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  1. #1
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    Default What one thing would you change about your AT thru hike beginning?

    Im in the intensive planning stage of my planned thru hike to celebrate my 70th. Im wondering, out of all of the online and in-person advice you received during your planning phase, what is the one or two or three things you would definitely change if you were beginning again?

  2. #2
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    Not much. Although I carried too many clothes at the start. I didn't have much experience and didn't understand how infrequently one changes clothes on a long hike. (I started NOBO in late March). Also, like every other "noob", I spent way too much time fretting over gear. Assuming you buy quality stuff at the beginning, it doesn't matter at the end of the day what name is on your tent, sleeping bag or rain jacket. You can wear boots or trail runners. The trivial stuff tends to occupy much of the planning in retrospect and you can see it sort of repeat every year on this forum with the questions that get asked..

    Best thing I did in preparation: went and talked to some former thru-hikers in person. This site is great but too much conflicting opinions (which just proves that there are multiple ways to do this thing). Good luck on your hike. It really is a great way to spend 5-6 months!

  3. #3
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    I can't go back. I know that. I know that everything experienced has somehow made me who I am and taken me to where I am today whether it was perceived as good, bad or neutral.

  4. #4
    Registered User gbolt's Avatar
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    Like you, I am still atleast two years away from starting. I have been intensively planning for four years now. One thing I would change (and have changed), is gear; with the idea of saving the item for the trail. I now buy things that I can use as I hike and backpack now. That way, I truly know if it will work on a thru or if it's not for me. It will also change the learning curve, when I do start the thru. Finally, if I never step foot on Springer, I have not waisted time, money and resources on a dream but got use out of the item(s) during current daily life. So in one way, I am doing a lot of pre hike testing but enjoying the current moments of each hike for it's own sake. The same applies to gear. I learn about gear and appreciate it for it's current service as much as learning if it is the item I want to take on a thru hike. Just like life, Dream for the future but don't fail to enjoy the current moments.
    "gbolt" on the Trail

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    We are here to help one another along life's journey. Keep the Faith!

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  5. #5

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    I was really happy with all the gear/hiking/camping advice I got here. It was just a matter of choosing which bits were most applicable to my anticipated hiking style. I don't regret any of my pre-hike planning for gear, for camping tips, even for checking out which town/hostels I might want to stay at.

    The only thing I really did "wrong" was carrying more food weight than I needed, and I knew in advance I was doing that, and still chose to do it. I planned my food resupply out about three weeks in advance, which went out the window after the first week. I learned it was a simple process to plan out the resupply on the fly.

  6. #6
    Thru-hiker 2013 NoBo CarlZ993's Avatar
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    I may have started later (instead of 3/21) to avoid some nasty winter weather. I may have opted to go with a hammock instead of an ultralight tent (Zpacks Hexamid SoloPlus; as it was, I only slept in a tent 14 nights; I mainly used shelters on the trail). I used mail drops almost exclusively. It worked for me but was a pain in the butt for my wife. I might use fewer mail drops & buy along the way.

    You can check my schedule in the signature section of this post. I was pleased with the pace I set. Not too fast at the beginning. I could have easily saved a day or two along the way. Also, there were a couple of times that I would have like to have slowed down some.
    2013 AT Thru-hike: 3/21 to 8/19
    Schedule: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets...t1M/edit#gid=0

  7. #7
    Registered User Elaikases's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 4shot View Post
    Not much. Although I carried too many clothes at the start. I didn't have much experience and didn't understand how infrequently one changes clothes on a long hike. (I started NOBO in late March). Also, like every other "noob", I spent way too much time fretting over gear. Assuming you buy quality stuff at the beginning, it doesn't matter at the end of the day what name is on your tent, sleeping bag or rain jacket. You can wear boots or trail runners. The trivial stuff tends to occupy much of the planning in retrospect and you can see it sort of repeat every year on this forum with the questions that get asked..

    Best thing I did in preparation: went and talked to some former thru-hikers in person. This site is great but too much conflicting opinions (which just proves that there are multiple ways to do this thing). Good luck on your hike. It really is a great way to spend 5-6 months!
    That is really a message I'm getting as I read threads here.

  8. #8
    Registered User Christoph's Avatar
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    Only thing I would (and will change on my next attempt next year) is tweaking my pack so it's a little lighter, but using the same gear. For instance, I dropped a few pounds just by removing the 3 metal pieces that made up my internal frame, doing this had no significant disadvantage for me (I got lucky, it actually fits and feels better while hiking) and I dropped the top cover that I wasn't really using anyway. The lid was a little advice I got from another hiker about 1/2 way into my trip (thank you whoever you are!). Tent poles, I went a little lighter with a few universal repair kits (they were about 1/2 the size of the originals and are still holding up well). Another tip I got from Whiteblaze. The other thing is probably get in better shape and lighten myself Basically all sort of "free" mods and there were more than this that I did and I really noticed the 10 pound drop in weight from when I started hiking the first time. I wasn't over packed on the first try but definitely needed some tweaking. It was a learning experience and I'll use it and next time.
    - Trail name: Thumper

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by 4shot View Post
    This site is great but too much conflicting opinions (which just proves that there are multiple ways to do this thing).
    i haven't yet thru hiked but like any internet advice, you do get multiple conflicting opinions . . . but, when you start hearing the same advice from multiple posters, I think that's a good time to pay attention. As a small example, numerous questions have been asked about water filtration gear. When you start hearing at least every other poster recommend the full sized Sawyer Squeeze, compared to other filters, that's a pretty solid recommendation.

  10. #10
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    I'd say I took too many zeros early on and maybe didn't put in enough miles per day pre Damascus. Was going with the theory of starting off slow then work into it after Damascus which worked fine until I got injured, then I had to plan ultra carefully for the final 1000+ miles to give myself enough time to finish. Also I carried too much food early on and when resupplying, took me a while to start picking up on the resupply availability up ahead, much more plentiful than I thought.

  11. #11
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    1. I would start slower and not dwell on doing big mile days at the start. It's easy to get caught up in that game when you talk to other hikers on the trail. HYOH. I would not try to do more than 15 miles per day for at least the first 2-3 weeks, maybe all the way to Damascus. Everybody is different, if you're already in Triathlete shape, do what is good for you.

    2. I would choose footwear 1/2 size larger than I usually wear, and use the thin merino wool socks. I started with boots too small, and wore sock liners and thick wool socks. Suffered foot blister problems bigtime for the first month.

  12. #12

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    I will start slower next time. There can be a feeling of wanting to go hard at the start. More thru hikers than not will echo the same sentiment. The next time I thru hike, I will script my first 12 days to Franklin, NC like this:

    Day 1: Springer to Hawk Mtn Shelter
    Day 2: Hawk Mtn to Gooch Mtn Shelter
    Day3: Gooch Mtn to Lance Creek Campground
    Day 4: Lance Creek to Neel Gap (resupply- camp at Bull Gap 1 mile past)
    Day 5: Bull Gap to Low Gap Shelter
    Day 6: Low Gap to Rocky Mountain (camp at summit)
    Day 7: Rocky Mtn to Deep Gap shelter
    Day 8: Deep Gap to Dicks Creek gap (overnight/resupply in Hiawassee)
    Day 9: Dicks Creek to Muskrat Creek Shelter (cross GA/NC border)
    Day 10: Muskrat Creek to Carter Gap Shelter
    Day 11: Carter Gap to Long Branch/or Rock Gap depending on how legs feel (cross 100 mile mark/tough climb up Albert Mtn)
    Day 12: Winding Stair Gap (into Franklin for zero and resupply)

    In comparison, I did this first section in 8 1/2 days and my body paid for it.

  13. #13
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    go southbound

  14. #14
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    More cheese.

  15. #15
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    Take more pictures.
    "Chainsaw" GA-ME 2011

  16. #16
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    Im definitely planning to start out slower and build up to it. At my age I really dont have another option
    So far Ive backpacked in mountainous terrain for a week or two at a time, which is good training and certainly enjoyable, but doesnt really toughen one up for a 6 month ordeal.
    My age is both a minus and a plus. Its a minus because I simply cant do things the way I used to, especially things that require endurance, strength, balance and long hours without a nap. My trail name is Half, short for Half Fast, because I once said my pace is exactly half what it used to be. Now my wife is called Better, hahahaha. Trail humor.
    On the up side, my age is good because Ive had a lifetime of learning how to do things and make things work. They say the best way to learn backpacking is to do backpacking, and Ive been at it a long time. Along the way Ive gotten rid of all my old Walmart and Dicks Sporting Goods gear and traded up to gear that is lighter and more functional. And more expensive, of course. Another advantage of having worked all my life is that I now have enough money to indulge myself a little bit.
    Definitely hammock camping. When hammocks first started gaining attention a few years ago I was amazed at the simplicity and functionality of it. I thought at the time that tents had just become obsolete and that soon everyone would be sleeping like babies every night on the trail. I became an early convert, first with the Hennessy then the ENO. I havent slept in a shelter or a tent since.
    I still have my Eureka Apex 2 tent that weighs 6 pounds. I did have a lot of good times with that tent but I always resented the weight and bulk of it and the frustration of sometimes not being able to find a good campsite with a level tent space free of boulders, briars, shrubs or mud. Now I only use the tent as a loaner for friends who dont have one yet. I gave my Hennessy Hammock set up to a friend who once was kind enough to drive 14 hours on his day off to pick me up and shuttle me home.
    Probably my best purchase so far, beyond the hammock tent and the Zpacks Arc Blast 50L backpack, is the Excalibur food dehydrator. No more days craving real food and I cut my food weight in half. Just boil water and enjoy a gourmet meal at a fraction of the cost of freeze dried meals in a pouch.

  17. #17

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    I am actually thinking about doing the whole thing again in 2017. I finished the AT in 2015, and when I left, I did not think I wanted to do it again. Time has made me reconsider my decision. Because of external constraints, the first year I hiked on the AT, I needed to leave after two months (college graduation of child, child wedding, last family trip together before wedding...). During those two months I had a ball; I was in no rush to move fast down the trail, and I went to see many of the sights off the trail. I started March 1, and never stepped on any snow. I did feel a few flakes at one point, and had some cold nights in the Smokies, but the weather was wonderful in 2012. I left the trail still enthused about hiking, with a big appetite, but with no injuries or pains. My knees, both of which have been subject to multiple operations, felt better than they did before the hike.

    2013 I headed back to the trail for what I thought might be a thru. The weather in 13 was horrendous for my March 1 start. I hiked in snow almost all the time. It was 21 days before I stepped on a piece of the trail without snow. I got fed up with the trail and didn't feel like continuing when I had an injury, so I left. In retrospect, I was pushing myself too much. On many days I was breaking trail in the snow, and I was likely the only one out on the trail on some of the really bad days. I really should have holed up for a few more days in some of the major blizzards, and I would have had a much better time.

    2015, I again headed back to the trail, aiming to hike at least everything I had not hiked, and maybe the whole trail. I went back to the attitude I had in 12: enjoy the hike, see the sights off the trail as I wanted, and not rush myself, or try to make it a competition. What I found really marvelous was that I made great forward progress on the trail, did not feel like I was in some kind of mad race, and still got to go off trail to see things and do things I wanted. I did the trail my way, had a ball. After doing the trail I had not done before, I went back to do the trail I'd done before, and found that I remembered every turn and sight on the trail. I didn't feel interested in having an entire hike in one year, so I stopped after doing some of what I'd done before and went home very satisfied.

    So, with this long prelude, and as someone not far from your age, here is what I'm planning to do if I hit the trail next year:
    1) I will not worry much about making the miles. In reality, it was not too big a deal to make the miles for me. My body developed trail legs, I was happy being out, and not stressed about progress.
    2) Because I'm not worried about the miles, I intend to see sights I want to see off the trail. I hiked in past years with people who would not go .1 miles off trail to a sight. I've gone well over 5 miles one way off the trail to see something I wanted to see.
    3) Each year I've been able to reduce my pack weight from the previous year's. Next year will be no exception. I will probably only have one or at most two major changes: my backpack and tent. My old backpack has suffered a number of structural issues, and is ready to live life in retirement. My tent has quite a few hundred nights in it, and I'll replace it with another of the same design (BA fly creek 2). What I'll do is to get rid of things I just don't really need. Some I'll get rid of before I leave, other things will be jetisoned as I go. I will not hesitate to get rid of these things. In the past, I would often carry things way to long past where they were needed.
    4) My first year I lost 27 pounds in 58 days, eating like a pirahana. I was always hungry on the trail, and I carried a lot of food. In 15, I would make the effort to eat one extra meal than I would have in 12 before I left a town. I would also carry a special set of often heavier foods which I would eat 3 miles out of town. I found that this method radically reduced my hunger although I still lost quite a bit of weight. If I go in 17, I'll continue the eating a meal just outside of town tradition, only maybe I'll do it four miles up the trail. I really found that this simple practice raised my spirits a good bit. There is nothing like taking off your pack in the woods, eating a really full and heavy meal, maybe taking a short nap, and then going on up the trail with a much lighter pack. I felt like I was launched out of a slingshot. Another good aspect of this practice for me is that often the trail climbs right after leaving town. By having something really good to eat, I was focused on that, rather than any hard climbing. As an example of food to take: half gallon of chocolate milk with a giant hamburer or sub, topped off with a frozen cheesecake. Yum, yum.

    Hope this helps. Maybe I'll see you on the trail. If I go, I'll probably start my traditional date: 3/1. If you are curious, my 15 hike is on trail journals; trail name Catnapper.
    Trail name Catnapper

  18. #18

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    I would worry about the math/finishing less. Three years later I can tell you those worries don't dominate my memories. I do remember the support of Baltimore Jack and Miss Janet.
    And I remember the respect I hold for hikers in their 60's & 70's: they were disciplined, steady and they needed less sleep than I did!
    ~Dimples

  19. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by Don H View Post
    Take more pictures.
    I completely agree. But at the time, I had only disposable film cameras, most without any flash.

  20. #20
    Registered User evyck da fleet's Avatar
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    The best advice I got was don't quit in the first two weeks. Followed by don't quit on a bad day...unless its like the third or fourth in a row. But looking back on the first two weeks the most difficult thing to do was sleep on hard ground. Camping in the backyard on grass isn't the same. As dumb as it sounded sleeping on the kitchen floor would have been a better way to train myself to sleep on my back and not my side. I spent a sleep deprived week on the trail before I corrected that mistake. The second week I learned how important it was to stop often and check that the bottom of your insoles are drying while your shoes are drying as you walk. That one led to two days of painful hot feet and a zero at NOC, where I discovered Gold Bond. So those were a couple of dumb newb mistakes, the first being rather avoidable with planning.

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