In my 15 years of preparation to hike this trail, I have consumed dozens of books, YouTube channels, and blogs sharing the personal journey to be found on the AT. Some were great, some not so much (hint, avoid Morris the Cat’s trilogy). But for anyone interested in this adventure (whether to hike or understand why others like me do), I would recommend the below 3 books as early must-reads.
- Take a Thru-Hike by Jessica “Dixie” Mills. Dixie’s book is the best I’ve come across to prepare a novice hiker for the AT, though it is also nice for those more experienced as well. She keeps it short and sweet to walk through every preparation stage before getting on the trail – what to bring, why to bring it, how to prepare physically/emotionally/financially, what worked for her and didn’t, etc. The eBook also includes links to her YouTube channel with videos supporting each chapter for additional visual support as well. It’s a short read (and cheap), and should be the first book any hiker reads when they sit down to begin prep.
- AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David “AWOL” Miller. Not to be confused with his AT Guide, which is now the most popular guide for on-the-trail navigation, this book was AWOL’s first publication chronicling his trip. I recommend it because it is a no-nonsense, no-drama, detailed daily account of all 2,190 miles. AWOL does a great job of walking you through each section of the trail, culture, people, and towns that will give you the best understanding of what to expect along the way. It does not focus much preparation (though does do some), nor his personal emotional state throughout (but again, some) – and instead provides realistic expectations for a hiker to anticipate as they progress North each day.
- A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. Everyone is probably familiar with Bryson’s book, but it’s an important read for a few reasons. First, it’s the opposite of AWOL’s book … highly emotional, dramatic, and focused on telling an entertaining story. Since this hike is about so many things, it’s great to also read a fun and popular version (which may also represent the only reference your family and friends know). It is relatable, comical, and a page-turner to the end. Second … spoiler alert… Bryson doesn’t finish. All the build up, anticipation, and excitement fizzles out just like it will for 75% of thru-hikers each year. It’s important to know why even the best-prepared hikers leave the trail early, and this is a good reminder. The Robert Redford movie was also decent.
There are hundreds of other stories out there and no way to read them all, but the goal of this blog is simply to synthesize my years of prep into short and succinct bits of knowledge to help explain how I got here – so those are my 3 recommendations.
Now, I also subscribe to many venues for new information and am always asking for more recommendations – personally, I could read a thousand more stories and still be intrigued by each one because of the unique personal journey each hiker goes through. And I have a few youtube channels and blogs I like in my Links page worth checking out as well, but the most important advice I can share is to encourage you to find biographies of people similar to you in personality/experience/emotional state/etc. which will share a story you can most closely relate to. A longer list of recommended reads with detailed descriptions can be found here from The Trek – and below may be a few reasons to read what they suggest:
- Female hikers may like Becoming Odyssa or Barefoot Sisters Southbound
- Retirees may like Grandma Gateway’s Walk (the historian in me also loved this as a great detailed history).
- Ex-military may like Walkin’ on the Happy Side of Misery
- Married couples may like Solemates
- And experienced hikers may just like finding a blog or vlog to follow along with! (my favorite)
Lastly, I’m always open to other people’s recommendations, so feel free to leave any additional suggestions in the comments below. Hello Neiman!