The Appalachian Trail is one of the most well-known hiking trails in North America. The path is roughly 2200 miles long and winds through fourteen different states, offering a range of natural beauty you can’t find on just any route.
Given that a full thru-hike of the entire Appalachian National Scenic Trail can take between five and seven months to complete, it is no wonder that this ambitious hike is a bucket list item for so many hiking and camping enthusiasts.
The trail stretches from Georgia to Maine so that hikers can anticipate a wide variety of terrain types and elevation levels. Some segments of the trail are level and smooth, while others follow the mountain ridgeline and require a degree of climbing.
A full hike of the Appalachian Trail requires an incredible amount of endurance and months of dedication, but it is possible to hike and camp on segments of the trail. Each year, roughly three million people trek at least a portion of the trail, with just a small fraction of those hiking its entire length. With such an enormous path, it is easy for hikers of any skill level to plan a camping trip that is ideal for them.
Planning to Camp on the Appalachian National Scenic Trailx
Whether you are hiking the Appalachian Trail as a thru-hike and plan to camp for months or you want to spend a couple of nights under the stars and walk a small section of the trail, being prepared is your first step.
Before setting out, you will need to know all of the regulations and permits about the trail. While some segments require consent to camp overnight, others are free to use. Consult a local trail guidebook to know what you will need for your particular camping spots.
Make sure you know how to get to the trail. Some segments offer shuttles to the trailhead, while others allow you to park in designated areas. Make sure you buy an Appalachian Trail map! Do not rely on your phone; you must bring a trail map or book because phones lose signal and run out of power.
Plan for the Weather
Weather and terrain vary greatly depending on the time of year and which segment of the trail you plan to camp on. The trail stretches through wilderness, towns, roads, across rivers, and through diverse climates.
If you are planning to camp during the winter or early spring, especially at the north end of the trail, make sure that you have suitable camping accessories. This equipment includes a weather rated sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and tent. Also, make sure you pack appropriate clothing. If you are camping during the summer months, especially down south, overheating is a concern you can mitigate by packing for that climate.
If you plan on hiking any significant portion of the Appalachian Trail, you should try to cut as much weight from your pack as possible. By packing lighter equipment, you can travel faster and reduce the wear the hike takes on your body. Most camping equipment manufacturers now offer lighter hiking and portaging versions of everything you will need.
There are some areas you can save weight without sacrificing comfort. Try using an air pad instead of a foam mattress. You should also take a look at some of the ultra-light camping stoves that are now available.
Natural water sources like springs and streams are well marked on official Appalachian Trail maps. Rather than packing water, bring along a water treatment system or boil water from a natural water source. You can also significantly reduce your pack’s weight by bringing dried food. There are plenty of towns along the hiking trail where you can plan to resupply.
You can also save weight by trimming down your wardrobe. Every hiker should pack for functionality rather than fashion. Invest in a sound layering system. You can get plenty of performance and versatility out of just a few clothing items.
Although it can be costly, upgrading some of your gear to lightweight options is well worth it when you are carrying everything on your back along a seemingly endless trail like the Appalachian. Consider upgrading heavier items first. Over time you can get to a point where your pack is significantly less burdensome.
Test Your Gear
Testing your gear is a good practice before any camping trip. Still, it is especially important if you plan to spend any significant time hiking and camping along the Appalachian Trail. If you can, take your pack on a practice hike before you hit the Appalachian. It is much better to discover your bag is too heavy or uncomfortable on a local trail than it is on a remote segment of such a long path. Set up your camp ahead of time and make sure you have everything you need. Breaking in your boots and adjusting your pack is also essential. You do not want to spend each night at camp nursing blisters.
The Appalachian Trail follows the spine of the Appalachian Mountains. There are significant sections of the trail that gain and lose elevation quickly. It is essential to understand that you should only take on what your body can handle. If you plan on hiking any significant distance between camps, you need to be in good physical shape. Try some practice hikes before you set out and make sure you stay hydrated.
Another danger the Appalachian Trail can present is the presence of motor vehicles. It may sound counterintuitive but, due to the trail’s immense length, it is interrupted at points by roads. Pay attention and understand some drivers might not notice you as you walk across the road.
Also, be wary of bears. When camping, it is vital to store leftover food securely. There is a possibility you will encounter black bears along the trail. Before you head to your tent for the night, make sure your food is out of reach. This action dramatically reduces your risk of a negative encounter.
Leave No Trace
Camping the Appalachian Trail is a beautiful way to connect with nature. Please respect and preserve that beauty. Campers need to leave only footprints. Take everything from camp with you.
If you respect the trail and put in the time and effort to plan your trip, the Appalachian Trail can provide a hiking and camping experience you will never forget.