The Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking only trail in the world. This provides a great challenge for avid hikers, but there are still short trails that you can take if you are a beginning hiker. That said, this trail stretches from Maine to Georgia and is over 2,000 miles total with huge changes in elevation. If you want to hike the entire trail, it will take several months and you have to be prepared.
Prepare for the Night
The Appalachian Trail is marked only for day travel. Paint on trees, posts, and rocks mark the trail, so at night this can be difficult to see. There are camping regulations and you can't sleep anywhere along the trail. On the trail, night comes fast and you have to be prepared. Using a flashlight with a solar battery is perfect for a hike like this. This way, you can keep your flashlight out and charging during the day and when the sun starts dropping you can easily bring it out and use it right away.
Prepare for the Hunger
The type of food you bring is completely dependent upon the length of your hike. If you are planning to hike for several days, weeks, or months, you have to be able to bring things that will not spoil or crush. Things that are lightweight and filling are also the best options. When hiking, you burn hundreds of calories per day. In order to determine how much food you need to bring, you have to determine how many calories you are going to burn every day. Your fitness level, the weight of your pack, and the intensity of the hike all factor into how many calories you will burn. Since the Appalachian Trail is so intense, you have to pack foods that are high in calories and keep you full. You also need to keep in mind that the Appalachian Trail is leave no trace. You cannot burn garbage and you must take everything out that you bring in.
Prepare for the Thirst
The next thing you need to remember is water. Depending on the length of your hike, you may be fine bringing in your own water. However, water is very heavy. A liter of water weighs about 2.2 pounds and, as a general rule, you need to carry about a liter of water for every 2 hours of hiking. This weight really adds up. For that reason, if you are planning a long hike on the Appalachian Trail, you need to find a way to treat the fresh water on the trail. There are many streams and many options for treating that water. You can boil water, use a portable water filter, use disinfectant tablets or drops, or use a combined method. There are positives and negatives for each of the treatment methods, so combining methods is a good way to combat those negatives.
Prepare for the Wildlife
While you are hiking, it is very likely you will come across wildlife. Although parts of the Appalachian Trail are heavily trafficked, wildlife is still abundant. Before you go, make sure to research the animals that are found in that stretch of the trail. Bears, mosquitos, poisonous plants, stinging insects, and animals that carry rabies are found throughout the trail. If you plan to stay overnight or use any of the trail shelters, an important animal to be aware of are mice. Mice inhabit all of the trail shelters and thrive off of the food hikers spill there. The most important thing to note is that the mice can transmit deadly diseases, so make sure to be aware of the areas you are staying in. Bears are also an important animal to be aware of. If you are staying overnight, make sure you correctly store and/or hang your food so it is safe from bears.
In all, the Appalachian Trail is a challenge but a challenge worth completing. As with any hike, do your research, be prepared, and be smart.
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