What to Pack to Hike the Appalachian Trail

National forests cover much of northern Georgia, eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina, offering many opportunities for mountain hiking in the Blue Ridge and other mountain ranges in USA. The Appalachian Trail begins at Springer Mountain in Georgia and climbs over 2,000 miles to Maine.

The trail passes through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina, providing spectacular views of snow-capped peaks, deep and wild forests, roaring streams and waterfalls. Appalachian Mountains are part of the impressive views of this park, where the Cherokee native Indians used to hunt.

Smoky Mountains National Park imposes strict camping permits which must be secured ahead of time and displayed on your pack, except for a few spots in shelters each night for thru-hikers. A good portion of the trail is a thin ribbon of right-of-way with private property on either side. There are about 250 shelters along the trail open and available for users on a first come, first serve basis.

However, in the thru-hiking world, during a rainstorm, the shelter ain’t full till everybody is in there. In addition, tent campers are welcome to camp in the immediate vicinity of most of the shelters. And there are about 100 designated campsites in addition to the shelters. Beyond that, many areas, but not certainly all, allow you to practice Leave No Trace low impact camping.

This means camping at least 70 feet away from a water source, and a further distance from the trail, roads, or trailheads. In general though, provided you are not near a developed area or in a specially designated park, if you camp late at night and leave early the next morning and leave no evidence (no trash, no visible campfire/coals/ash, no tent footprint), you will rarely, if ever have any issues.

The Clingsman Dome observatory is the highest point from which you can enjoy the most spectacular images of the place. Through one of the paths that run through this great forest, you can reach Cades Cove, a valley where there are still the wooden huts and churches that populated this place in the 19th century.

In total, the Appalachian Trail is about 2,200 miles long and it passes through 14 states. It starts in Georgia at one end, and starts in Maine at the other, and stretches across these other states: North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire.

It’s quite an amazing thing and hiking any length of it (no matter how long or short) is a great experience that you will remember for the rest of your life. Each year, thousands of people jump on the Appalachian Trail at some point and travel a specific distance so they can say they took a piece out of the historic trail.

If you are preparing to hike the Appalachian Trail, you might want to do some planning. And you'll definitely want to do some strategic packing. Hopefully, you know all this already, or you might want to do some major research into just how big the Appalachian Trail is.

National Geographic actually explored the long path and released a 50-minute documentary that you can view on Netflix. The trail goes directly through the town of Hanover, New Hampshire. Mount Washington in the White Mountains of New Hampshire is not a particularly scary place. Just avoid the place in winter!

The beauty of hiking Mt Washington is that literally millions of people have been there before you. Barring bad weather, it’s difficult to get lost. The trail is well worn and well maintained. There are frequent cairns showing you the way, which you absolutely need when it gets foggy, which is almost always.

If you take it slowly, bring lots of water and hot soup, and be prepared and dress properly. You can do Mt Washington in about 4 - 6 hours. You should start early. Many hikers are at the start by sunrise. This is because you never want to get caught on Mt Washington at night or in the dark. Going up is one thing, but getting down is another.

It’s almost always more difficult to go down than up and that is when most people get hurt. On the other hand, Mt Washington offers a benefit most mountains do not have - it has a cog railway to the top. If you climb up and are simply too tired or uninterested in climbing down, you can purchase a 45 dollar ticket (standing room only) for the 90 minute ride to the bottom. It’s a huge bonus.

There are many cool things on top of Mt Washington including the Tip Top Hotel, which used to be a working hotel and now is a museum and place for rangers to camp, a radio station, a weather observatory and two restaurants, not to mention the train station. There used to be a newspaper published up there and the paper would be put on a flat board with wheels and a man would ride it down the mountain on that board using a stick as a brake.

This was in the 1800s when people came to the My Washington Valley in the summer to escape the heat of the city. The Mt Washington Hotel is the last of those resorts and well worth the visit, especially for Sunday brunch. Yes, a beginner can make the climb to the top. Take it slow, be prepared and start very early and you can make it.

When you first start out, no matter how much “training” you think you’ve done, you won’t be ready. Not even close. Thru-hiking brings out the ancestral, nomadic, cave-man part of each of us. And with it, the physical and mental muscles you never knew you had because you’d never used them before.

North Georgia (if you’ve never been here) is not the Georgia you’re probably picturing. It’s hill country. Just the first march up Amicalola to Springer will teach you a thing or two about yourself. It takes a while, but once your body adjusts to the physical demand, things are good for a while. Then you reach The Whites.

The White Mountains of New Hampshire are the undisputedly most difficult hiking the AT has to offer. The joke is that if you start in Georgia and make it to the New Hampshire state line, you’re halfway done! The Whites offer craggy, unremittingly vertical climbing all day, every day, for a week or more.

They also offer the most breathtakingly beautiful vistas of the entire trail, from the Franconia Ridge to The Presidential Traverse. By the time you get there, you’ll be glad for the five months’ worth of physical training you’ve given yourself.

By the time you make it through the Hundred Mile Wilderness and cross Abol Bridge, you think you’ve seen it all. You think Katahdin is just one last hill to climb. You think you’re invincible and practically done. Then about a quarter way up. You will pass young girls curled up in a ball behind rocks, crying.

The feeling of vertigo, the feeling of precarious heights, the feeling of mountain peaks falling away beneath your feet all around you… It’s hard to describe. Two thousand miles in, you hadn’t seen it all.

Consider the NOBO flow. No part of the trail is easy, necessarily. But starting in Georgia gives you the chance to associate with your year’s hiking class, to accumulate gear, and to physically train before the tough bits. Most importantly, it frames the trek as a journey towards something, not just about something, throwing up this scary, magical reward at the end.

The SOBO flow just isn’t the same. You have to start on the most difficult hike there is, then “get your hiking legs” in The Whites. Supposing you survive the crucible, you have 4–5 boring months in front of you, scenery nowhere near as grand and dramatic, trudging through the vast expanses of easy trail with nothing to crown your last day but the anticlimactic Springer Mountain.

Hike the Appalachian Trail

Here are some things you should definitely pack when preparing to hike on the Appalachian Trail:

1. Bug Spray

The Appalachian Trail has been known to have its fair share of insects, which is never enjoyable. Keep these little buzzers away from you with a good bug and insect repellent that has been made specifically for hikers.

2. Flashlight

Even if you decide to stop hiking before the sun goes down, you will likely need a flashlight for when you are among the trees. Find a high-quality outdoor flashlight to bring with you and you’ll be thankful.

Whether it’s for going to use the washroom in the middle of the night or in an attempt to keep going after the sun slides below the skyline, a good outdoor flashlight is an invaluable hiking item that you’ll use every single day while hiking the Appalachian Trail.

3. Cookware

Depending on how long you are hiking the Appalachian Trail, you’ll need different amounts of camping cookware. I recommend doing your research to find the best backpacking cookware that will serve all of your needs while not being too large and heavy to carry every day.

This type of cookware has been extensively researched and designed to make it easy on the hiker, while also being able to feed them enough over a long period of time. If you are hungry while hiking, you’ll begin to feel sluggish and won’t be at your best. Bring some good equipment and you’ll be much better off.

4. Rain Gear

The rain is always a pain while hiking, but is especially annoying if you are hiking for multiple days. There is nothing worse than going to sleep wet and waking up wet. A good set of rain gear can be your best friend in the wild if you get hit by rain. Focus on gear to keep your feet and torso dry in particular – those are the main areas where rain can really drench.

5. Water Purification Kit

They say water along the Appalachian Trail is drinkable but you should definitely take a water purification kit with you to make sure. It would be horrible to have the trail's water negatively affect you during your hike and is not something you should risk. A simple purification kit won’t take up much room and can be extremely important while hiking for long periods of time.

6. First Aid Kit

This is an obvious one that could become very important to you on your hike for the wrong reasons. The best-case scenario is that you bring a First Aid Kit with you and never have to open it, but it’s better safe than sorry. Find one that has all the necessities packed into as small a pack as you can find.

7. Clothes

The clothes for hiking should be of a breathable material such as Cotton. Plus, the temperature plays a very important role here, as the layers of clothing depend on it. Also, there are good quality readymade trousers and shirts available in stores these days but anything breathable should work.

8. Guidebook

My final item to bring along as you hike the Appalachian Trail is an official guidebook. You will use it over and over to map your route and see your progress. As we mentioned above, these trails are gigantic and span a ton of ground, so you’ll need one of these guidebooks to help you along the way.

Don’t find yourself lost in the woods without a guidebook to use for reference – I’ve done it on a much smaller hiking trail and it’s not a good feeling!
Kalyan Panja