Matthew O’Neil of Toronto is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys tackling more difficult terrain when hiking. In the following article, Matthew O’Neil discusses how individuals can train and prepare to take on an Appalachian thru-hike – completing over 2,000 miles of rugged terrain and finding peace, solitude, and accomplishment in nature.
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail (otherwise known as the Appalachian Trail or AT) is a 2,184-mile-long marked hiking path that extends from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. It’s the adventure of a lifetime, but statistics show that only roughly 20% of thru-hikers finish the colossal challenge.
Matthew O’Neil of Toronto says that those included in the 20% have detailed their training and preparation suggestions so other “2000-milers” stand a chance of achieving the phenomenal AT feat.
Matthew O’Neil of Toronto on Regimens
Matthew O’Neil notes that a survey on Appalachian Trail thru-hikers confirmed that individuals who began with a better fitness level, lower weight, and lower body-fat percentage were more likely to be successful. “Hiking themselves into shape” isn’t an option when tackling a monster challenge such as the AT.
Those who are well-versed in extended hiking encourage beginners to start training plans at least six months before the hike to increase the odds of finishing, decrease injury risks, and boost enjoyment.
The question is, how do such individuals train for the mammoth task? Matthew O’Neil of Toronto explains that the best way is to combine strength and aerobic exercises for overall health and fitness.
Experts state that going on frequent shorter hikes and taking part in various other aerobic activities like running, swimming, or cycling builds a great aerobic foundation and confidence to tackle the elevation.
Matthew O’Neil explains that prospective 2000-milers should pick a minimum number of days per week to prepare for their goal and stick to it. Well-established hikers suggest starting with three or four days per week of aerobic training, adding another day as their fitness levels increase.
Distances and time spent on cardiovascular training should be enough to fatigue the body but not exhaust it. Gradually increasing training volumes reduces injury risks and prepares the body for the five-to-seven-month-long (or longer) hike along the mountains.
Matthew O’Neil of Toronto says that targeted resistance training is a thru-hiker’s best friend, assuring their bodies manage the physical stress of on-trail life. Lunges, squats, and planks fortify muscles, bones, and connective tissue while considerably improving movement efficiency.
Trail experts have put together an AT-specific resistance training regime to help hopeful hikers prepare for the challenge. This can be done before shorter hikes or as a complete workout, starting twice per week with 48 hours of rest between each resistance session.
Following a five-to-ten-minute warm-up, individuals should perform these exercises with dumbbells or sandbags:
- Traveling lunges
- Hip hinging
- Step-ups with rotation and hip flexion
- Step back low row
- Side plank raises
- Push up with one arm row
Matthew O’Neil suggests that after completing the exercises, consider spending time thoroughly stretching the entire body to decrease recovery time and prepare themselves for the next workout.
Think of the Feet
Human feet aren’t like they used to be. Like the rest of the body, they need sufficient preparation to ensure they stand the AT test.
Prospective thru-hikers should condition their soles by utilizing lightweight shoes on longer excursions and strengthen their ankles by using a balance board twice (or more) per week.
Many well-established hikers also soak their feet in strong tea or benzoin to toughen the skin a few weeks before their treks. A tiny blister can ruin the entire challenge.
It Requires Mental Preparation Too
Naturally, thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail isn’t a challenge to be taken lightly. It’s an often-grueling (yet rewarding) months-long journey. Thus, it requires mental preparation alongside the physical to decrease the likelihood of calling it quits when the trek gets tough, weather changes, and you’re just exhausted.
Attitude is an important part of the process, whether people are just starting out or are heading to the AT tomorrow. Matthew O’Neil says that from the first weeks of planning to the last moments on the trail, open-mindedness and resilience are crucial.
Pack Before Heading Off
Physical and mental preparation are ultra-important. But gear and food are equally crucial to ensuring individuals survive the exciting yet daunting journey.
The absolute necessities needed to hike the Appalachian Trail, include:
- Guidebook or map
- Blaze orange vest or hat
- Quick-dry clothing and shoes
- Warm clothing
- Chemical purifier or water filter
- Garbage bag
- Body glide/Vaseline
- Mylar blanket
Matthew O’Neil reports that having a lightweight backpack helps hikers travel faster, longer, and more comfortably. Thus, those tackling the AT should take care not to pack more than 20% of their body weight, including food and water.
Attempting the Appalachian challenge is a daunting feat that requires meticulous planning, physical and mental endurance, and a strong sense of determination and willpower. By following the necessary preparations discussed in this article, including researching the trail conditions, hikers can increase their chances of successfully completing a thru-hike.
However, it is important to remember that unforeseen challenges may arise, and flexibility and adaptability are critical qualities for any hiker, no matter the length of the trek. With careful planning and a resilient attitude, anyone can become a 2000-miler. What an incredibly rewarding and transformative experience!