Each year, a couple thousand people start their thru-hike at Springer Mountain, Georgia and start hiking north. A smaller number, often in the hundreds, begin at Mt. Katahdin, Maine and start hiking south.
There are of course many gear choices and preparations required for thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail no matter which direction you decide to hike, but hiking southbound does present unique terrain and conditions at the start of the trail for which you’ll need to be prepared. I successfully thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail southbound from Maine to Georgia, and I discovered first hand some of the gear you must have for the first few hundred miles beginning in Maine. Sometimes I discovered I didn’t have the gear and suffered the consequences, but I was sure to pick it up as I went along.
Here is a list of 7 must-have items I recommend for starting the Appalachian Trail southbound thru-hike, and specifically for hiking the notorious 100 Mile Wilderness.
1. Bug Spray (100% DEET) – When you start the southbound thru-hike of the Appalachain Trail, you will spend your first week or so in the notorious 100 Mile Wilderness. Chances are you’ll be starting your hike somewhere around June 1 during the summer, which means the forest floor of the 100 Mile Wilderness will likely be soggy and full of mosquitoes and black flies. Much of the 100 Mile Wilderness traverses swamp land, and I found that that the bugs can be absolutely merciless in these lowlands.
When I was hiking in Maine, I met a grown rutas de senderismo man crying in the woods. The bugs were so pestering and painful that he simply wasn’t having any fun and wanted to get the heck out. This guy was a little south of 100 Mile Wilderness when I met him and was looking for a way out of the woods. But guess what, there aren’t many exits in the 100 Mile Wilderness, so escape isn’t often an option. I managed in part because of my 100% DEET bug spray. Sure the spray took the paint of my watch, but it kept the bugs away as well. DEET has it’s pros and cons, so determine for yourself if you want to risk the health effects of DEET.
2. Baseball Cap, Head Net, and Light Gloves – I can’t underestimate how bad the bugs really can be in Maine. Unless you happen to be reading this post in a canoe in the steamy backwoods of the Louisiana bogs, you likely can’t imaging just how bad the mosquitoes can be in Maine. They are maddening. And with so few southbound hikers in the 100 Mile Wilderness in June, there aren’t a whole lot of people for mosquitoes to pester. If they find you, they will follow you for miles.
In these situations, you’ll be glad to have a head net to cover your face. Be sure to wear the head net over a ball cap so you have some space between your face and the mesh, otherwise it’s useless as mosquitoes and black flies will find your skin.
Also, gloves. Gloves? You think I’m crazy right. Who needs gloves in June? I didn’t have gloves at the start of my hike. I wore thick socks over my hands to keep the bugs from ravaging my fleshy hands. Take a pair of lightweight gloves that will keep the mosquitoes and blackflies off your knuckles.