The Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail are some of the most challenging hikes you could choose to take on in the continental USA. Many hikers head off on these trails each and every year and those that complete all three get the elusive Triple Crown. Are you set on conquering one of these routes? Here are some of the things you should know when you are planning your hike.
Stop-Start or Thru-Hike?
One of the first decisions you need to make is whether you are going to tackle the trail in pieces or whether you are going to attempt a thru-hike. These are not short, little hikes that are over in an afternoon. They are serious treks that are going to take months to complete. If you are not an experienced hiker, you may want to consider tackling the route in manageable chunks.
This might also be a great option for you if you can’t get the time off work needed for a thru-hike. As we said, they take months. Some people just don’t have the resources needed to be able to take that length of time off work and still support themselves on the trail. Think carefully about your situation. Though you may want to attempt a thru-hike, it might be a better financial decision for you to do it in stages instead.
You also need to consider when you are going to set off on the trail. The season usually lasts from spring until mid-autumn. With most people taking a couple of months for a thru-hike, you need to ensure that you have the best possible weather if you are not an experienced hiker in poor conditions. Much of the trails can be at a high elevation and you need to know how to protect yourself if the temperature suddenly drops and the weather turns.
If you are only attempting part of the trail, you have a little more flexibility. Check the long-range weather forecast before you head out so you have a rough idea of what to expect. When you reach a lodge or some other official place to stop, make checking the weather a priority. It is sometimes better to wait it out for a few days rather than risk a dangerous trail.
North or South?
With these trails, you need to pick a direction to head in. There will always be one route that is much easier than the others. For example, most people hike the Appalachian Trail in a northbound direction as this is slightly easier than going southbound. However, the hardest mile of the trail is found in Maine. If you are hiking the trail northbound, you will be reaching it at the end of your journey. At the same time, it also has one of the most isolated sections, so hiking it southbound as an experienced hiker will really not be the smartest move.
When you undertake your training for the hike – whatever form that might take – make sure you try to get out on routes similar to what you can expect on the trail.
These trails are not little amateur hikes. You need to get exactly the right gear and it should be high-quality. Work out how much you can carry – it is likely to be more than you think. You should also make sure you break in your hiking boots and your backpack long before you get on the trail for maximum comfort.
However, you also can’t forget about some of the fun aspects of hiking these trails. Remember, most of the people on these trails – including you – are out there for fun. You are going to be passing through some of the most stunning scenery you will ever see. A trail camera is a must for this trip, so make sure you have one ready to take. You don’t need to spend a fortune on one either, as you can find the best trail camera under $100. By hanging it on your pack, you can record some of the route. You could even set it up on a tree while you sleep to see what sort of critters come sniffing about your campsite while you are getting some well-earned rest.
Any of these trails take some serious commitment. Even if they aren’t avid hikers, your friends and family are going to think that it is incredible that you have undertaken these hikes. Whether you try just the shortest section of a trail through your home state or you push for that elusive Triple Crown, what you are doing is incredible.
Make sure you fully research the trail before you set off. Ill preparation is a recipe for disaster and these trails are no place for it. With the right mindset and a good attitude, you will hopefully soon find yourself ready to step out on your first trail. Good luck and have a blast!