The Appalachian Trail (A.T.) is formally known as the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Located in eastern United States, it is a marked hiking trail that spans the area between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine, running across 14 states. This seemingly endless trail is approximately 2,175 miles (3,500 km) long, and stretches through wilderness, towns, roads, and across rivers. While most people attempt to hike sections of the trail, a brave and ambitious few attempt the entire trail (termed thru-hiking) in one season. Appalachian trail camping allows one to connect with nature in all her splendor and revel in the great outdoors.
If you want to have a truly enjoyable hiking experience, and get the most out of your trail camping/hiking trip, you need to plan it well. Before setting out, you need know all the regulations and permits pertaining to the trail, and find out the latest updates about weather and safety considerations. You will need to find out how to get to the trail; which shuttle you can avail of, or alternately where to park. You will need to buy Appalachian trail maps, and if the trip is a long one, gather information about shelters and camping. Two items that are indispensable to Appalachian Trail hikers, are the 'Appalachian Trail Guide', containing accounts by thru-hikers, and the 'Official AT Databook', which has constantly updated information about trail mileages, water sources, road crossings, shelter locations, etc. Both are published by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC).
Shelters for Camping
If you are backpacking, you need to plan where and how you will spend the nights. If you want more flexibility in your schedule, and are happy to carry the extra weight, you could pitch a tent. While the ideal place to camp is near a shelter, you could also utilize one of the designated campsites that have flat, cleared places, and at times, tent platforms. In some parts of the trail, such as the southern Appalachians or the national forests of the Virginias, one is allowed to choose their own place to camp, but you have to be very careful about clearing up, as well as affecting the area as little as possible. One can do this by picking a site that does not appear to have been used, pitching the tent on dead leaves or grass, at a distance of at least seventy paces from water. Be careful not to tramp upon plants and seedlings. The ideal is to minimize human impact on the environment. Hikers are discouraged from lighting campfires for the negative ecological impact they have, and are requested to use a backpacking stove instead. If a campfire is a must, build one in an established fire ring and adhere to the fire restrictions of the trail.
Your other camping option lies in more than 250 backcountry shelters that exist along the trail. Most shelters are three walls, a wooden floor, and a metal/shingled roof. They are usually located in proximity to a creek or spring, and several have a privy close by. The shelters slowly fill up with hikers as they arrive. For this reason, it is advisable to carry a tent as backup, in case they are full at the time you reach. Shelters are built to provide for an individual hiker. Therefore, if you are in a large group that would occupy the entire shelter, you are advised to camp out instead. Shelters provide good protection in bad weather and a good opportunity for interaction. You should be aware that shelters located in heavy-use areas may need a permit, registration, and/or fees. Also, be prepared to encounter grime and rats in some of the shelters, which are the outcome of messy hikers who don't clean up.
When you hike the Appalachian Trail, it is critical to ensure that you follow the 'leave no traces' practice. Try not to trample vegetation or use up wood for fires. Do not litter, cut down trees, or vandalize any structure. It carries with it a responsibility towards the environment and towards others hiking the trail.