Part 4: Planning an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike – Logistics
Every step you take along the 2,180 miles of an Appalachian Trail thru-hike comes with a lot of advance prep work. So far, in our special series on planning a thru-hike, we’ve covered important categories from financial planning to gear lists in previous installments. In Part 4, we’re tackling logistics – a daunting topic, but like budgeting, it’s an important aspect in achieving your goal of completing the entire length of the trail.
In spite of everything that I am about to write, remember this one truth: If you can get yourself to Springer Mountain in Georgia with the proper gear, all bases covered at home, enough money in the bank to support yourself for six months on the trail, and three days of provisions, then you have all you need to start your hike. If you get behind in your planning, always fall back to this premise: Save your money, get your gear, and handle your personal affairs for a six-month hiatus.
Picking an At-Home Support Person
There is no substitute for an at-home support person while on an extended AT thru-hike adventure. Select someone who is both excited about your hike and trustworthy to handle your affairs at home. A multitude of situations can arise while you are on the trail and you need someone assigned to take care of them in your absence, so you don’t have to get off the trail.
Now is the time to pick that person, if you haven’t yet, and also start prepping a list of potential circumstances that may come up while you are on the trail. Consider granting power of attorney if your situation is complicated enough that such will be required. Your support person is the one you will call on to mail gear and possibly some hard-to-get food items that you are craving, in addition to handling your bills and mail.
Food Supply on the Trail
Everybody needs to eat and you have to create a game plan to ensure you get the calories necessary to complete an AT thru-hike. To accomplish this, your choices include: a) purchase food on the trail, b) buy in bulk at the start and ship it to yourself at towns along the way, or c) a combination of both.
I strongly recommend that you buy as you go. The savings realized by shopping in bulk before the hike is lost in logistical hassle, expensive postage for mailing heavy packages across the country, lost or spoiled food in transit, unanticipated changes in appetite, and too much repetition in diet. I mailed myself a jar of peanut butter at every town stop along the trail – and then I could not eat the stuff for two years after my thru-hike. I still have not eaten a sardine since my hike 17 years ago.
There are enough towns with suitable supermarkets spaced apart on the trail to resupply completely on your own as you go – thereby, catering to your morphing appetite in real-time. In the rare cases where a grocery store is not available in an upcoming town, it’s much cheaper to put together a food parcel about two weeks ahead of time (in a trail town) and mail it ahead to yourself.
Handy Planning Resources
Obviously, there is a wealth of information available on planning hikes on the Internet. A great starting point is Whiteblaze.net. If you want to carry one information source on your hike, I recommend the Thru-Hiker’s Companion produced by the Appalachian Long Distance Hiker’s Association. This publication outlines all trail services, mileages and towns, so you can plan your resupply and town stops, as well as each leg of your hike between resupply.
Another important data source is the official Appalachian Trail Data Book available from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. It is a better “at a glance” information source for planning campsites and water stops.
One last source to consider is the official maps and trail profiles published by the ATC. They help decide destinations for each day’s hike, rest points between camps, and points of interest along the way. All are available at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s online store.
Prepping “Bump Boxes” & Getting Mail
It’s a great idea to put together a “bump box” or “town box” to mail ahead to yourself on the trail with spare gear and items you’ll need to replenish along the way. Items to include would be things you have to buy in bulk but not carry the whole package (e.g., Q-tips), maps for upcoming trail sections, and maybe even town clothes.
The Thru-Hiker’s Companion contains a list of several hiker-friendly establishments that will hold parcels for you. Also, you can mail to any U.S. post office and it will hold the package. Use the address below and include an estimated arrival date on the package:
c/o General Delivery
City, St ZIP
Creating a Trail Itinerary
It’s a good idea to set up a trail itinerary to plan your town stops and how much food you’ll need to carry between them. Again, the Thru-Hiker’s Companion is an invaluable source for setting your itinerary. This will also give you a good idea when you’ll be at a certain point to better plan for visitors to meet you, possible obligations that you’ll have to leave the trail to handle, and where folks can send you postcards or care packages. Click the link for a sample itinerary: AT Thru-Hike Sample Itinerary.
For a copy of the original Excel document with the itinerary, e-mail: [email protected]
Next up: Part 5 in our AT thru-hike series will focus on Physical Conditioning & Exercise
Links to previous articles in our series:
Part 1 – Overview of planning a hike
Part 2 – Budgeting
Part 3 – Gear and Clothing
Andy Somers lives in Huntsville, Alabama, with his wife Karen and two daughters, and works there as a civil engineer. Andy has hiked the full length of the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, and has ridden a bicycle across the United States. In addition to his long distance hiking and cycling pursuits, he’s climbed the highest mountain in 39 of the 50 United States, including Washington’s Mount Rainier.