"Thru-hiking the AT is one of the best things I've ever done."
How I did it: I read a lot of stuff online to get an idea of what I was going up against and I did a 6 day section hike a year before I decided to do the whole thing. I saved up about $4,500 (although a bit more is preferable) for the trip.
The trail is a blast and there a so many neat people you meet out there. Injuries are a big reason people have to stop, so listen to your body and take rest days when you need to.
The other thing that causes people to quit is they get tired of hiking. After 1,300 miles or so the mental battle really kicks in. So if you want to finish in one push, I recommend you ensure you are committed to seeing it out to the end, and perhaps some mental preparation. And hey, if you don't do it in one push, no sweat, you'll have twice the fun or more.
Lessons & tips: To lessen the chance of injuries and cover more distance, spend a little extra on light equipment (including a light pack). People will tell you all the things you need, however, it's all about what you DONT need. Nothing beats aqua mirror for water treatment.
Consider carrying a light tarp instead of a tent. Hiking poles are a must--They save your knees, and believe me, you probably will have some knee issues, plus they help you hike faster.
Also, I would suggest resupplying in towns rather than sending mail drops. This way, you can carry less food, spend much less time planning, and change your eating habits to suit you. When I first started, I wanted to carry at least 5 days of food at a time, however, I came to realize that food weighs a lot and that I actually liked going into towns. So most of the time you need only carry 3-4 days of food, *depending on how fast you hike.
And finally, hike your own hike, don't worry about other hikers' "rules" for thru-hiking.
Resources: http://whiteblaze.net/ , water treatment: aqua mirror or REI pump, hiking poles (Target), shoes: Montrail trail runners
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