Five Inspiring Books About Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail

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The Appalachian Trail.

Claudia and me on a day hike on the AT in 2014
Claudia and me on a day hike on the AT in 2014

It’s the ultimate Summer adventure. Pack a bag, hit the trail and walk…keep on walking…and then walk some more. If you’ve got what it takes to complete the trail (around 80% drop out before the end) you’ll pass through no less than 14 states ascending the equivalent of 16 Everests.

The Appalachian Trail runs 2200 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine and a continuous hike of the whole thing or ‘thru-hike’ sits at the top of thousands of adventurous soul’s bucket lists, and rightly so.

Sadly, not everyone has the option of heading off into the hills for 6 months at the drop of a hat. Life has a habit of getting in the way of such expeditions.

Thankfully, countless hikers have paved the way before us, many of them documenting their treks in books and journals so we can vicariously follow in their footsteps.

Be warned! After reading these books, you wouldn’t be the first person to quit your job, buy a backpack and hit the Appalachian Trail.

A Walk In The Woods – Bill Bryson

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I first heard about the Appalachian Trail in a magazine article and was fascinated. I Googled it. This book was one of the first hits. I like Bill Bryson so I bought it. I loved it.

Like many others, this book was my first real introduction to the AT and I am thankful for that. Bryson’s AT story gets a lot of stick from some ‘thru-hiking purists’ for a number of reasons that aren’t worth going into.

For me, it is amusing, informative and very well written. It’s got a great mixture of stories, interesting facts and vivid descriptions and is littered with that trademark Bryson brand of humour.

Ignore the haters. If you haven’t read A Walk in the Woods already, grab a copy now – you won’t regret it.

AWOL on the Appalachian Trail – David Miller
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David ‘AWOL’ Miller is a bit of an Appalachian Trail Legend. He produces the most popular and comprehensive yearly data book for the AT, ‘The AT Guide’.

Forget the data guide until you actually get out on the trail. In the meantime, find out where it all began with ‘AWOL on the Appalachian Trail’.

This was the first proper AT trail-journal book that I read and it gave me a real sense of what life on a thru-hike must actually be like. There are reviews suggesting that this book is repetitive, and it is, but that’s no bad thing. This is a book about someone walking 2200 miles for goodness sake.

Miller gives a lot of detail and I loved hearing about each new person he met, what he ate, how the weather affected his walk and the severe bashing his feet received over miles and miles of trail – these are the important things that prospective thru-hikers need to know about.


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Gary Sizer became a bit of a trail celebrity when his before and after photos from his 2014 AT thru-hike went viral. I had seen the photos, but I read the book not realising it was the same guy. I really enjoyed the “Ohhhh it’s him!” moment when I put two and two together… but I enjoyed this story so much more.

The book is as much about the two close friends Sizer made on the trail as it is about his own hike and I loved the way that their relationship grew stronger with each chapter. I wanted to be part of their ‘trail-gang’.

Sizer also paints a vivid picture of some pretty grim health issues he suffered on the trail; a valuable lesson for anyone considering such an undertaking.

Lost on the Appalachian Trail – Kyle Rohrig
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A solid account of a hike well hiked. This book has everything you might hope for from a book about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail but with the added bonus of Katana, Kyle’s trail dog.

Katana is an adorable little Shiba Inu who Rohrig playfully refers to as the ‘CatFox’. As a dog lover, I enjoyed this extra layer to the story and it was a delight hearing about Katana’s adventures on the trail.

The author has a very active Facebook page that he regularly updates with photos and videos so you can follow along with his and Katana’s adventures. He recently completed a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Then The Hail Came – George Steffanos
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This is a special treat for getting to the end of the post. This is my favourite AT book of all time. Ok technically it is not a book, it’s someone’s trail journals from a 1983 thru-hike that they have uploaded to a delightfully retro website for anyone to read, completely free of charge.

I accidentally stumbled across ‘Then The Hail Came’ on Whiteblaze.net where someone has kindly turned the whole thing into a Kindle/ereader book for people to download.

Despite being over 30 years old, this lengthy tome feels like it could have been written yesterday. The author is honest, witty and likeable and you feel every up and down that he does on the trail.

Initially, Steffanos appears amusingly bitter and cynical but over time his love for the trail and obvious desire to be around other people shines through and he turns out to be “some sort of nice guy”.
There is so much to love about this trail journal. I particularly loved the author’s wild flights of fancy that he left in various shelter registers along the way.

I could write an entire blog post about how much I enjoyed this book. But don’t just take my word for it; this forum thread on Whiteblaze.net is full of hikers and dreamers singing its praises.

Just read it.

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