Prepare for Your Hike Like a Pro

Six Things Ridgerunners wish A.T. Hikers Knew

February 15, 2024

It is the early days of 2024, and many aspiring Appalachian Trail thru-hikers are preparing to take their first steps on their 2,100+ mile journey. For those attempting a northbound hike, flights to Atlanta may already be booked, gear may be purchased, tested, packed (and unpacked and repacked a few times). It is a heavy moment to stand on the precipice of such a long journey, one that has changed the lives of so many who have followed thousands of white blazes and made the trek from Georgia to Maine before. Taking those first steps into the unknown can be daunting, but this season’s Ridgerunners have shared their best tips and advice for hikers just starting out to help those who are about to embark on their adventure have the best start possible.

Meet this year’s Georgia and Great Smoky Mountains Ridgerunners! Pictured here from left to right: Sarah Adams (The ATC’s Regional Manager for Georgia and the Nantahala), Tonya (Georgia Ridgerunner), Chelsea (Georgia Ridgerunner), Moxie (Georgia Ridgerunner), Chris (Georgia Ridgerunner), Jamie (Great Smoky Mountains Ridgerunner), and Collin (Great Smoky Mountains Ridgerunner)

We asked six Ridgerunners in Georgia and the Great Smoky Mountains what they wish hikers knew before they hit the Trail. Because Ridgerunners walk sections of the A.T. for an entire season, assisting hikers, educating the public, and helping to care for and maintain the Trail, they are some of the most knowledgable people on how to have a safe, enjoyable A.T. journey. And while this time of year may be when many people are starting their northbound thru-hikes, the advice shared by this season’s Ridgerunners is certainly useful for anyone who plans to visit the Trail for any length of time.

Moxie: Go slow at first, and take your time. Overuse injuries are very common in Georgia as hikers go out too hard and fast. Not only will slowing down help lessen the strain on your body, Moxie also shares the ways that slowing down can help your mind and soul appreciate the experience. She advises, “Take your time and enjoy it!”

Tonya: It gets cold — yes, even in Georgia! Tonya lives in her RV full-time and is well-acquainted with the weather in the Southeast. During the winter months in Georgia, it regularly dips below freezing and can snow through April! Don’t assume that the southern sections of the Trail will be warm — always check the forecast and be prepared with the right gear for the conditions.

Smokies Ridgerunner, Collin, takes in the view near Woody Gap on the A.T. in Georgia. Dressing in layers helps you stay warm in the cold and allows you to shed layers as you warm up on your hike.

Chris: Chris echoes Tonya’s word of caution about the weather and recommends that hikers, “pay more attention to weather than pack weight.” He explains that sometimes by trying to keep pack weight down, hikers may be unprepared for some of the cold conditions that the Southeast can experience early in the year.

Collin: Collin’s advice reminds hikers to not forget about pack weight entirely. Her advice to hikers just starting out is to avoid bringing too much stuff. “There are opportunities to add gear or trade out gear as you go,” she adds. Having a lighter pack at the start will reduce the strain and stress on your body as begin your adventure.

Ridgerunners carry everything they need for the season in their packs when they are out on patrol. They can be a great resource for people on the Trail with questions about what gear is really essential, and what can be sent home.

Jamie: Jamie urges hikers just starting out to drink water, especially in the cold. Sometimes in the wintertime, we feel less thirsty, but it’s so important to drink water even (and especially) in the cold as hikers are just getting started.

Chelsea: Chelsea wishes new hikers thought more about the proper disposal of trash before they hit the Trail. Some hikers may believe that fire pits will burn up trash, but that is not the case. “They’re not magical portals,” she reminds us. Not only does leaving trash cause an unsightly mess for other visitors, it can also attract wildlife to campsites, causing human-wildlife conflicts.

Ridgerunners Moxie and Collin help to clean up a fire ring before rebuilding it for future A.T. hikers.

Because of the amount of time they spend on the Trail, and the in-depth training that Ridgerunners receive, they are a great source of knowledge for people who are heading out on the A.T. for a day, a week, or a thru-hike. Keep these tips in mind as you plan your next A.T. adventure to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable trip!