Mistakes I Made On My Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike

Mistakes I Made On My Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike

Last year, I took on the biggest challenge of my life, a thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail, a nearly 2,200 mile journey from Georgia to Maine.  Once I decided I was actually going to commit to it, I spent all of my free time practicing using my gear at home, setting up in the backyard, testing sleeping systems and cooking methods.  I read all the forums and watched YouTube videos of other thru-hikers experiences.  I’ve always had a love of learning, so it was natural for me to soak up as much information as possible before I left for Amicalola Falls State Park on March 15, 2022.  But no amount of research and planning could really prepare me for the grueling task ahead.  Thru-hiking is so unlike day-hiking and weekend backpacking; it really is a beast of its own!  Every day on trail, I learned a little more about what to do and what not to do.  I made changes to my gear along the way and got more tuned in to my body’s changing needs.  Through experience, mistakes, trial and error, the trail transformed me from a hiker to a thru-hiker.  I learned SO MUCH on my journey, and most of what I learned came from my own mistakes and mishaps.  Here are some mistakes I made on the Appalachian Trail during my thru-hike, and I hope you might learn something from them, too.

Appalachian trail thru-hiker finish photo
The proudest moment of my life, on top of Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail in Maine.


Not Testing My Footwear

Who knew that socks should be tested before wearing the same pair every day for 6 months?  Before my thru-hike, I generally wore cotton or wool socks while I was hiking and I never had any issues with wetness or blisters.  But I knew the A.T. would be rainy and wet, and that blisters would be painful and put me at risk of infection.  I was so afraid of getting blisters, that I researched all the best ways to prevent them.  I read that the best socks to wear were a combination of Injinji toe sock liners and Darn Tough wool hiking socks.  So, I packed my fears and wore them on my first day on the A.T., without actually testing the Injinji liners first.  It rained on my first two days on the trail, and guess what? I got HUGE blisters on my big toes… Turns out my feet did not like the Injinji socks at all! I refused to believe it was the socks causing the blisters, and I thought I just needed a different pair of shoes.  It wasn’t until I got to Franklin, NC, that the shoe pros at Outdoor 76 told me to just take the dang liners off.  They were right, I was wrong.  For the rest of my thru-hike, I just wore Darn Tough wool socks and never got another blister.


  • Tip: Test your footwear before starting your thru-hike.  Use what works best for YOU and be open to making changes if needed.


    Hiking in the mud on the Appalachian Trail
    This was day 1 on the A.T.  I should have tested my footwear in these kinds of conditions ahead of time.



    All of my research told me that I should pack warm socks just for sleeping at night.  I NEVER wear socks to bed normally, in fact, I usually get so hot while sleeping that I end up kicking most of the blankets off in the middle of the night.  But, I was afraid of freezing to death at night, so once again, I packed my fears.  Everyone said to pack sleeping socks, so they must be right!  I threw some big, thick, heavy wool socks in my pack to wear at night (along with two pairs of hiking socks, a pair of liners, and a pair of toe socks to wear in camp!).  And within a couple of nights, I was ripping those things off just to air out my feet while I slept.  I held on to my sleep socks for a while just in case, but never wore them.  I eventually sent home the sleep socks, the liner socks, and the toe socks I had packed for camp.  I kept two pairs of hiking socks- 1 for hiking every day (even when they got wet) and the other I kept dry to wear at camp.  Then on my last hiking day when I was headed to town, I would wear the 2nd pair of hiking socks.  


  • Tip: Pack for YOUR comfort, not what the internet tells you to do.  If your feet get cold, bring extra socks.  If not, you might not need them.  Again, test your gear ahead of time.

    Appalachian Trail backpacking gear
    It's easy to pack your fears.  Do your research, test your gear, and pack what works for YOU.

    Sleeping Arrangements

    When I was researching about the A.T., I read that there would be shelters every 5-10 miles.  I saw some pictures of the shelters, which are just basic wooden lean-tos with 3 walls, a floor, and a roof.  Everything I read said that the mice are terrible in the shelters.  I read horror stories about mice running over people’s faces and nesting in their hair and eating through their backpacks in the middle of the night.  Gross!  I certainly didn’t want to sleep with mice.  I also didn’t want to sleep with strangers, given the fact that I was starting the A.T. alone.  So I decided I would only sleep alone in my hammock every night, and my sleep system was designed for just that.  It wasn’t long into my thru-hike before I was wanting to hang out in the shelters with my friends or to get out of the rain, but I didn’t have a sleeping pad for the shelter floor.  By the time I got to the Smokies, I had started using my super thin foam sit pad to sleep on the shelter floors, which was cold and UNCOMFORTABLE.  After 500 miles, I changed my entire set-up and swapped from a hammock to a tent and inflatable sleeping pad.  After that, I spent quite a few nights in the shelters, mice be damned!  The ease of setting up in a shelter, getting out of storms and rain, and keeping my gear dry outweighed the downsides of snoring strangers and hungry critters. 


  • Tip: Make sure your sleeping arrangement can be flexible.  You may decide to sleep in shelters, cowboy camp, or even set up on the floor of a church basement.


    Appalachian Trail Shelter
    I stayed here one night, and the shelter protected me from wind, rain, and hail.  Shelters turned out to be really nice sometimes, despite the mice.



    Campsite Selection

    About a week into the A.T., my hiking partner and I decided to camp on top of Tray Mountain near a shelter.  There was a rock outcrop with an opening to beautiful views of the mountains below and a few trees nearby.  He set up his tent near the opening and I hung my hammock in the trees.  We spent a couple of hours sunbathing on the rocks, playing cards, and making dinner before heading to bed.  Little did I know, that night would end up being my WORST night on the entire trail.  Huge thunderstorms rolled in overnight, pummeling us with sideways needle rain for hours.  The winds were so strong, it ripped the stakes out from my hammock tarp and left it flapping in the wind.  All of my stuff, including my hammock and down sleeping bag got soaked.  Everything was wet and the temperatures dropped quickly.  We ended up huddling in his tent, which floated on a pool of water, for hours waiting out the storms while the rain blew into his tent from the exposed mountainside.  We wrapped in my mylar emergency blanket to stay warm and block the wind.  After about 4 hours of the nonstop monsoon, we packed up and hiked out.  It continued to pour for the rest of the day, and my pack was so excruciatingly heavy from the rainwater, I thought my poor legs would just give out from under me.  The mountains taught me a good lesson that night… check the weather before sleeping on an exposed ridge!  If bad weather is coming, set up camp at a lower elevation or get in a shelter for better wind and rain protection if you can.


  • Tip: Only camp on balds and open ridges when the weather is nice.  Check the weather before choosing your campsite!


    Camping on Tray Mountain
    Here's where we camped on Tray Mountain, a summit at 4,216 ft of elevation.
    View from Tray Mountain
    The view from our campsite on Tray Mountain.  It was beautiful! Until it wasn't...



    Getting Rid of My Pillow

    When I started the A.T., I had a nice little inflatable pillow.  But when I got to Damascus, I started sending home cold weather gear and other odds and ends to get my pack weight down.  I heard other hikers talk about using their clothes bag as their pillow, which seemed like a good idea to save some weight.  So I mailed my pillow home and then regretted it the first night!  I’m usually a side sleeper, so my clothes bag was never really enough support.  And it was lumpy, smelly, and uncomfortable.  I should have tested the clothes bag pillow method for a week on the trail before mailing my inflatable home.  There is nothing worse than a bad night of sleep on the trail, and multiple bad nights make the hiking ever more difficult.  I eventually borrowed (or stole) my hiking partner’s pillow and used that for the rest of the trip.  He was happy to lose a little pack weight, but I think he was jealous of my comfy headrest most nights.


  • Tip: If you want to change your gear during your hike, test it first!  Don’t send gear home until you’ve tried hiking without it first.


    Sunset cowboy camping on the Appalachian Trail
    Beautiful sunset while cowboy camping on an observation platform.  You can see my lumpy clothes bag pillow on the right.



    Sending Gear Ahead

    In my research, I had read a lot about sending home cold weather gear during the summer and getting it back in New Hampshire, when to send it home, and what to send home.  I sent home my cold weather clothing when I got to Damascus, VA, but I kept my down quilt.  It was a 20℉ quilt and it cost me a pretty penny, so I wasn’t about to buy a lighter weight one for the summertime.  When it got really hot in July, I spent most nights laying on top of my quilt sweating my ass off.  So I had the great idea to mail it to New Hampshire and bought a lightweight sleeping bag liner to use instead.  Unfortunately for me, as soon as I mailed it north, the nights got chilly again and I was left shivering all night in my liner.  A couple of times, I even wrapped myself in my emergency blanket to stay warm.  It worked, I was warm, but I was also sweaty and sounded like my dog’s crinkle toy every time I shifted in the night.  I needed my quilt, but there was no way for me to get it back until I hiked my happy ass up to New Hampshire where I sent it!  Lesson learned, again.


  • Tip: Keep your quilt / sleeping bag for the whole hike.  Or if you want to try a new sleep system, TEST IT first!

    Sleeping bag liner
    Suspenders, my hiking partner, testing out his new sleeping bag liner.


    Being Forgetful

    Town days are fun, but so busy!  You’ve got to shower, do laundry, resupply, eat, pick up mail, manage gear repairs, make phone calls, rest, and plan for the next hiking stretch.  I always felt rushed in town.  All I wanted to do was eat and rest, but I didn’t have enough time to do that and everything else.  And a couple of times, I left town and got back onto the trail only to find that I forgot something vitally important.  One time, I went to a grocery store to resupply and decided I should replace my water bottles because they were getting nasty.  So I tossed my bottles in the trash on the way into the store.  As I was heading to the check out, I kept saying to myself “water bottles, water bottles, water bottles, don’t forget water bottles!”  Then I got distracted by the king size Snickers at the checkout and completely forgot to buy water!  I realized my mistake after hitchhiking back out to the trail when I started hiking and had absolutely no water and no way to carry it.  Good thing my hiking partner was there and offered me one of his bottles to use for a few days.  Another time, I made an even more grave mistake.  I left my brand new block of cheese in the fridge at a hostel!  It sounds silly, but I was so looking forward to eating that extra sharp cheddar with my salami and tortillas, and I needed the calories!  And to make matters worse, the cheese wasn’t just for me.  I was supposed to be sharing it with my hiking partner… I heard about that one for daaays.


  • Tip: Make a list and check it twice.  Make sure you’ve got EVERYTHING when you leave town!

    Thru-hiker food on the Appalachian Trail
    When you forget your cheese in town and have to eat peanut butter and jelly with salami.  



    Too Many Miles

    Everything I read and everyone I talked to told me to start small with my mileage and gradually increase.  They said not to do more than 8-12 miles per day.  More than that and you’re putting yourself at risk of overuse injuries.  I knew this and I’d heard it a million times, but it was still so hard to follow that piece of advice!  The trail was challenging, but it was exciting, too.  I was making new friends and always trying to keep up.  I often got to camp and feeling pretty good, I thought, “I can do a few more miles.”  Sure, I could do a few more, but should I have?  Probably not.  Most of my early days on the A.T., I stuck to 8-10 miles, but I put in a few 15 mile days way too soon.  I ended up getting a bad case of tendonitis in my left knee and then my right Achilles by the time I made it to Tennessee.  My body wasn’t used to climbing mountains, I pushed myself too hard, and I ended up paying for it.  Those injuries caused me a lot of pain and forced me to slow down significantly.  I’m still paying for it today, over a year after I began my thru-hike, with some residual pain in my left knee.  If I had stuck with lower miles, I could have gradually built up the strength in my legs and possibly avoided those injuries all together.

  • Tip: Listen to your body, and keep your miles low in the beginning.  Don’t overdo it!
  • Franklin, NC on the Appalachian Trail
    Made it to Franklin, NC, an awesome hiker town, and my body was already killing me!  Thankfully, the owner of Outdoor 76 (a really great outfitter in town) reminded me to slow down and listen to my body.

    Those are just a few of the mistakes I made during my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail; I know there are a lot more!  I hope some of my mishaps can help inform and inspire future hikers like yourself, whether you’re planning a thru-hike, a section hike, or a weekend getaway.  Happy Hiking!

    Back to blog

    1 comment

    Thanks for posting this. Appreciate the points you make.


    Leave a comment