Questions & Answers about Hiking the Appalachian Trail
There are many questions you might have about hiking the AT. Hopefully I can consolidate all my notes and experiences and provide you with answers addressing your questions.
What time do you go to bed on the trail?
Bedtime on the Appalachian Trail
Whenever you want to! lol
Seriously, after hiking all day long, you are doing good to make it to 8:30 or 9:00 pm. When closer to populations and if you are staying in towns, it might be a little later. It also depends on who you are camping with. Good conversation tends to last into the night. On clear nights, the stars are incredible and you will watch them often.
Because I am an old dude, the more sleep the better!
What kind of wildlife will you see on the trail?
Wildlife on the Appalachian Trail
Not a complete listing but a good one:
Rattlesnakes, Copperheads, Bald Eagles, Falcons/Hawks, Black Bears, Moose, rabbits, chipmunks, Wild Turkey (not the bottled kind), grouse, porcupines, deer (lots of them), coyotes, raccoons, mice, rats, turtles, bats, foxes (who make the most unusual cry’s at night, owls, all sorts of smaller birds, sloths (just kidding), and lot’s of creeping things.
You will also see some domestic livestock, horses and an occasional wild boar/pig.
Fish – I carry a small fishing rig sometimes when in New England and have occasionally caught fish from small streams and rivers. I would not recommend for anyone to plan to supplement your trail diet with fishing. I just love brook trout. Check the State Fishing license laws you are in and be sure you are in compliance.
How to use Mail Drops and Bounce Boxes
Mail Drops and Bounce Boxes
The best way for friends, family, supply companies, etc.. to send you supplies ahead of your hiking progress is to use USPS Priority mail. They need to label the box in the following manner:
c/o General Delivery
Address of P.O.
City, State, Zip
Please Hold for Thru Hiker
ETA: the anticipated pickup date
By using the Priority Mail Box, if you do not need the supplies when you arrive, you can forward them on to the next town at NO ADDITIONAL COST.
You will need a photo ID to pick up your package, so be sure the name on your package matches your ID. Do not use your Trail name or initials.
Great List of Appalachian Trail Post Offices for forwarding supplies to locations ahead of you.
Bounce Boxes can be sent ahead to the Post Office in the town you will be in sometime in the future holding items you do not want to carry on the trail. You can also send these to AT Hiker friendly hostels, cabins, restaurants, etc.. if you have permission to send it to them to hold. Address the box in the following manner:
c/o Business Name you are sending to
Address of Business you are sending to
City, State, Zip
Please Hold for Thru Hiker
ETA: the anticipated pickup date
I will post a list of AT Friendly businesses to send items to in the near future.
Where do you stay when on the trail?
The Appalachian Trail has 3 sided “huts” about every 10 to 12 miles from Georgia to Maine. These huts may sleep from 6 to 20+ hikers. They are usually located near a water source and many have a privy (outdoor toilet) near by. Additionally, there is usually tent camping close to the cabins.
The use of a hut/cabin vs. camping in a tent all depends on the social dynamics of the campers there at the time. During the week, the occupants are usually dead tired hikers. During the weekend, spring break and holidays, the dynamics change, especially with those areas closer to major cities and roads.
I like a tent because I am a snoring fool. I cut at least one cord of wood a night. There are (or were) some rules though in the Smoky mountains about camping in a tent when the cabin is not full. My understand is you should not camp if there is room in the cabin in order to minimize the impact of camping??!!! Be sure to read the rules carefully.
There are 12 shelters located along the 71.6-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail in the Smoky’s. All of them have been refurbished in recent years. Additionally, when the shelters were refurbished, the chain-link fences that were used to keep bears out have been removed. It’s now extremely important to cook and eat away from the shelters in order to keep the bears away.
Back country shelters are the best places to overnight during bad weather, and they tend to fill up fast when it rains. Shelters also eliminate the need for tents. They’re often a good place to meet and talk with other hikers, and most have privies and water sources nearby.
Staying in shelters reduces the impact to the surrounding environment, which is one of the key “Leave No Trace” practices. It concentrates use in a relatively small area, leaving nearby areas in a more pristine state.
Reservations are required for all shelters in the Smoky Mountains and can be made by calling (865) 436-1231. The cost of a 30 day permit is $20.00 and must be purchased in advance.
If you’re caught without a permit you could be fined up to $5000 per violation and/or spend 6 months in jail! I guess they are trying to keep the homeless from hiking?
Floors in cabins are hard and unforgiving so be sure to have a pad with you to cushion your body.
There are also places to stay that you pay to stay. They range from bunk house’s located near the trail to hostels, bed and breakfasts, camping grounds with showers, motels and hotels.
Most hikers are interested in keeping their costs low as they hike, so they tend to stay on the trail most of the time. Once every few days, a nice hot shower is a welcomed event.
When camping in a hut or tent, be sure to hang your food to prevent hungry bears from waking you in the night. Some places have bear boxes, others don’t.
Attach your food bag (the stuff sack for a tent works fine) to the cord loop using a simple overhand or slip knot, or a carabiner. Pull on the unsecured end of the cord to lift the bag high enough up to be out of a bear’s reach from the ground (at least 10 feet) and 8 feet from the trunk of the tree.
Be prepared for the bugs and mice. Even far away from food sources, they are dependent on hikers. One trick is to open all the openings on your back pack where food is or was stored and empty same. This will keep down any destruction to the flaps.
Dangers on the Appalachian Trail
What are the dangers on the Appalachian Trail? Let me address the most common.
Bears – Yes you will see Bears on the trail but they are Black Bears and are generally more scared of you than you of them. Of course, a mama bear with cubs will be protective. Give them plenty of space and if they do not run off, stand your ground and do not run.
Lift your arms above your head and yell, in a convincing voice, “Go away Bear!” Some new hikers take bear spray but most of it winds up left behind in “hiker boxes”. There have been very, very few bear incidents in the North East. Stay in groups when hiking in known bear areas.
Snakes – Rattle Snakes and Copperheads – Be careful and watch for snakes as you are hiking. Do not kill snakes on the trail. Give them plenty of space and if you can back up and leave a note 50 yards before and then 50 yards after warning others of the snakes location.
Ticks – Ticks carry Lyme disease and other nasty problems. 30% Deet on your skin and wear Permethrin treated gear, tent, clothes or spray it on your clothes, but do not spray your underwear.
Black Flies/No-see-ems – I am allergic to these little buggers. I slept for two (2) days when I got a bunch of bites fishing when I was young. 30% DEET, long sleeves and a face net can all help. They are not as bad in the sunshine or on a ridge line in the wind. Be prepared during the bug season. Mother’s day to Father’s day.
Tainted Water – Although I address this in another QA, I can not stress enough the need to filter or heat to boiling your water on the trail. Diarrhea hits about 10-20% of backpackers on short trips, more than 50% on long hikes.
Giardia – For those who do get sick, signs and symptoms usually appear one to three weeks after exposure and may include:
Watery, sometimes foul-smelling diarrhea that may alternate with soft, greasy stools.
Fatigue or malaise.
Abdominal cramps and bloating.
Gas or flatulence.
When signs and symptoms are severe or the infection persists, doctors usually treat giardiasis with medications such as: Metronidazole. Metronidazole is a most commonly used antibiotic for giardia infection.
Yellow Blazers – There are some inconsiderate morons who have no trail knowledge, etiquette, manners and brains. From getting intoxicated and yelling at all times of the night to hiking dangerously, these guys need to be watched carefully less they suck you into their problematic situations.
Do I need a weapon on the trail? – Watch Dixie’s video.
Is it safe to hike alone?
Short answer…most of the time.
You will be surprised at how many “trail communities” or “trail families” get formed on the trail. Just remember, everyone (well almost everyone) has a common goal and desire. They are somewhat “like minded” in that respect. Most are very protective of other hikers who might need protecting.
True we might bash (verbally) the rude and ignorant hikers who do not know good trail etiquette like emptying out a “Trail Magic” cooler, or the guy blaring music in the middle of the night (until I get a hold of his music maker). 😉
Look at it this way, I do not know any really bad people who are going to get on the trail for the sole purpose to hurt someone, although it has happened. Some of us big guys can handle most of the bad that might rear it’s ugly head.
Where do I get water to drink?
Water/Hydration is very important when hiking.
You must hydrate and do so often.
There are water supplies, creeks, rivers and waterfalls along the trail but they are subject to drought and still any water needs to be filtered unless it is coming out of a purified water bottle.
Carry a water filtration system with you or use purification drops or pills in water you gather before drinking. There are many other options but be sure to try them before you go hiking.
I use a water bladder made for my size backpack that feeds through a space behind me and then comes to a convenient location on either side to I can grab a drink on the fly anytime I want. I filter the water before it goes in the bladder. I also carry a filter straw for a quick drink and it can filter up to 1000 liters and only cost me $13.00. Be smart and filter.
Giardia symptoms and treatment needs to be in known when you rely on surface water for hydration.
Do not think you can take off with a two liter bottle of water on your person to last multiple days. First, it is heavy and second it is not going to last as long as you think.
Where do I go to the bathroom?
Pooping in the woods!
When you need to answer nature’s call on the trail, get off the trail 100 feet for going #1. Get off the trail 200 feet for #2. Most hikers carry a small, lightweight plastic trowel to dig a 6″ minimum hole for burial of the #2. If you have toilet paper or other items that are not bio-degradable, then hike them out to a trash can. (Use a 1 gallon zip lock)
Be aware not to urinate or go #2 near any water source or where heavy rains could wash the waste into local water supplies. This is important for the safety of all the hikers on the trail.
Drinking unfiltered water tainted with waste from humans or animals can give you Giardia which can sideline you for several days on the trail. Filter your drinking water!!
How do you survive in the wilderness?
Survival in the wilderness
This is a common question asked to me by people who hear I am going to “Thru Hike” for 2185 miles. They ask, “are you going to fish, trap animals and eat berries?” Really???
I am quick to share with them that it is rare to go more than 3 – 7 days without being able to resupply at towns near the trail. They had no idea? It is true!
The trail cuts through the eastern US near 100’s of small towns. If you can coordinate with your support team (if you have one) they can meet you at road/highway crossings with resupplies or mail you boxes to local Post offices or AT hiker friendly businesses. (See the Q & A above on Drop and bounce Boxes) If not, stick out the ole thumb and get a ride to the nearest town or …..hike.
Most people find the drop boxes and bounce boxes are not as needed as in the past.
Most of the small towns along the way have small businesses and gas stations selling high calorie snacks and food to hikers. The restaurants, and there are some good ones, are plentiful and can help you carb up!
Most restaurants are a “far piece” (that is Texan for a good distance) from the trail. Here are a few favorites.
1) The Homeplace – 4968 Catawba Valley Dr, Catawba, Virginia 24070 (540) 384-7252
2) New Ming Garden Buffet – 316 Federal St, Waynesboro, VA 22980
3) Smoky Mountain Diner – 70 Lance Ave, Hot Springs, NC 28743
4) Village Farmer & Bakery – 13 Broad St, Stroudsburg, PA 18360
5) White Wolf Inn – 146 Main St, Stratton, ME 04982
A strange night in the woods!