Thinking about hiking the Appalachian Trail, the 2,180-mile path that stretches across 14 states, from Georgia to Maine? You're not alone. Every year, up to 3 million hikers attempt to navigate at least a portion of the Herculean Trek. But only a handful complete the journey each year.
Do you have the endurance to make the journey? (Only an estimated 13,500 have completed it since 1936, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.) Here are five tips for being one of the few and proud.
1. Stow away some cash.
Though the idea of striking out on the trail at a moment’s notice is romantic, it’s not practical, given the sheer geographical sweep of its contours. Somewhat surprisingly, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy recommends setting aside up to $7,000 to traverse the trail over five to seven months, and sometimes, up to a year. Most of this, they say, will be spent in the idyllic towns that dot the trail — on hotels, restaurants and replacement gear.
2. Decide where to start your hike (and how long you’ll take).
There are several popular tactics and routes for tackling the trail, according to the conservancy: north-bounding, south-bounding, flip-flopping and section-hiking. North-bounding is by far the most popular tactic, wherein hikers start at Springer Mountain in Georgia and finish at Katahdin in Maine — in a non-stop fashion (roughly 65 percent of so-called “2,000 milers,” those who hike the trail in its entirety, employ this approach). South-bounders, likewise, begin in Maine and work their ways south (only about 10 percent of 2,000 milers).
Flip-floppers are those who take 12 months to take the trip, zig and zag off course, and stop and start at their leisure (only about 5 percent of hikers). Section hikers, who comprise about 20 percent of trekkers, bite off smaller portions of trip in intervals that fit with their schedules (they may do a state-long stretch over a summer break, for instance).
3. Pick the right backpacking gear.
Hikers who set out to conquer the trail over the course of the year face a number of logistical challenges. Chief among them: Outfitting yourself with a year’s worth of an outdoor-friendly wardrobe. According to the conservancy, the number one mistake new hiker’s make is packing too much gear. One should tote along no more than 25 to 40 pounds.
4. Pick your hiking trail name.
One of the great traditions of hiking the Appalachian is picking a trail name — a colorful nickname that serve as a keepsake and mark of a successful hiker. Popular ones mentioned by the conservancy include “Crumb-Snatcher” and “Thunder Chicken.”
5. Make some (trail) magic.
Trail magic — small acts of kindness, such as giving a stranger a snack — is a trademark of the Appalachian Trail. Some 4,000 volunteers focus on keeping this tradition alive. For more tips on how to create your own trail magic, see these tips from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.