A Reader’s Guide to Thru Hike Prep

It’s getting to be that time of year again. You can feel it in the breeze. You can see it on the edges of the early turning trees. Fall is coming! And soon behind it will come winter. There is little else in the world that makes me more content than laying in a hammock with a good book and a cool breeze rustling through the bright Autumn leaves, save for maybe curling up with a similarly good book and sipping on hot tea as snow falls outside. It’s the best time of year to start stacking up some good books to read. If you are planning a thru hike (or simply love all things AT) here is a list of some of my favorite Appalachian Trail centered books to help inspire you to thru hike and prepare you to hike in numerous different ways!

(click on any book title or image for a link to the book!)

First thing, first: GET INSPIRED!

As a former thru hiker and big time book worm, I’ve read a pretty good amount of Appalachian Trail memoirs. I find these to be the most inspiring; reading about the high ands lows of someone’s experience makes you excited to face the same things in the future. You place yourself in their shoes and know that when you are on trail many similar situations will arise. It gets butterflies churning through your stomach to think about. Here are my top memoir suggestions:

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery


This is one of the more inspiring memoirs of an AT thru hike I have ever read. It is actually written as a biography of Emma Gatewood, who at age 67 set out for her first thru hike in 1955. This was also the first thru hike recorded by a woman on her own. Grandma Gatewood traveled light, wearing Keds tennis shoes and carrying a satchel over her arm with a little bit of food and clothing and a plastic shower curtain for shelter. She not only thru hiked the AT in ’55, but again in ’60 and even section hiked it in ’63. This woman’s life was an incredible one and well worth reading about!

A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson


This is by far the most popular memoir about the Appalachian Trail out there and has recently become even more popularized by the movie version released in 2015. Bill Bryson enlists an old buddy to take on the AT with him to satiate their need for adventure in life. The two quickly learn they have bitten off more than they can chew. The proceedings are hilarious but in no way an account of a true thru hike. The pair only makes it a short ways and then Bryson jumps up trail to get a better sense of the AT, but the character mapping is pretty on point for the AT. You just never know what you’re going to find around the next bend!

Just Passin’ Thru by Winton Porter


This one is about a pretty cool little place (we may be a bit biased) that nearly every single Northbound thru hiker sees during their time on trail. Standing at mile 31.7, on day 3 for most hikers, is a funky little place called Mountain Crossings. This neat place sits right on the AT, along a remote mountain highway, and offers a  bit of solace to new hikers getting used to the idea of a six month outdoor expedition. You meet the interesting characters who run the place and the even more interesting characters who choose to hike the AT. This is a much different Mountain Crossings than the one that exists today, but then again, some things never change!


After you’re pumped up on the stories of others and aching to go out and make your own, then you need to start getting ready to do just that! This next set of books will be a world of help preparing you for the trek ahead. Some focus on your gear, others on your route, and still others, on you yourself, the most important key to your success!

Trail Tested by Justin Lichter


Justin Lichter, aka, Trauma, has hiked over 35,000 miles of trail all over the world and besides being a beast among men, he is also a really nice guy! We don’t push his book just because he is a friend, but because it is the most comprehensive gear guide we have ever seen! Not to mention the best visual guide, as well. Trauma not only goes over all the different gear possibilities for backpacking and their uses, but also goes into wilderness survival, reading the weather, tips and tricks for hiking in different climates and a ton of other things you wouldn’t even think to ask but will be sure to find all in this one book! Did I mention the pictures?! He makes it so easy to grasp complicated aspects to explain by using ample visual aide. This is the one stop shop book for preparing you for the trail and all things backpacking!

Appalachian Trials by Zach Davis


This is the ONLY psychological and emotional guide I have ever seen to help guide you in thru hiking the AT and I absolutely encourage all prospective thru hikers to read this book just before setting out on trail! In fact, I am not sure how thru hiking and the Appalachian Trail got to be so popular before someone finally (thank goodness for the rest of us) thought to write this much needed book! You could have the best gear, the strongest body and perfect weather the whole time but none of these things will get you to Katahdin. Only you can do that! In Zach’s book, Appalachian Trials, he focuses on exactly that; all the many, exceedingly different and challenging trials you will face on the AT. He walks you through his own trials (and he had a fair amount of them, the poor guy) and goes over how he worked through them all. Besides being a super fun and enjoyable read, this also ended up saving me on my own thru hike. I followed his prompts in the book to safe guard myself against those tough days when quitting is easy. Zach encourages hikers make a series of lists, which will absolutely end up talking you out of quitting on a tough day if you take their creation seriously. DO IT! READ THIS BOOK AND DO IT!

AWOL’s Guide by David Miller


While this isn’t exactly a book you’d curl up and read cover to cover, it will be one you will wear out cover to cover. I always like encouraging people to buy their AT Guide early and review it, learn how to use it. Most importantly, don’t waste your time with other guides if you’re going to thru hike. This has everything you need and nothing you don’t. Purchase this book as soon as it is available for your thru hiking year and start familiarizing yourself with it. Start planning the first few days on trail or go on a small section hike to get the hang of using it. It is incredible that this book stays so up to date from year to year and the hard work of those who keep it up to date is a blessing to all AT hikers!

2 thoughts on “A Reader’s Guide to Thru Hike Prep

  1. Pingback: Holiday Gift Guide | Mountain Crossings at Neel Gap

  2. Pingback: New Year, New Thru Hike! | Mountain Crossings at Neel Gap

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