Hiking in the mountains can be an exhilarating experience. Here's five things that you'll do well to remember before you don your gear and throw the pack on your back to hit the Appalachian trail (or others like it).
Tell someone where you are going. My brothers and I hike about 25 miles each year over a 2-3 day period. We clearly map out our route. We're actually doing what's called 'section-hiking' or short-run 'through-hiking'. My wife loves to have the info on our trip, so we give her our targets for each day, where we plan to camp, and where we've set for our final destination. Here's a good prep source.
Understand your limitations. Study the route and look up the tools available on various online resources. We like to check out the topography of the hike we're taking and see the severity of the climbs, including total distance and other's notes on average speed or pace through that particular area. Since the Appalachian Trail is the World's Longest "Hiking Only" trail, there are plenty of hikers who have paved the way, taken good notes and understand the terrain.
Two cars. This one is obviously optional, but it makes for a more exciting hike. Many will hike in and then hike back out by the same route. There are a few places where you can do a loop if you hop on another trail, especially parts of the Benton McKaye. However, to do the best through hike on the AT, each time we take two cars. We park at one end, then drive to our starting point. We can then get in a solid 20-25 miles one way on the trail over the course of two or three days. At the end of the hike, we simply pick up the other car on our way back out. (just remember to carry all the car keys with you, haha.)
Soak it in. This one is a bit more subjective. If you're one of those people that wants to hike a 17 mile trek in one day, more power to ya. I prefer to take in the journey. It's part of why I hit the trail. Stop and observe the amazing creation along the way. The views are great, but so are the little things. When's the last time you looked at the intricate design of a fern or wild flower? The fresh air and the cool breezes (I recommend hiking in early spring or in the fall) are just invigorating. There are plenty of hours to think and re-set your mind while hiking too. It's really one of my favorite times of year. The conversations and reconnection with my family is a true bonus.
Pack prepared and check for bear activity. The north Georgia mountains has its fair share of wildlife, including wild turkey, wild boar, black bears and the occasional rarely spotted cougar or lynx. (no joke! I saw one near my home in Ball Ground, GA.) This means you need to pack your food with these animals in mind. Many sections of the Appalachian trail include clear warnings of bear activity - more common than the others - and you must have your food in a bear-proof canister if you don't want Yogi to gobble your snacks while you sleep. Other ways to prepare would be to be sure you have the following:
Good well-worn shoes. Don't buy your hiking shoes the week before you go. There's nothing worse than blisters all over your feet after even one full day of hiking. Break them in for at least a month before-hand so your feet don't rub quite so much. A second pair of socks (yes, I do mean wear them both at the same time) will also mitigate some of the damage to your stompers.
Energy rich foods. This would apply especially if you're out in the mountains for, more than a couple of days. Carrying a 30-50lb pack, scaling up to 4000ft peaks, and making sure you get to where you're going at a decent pace means that you will need solid energy-giving options. I personally take fruit for at least day one, some electrolyte options for my drinking water, protein heavy snacks such as nuts and meat sticks, and a bar of good dark organic chocolate will perk you up after a long day of hiking.
Water filter. This one is critical. Thankfully there are plenty of places along the trail to refill your water bladder. The downside is you can't usually tell what's upstream. A few folks out there will just drink the water straight, but I've had 'squirrel-fever' and/or other unpleasant after-effects once too often to scare me into filtering the water every time.
Rain gear. You gotta have it. The weather can change quickly in the mountains, and - from experience - I can tell you, you don't want to be caught short in a rain storm on the trail. The last time we got rained on, the trail literally turned into a stream and my soaked feet took a very long time to dry out. I was thankful for a very robust poncho that kept my pack, clothes, food, and other gear dry enough. It's not a bad idea to prep your shoes with a spray sealer, or to buy waterproofs. For overnight camping you should always use a rain-fly. Camping under the stars sounds romantic, but if the rain kicks in, it will wash your dreams of a blissful night.
A good camera. Nowadays your smartphone does a pretty good job, but there's so much to see and record as you hike these beautiful sections of the AT. Some of the vistas are truly breath-taking!
Get out there and try it. It's better to do a day hike first, so you don't need to spend hundreds of dollars on all the necessary gear. I personally built up my gear over the course of a decade to where I am today - unafraid to get completely lost on the trail and survive with little difficulty. I'm no expert or veteran of hiking, but each year it seems we all learn a new skill or tid-bit to pass on to the next group coming along.
Happy hiking! Prepare to be hooked.
The recommendation links in this article are personal opinion only. No sponsorship or payment is involved. I just like these brands and have had good success with all of them.