Types of Appalachian Trail Hikes: a how-to guide

It’s nearly springtime.

The larks are almost singing. The ravens are still croaking. The March and April snowstorms are quietly pretending they will never come (always be prepared, folks) and all around the country we are stirring in our homes and gathering our gear, or at least lying in bed and thinking about how nice it is to be warm. It is time! Whether we are thru-hiking or out for a day, walking a familiar section of the AT or figuring out our own version of the 14-state-challenge… The mountains are calling.

If this is the first time you’re setting out, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the number of resources available to you. Ten essentials? Twenty essentials? What about bears? Where do I poop? Am I carrying too much, or not enough? Is my gear light enough? Should I have trained more for this? People train for this? Oh lord I didn’t train. Will I die?

Have no fear. For you, I have trolled the interwebs and the murky shallows of my own experience, and assembled a list of hiking styles and the materials you will need to carry them off successfully. How will you experience the Appalachian Trail?

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Purple Asters, on a pond-shore along the AT in New Jersey

Day Hike: This sometimes involves small rucksacks to carry essentials like food or water, and maybe a set of hiking poles to take some of the weight off your knees. Comfortable footwear (sandals, shoes, or a broken-in pair of boots) are of paramount importance. You are not out for more than an afternoon, because if you were, you would need to be carrying a larger pack with more stuff in it, for the purposes of not dying.

Walk: Simple. A pleasant way to experience the trail. Good walking shoes can be helpful. Again, don’t forget your water. A walking stick (or hiking poles) may also be of service.

Run: Performed very quickly. Like a majestic and graceful deer. Everyone is in awe. Running is hard. We all know this. Kudos to you, running human. Kudos to you. Don’t forget your water.

Skip: A pastime for only the lightest of heart. Is joy overflowing your soul? Do you delight in sunshine and dance in the rain? Skipping can be a conduit towards greater happiness on the trail and in your life, and is also a really great cardio workout.

Stroll: Fancy a turn about the countryside? Strolling might be your calling. Poke at foliage with your walking stick, if you’ve got one. Time? We’ve got that too. Take a deep breath of that fresh, fresh air. You could live forever on this stuff. What a beautiful trail. What a beautiful life we live in. My, what a lovely week for an outing.

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A coral fungus; possibly Ramariopsis kunzei. A fungus with this type of branched structure is also called “clavarioid” by people who like science, Linnaeus, or anyone who wants to use a bigger word than coral.

Gambol: Think lambs. Small, fluffy, white lambs. Do you sometimes feel like the black sheep of your family? Gamboling across the sweet, sweet trailways might just be for you. Leaping off rocks, nibbling on tender green shoots, leaving woolly bits every which way like the best little ruminant there ever was. Or best large ruminant. Bighorn sheep are some of the most effective gambolers ever to gambol across the downs. And over mountains. And up cliffs, jiminy crickets, those cliffs are ginormous, how did they get up there, there aren’t even bighorn sheep in the Appalachians WHAT IS THAT THING.

Saunter: Only for those with the overconfidence, style, and stamina to pull it off.

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Maine. Incredible sauntering-grounds.

Swagger: Not for the meek or timid of heart. Like the saunter, but with an eyepatch and possibly an appropriate length of bunting.

Wander: Lost? Probably not. May be simply enjoying the view. All that is gold does not glitter, you know.

Meander: Lost? Probably. May be simply enjoying the view. All that…. This is not the path. Where is the path. Oh dear. This was a rabbit trail. This is wrong, all wrong, everything is wrong.

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Nooooo.

Palaver: Have trouble hearing the wind in the leaves because of all the air rushing past your vocal chords? Have no fear. You too, O Palaverer, are welcome.

Lollygag: Errybody needs a lollygag sometimes. Errybody. Don’t hate on the lollygag.

Stride: So fast. So glorious. So… many… green… blurs…. Such glory. Such purpose. Such speed. That’s you. Amazing, I say. Breathtaking. No breath left. Breathing is hard. Mountains. Breathless. Wow. Trees. Wow. Breathless.

Roll: Have never actually seen anyone roll down the trails. Would give a piece of bacon to anyone caught in the act. (Probably not. Bacon is precious. But we would all admire your commitment.)

Sleep: Sleep.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Find your style. Live it. Love it. Tell me about it below.

Sail is a long-distance hiker who finished her 2017-18 AT hike and kept on going. It took her three months to saunter along the AT/IAT in Maine this fall, because they have the best people (and potatoes). She also wrote most of this article in spring of 2018, while she was working to support her hedonistic lifestyle. She spends her time on trails meandering or gamboling up cliffs, cooking on a wood-burning stove, and picking up the small bits of wool she leaves behind her.

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