Deciding to hike the AT causes excitement, joy, and maybe even a bit of anxiety. If the thought of summiting Katahdin brings you to tears, you might just have what it takes to complete those 2,185.9 miles (2013 mileage). Besides finding the gear, the funds, and the time, there is a bit more a hiker should know before heading out for this life-changing journey.
While preparing for my thru-hike in 2013, I tried to find a simple “FAQ” from a female perspective on the web with no success. I also lacked the attention to browse through the hundreds of pages of opinions on WhiteBlaze.net. Believe me, I love providing any advice relating to the Appalachian Trail. However, this guide consists strictly of random questions I wish I would have known or considered before leaving for the trail. If you do have any questions relating to gear, logistics, or anything else please feel free to ask!
Below, I have included tips specific for girls and general tips for any thru-hiker.
Female Specific Questions:
1. Should I cut my hair?
PROBABLY. I chopped off my lengthy locks to my shoulder before leaving for the trail. In the end, I still had to cut out HUGE mats out of my hair once my hike was over. Then again, I have very fine hair that is prone to knots AND I didn’t carry a brush. If your hair texture isn’t as prone to knots, lucky you. Next thru-hike, I am either going for a pixie cut or carrying a little brush for better maintenance.
2. What to do about my period?
I have received many questions about this. First off, the easiest thing to do would be to eliminate it all together by birth control. However, I did not use birth control. Instead, I used the Diva Cup. I recommend forgetting about tampons unless you want to pack them out. Yeah, I didn’t think so. The Diva Cup is a menstrual cup. It can safely stay inserted longer than a tampon with up to 12 hours. I still use the Diva Cup and I doubt I will ever use a tampon again. Make sure to purchase your Diva Cup a couple months before you leave so you can get acquainted with it.
With questions relate directly to the Diva Cup, here is their website: http://divacup.com/how-it-works/your-first-questions/
3. Do I really have to hitchhike?
Yes, you really have to hitchhike unless you want to hike to town. I highly doubt you want to do that. I need to admit though: I never hitch hiked by myself. I would recommend not going solo. But, I knew many female thru-hikers that had no problem with their solo hitches. Odds are a mom will probably pick you up.
4. What were your favorite accessories to wear?
BUFF: GET A BUFF. I loved my Buff. The Buff provides versatility. Its completely functional as my neck warmer, my face guard (we can’t grow beards so I highly recommend for those windy days), and my bandana.
CAPRIS: If you are petite, I would recommend camp capris instead of pants. The capris kept me warm while also laying short enough to avoid a dirty hem.
CROCS: I hate the way Crocs look. Let’s face it, they are hideous. I bought the Shayna Crocs which adds a bit of femininity to the standard Croc. My Shayna Crocs received a lot of compliments from female hikers. And, they look better to walk in when you are in town.
PRANA: I loved my Prana clothing. Prana provides fashionable outdoor clothing. Since Prana is a bit pricey, I recommend buying their clothing through ebay or geartrade.com.
5. Did you have a beauty regime?
HA! No, but I knew a hiker girl that did carry small sample packets of overnight face masks. I used one once. My skin was in constant contact with bugs spray and sunscreen.
6. How many females hike the trail a year?
1 in 4 hikers are female. DO NOT BE ALARMED. I met lifelong friends both female and male. I never heard of sexual harassment among hikers. You will see. Hikers are family.
However, be aware of pink-blazing. Pink-blazing is when a male thru-hiker follows a single female thru-hiker in hopes of a romantic connection. Pink-blazing is harmless but be aware that you could be a target.
7. Do I really need a knife, gun, or taser?
Nope and nope. I started out carrying a pocket taser. The taser became more of a conversation piece than a threat. Sure, it was light but it was completely unnecessary. Don’t let your parents talk you into carrying a gun because in the end, they aren’t the ones having to carry it. If your parents are like mine, recommend the taser as an alternative, show it off to your new hiker friends, then send it back the first chance you get.
But, I should bring a knife right?
Honestly, a knife isn’t really necessary. I only used my fixed-blade knife for cutting cheese! I recommend the smallest Swiss Army knife; its light and a great cheese cutter.
8. Should I find a hiking partner on Whiteblaze.net before heading out on the trail?
Completely unnecessary. You will meet so many hikers the first couple weeks, especially if you start with the bubble (March/April).
9. How many pairs of shoes should I buy before leaving for the trail?
One. I promise you your feet will flatten 1-1.5 sizes once you reach Virginia (NOBOS). You can plan for the foot growth but still not know the exact shoe your bigger foot will need. I recommend buying Salomon. Salomon has a wonderful policy about replacements. They might seem pricey but they are worth every penny, especially when you receive your replacement pair for free!
Check out my review of my Salomon 3D Ultra 2 HERE
10. Am I going to lose a lot of weight?
Probably. Initially, I gained 5 pounds from muscle (121 pounds). By the time I reached Maine I had lost 15 pounds (down to 105).
11. What did you pack that hikers wished they had?
BUG NET. You won’t need it until Pennsylvania but you will be glad you have it. Just trust me.
12. Glasses or contacts?
Both. I wore contacts most of the time and my glasses as a backup. Don’t bring a glasses case, just wrap it in bubble wrap.
Check out my post explaining the pros and cons of eyeglasses or contacts for a thru-hike.
13. Is there anything you would change about your thru-hike?
Thru-hiking the trail evolved into the most remarkable 5 months and 22 days of my life. I regret nothing but I would change a few things for my next thru-hike. I started April 21, 2013 and ended October 15, 2013 (I know the last day). I would start earlier. We really had to hike big days to make this deadline. However, hiking big days instilled a powerful motivation and work ethic within me.
14. Do NOT go on a Costco shopping spree for all your food before you leave for the trail.
I made this mistake and wish I never did. The nuts we bought went bad. We never used six months’ worth of Calcium pills. We actually only sent 7 mail drops through the entire journey because we got tired of the food we bought. We are now stuck with pounds of rice, lentils, and pasta.
ALTERNATIVE: Only buy food for your first couple mail drops. Our first mail drop was at Fontana Dam, NC. Bump boxes will become your best friend. A bump box is a mail drop that you send to yourself from one resupply town to another ahead of the trail. Come across a Walmart or a huge discount on pasta sides? Send a bump box.
15. Make sure you have the right size pack.
If you are petite like me, please research packs before you buy one. I met too many petite hikers on the trail struggling with their size small pack. I am 5’1” and 115 pounds (before I left for the trail). I carried the XS Gregory Sage 55 pack. Did you hear me petite ladies? XS. XS. XS. Osprey packs do NOT run in XS. However, Gregory does carry XS. Please research, you will be glad you did. Do remember, the smaller the size of your pack, the less liters it will hold. Mine is the Sage 55 but only held 51 liters because of the extra small size.
I wish you the best of luck hiking this incredible trail. Don’t get too hung up on the numerous opinions posted on WhiteBlaze. Hiking the trail is simple, just walk. You will only learn what you truly need through experience.