The Appalachian Trail – Basic Questions Answered

Wait… what are you doing? 

In just a few short days, Sean and I will be heading to Georgia to attempt a thru-hike of The Appalachian Trail.

The Appalachian Trail (AT) is one of three long footpaths in The US. The Trail runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine crossing 14 States.

I’ve been asked a lot of the same questions so I thought I’d post the answers here. Sometimes I forget I’ve been studying these facts and the answers aren’t necessarily common knowledge.

1. How long is it and how much time does it take to complete? 

The 2015 length is 2,189 miles though the mileage changes slightly every year due to trail and road reroutes. We expect to complete the entire hike in about 5 months. Starting out, we hope to complete about 10 miles per day. Once thru-hikers are in shape, that number can go up to 20 miles per day. Depending on individual athleticism, hikers can hike 30 or more miles per day. Overall, we need to average 12 miles / day which includes “zero” days to finish in 5 months. Check out Appalachiantrail.org and Appalachiantrials.com for an incredible amount of details on The AT itself.

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Map Courtesy of Sherpaguides.com

2. How do you get water and food? 

The AT has frequent accessible fresh water sources. We are carrying a filter for purification.

Food, on the other hand, will be bought at grocery stores and convenient stores along the way. The Trail approaches towns every 4-7 days. There are parts of The AT that resupply is a bit difficult. That’s were we’ll send mail drops.

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My first food bag packed for four days

3. What’s a mail drop? 

AT hikers use the postal system for survival. Literally. Post offices will hold packages for 30 days and many local businesses accept boxes for thru-hikers. Hikers can pre-ship themselves boxes full of food or have a friend or family member ship them for you. Mail drops are a debated topic amongst hikers on whether they are necessary or save you money once shipping charges are factored in. Sean and I decided to do 5 of them and send them to more remote places.

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Sam’s Club mail drop shopping spree.

4. What kind of food do you eat and how do you prepare it? 

Hikers can burn 4,000+ calories per day. That’s a lot of food. Because we have to carry everything, weight of food and packaging is always considered. We only want to carry non perishable foods with little water content in packages (no cans).

Breakfast – Oatmeal, cookies, or poptarts

Lunch and Snacks – Peanut butter, tortillas, trail mix, jerky, granola bars, nuts, candy bars, chex mix, cookies, jerky

Dinner – Ramen, Norr Pasta Sides, or instant mashed potatoes with packaged chicken, tuna, or salmon

Yes, we can cook that oatmeal or pasta with our Pocket Rocket camp stove and cook set. Stove screws on to the fuel can and is able to boil water in less than 3 minutes.

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All the cooking equipment.

5. What kind of gear are you taking? How much does it weigh? 

How do I answer this simply without boring you…? There are some hikers that love gear chatting. I am not one of them. I’m super blessed to have Sean as my gear guru.

While the excruciatingly detailed list can be found here, the Cliffnotes version is as follows:

Clothing (each): 1 full hiking outfit, 1 full camp outfit, rain jacket, down jacket, trail runners, and crocs for camp

Sleeping – Tent, Sleeping Pad, Sleeping Bag, Sleeping Bag Liner

Cooking – Small stove, fuel can, cooking pot, bowls / mugs, spoons, water filter

Odds and Ends – sunscreen, toilet paper, bandaids, moleskin, needle and thread, ibuprofen, multi vitamin, toothbrush, toothpaste, Dr Bronner’s all purpose soap

We both have Osprey packs. Mine weighed in at 16 lbs and Sean’s 21. We’ll add 8-10 lbs at a time for food and water.

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All the things!

6. Are you bringing a gun? 

Yea, we’re strapped! Don’t mess with us.

7. How much is this trip costing you? 

For the trip itself, we are shooting for $1 / mile each making our goal $4400 total for 5 months. We have already invested about the same amount into our gear. Overall, the trip is budgeted to cost about $9,000 for two people for five months of hiking. Not too shabby considering that is literally all of our living expense. Compare it this way – how much do you pay for rent, clothing, and food for 5 months???

8. What kind of hiking experience do you have?

Well, not a whole lot. During my trip through Latin America I completed my first two overnight hiking trips. The first was 3 days / 2 nights in Los Nevados National Park near Salento, Colombia. Over the course of about 8 hours we walked about 10 miles and climbed 2000 meters from an elevation of about 2000 m finishing a little over 4000 meters.

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A home and farm 4000 meters up! Photo by my friend, Estaban

My second overnight backpacking trip was the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu over 4 days / 3 nights. The Trail took us up to 4200 meters.

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The Inca Trail was just stunning. More about the trek here.

Although I don’t have extensive experience, both of these hikes exceed the altitude of the entire Appalachian Trail. I’m glad I know my capabilities.

We’ve really enjoyed our time in Indianapolis this winter surrounded by friends and family,  but it seems our restless spirits are ready to go! Research, gear buying, map studying, money making, and mental prep are wrapped up. Most of our “see you laters” have been (sadly) said. We’re as prepared as we’re going to be. Wish us love and luck!!!

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The goodbyes never get easier. So grateful to be blessed with the best support network possible!

We’re (almost) off!!

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