Book Review: Appalachian Trials by Zach Davis

I expect the only books I read between now and mid-March will be books about hiking the Appalachian Trail.  From poetically, descriptive tomes about nature and spiritual evolution to wonky missives centered around gear and mileage and locations of all you can eat pizza buffets within hitch-hiking distance of the trail.

It’s all good and I’m soaking it all in.

To wit, I’ve just finished Appalachian Trials:  A Psychological and Emotional Guide to Successfully Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail by Zach "Badger" Davis. 

With essentially no previous backpacking experience, he hiked north from Springer in 2011, after which he wrote the book and now a website by the same name. 

First the website....  One thing I love about it is there are multiple bloggers all sharing their experiences and stories of the trail.  It provides a lot of variety in terms of insight, opinions and ideas for what works and what doesn’t.

It’s interactive and community focused

Right now they are posting photos of the people who are finishing their hikes.  It’s photo after photo of people summiting Katahdin, arms raised in triumph (and stink).  It’s inspiring and quite moving.

Why am I an emotional basket case?

For some reason, y’all, the darnedest AT-related things are making me emotional right now.  Like those photos of finishers celebrating their victory on top of Mt. Katahdin brings tears to my eyes.

The first AT book I read, In Beauty May She Walk by Leslie Mass, left me blubbering through the first third of the book as she overcame obstacles and evolved into a seasoned, self-reliant, strong hiker.

I don’t know why I’m so emotional around this upcoming journey except that I know it’s exactly the way I need to be altering my life right now.  I may be scared shitless (crying tears of joy and anticipation alternating with mild hyperventilation at the thought of walking 2,000 miles), but I have no doubt at all that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.


I think part of the emotion is relief at being so sure.  

Because I haven’t been sure of my direction for the past seven years.

I’ve just been going through all the bait in my tackle box, putting it on the line and casting it into the water to see if anything (or anyone) bites.  

Worms.  Spinners.  Flies.  I've tried them all.

(No bites.)

Now I’ve finally decided to just do what makes my heart sing--walk in the woods, spend time in nature, challenge myself physically and mentally.  Be the nature girl I am at my core and just go wherever that leads.  

North to Maine.

Over lots of peaks and through lots of valleys.

I’ll just hike the best hike I can and tell about it here.

Hopefully, it will inspire someone else to give it a go and give them some information to get started.

That's all I can hope for right now and right now, that is enough.  It is so enough that it makes me want to cry.  Again.

But, I digress!  Back to the book.

Appalachian Trials is an information-packed little book designed to get you mentally prepared to handle the challenges and obstacles that will arise on your thru-hike.

Like all good coaches, Zach “Badger” Davis has you start with your why and what you expect to gain from your little jaunt. 

Make a list of all the reasons you are hiking the Appalachian Trail (and make sure you pack that list with the rest of your gear because you will want to pull it out when it’s 40 degrees and it’s been raining for three days and the shelter is still six miles away and sure to be full of snoring, farting old men.)

I’m also finding my list helpful to review when I start having doubts about whether or not I’ll even make it out of Georgia.  Here’s my list.  I’t’s printed out and hung in my gear room next to my Appalachian Trail map.




Badger covers things like

  • why people drop out (75% of would-be thru hikers drop out, BTW);
  • the social aspects of the trail (yes, it's crowded);
  • conquering obstacles and
  • how to handle the post-trail blues.

There’s a chapter on gear (because gear is an endlessly fascinating and debatable subject where everyone has an opinion).

And a Q&A session at the end with maybe a little TMI about jock itch, but, I get it.  He hangs with guys for whom this might be an issue.  And now I know why those dudes wear kilts.


In spite of the multiple, multiple typos and editing glitches in this book which drive my inner biblio-snob insane (note to self:  editing and proofreading your own book is NOT A GOOD IDEA), I would definitely recommend this book for pre-hike reading. 

Davis is a funny and perceptive writer and he sprinkles the book with engaging stories from his own thru-hike.  He drops the “F” bomb, but if you follow me, that shouldn’t bother you at all.

Hiking a long hike doesn’t get easier (according to everyone), but it doesn’t have to be an intolerable grind where the best thing to happen is that it ends.  

Going in prepared mentally may even trump physical preparation, and Davis offers a lot of wisdom on what to expect and how to make the best of your time in the woods. 

He wants you to enjoy every minute of it, even the hard parts.  And to end your hike without regrets.

Definitely get this book and highlight the wise bits that speak to you.

And if you want to know what spoke to me, click below to see my notes on Appalachian Trials.


Meanwhile, I’m curious…what Appalachian Trail books would you recommend and why?  Leave a comment below to let us know what you’ll be reading before your first, or next, long hike.

Happy Hiking, Y’all!