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Appalachian Trail Thru-hike – What I Learned | Average Hiker

Appalachian Trail Thru-hike in 2023 on Mount Katahdin

Appalachian Trail Thru-hike and brevity are not usually in the same sentence. This list offers some brief insights from my 2023 AT thru-hike.

  1. The first few weeks, even if leaving in February, are crowded.
  2. Georgia was hard – challenging, with significant climbs. I had forgotten this.
  3. The hostels were full. If it were raining, hostels and motels would be full.
  4. My body had to work hard to stay warm in TN and NC, and I lost a lot of weight REALLY FAST!
  5. The Smokeys were brutally cold, icy, and snowy in March. I should have carried an extra quilt.
  6. I stayed warmer when I layered my puffy under my quilt, rather than wear it while I slept.
  7. Covid and Noro Virus were on the trail, so I mostly camped.
  8. There was a steady flow of people along the whole trail, but I made it my hike and camped solo a lot.
  9. Southern birds are much more chatty in the mornings, unlike their northern counterparts. Being southern myself, that was no real surprise.
  10. You could slack pack the whole trail if you had the money due to the number of hostels and shuttle businesses.
  11. I discovered toe spacers! Blisters are now mostly a thing of the past – I hope.
  12. There were fewer women than I expected, but maybe because I started early?
  13. Trail runners worked better than my trail shoes. They were more flexible and easier on my feet – hot spots, blisters, bruises, dried faster, etc.
  14. If I took the inserts out of my trail runners when crossing streams and hiked in them for about an hour before putting them back in, they dried quickly.
  15. There are more homeless/transient people down around the Maryland area than I expected.
  16. Maine has nice privies!
  17. DEET did not affect black flies but worked great on mosquitoes.
  18. NH and ME were much more challenging at 55 than at 45.
  19. In southern VT, I seemed to reach the peak of my fitness (law of diminishing returns) and tire a little more quickly as I continued north. It did not impact the enjoyment of the hike, but it was noticeable.
  20. I never needed to stop for a “lunch.” I ate breakfast, snacked all day, and ate dinner about an hour or two before camp. Constant snacking maintained my energy levels much better than big meals.
  21. Honey Buns made me throw up. Crazy, I know.
  22. I craved veggies, lean meats, dairy, whole foods, fruit, etc., and grew to dislike pizza, burgers, and fried food.
  23. More people camped than stayed in shelters – different than past years hiking on the AT.
  24. If you have money to call a shuttle provider, there is no need to hitchhike anymore. They come to almost every trailhead and road crossing.
  25. Hostels are much nicer now, probably due to more competition than in previous years.
  26. Pennsylvania has more rattlesnakes than any other state.
  27. Trail math changes. That bitch of a full 12-mile day in Georgia is a quick trot to town for lunch in New Jersey.
  28. Ultralight and lightweight gear are now expensive and fragile. Zippers are the first thing to go.
  29. Shelter logs are no longer used to communicate, so they are not signed nearly as much.
  30. I watched young hikers text while climbing straight up and down mountains in NH and southern Maine. I learned they were often chatting with other hikers just ahead. The balance and phone focus were amazing.
  31. Grey Jays in the “wilderness” of Maine have lost their fear of people.
  32. Black bears still have their fear of people. I never saw one not leaving the area as quickly as possible.
  33. Most trail angels expect compensation for their services, especially shuttles. It has always been good etiquette to tip, but now it is often expected.
  34. The 100-mile Wilderness in Maine now has plenty of access.
  35. Often, the more quiet the hiker, the more they know about hiking.
  36. I often enjoyed hiking with younger hikers. They still retained some of the wonder of discovery.
  37. I cold-soaked until Virginia and then cooked until Connecticut. I cold-soaked from Connecticut to Maine. I cooked the last 100 miles in Maine, and overall I preferred cooking.
  38. After 35 years of backpacking and long-distance hiking, my favorite meal is mac and cheese. This has not changed.
  39. Purchase an inexpensive rain jacket. It will keep you as dry as an expensive, breathable rain jacket.
  40. My most valuable layer was my lightweight fleece, full-zip jacket. I always get full zippers on jackets so I can adjust for temperatures. I would put my rain jacket over the fleece if it were cold and windy. This kept me very warm.
  41. I always carry a puffy. The mountains make their own weather.
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6 thoughts on “Appalachian Trail Thru-hike – What I Learned | Average Hiker”

  1. Thanks so much for your insights.
    Since I’m now older with arthritis issues, I will probably never be able to hike anymore, as much as I’d love to; but, the next best thing is being able to follow your hikes & other hikers now.
    & you’re definitely right about deet & black flies…I think black flies love the stuff!
    🙂Stay safe n thanks again!!
    Tandi….SW Oklahoma

  2. Interesting to read and quite helpful. Thank you. I never thought that the shelter logs would diminish in importance. Loved reading them. Sad, but that’s the changing world.

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