Preparing for a Day Hike
Before you go
Permits, fees and regulations. Fortunately, on a day-hike there usually isn’t too much to worry about. Walking on the A.T. itself is free, but in a few places it passes through other areas that require entrance fees. Shenandoah National Park in Virginia does have a substantial entrance fee (but fee-free days each year are listed online, and the fee is per vehicle). Some state parks where you might choose to access the A.T. may have entrance fees of a few dollars.
Leave No Trace Backcountry Ethics. Hiking sustainably and minimizing your impact on the land starts before you even leave the house. The first principle of Leave No Trace is “Plan Ahead and Prepare.” The fact that you are researching your hike before you hit the trail shows your starting out on the right foot already. Follow the tips below and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a Leave No Trace hiker!
What do I need to bring?
Use the following checklist to make sure your daypack is packed with everything you’ll need:
- Day pack (a bookbag with wide straps – not strings – is fine)
- Water (at least 1 liter per person, 2-3 if your hike is long or it’s hot). It’s always good to carry more than you think you need. If you have extra you might just be able to help out someone else.
- Map and compass
- Sunscreen and sunglasses
- Insect repellent
- Trowel, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and zip-lock bag
- Small trash bag or large zip-lock
- Warm layers of synthetic or wool clothing and a hat (depending on season/location/elevation)
- Cell phone (keep it off or on “airplane mode” to conserve battery life; on a longer hike consider a battery pack and charger), and a zip-lock bag to keep it dry. In cold weather, keep your phone in a pocket close to your body.
- Rain jacket, poncho, (or large trash bag in a pinch)
- First aid kit – include bandages, aspirin, fine-tipped tweezers, gloves, blister treatment, and any personal medications
- Hiking stick or trekking poles (optional)
- Flashlight or headlamp (just in case on a longer hike!)
- During hunting season, wear a fluorescent or “blaze” orange hat or jacket.
What should I do before I leave home ?
- Charge your cell phone.
- Check the weather forecast. Use a site like www.atweather.org that provides forecasts at the higher elevations you will be hiking. Postpone your hike if extreme temperatures or lightning and thunderstorms are forecast.
- Check for alerts at wildeast.appalachiantrail.org/trail-updates/ and local websites
- Let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be back.
- Hydrate before you start the hike.
- Have a snack for energy, but don’t hike on a full stomach, especially a hike that starts out uphill.
- Remove valuables from your vehicle and leave them at home. If you have to leave something of value in your vehicle, stow it in the trunk before you arrive at the trailhead. (Vandalism is infrequent, but there’s no point in taking unnecessary risks).