An Appalachian Trail Backpacker’s Code


Photo courtesy Jim Dollar @ Flickr

Photo courtesy Jim Dollar @ Flickr

Daniel Wood left journals from hikes he had taken. Among those pages I discovered this document. I testify it was written by him. He requested whoever discovered it would post it online for all Appalachian Trail hikers and backpackers.

A Backpacker’s Code

I realize that choosing to hike this trail is a fulfilling, but serious endeavor. In setting foot here, I choose to be responsible not just for myself, but for those I meet on the trail. While I may never find myself in such a situation, I owe it to myself and others to hike responsibly and stand ready to help another backpacker should the situation arise.

I realize that I am to be responsible to myself first, and self-reliant to the extent of my backpacking and camping skills. If I do not have the basic skills of the art I will seek out seminars and workshops where I can learn how to hike and backpack properly. I will not simply stuff and shoulder a pack and lumber into the unknown.

I realize that the trail is a much-loved but much used space, and that I am a steward of it when I hike it, as well as before and afterward. I will not litter. I will not leave trash in fire pits. I will sweep clean all shelters I use, before and after. I will leave things better than I found them. I will respect trees and not engage in cutting or harvesting living trees for firewood.

Though celebration of the journey with others hikers is a wonderful part of the hiking experience, I realize the AT is not “party central.” Reckless behavior, selfishness, drunkenness, and drug use are not part of the trail. I will be mindful of how I would feel if I came across a hiker in distress on the trail and wasn’t ready or able to help them out because of my own incapacity. It is irresponsible and foolish. A clear head on the trail at all times shows good judgement and shows me to be a mature, experienced backpacker who is able to care for others along the way. As a result I will find greater enjoyment and respect on the trail.

As a long distance hiker I know where I am going. I don’t simply show up at a trailhead expecting to wander like an aimless nomad. I know the trial, how long it is, what rules and regulations (federal, state, and local) are to be followed. I study maps and guides. I know the terrain I will encounter and the weather concerns. I am ready to deal with snow, ice, blistering heat. I know what risks are genuine as well as the dangers (e.g., it is not bears and snakes). I understand the meaning of the word hypothermia and recognize if I were about to fall victim to this killer.

Photo courtesy Nicholas A. Tonelli @ Flickr

Photo courtesy Nicholas A. Tonelli @ Flickr

I know that the trail is more overcrowded than ever. My trip will factor in this knowledge and, if needed, I will choose an alternate route for my hike, or a different season. I will avoid hiking with a large group, which takes a toll on the trail and results in packed campsites and shelters. I will not camp on land or in areas where laws forbid. I will especially avoid stealth camping in ecologically sensitive areas.

I will practice rigorous hygiene as much as possible, realizing that outbreaks of gastrointestinal diseases or norovirus spoil the journey for everyone. I will wash my hands often and keep my cooking gear clean and dry. I will carry and use hand sanitizer. I will use proper sanitation methods for my private toilet.

Before I leave home I will make sure I have the proper gear and know how to use it. I will know how to use a map and compass and will not rely on a cell phone or GPS while on the trail. I will not cavalierly place myself in dangerous circumstances which might require my rescue and put first responders at risk.

Photo courtesy Ben Townsend @ Flickr

Photo courtesy Ben Townsend @ Flickr

I realize that when I take on the choice to hike the trail I immediately become an ambassador and trail steward. Other backpackers, hiker, day-hikers, and the general public I meed will judge not just myself but the entire hiking community by my example.

I realize, lastly, that in passing along the trail I leave a legacy of behavior and reputation. Townsfolk and hostel owners will remember most the hiker and backpackers who were best behaved. I know that my stay at a hotel, motel, campsite or hostel will determine whether or not hikers behind me are welcomed or sent packing. I will be on my best behavior at all times.

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