8 tips for hiking the Appalachian Trail

Want to hike the AT?A little preparation just might keep you dry. Or, *drier*. Dang rain.Photo: Frank Masi / Broad Green Pictures

Want to hike the AT? A little preparation just might keep you dry. (Drier, anyway. Dang rain.) Photo: Frank Masi/Broad Green Pictures

Whether you just saw A Walk in the Woods, read the book or both, you might be thinking about hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT). You’re not the only one. When Bill Bryson’s book was first released, in 1998, the 2,180-mile trail that travels through 14 states witnessed a 60 percent increase in hikers.

Last weekend, the film opened in 1,800 theaters nationwide. This wide release, in conjunction with what’s often referred to as the Wild effect" after Cheryl Strayed’s book and subsequent film about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, could draw a lot of folks into the woods next year.

Thinking about getting out there on the AT? Appalachian Trail Conservancy Director Ron Tipton has some suggestions for you. He shared them with us during a chat at the Outdoor Retailer show last month in Salt Lake City.

Want to hike the whole trail from end to end (aka a "thru-hike")?

A photo posted by Erin Grace Kiser (@eringrace) on

Don't start in Georgia in March or April; that's where the crowds are. Start in Maine later in the year or do the flip-flop: start in the middle, choose a direction, finish that section, return to where you started and then go the other direction.

"You can avoid a lot of the crowds by the timing of the hike," says Tipton.

If you insist on starting in the south …

Check out the Appalachian Trail Conservancy site to see how many people have signed the voluntary guest book. It's not live yet, but it will be by next year and you'll be able to see how many hikers are slated to be on the trail.

If you're not experienced, do some things to prepare.

“Not only physically, by hiking and getting yourself in shape — [the Appalachian Trail Conservancy] and others are going to be offering online education on how to hike the trail," says Tipton. "It is not easy. Don't assume just because the mountains are lower in the East than they are on the West Coast that this is a simple walk in the woods, so to speak.

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“This trail is physically harder than the Pacific Crest Trail. There's no question about it. Anyone who has done both will tell you that."

Lots of folks hike the trail in sections.

A photo posted by Eric Gainer (@gain3r) on

A few of Tipton’s faves? Start north of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and hike north to Virginia. This section is great in the spring and fall. A shorter section that’s also beautiful, but shorter (about 70 miles or so, total), starts north of Roanoke and goes to Shenandoah National Park.

One more? The AT follows the Long Trail in Vermont for about 100 miles. It's great for late spring and the summer.

Practice Trail Karma

It's a real-world game-ification of rewarding good trail behavior. Think equal parts Burning Man gifting and helping out others by reporting hazards on Waze.

New to overnight hikes?

"Don't overpack," says Tipton. "The trail is a simple life. Keep weight to a minimum."

If you're going to use your smartphone …

A photo posted by Brindley (@brindleyy) on

Use it in a way that doesn't interfere with other people's hikes. If you need to have a conversation, separate yourself.

Rely on your own skills and abilities.

Robert Redford stars as Bill Bryson and Nick Nolte as Stephen Katzin A Walk in the Woods.Photo: Frank Masi / Broad Green Pictures.

Robert Redford stars as Bill Bryson and Nick Nolte as Stephen Katzin in "A Walk in the Woods." Photo: Frank Masi/Broad Green Pictures.

Assume that no one is going to rescue you. (Looking at you, unprepared guy.)

More tips available at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Stay up to date with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy with a Facebook follow.

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