So backstory behind the title! My mother is in her late 40's and has decided that next year, starting in April, she is going to hike the full Appalachian Trail. Now I know next to nothing about the trail itself, but I want to be able to assist her in this immense transition from being a bad-ass kindergarten teacher to a bad-ass trail hiker.

So far she has talked to me about: having Power of Attorney on her accounts while she is gone so that I can make sure her bills are being paid and so I can send her packages at specific intervals, and managing her social media so that I can help promote her endeavors. I just want to make sure that I do everything I can to make her hike successful and SAFE.

Thank you!

Edit, for more information about her. Like I mentioned above she is 48. In the past year she has spent a lot of weekends on short hikes or camping trips, and worked out during the week (mostly cardio). This will be the first hike she has done that is longer than a week (which is where my worry comes from). That being said she has been doing her research and watching all sorts of YouTube channels and documentaries about it. I'm less afraid of her not having the knowledge for the trail, but more about her emotional needs and how to prepare her for being in natural solitary for 6 months.

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    Hi danninta and welcome to TGO! That sounds like a great adventure that your mother is up to and it's certainly nice to have a child as personal support ;) This question might be too broad, as we generally like well scoped topics. I have no idea about long-distance hiking, so I hope some of our experts can chip in and give you hints. In any case don't be disheartened if this gets closed, it can always be reopened or you can ask a new, more narrow question.
    – imsodin
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 21:25
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    We could give a better answer if we had some info about her. For example, how much hiking and backpacking experience does she have? Assuming she has lots of experience in long distance hikes, and is in superb condition, some advice: she should carry a PLB; (2) she should follow bear precautions with her food, and not otherwise worry about bears; (3) she should have at least some rudimentary medical knowledge; (4) she should have a check-in schedule with you or a friend.
    – ab2
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 21:29
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    She's going full Alpine Touring, no more ski lifts for her!
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 21:41
  • @ab2 - We haven't discussed a check-in schedule, but I absolutely agree with the idea! Do you recommend a daily system or a full week? Also I've made both recommended changes.
    – danninta
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 21:42
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    Do you and your mom belong to the Appalachian Mountain Club? They've been around for a long time and are an excellent resource. They're also there for support while preparing, and along the way. Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 3:15

2 Answers 2


It's great that you're being so supportive, but there's a limit to what you can do to help. Thru-hiking is all about self-reliance, so your mother really has to develop her own skills and mental resilience.

It sounds as though you're already on top of your main role, which is to hold the fort in terms of managing her finances and resupply.

To put your mind at rest, she won't be in "natural solitary for 6 months". The AT is a popular trail and highly sociable. If she wants company she won't have any trouble finding it. With the exception of the 100 Mile Wilderness, it's also mainly near to population centres, so she can be in touch with family and friends on a regular basis. And as you seem so concerned for her safety, it might be a good idea for her to carry a Garmin inReach Satellite Communicator so you can track her progress and exchange messages when there's no cellphone reception. It also acts as an emergency beacon if she ever needs help from Search and Rescue - this is a big deal for solo hikers and will greatly enhance her safety.

As you say, there's no shortage of online videos and advice, so she should be well briefed. It's the world's most vlogged trail! Though from what you say, her experience is quite limited for such a big project. From what I've seen, many US thru-hikers set out under-prepared in terms of basic back-country skills. For your own peace of mind, you might want to double-check that she is up to speed in the key areas that people tend to neglect:

  1. Basic navigation skills: the AT is a well-marked trail, but you still need to develop a sound grounding in navigation with map and compass. You may never need it but if you do it can be a life-safer - just a few years back there was a fatality when a lady missed the trail and become hopelessly lost. Too many people these days rely solely on their cellphone GPS. I was recently on a thread with some of the most experience thru-hikers on the planet, and all agreed that this is a terrible idea - she should be carrying map and compass and know how to use them. I recommend Lyle Brotherton's excellent Ultimate Navigation Manual as a resource, or she could do a course.

  2. The ability to deal with wet-cold: the AT is prone to some truly terrible weather, particularly in the White Mountains. There have been many incidents where people suffer from exposure and get into serious trouble. There's a skill to walking safely in bad weather in terms of equipment selection, management of pace, judging the conditions, selecting escape routes, erecting your shelter in a storm etc etc. There's no substitute for experience - encourage your mum to get out in bad weather over the winter to test her setup and gain confidence in her judgement. Obviously, this should be done in safe situations where it's easy to bail out. If there's a local mountaineering club she could hook up with them and learn from the old-timers.

  3. Walking ergonomics: very few people think about this. But there is a real skill to walking efficiently and without injury, especially up and down steep hills. And the AT is pretty much all steep hills! I learned much of what I know from watching the old guides in the Alps, but also from research and experimentation. Experienced walkers can quickly spot other seasoned hikers on the trail because they tend to walk more efficiently. It's too big a topic to go into here, but encourage her to research it, or go on a forum like BackpackingLight.com and ask for advice. On such a long walk this can make the difference between success and failure. Also, most people who carry walking poles have little idea how to use them - there's a technique and she should learn it. This helps preserve the knees of those of us past the first flush of youth...

So as I say, these are the skills that I feel aren't given enough attention by the typical newbie thru-hiker. I hope something here is helpful. I won't duplicate the topics that are covered well on YouTube except to repeat that as a newbie she should start slow and work up her mileage gradually. Many people start too fast, get injured or demoralised and have to bail. It's a marathon not a sprint - for the first 6 weeks or so she should stop well before she feels she needs to. She'll make up the time later on when she's trail-hardened.

So I wish her all the best - it should be a great adventure. And although I've highlighted the dangers, just hold onto the thought that the great, great majority of hikers come through the experience safe and sound, with their lives much enriched.


I suggest that you and your mother read Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. For a look into the book, including sections of text, see here. It also comes in an audio book and was made into a movie in 2015. Bryson hiked with a friend, and although he skipped many sections (i.e., did not complete the trail), he had a great experience. The book is a great read, informative and funny.

The reason I suggest this book is: your mother sounds as though she is relatively inexperienced for a trip as long as the Appalachian Trail. Backpacking for one week is hard, but backpacking for six months is not just a longer hike, but a qualitatively different hike. (A Snow Leopard is not just a bigger long-haired cat than a Persian, but a qualitatively different cat.) Bryson's book will put the trip in perspective in a way that no maps or hiking guides could. Naturally, your mother needs to study the maps and hiking guides, but she knows that.

The above paragraph is not meant to discourage your mother or to make you anxious. Your mother has an admirable goal, and I will be thrilled if you report back that she arrived at Mount Katahdin next fall -- a thru-hiker on her first try!

In addition, I will repeat my comment: your mother should: (1) take a Satellite Messenger or PLB; (2) observe bear precautions with food, but otherwise not worry about bears; (3) get at least some rudimentary medical knowledge (if she does not already); (4) arrange to talk with you and/or a friend at logical points along the way. (Once a day is too often (she needs to get away from it all) and probably impossible anyway.) If your mother opts for a satellite messenger, (4) is to some extent redundant with (1) as far as safety goes, but would be good for her mental health and yours.

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    I would also recomend the book Blind Courage and the movie, some how, there is not a wikipedia article, for Bill Irwin, the book or the movie. When it comes to difficulties on the trail, this guy hands down, has more challenges than any other full trail hiker. Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 17:33

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