We’re back once again with another installment in our “How To Hike the Appalachian Trail” series. So far, we’ve covered a basic overview of the trail itself, the costs and gear associated with hiking the AT, and the shelters and physical conditioning you can expect before heading out. This time, we’ll be discussing the nutritional requirements of taking on a 2,200-mile hike, as well as the some of the wildlife you’re likely to encounter (and should avoid!) while hiking the Appalachian Trail.
The most important piece of advice we can give someone who has never attempted to hike something as daunting as the AT is to pack extra food. Sure, you’re backpacking and want to reduce weight, but you won’t be able to hike on an empty stomach. We recommend keeping 4 days of food in your pack at all times. You can resupply in the towns you hike through, and you’ll be able to supplement freeze-dried Mountain House meals with a hot, home-cooked meal at restaurants along the way, but a four-day supply will guarantee you’re covered in the event you get stuck on the trail.
While hiking the AT, a grown man will burn around 5,500 calories. A woman will burn somewhere around 3,500 calories. That’s a TON of energy that you’ll need to replenish. That means you can eat pretty much whatever you want, so opt for high protein, lots of fat, and high calorie content. Eat big! If you don’t, it won’t take long to see that your muscle mass will start dwindling, and fast! Make your backpack meals easy to prepare. Also, plan to increase your salt intake or you’ll be hit with chronic muscle cramps while on the trail. Most importantly, make sure you’re consuming plenty of water and throw some electrolytes in throughout the day.
You’re going to be hiking through 2,200 miles of forests and other outdoor terrain. You’re going to run into wildlife. Most will be harmless and will make awesome subjects for your photos. However, there are a few animals that could cause you some issues, including snakes, ticks, spiders, and black bears. For the most part, even the more dangerous species (including the black bears) won’t harm you as long as you don’t mess with them. If you’re making a lot of noise, black bears will normally run from you. Still, you should be smart with the way you store and prepare your food (use bear bags!).
Snakes and spiders require a little more vigilance. They’re not nearly as easy to spot as black bears, so you could easily walk right up on them without knowing they’re there. Most of the snakes and spiders you’ll see on the AT aren’t venomous, but a few are. Specifically, copperheads and timber rattlesnakes can ruin your day in a hurry. Be careful when stepping over rocks and logs, and void putting your hands in cracks in rock or in thick brush. Check your sleeping bags and clothing in the morning before putting them on as snakes and spiders will crawl inside for warmth.
Finally, take precautions against ticks and mosquitos. Wear repellant and do a tick check on yourself frequently.
That’s it for this installment! Next month, we’ll cover our final installment of how to hike the Appalachian trail!