In 2003, David Miller, a software engineer, left his job, his family, and his friends to hike the entire 2,172 miles of the Appalachian Trail. He recounts his experiences--and provides plenty of thoughtful guidance for would-be hikers--in his book, AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, on sale today (AWOL was Miller's trail name during his time hiking the AT.)
According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, only about 9,000 people have hiked the complete distance of the AT, so Miller is one of an elite group. For anyone who's considering such a hike, we asked Miller to give us his thoughts on what essential items to take. Here, in no particular order, is his list of the top five items you might not think to pack for a long-distance trek (but will wish you had):
Scissors are better than a knife for common tasks like opening food packaging, cutting moleskin, or trimming your mustache. I carry the Leatherman Micra, which has a very functional pair of scissors and a knife blade.
The AT is known for rain, cold and for long walks through the "green tunnel." Yet every year, especially before the trees regain their leaves, hikers will get sunburned.
Hikers disagree about whether hiking uphill or downhill is more demanding, but they all agree that hiking with chaffed, burning skin is less tolerable than the ups and downs. Body Glide is another popular treatment.
Pack it in; pack it out... and remember to have something to pack it out in. A gallon-sized zippered bag usually suffices.
Backpack manufacturers have caught on, and many now offer packs with accessible pouches sewn onto the straps on their packs. If your pack doesn't have belt pouches, buy add-ons. Keep your camera in your belt pouch, and you'll take many more pictures than you would if your camera was in your pack. Also keep your spoon at the ready; you never know when your hiking partner might leave his food unattended.