Appalachian Trail

A few people have also asked me where I ram my kittens, but I pay those folks no mind whatsoever and turn my ramkitten tail in their general direction. Hmpf!

But, anyhow ... it is easier to differentiate between, let's say, Gaited Mule and WebBreaker, Split P and Digger, than a bunch of Bobs or Marys. On the Appalachian Trail, there's a very large hiker community, and many of those hikers leave notes in the registers (usually notebooks) located at trail shelters. Though there are occasionally duplicates, trail names are pretty easy to recognize.

Now, as far as obtaining a trail name, there are no particular rules other than the fact that you have to do some hiking. You can choose a trail name yourself, take your chances and let other hikers bestow a name upon you (risky, risky), or choose not to use a trail name at all (if that's how you wanna be). If you really want one, though, but can't come up with it yourself and can't wait, let me know. I'll give ya one!

And since we're on the subject of trail names, I'll tell you a little about my own.

(Or you can skip to grocery shopping on the Appalachian Trail if you really don't give a ramkitten's patootie about how I got the name.)

Well, it started out as an internet screen name. But let me back up....

You see, when my husband and I became the caretakers of RamCat Farm in Pennsylvania, we didn't have our own computer, and I'd never actually used the internet before. The property owner gave us permission to use his internet account, so I started checkin' out the chat rooms (remember those?) and doing some e-mailing, using his email address.

Follow so far?

Okay, well, my boss's screen name was "RamCat" with a number tacked on; although, he never used the account. So people came to recognize that screen name as being me, you see. Then, when Steve and I eventually got a computer and set up accounts of our own (I had no clue back then that an e-mail address and user name weren't tied to a particular computer), I wanted a name and address similar to the one I'd been using for more than a year. Plain old RamCat was taken, as was RamCat with every number I tried, so I decided to go with Ramkitten.

And then I began participating in the Appalachian Trail forums in anticipation of my upcoming thru-hike. People in the online trail community and at A.T. gatherings came to know me as Ramkitten. The name stuck like cat fuzz on fleece, then accompanied me for more than 2,000 miles.

Now, here's a picture of a real life ramkitten....

The (fictional) creature my trail name came from: the ramkitten.
The (fictional) creature my trail name came from: the ramkitten. | Source

The ramkitten--Felis hornicus--is even rarer than the jackalope. Once thought to be the result of a conjugal union between a hard-headed, hot-blooded ram and a curious and playful, underage cat, the ramkitten is actually a unique species unto itself. This creature is well adapted to many habitats and has been spotted in the tropics, the alpine tundra, the desert, deciduous forest, and Rhode Island. Often on the move, the ramkitten is difficult to locate, but can sometimes be enticed with its favorite foods, which include sushi, french fries, and frozen yogurt.

Some say the Ramkitten represents certain aspects of my personality: stubborn when I set goals, inquisitive, adventurous. And you know how a kitten might do something gutsy like climb a tree, then suddenly realize how high up it is and freeze? Well, that's me exactly. But I can usually get down on my own, one way or another. Some might say they call me Ramkitten because I'm an Aries the Ram, and March comes in like a ram and goes out like a kitten ... right?

So that's the story of my trail name. The trail names of some of my hiker buddies and brief explanations of their origins are as follows:

Web Breaker, Tortoise and Gaited Mule
Web Breaker, Tortoise and Gaited Mule

Split P--named not after the soup but after a special pair of pants she wore while hiking, with a well-placed split for ease of (you got it!) peeing.

Web Breaker--so-called because he'd get up at 4am and be on the trail before other hikers, breaking through the spider webs that had been stretched across the trail during the night.

Gaited Mule--a big guy with a rather slow, methodical pace

Tripper--for obvious reasons

Hacker--actually, this was the hiker's last name not a knack for breaking into computer accounts

Moses--for his very big stick

Joker--a non-stop funny man. We'd considered calling him "Boil Boy," because he was always heating up extra water for other hikers, but he refused such a trail name, worried that other hikers would think he had an unsightly growth somewhere on his person.

Dead Man Walkin'--for his appearance when he dragged his exhausted, disheveled self into a trail town

Applachian Trail Long-Distance Hiker Grocery Shopping How-To

Planning and packing meals for the next stretch...

If you happen to frequent a grocery store in one of the towns on or near the Appalachian Trail, I guarantee you'll see a scene similar to this one:

Thru-hikers resupplying in Erwin, TN
Thru-hikers resupplying in Erwin, TN

Shopping for the next leg of a thru hiker's journeyis very serious business, one that often requires extensive consideration. Am I sick of Snickers yet? Do I need four packages of Ramen noodles or just three? Chicken, beef or shrimp? You know, I've heard raw blueberry muffin mix isn't bad.

And once the all-important purchases are made, hikers will move their business to the curb, where they'll spread their stash, arrange such foodstuffs into categorized piles--some do this by meal, others by food type, yet others by day--and proceed to remove all possible excess packaging.

Joker trying to lighten his load by eating his excess food
Joker trying to lighten his load by eating his excess food

Weight is an important considertion as well. All items must be placed in one's open palm and bobbed up and down for a minimum of 15 seconds, while the hiker contemplates if such an object is worth its weight in the backpack. The experienced hiker will focus intently on the item, with a deep frown.

Failure to properly execute the above steps may result in an overabundance of food for the upcoming stretch of trail, thereby overloading the hiker's backpack, hence requiring one to gorge oneself to reduce the weight of the load. (Note the overstuffed hiker in the photo.)

To Make Your A.T. Shopping A Little Easier - and have satisfying, filling and tasty meals from one end of the trail to the other...

...you might pick up a copy of this book.

Before Lou Adsmond's husband and son set out to hike the whole trail, she was determined they would eat well and made it her mission to pre-plan and prepare their meals. From that experience, Lou has laid out how to plan "food drops" by mail and come up with a variety of recipes that can be prepared at home but work well on the trail, adding tear-out tabs with cooking instructions to be dropped into the ingredients' baggies.

The Appalachian Trail Food Planner
The Appalachian Trail Food Planner
Even if you don't plan to prepare (give or take) six months' worth of meals to pre-package and maildrop for your own hike, this book can give you some great ideas that are useful for a backpacking trip of any length, on any trail.
The Three-Second Rule
The Three-Second Rule | Source

The "Three-Second Rule"

It's only Appalachian Trail dirt! (And that's got to be good for you, right?)

Okay, so you've been busting your tooshy all day on the trail, up and down, up and down, easily 8,000 feet of total elevation gain since you got up this morning. You finally exchange your wet hiking boots and stinky socks for Tevas to air out your blistered tootsies. You take a bandanna and wet-wipe bath, change into your not-quite-so-swassy camp attire and settle on a comfy rock to cook dinner. Is it going to be mac-n-cheese tonight? Or cheese and mac perhaps. Either way, it's delish!

But, oh nooooo, you dropped the last spoonful! That last morsel surely meant the difference between a satisfied night's sleep or wasting away to nothingness during the long, dark hours of tossing and turning while your hungry hiker tummy growls and your bellybutton gnaws on your backbone.

So you quickly check your watch. It's only been two seconds since the foodstuff fell. Just enough time left to quickly scoop up the last two cheesy noodles and pop 'em in your mouth. A little crunchy now, but, hey, Appalachian Trail dirt has minerals in it, right? So what's the harm?

This three-second rule of ground (or foot or log or rock) to mouth applies to any form of sustenance, including M&M's, Cheese Wiz, dried fruit and so forth.

Now here's the secret, okay? As long as no one's looking, I say it's acceptable to extend the three-second rule just a tad. I've stretched it to nearly a whole minute and not suffered any ill effects.

The Half-Gallon Challenge
The Half-Gallon Challenge

An Appalachian Trail Tradition: The Half-Gallon Challenge

Not to be taken lightly!

WARNING: The following should not be undertaken by anyone but professional thru-hikers. Day- and weekend hikers will certainly suffer serious consequences if attempting the Half-Gallon Challenge. This thru-hiking alumnus is in no way responsible for any ill effects emanating from any orifice of anyone who attempts this feat.

When a thru-hiker reaches that much-anticipated halfway point on the trail, a celebration of sorts is in order. Now, the halfway point has changed over the years as the trail has undergone a number of re-routes thus altering the exact mileage, but generally the halfway mark is located near Pennsylvania's Pine Grove Furnace State Park.

Near the halfway point is a general store, in which one can purchase any of several flavors of ice cream. If you're a REAL thru-hiker, you'll purchase the half-gallon size. You'll then settle into a comfortable position, unbutton your shorts if you have a button, and proceed to consume the entire half-gallon in one sitting. If you're even MORE cool, you'll select the 5,000-calorie container of Moose Tracks.

No worries, you'll have burned it off by the end of the day.

One of the great things about thru-hiking is that you can eat just about anything you want and STILL lose weight. Here's a discussion about losing weight on the Appalachian Trailon WhiteBlaze.net.

Hitchhiking the Appalachian Trail.
Hitchhiking the Appalachian Trail.

Hitchhiking on the Appalachian Trail

Hitchin' 101

Joker and Marie hitching from Gatlinburg

I know, I know ... standing forlornly along the side of the road, sticking out one's thumb and getting into the vehicle of the first stranger who pulls over isn't what your mama taught ya, but on the Appalachian Trail, hitchhiking is the "in" thing to do. That is, unless you fancy walking an extra five, ten, fifteen, even thirty miles round-trip every three to seven days in order to resupply, shower, do some laundry and eat a big ol' burger, greasy fries and a thick, yummy, ooey-gooey milkshake. (Or three.)

The A.T. does pass through some towns and other resupply points, but much of the time, they're a distance away from the trail, making a hitchhike an attractive option.

Now, your basic erect thumb will do, but it doesn't hurt to add a little flair. Use your own style. Be yourself. If a high-kick is your thing, go for it. Perhaps a little flash of a thru-hiker calf. If you're overly wet and muddy, a woe-is-me face and hanging head might do the trick.

But here are a few tips for clinching that ride when the driver pulls over:

  1. Duck into the trees and change from swassy hiking shirt to slightly pungent camp shirt before sticking out your thumb. The stink tends to cling to clothing much more so than skin. If it's a pick-up truck that pulls over, you'll probably end up in the back anyway, but be kind to sedan and SUV drivers who'll be forced to breathe the same air you'll occupy during the ride.
  2. Offer gas money (and cross your fingers they won't accept).
  3. Hitch in teams of at least two but certainly no more than four. A group of seventeen hikers and seventeen exposed thumbs might scare away your average compact car operator.
  4. Be disgustingly nice and extremely interesting, and you MIGHT just get offered a ride back to the trail, too. Musta worked for me at least a half-dozen times.

    Read a discussion about hitchhiking on the Appalachian Trail on WhiteBlaze.net.

A cat hole.
A cat hole.

The Notorious Cat Hole & The Art Of ... Well, YOU Know

Going potty in the woods -- an acquired skill

Now, this is a subject one could write a book about. (And, by George, there's a good one on the market!) But I'll just share a few of the basic principles here.

First of all, a fancy, orange, plastic backpacker trowel isn't an absolute necessity, so you can save those three bucks for something more essential. I personally managed to hike from Georgia to Maine, all the while using my boot heels, big sticks, and sharp rocks to create the perfect holes. Not to mention the fact that there are a LOT of privies (aka outhouses) along the way; though there's not always a privy available at the precise moment you'll be in need. Nor are privies to everyone's liking, of course.

Now, aiming for that rather small hole can be a challenge and requires a bit of practice, so you may want to begin with a larger hole and scale back as your skill increases. There is a school of thought that perhaps digging the hole after the fact and doing a little stick maneuver (NOT with your hiking pole, I should add) may be a more efficient method, but I myself am not of that mind.

There was also some dinner-time campfire talk of developing a thru-hiker plumb-line of sorts, which might be attached to one's belt. (If you can't picture that, I'm afraid you're outa luck, because I don't have a diagram to show you.)

As far as cat hole location, I would certainly avoid slopes. Why? Well, here's an excerpt from my Appalachian Trail journal, about what happened to a hiking buddy of mine who tried such a feat:

"This morning, Split P stopped for a potty break. She and I had started out together at a pretty good clip, when suddenly she pulled over in what I thought to be a precarious location for a pee. She said she'd catch up, so I hiked on. Shortly thereafter, I thought I heard an exclamation in the distance behind me, but I kept hiking. Thunderstorm, remember? When I saw Split P again at the road crossing at Bland, I got the details:

She'd set her pack at the side of the trail and shuffled a little ways down the steep slope. She'd assumed the necessary position and held onto a log to prevent herself from tumbling. Then Hacker had come along and saw the abandoned pack leaning against a tree. So she'd called for Miss P, who heard Hacker on the trail above. So Split P revealed her location, while still in position. The giggle part is that she not only said hello to Hacker, but she waved at the same time ... with the hand that had been holding on to the log. Consequently, Split P fell backwards, rolled, and ended up flat on her back with her panties still around her ankles."

Another problem with locating cat holes on slopes is that the necessity of hanging onto a tree or log may result in a case of poison ivy rash on one's hands. And if one doesn't recognize that they've touched poison ivy and uses one of said infected hands to perform personal hygiene, well, not good. BELIEVE me. I know.

And Here's That Book I Was Talking About - A useful guide for the Appalachian Trail and other walks in the woods

How to Shit in the Woods, 3rd Edition: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art
How to Shit in the Woods, 3rd Edition: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art
This book may be worth its weight in your backpack, to use as a handy reference while you're ducked behind a bush. (Well away from the trail and water sources, of course!) Or you can read and practice in your own backyard before you hit the trail.

On Second Thought....

Maybe you should carry one of these, just in case.

Pine Creek Outdoors Superlight 2 Oz Backpacking Shovel Trowel
Pine Creek Outdoors Superlight 2 Oz Backpacking Shovel Trowel
Sometimes, the ground is a little unforgiving and a lightweight hiker hole-digger would come in handy. Besides, I wouldn't want to be held responsible if you wore out your boot heel from digging cat holes.

Sounds Of The Appalachian Trail

Not just the birds and the wind in the trees

Once in a while, you may hear a twig snap just outside your nylon tent walls during the middle of the night. But have no fear, it's probably just a 400-pound bear with really big teeth following the scent of the Snickers bar you left in the backpack at your feet. You may even hear the high-pitched wail of a moose in heat, who may or may not notice you sleeping on the ground between him and his lady as he makes a run for it.

There are, however, other much more common sounds on the A.T.

Every night, almost in unison, you'll hear, zzzip, zzzip as tents and sleeping bags are closed. And occasional zzzips during the night when nature calls someone out of those same tents and bags, and lots of zzzips all at about the same time in the morning. Just one zipper unzipping starts the chorus.

Bag crinkling is another frequent sound. Everybody has nearly everything in garbage bags and baggies, so the crinkling usually precedes the zipping.

And one of my favorite sounds of all: the inflating and deflating of Thermarest sleeping pads. One evening, my hiking companions and I heard Grumpy blowing up his Therm-a-rest in his tent and Joker yelled, "Hey, Grump! You have a blow-up doll in there?" Now I crack up whenever I hear that sound. I picture and arm or a leg inflating. After that night, Grumpy laughed so hard every time he went to inflate his sleeping pad, he could barely blow and eventually ended up having to switch to a closed cell foam pad.

A Video About An Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike - Get inspired before you go, and reminisce when you get back

Or just enjoy the trail vicariously as you watch this film.

TREK - A Journey on the Appalachian Trail
TREK - A Journey on the Appalachian Trail
Find out what thru-hiker life is really like in this fun, fascinating DVD documentary.

Appalachian Trail Days

Did you know....

Trail Days is a festival held each year in May, the weekend after Mothers' day, in the Appalachian mountain town of Damascus, Virginia, considered the "friendliest town on the A.T."

Find out more about this fun hiker and trail-lover event here....

Trail Days Festival in Damascus, Virginia

"I attended my first Trail Days Festival in 1999 as a wanna-be Appalachian Trail thru-hiker. The following year, I hiked into Damascus...."

Read for your Quiz? Now that you've read up on Appalachian Trail vocabulary, factoids and traditions, see how much you remember:

view quiz statistics

If It's Just the Bare Facts on the A.T. That You Want

This very useful guide is updated each year (and I'll switch this out to the latest edition once it's available), but don't despair if you can't get the current year's copy before you begin your hike. The changes aren't usually that many or that extreme, and the trail communication system is such that you'll probably know about any major change before you get to it.

Appalachian Trail Data Book (2016)
Appalachian Trail Data Book (2016)
I used this handy little book every day on the trail, often multiple times a day. This is information at a glance, including mileages to the next lean-tos and campsites, road crossings, towns and other resupply points, water sources, etc. Forget all the descriptive text that other guidebooks have; the Data Book is the kind of guide you grab from your pocket and find out what you want to know in seconds. The Data Book was very helpful to me in planning how much food to buy for the next stretch, for example, and where I wanted to shoot for to camp at the end of each day.

Another Excellent Appalachian Trail Resource

Another Excellent Appalachian Trail "on the trail" Resource - This guides makes a great companion to the Data Book

This is the latest version available. When the next Companion comes out, I'll replace this one, which is still very accurate.

Note: You can download a copy of the 2015 Thru-Hiker's Companion. A PDF version is available for FREE to all existing members of ALDHA. Pay $10 for the membership AND the Companion.

Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion (2016)
Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion (2016)
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association collaborate on this guide, which was designed for thru-hikers and long-distance section-hikers. It provides the basic information for a five- to six-month trek, focusing on services and food in towns and shelter and water locations along the trail, with a little history slipped in here and there. With research by more than three dozen thru-hiker volunteers in 14 states, backed by the first-hand information of the Trail's volunteer and staff maintainers and managers, the "Companion" includes extensive information from the "A.T. Data Book.". This guide is made for easy packing in a quart-sized resealable baggie.

A.T. Thru-Hikers are Very Satisfied with this Guidebook, Too - Written by David Miller a/k/a the Thru-Hiker Called "AWOL"

Some comments from Appalachian Trail hikers on Facebook...

"AWOL's AT Guide is the BEST one available! Most of the thru-hikers I meet are carrying it."

"I can't imagine having hiked without it - really. There were a handful of errors, but nothing glaring. He will also send you periodic updates or corrections by email, so you'll want to keep up with those. ... You'll use the AWOL guide all day, every day."

"Absolutely, hands down, the BEST AT resource!"

The A.t. Guide: A Handbook for Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Northbound Edition
The A.t. Guide: A Handbook for Hiking the Appalachian Trail, Northbound Edition
The book contains thousands of landmarks such as campsites, water sources, summits and gaps. The trail's elevation profile is included, and every landmark is aligned to the profile. Hikers using this guide know where they are on the trail, what views, streams and campsites are ahead, and whether they'll be hiking uphill or downhill to get there. Features include: - Mileages to landmarks north-to-south and south-to-north - Elevation profile map for the entire trail - Town maps - Mileages from all shelters to the next three shelters in each direction - GPS navigation coordinates for over 200 parking areas - Icons for easy identification of landmarks and services

Planning an A.T. thru-hike? Here are couple more resources to get you started....

  • What NOT To Take on the Appalachian Trail
    Well before I began my own A.T. thru-hike with 40 pounds on my back, including food for several days and a few liters of water, I was hearing stories of hikers who'd started up the approach trail to Springer Mountain and the first white blaze with...
  • Trail Journals
    Read and learn from journals by other long-distance backpackers. There are also helpful forums here to ask all those burning questions you have about the trail.

Questions & Answers

  • Regarding hiking in Georgia: I read that when camping overnight between Jarrad Gap and Neel Gap, the hiker must have a bear-proof canister to store food in. I was not planning on using one of these during my hike. Never mind bringing one specifically for this 5-mile stretch, which contains two designated camping sites. Are there other options rather than bringing a bearproof canister?

    It's been a long time since I hiked through that area, so I don't know about that requirement, which must be new. If they're requiring a bear canister (which I use all the time when backpacking in the Sierra), then I don't know if they'd allow an Ursack as an alternative... but that is one potential option. I would still hang an Ursack though, using proper bear bagging technique.

    Now that I've gotten used to carrying a bear can (plastic) in the Sierra, I personally wouldn't mind carrying one on the A.T. or anywhere else that has a lot of bear activity. It would definitely keep the little critters out of the food as well. Yes, it adds weight compared to an Ursack or stuff sack, but it is better for critter-proofing if used correctly. I put anything with an odor (ie. toothpaste) in there at night.

    That said, an Ursack would be my recommendation for another option if permitted in the area.

© 2009 Deb Kingsbury

Any Other Appalachian Trail Questions?

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    • Ramkitten2000 profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Kingsbury 

      15 months ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      Some of the forums I used to frequent are no longer, but there's still WhiteBlaze.net as well as some good Facebook groups that are pretty active. I would search "Appalachian Trail" if you're on Facebook and check out the most populated groups there.

    • profile image


      15 months ago

      Hi Deb,

      You mentioned forums to get on to talk to other hikers. Which forum(s) would you recommend?

    • Larry Fish profile image

      Larry W Fish 

      2 years ago from Raleigh

      A great read, Deb. I lived in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania so I hiked portions of the trail in that area. I often wondered what it would be like to hike the whole length of the trail. I guess now that I am almost 70 it is kind of out of reality.

    • Ramkitten2000 profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Kingsbury 

      2 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      You don't need any permits in advance for hiking the Appalachian Trail, particularly if thru-hiking. When I thru-hiked, we did have to sign in (right on the trail) heading in Smoky Mountain National Park, where there are rules for camping and using the shelters. You should check on what the current rules are there. Otherwise, there were no permits required for long-distance A.T. hikers.

    • profile image

      Leslie Robinson 

      2 years ago

      Hello, I’m planning on doing this amazing adventure next year and was wondering if anyone has any tidbits for me and was wondering what permits do you need before you start the journey?



    • NatNat34 profile image

      Natalie Flores-Henley 

      4 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      Wow! Super thorough article and so many great books I need to get my hands on! I am a total thru-hiker virgin, but hiking the AT is on our (hubby and I) bucket list. In the mean time I continue to research and do a few overnight hikes to prep. We are currently living a major bucket list item (full time rving)...not retired folk in the least, but working at each new destination we come across. I was introduced to the AT by some fell RVers the first couple months into our travels. Thank you for sharing such great info....and love the humor!



    • topclimb lm profile image

      topclimb lm 

      5 years ago

      Great lens. Makes me want to get out and hike the Appalachian Trail. Thanks!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 

      6 years ago from United States

      I know I have been here before, but after DawnRae featuring this article on Review This, I simply had to return and read again. I would still love to hike the Appalachian Trail.

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image


      6 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      Hi Deb. Just saw this wonderfully written page featured on 'Review This' blog today and just had to stop back by and say hello. I've always loved your stories about your Appalachian Trail experiences. :)

    • martingallagher profile image


      6 years ago

      Awesome! The Appalachian Trail has been on out 'To-do-list' for some time now. Time to put it into action!

    • QuizSquid profile image


      6 years ago

      I've wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail ever since I read Bill Bryson's book, A Walk in the Woods

    • MVKilgore profile image

      M. Victor Kilgore 

      6 years ago

      I love the Appalachians...great lens.

    • Raimause profile image


      6 years ago

      Great lens! How did you get the time off from work, or whatever you do for income, to take that trip?

    • IanTease profile image


      6 years ago

      Really loved this lens, so much detail and written in a really fun way. Have been interested in the A.T. Since i read Bill Bryson's Walk in the Woods

    • profile image

      Lynn Klobuchar 

      6 years ago

      I am going to have my sons take a look at this. My husband and one of his friends hiked part of the trail in the 1980s.

    • DawnRae64 profile image


      6 years ago from Maryland, USA

      Fun, Fun, FUN lens. LOVE your writing style. Thank you for sharing. So cool that you did a thru hike! I've set foot on the trail in Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. I once left some trail magic. I'd like to do some short hikes on the AT. Don't think i could manage a thru hike. wish i could.

    • Melissa Miotke profile image

      Melissa Miotke 

      6 years ago from Arizona

      I really enjoyed hiking when I lived up north but now that I live in the desert I don't do it very often. I love it though.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Never hiked in my life but it might be s great expiramce

    • lewisgirl profile image


      6 years ago

      Great lens and you are a wonderful writer: details, description and humor!

    • GardenerDon profile image

      Gardener Don 

      6 years ago

      Aced the quizz, so obviously enjoyed your lens!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I did horribly on the quiz. I need to re-read your lens!

    • wjlambert lm profile image

      wjlambert lm 

      6 years ago

      My only experience with the A.T. is Bill Bryson's A Walk In The Woods. The fact that he got as far as he did was impressive. It did generate a strong interest in the trail for me. I live on the West Coast and have walked on about 12 miles of the John Muir trail and many other local non-famous trails in California and Colorado. I don't know that I will ever complete the A.T., but I may walk on part of it, eventually. Thanks for the lens read.

    • CaztyBon profile image


      7 years ago

      I loved your stories and your lens. It sounds like a lot of fun.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      @Lensmaster...When I was a youngster, my family took vacation camping trips in the beautiful Appalachians, a gig that always included hiking! Fine memories...here!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Another good lens -

    • PhilVardy profile image


      7 years ago

      Very helpful... I hope on doing some Appalachian Trail this summer! I'll be back here again :)

    • ian-patrick-716 profile image


      7 years ago

      wow, naked hiking? Don't your feet hurt?

    • MaxMunch06 profile image


      7 years ago

      Nice lens!!

    • geosum profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens. Wish I was a bit younger.

    • BobZau profile image

      Bob Zau 

      7 years ago

      I had the opportunity to participate in the Blue Ridge Adventure about eight years ago , we ran a bit of the Appalachian trail. I must go back before time catches up with me... great lens!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Definitely have hiking through the A.T. on the bucket list.

    • InfoCoop profile image


      7 years ago

      Fantastic reading! I live close to the trail and have gone on small bits of it but would love to complete the full trail someday.

    • WineCoolerKing profile image


      7 years ago

      What a great read and very funny! Thanks for all the tips!

    • MikeBarton LM profile image

      MikeBarton LM 

      7 years ago

      Awesome Lens, believe it or not I named my son Bryson, after one Bill Bryson who as you probably know wrote one of the most entertaining accounts of doing the Appalachian trail. Anyways, again great job!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      @ErnestGregorski: Agreed!!

    • debra-cornelius profile image


      7 years ago

      :) Love that you finish a thru-hke, itis on my 'bucketlist'...maybe to ceebrate my 60th birthday in 2015???Thanks for sharing!!!! I will be back to read more of your lenses!

    • Katyusha profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens, very informative. I would like to go one day but I am too far. Maybe some day... who knows?

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This lens is stellar! Nice job :)

    • RobertoZerr profile image


      7 years ago

      Can't wait to go hiking this summer! ^^

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Now this is how you make a lens.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens indeed ^^

    • senterprises profile image


      7 years ago

      I've always enjoyed hiking in the Smoky Mountains. I hope to one day tackle (at least part of) the Appalachian Trail. I've bookmarked this lens as a resource to return to for when I do. Very nicely done. Thanks for taking the time to put this together.

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 

      7 years ago from Land of Aloha

      Always inspired to read of your adventure! Yay YOU!!! :)

    • LaughingLady LM profile image

      Helen Phillips Cockrell 

      7 years ago from Virginia

      Very interesting lens!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens! Have always wanted to head east and carve out a portion of this trail myself.

    • TarahFlesch profile image


      7 years ago

      Very nice lens!! :)

    • com2 profile image


      7 years ago

      Cool info. I hiked the trail through Virgina with the intention of going back for more but so far have not had the chance.

    • teresa-shatto profile image


      7 years ago

      Wow! Amazing lens! Thank you, thank you!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Everyone needs to hike this at least once

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This lens... is... awesome!! :)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This brings back great memories. I did the northern half in 1978 with two friends straight out of high school. So from Nate, Bobo and Pokey (collectively known as the "boys of EEWAH"), carry on!

    • IssacAlouf profile image


      7 years ago

      Love this lens :D

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Hi Ramkitten - I just finished reading boths books by Iris and Jackrabbit, the barefoot sisters - awesome AT books!

    • coolaunt profile image


      7 years ago

      What an amazing journey and you have covered it in depth here.

    • Ramkitten2000 profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Kingsbury 

      7 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      @anonymous: As in, THE Joker? If so, hey! What a great surprise! Tapei, huh? Very cool. I don't think there are any LONG long-distance hikes in my near future, but I'd love to do some sections eventually. Of lots of trails--PCT, parts of the AT again, the Colorado Trail. Oh, don't get me started. I'm always conflicted between the "home life" and life on the long-distance trail. I just love getting up each morning and putting my pack on my back. Good times! Great to hear from you.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Hi Ramkitten...that was great!...in Taipei and contemplating doing the PCT...You In? Joker

    • sstock93 lm profile image

      sstock93 lm 

      7 years ago

      I just got back From the Smokies. What a great time. I didn't make it on the Appalachian trail this time but We did spend an afternoon at Cade's Cove though.

    • GregoryMoore profile image

      Gregory Moore 

      7 years ago from Louisville, KY

      Congrats on completing the trail. What an accomplishment! You captured some great pictures along the way. I especially love the Smokies this time of year. The leaves should be turning soon.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I have such admiration for all the brave souls that have taken this journey, I love reading and watching films about the trail, I just wish I could wake up some day and say to myself "Let's do it dude" Great lens!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I love to hike :)

    • HomeDecorKnight profile image


      7 years ago

      This is a great lens. It's inspiring me. For that I like the lens.

    • BLouw profile image

      Barbara Walton 

      7 years ago from France

      This is so inspiring. I love your pictures.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Wonderful lens. My husband hiked part of this trail a few years back and had a great experience.

    • Alana-r profile image


      7 years ago

      Excellent lens, well done!

    • tonybonura profile image

      Tony Bonura 

      7 years ago from Tickfaw, Louisiana

      I found this very interesting and learned a lot from it. I did not know about naked hiking day on the summer solstice. Good stuff in the lens, I liked it much.


    • bbsoulful2 profile image


      7 years ago

      This is a great lens. I have always wanted to be one of these kind of hikers. I think I'll only probably get to do pieces of the hike at a time however -- but thanks for the great info! Angel Blessed...

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens.. I must say that I was highly inspired by your lens.. :D

    • bwet profile image


      7 years ago

      terrific lens on the appalachian trail! great job!

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 

      7 years ago from Land of Aloha

      I enjoyed this reading so much, I scored a PERFECT 10. What a wonderful accomplishment. YAY!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Beautiful lens, it is really impressive, I SUPERLIKED it! Congratulations on getting Purple Star for this ** Outstanding ** lens!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Beautiful lens, it is really impressive, I SUPERLIKED it! Congratulations on getting Purple Star for this ** Outstanding ** lens!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Beautiful lens, it is really impressive, I SUPERLIKED it! Congratulations on getting Purple Star for this ** Outstanding ** lens!

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile image

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      7 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      An excellent well-constructed lens! I live about 15 minutes from the trail and have family members who hike in sections. Thanks for sharing all of this information with us!

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image


      7 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      BTW, the reason I stopped by was to wish you a Happy National Trail Mix Day! :)

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image


      7 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      I nearly 'aced' the Quiz, so I have the 'knowledge', and that's as close as I'm ever likely to get to 'hiking the Appalachian Trail'. :) But I sure do admire you for your accomplishment(s).

    • MJsConsignments profile image


      7 years ago from Central Ohio, USA

      Great lens! Loved it. I hiked only a small piece of it myself. I have a friend who has done a few longer legs and who has the goal of eventually hiking the whole thing.

    • Ramkitten2000 profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Kingsbury 

      7 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      @mic604: Hi and thanks for your comment and questions. I started my thru-hike on April 1st and finished on Katahdin on Sept. 25th on a gorgeous day. But, yes, I hiked in the pouring rain many times. And sometimes it was actually pretty fun getting drenched (in the summer, when it was warm). I also hiked in sleet and a little snow. If I'd hiked only when the weather was good, it would have taken me a year to get to Maine. :-)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This was a great read...sounds like quite the adventure. What time of year did you start and at what end? Did you continue hiking on the days when it was pouring rain, or did you stay under shelter? Great lens.

    • artbyrodriguez profile image

      Beverly Rodriguez 

      7 years ago from Albany New York

      What a journey! Thanks for taking us along.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This sounds like it'd be quite the adventure - thanks so much for sharing! Blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 

      7 years ago

      Thank you, I have recently got a new goal - to hike that Appalachian Trail. It sounds amazing. Thorough lens.

    • Monica Ranstrom profile image

      Monica Ranstrom 

      7 years ago

      Fun lens! I recently read AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, great book.

    • profile image

      Deadicated LM 

      7 years ago

      Great Lens, part of the trail was near a place we use to camp at in Fishkill / Cortlandt NYS; it's really beautiful up there in the mountains (a far cry from the Bronx).

    • TheresaMarkham profile image


      7 years ago

      Awesome job on this awesome Appalachian Trail lens! Congrats on your Purple Star . . . and on your successful Appalachian Trail thru-hike!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This was an awesome read! I'm 22 and looking to familiarize myself with what the hike consists of and things I should know. This really helped persuade me that this isn't just something to do - it's something I'm going to do. Thank you! <3

    • IntoMars LM profile image

      IntoMars LM 

      7 years ago

      I really enjoyed this lense. Thank you for sharing.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I have to put this on my to do list. What a great lens that covers so much information about the Appalachian Trail.

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 

      7 years ago

      I am living so close to Appalachian Trail, so your lens is gold to me.

      I am living in NJ and usually I enter in Appalachian Trail around Catskills or West Point

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens, nice job!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I met a guy who thru hiked..he earned the name "Pisses in Wind"...he was known for pissing off the edge of cliffs

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I met a guy who thru hiked..he earned the name "Pisses in Wind"...he was known for pissing off the edge of cliffs

    • sherridan profile image


      8 years ago

      Really interesting and entertaining lens

    • IMKZRNU2 profile image


      8 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Very nice lens. This is on my list of things to do someday :)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great to know that June 21st is a special day on the trail! Enjoyed your lens and enjoy the great outdoors myself.

    • livinglargeandh profile image


      8 years ago

      Thanks for the practical info.

    • anka05 profile image


      8 years ago

      High five for your lens and for the hikers!

    • Gayle Dowell profile image

      Gayle Dowell 

      8 years ago from Kansas

      I would love to do this, but maybe not for 6 months. A week hike would be more my pace.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great Lens, and I can't believe they actually have a naked hiking day. This trail is so cool because it brings us through the pioneering history of our nation as well. There's some great trails out west (like the Pacific Crest Trail) as well.

      Excellent Lens. Congratulations to you.

    • FunNaturePhotog profile image


      8 years ago

      Wow, what a great lens! Informative and amusing and thoroughly researched too. Have to tell you, I thought a "Flip Flopper" hiker was one who actually wore flip flops on the trail...oh no!

    • PuttinUpWithSuzy profile image


      8 years ago

      Great lens! We just moved to the North GA Mtns, very close the the start of the AT. I'm not a hiker but it's something I've been interested in.


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