Completing the entire estimated 2,180 miles of the Appalachian Trail in one trip is a mammoth undertaking. Each year, thousands of hikers attempt a thru-hike; only about one in four make it all the way.
The number of people hiking the entire Trail has risen dramatically over the years. From 1936 to 1969, only 59 completions are recorded. In 1970, the numbers began to rise. Ten people completed the Trail in 1970, including Ed Garvey, whose thru-hike was well-publicized. The trend was further fueled by the release of Garvey's popular book, Appalachian Hiker: Adventure of a Lifetime. The term “2,000-miler” was coined in the late 1970s to help identify this growing group of hikers.
By 1980, the total number of 2,000-milers had increased more than ten-fold. The total had doubled by 1990 and again by 2000. More hike completions were reported for the year 2000 alone than in the first 40 years combined. The 10,000th hike completion was recorded in 2008.
| 1930s || 5 |
| 1940s || 3 |
| 1950s || 14 |
| 1960s || 37 |
| 1970s || 770 |
| 1980s || 1,422 |
| 1990s || 3,315 |
| 2000s || 5,890 |
| 2010s || 3,029 |
Women make up about 25% of the total hike completions reported.
International hikers from Australia, Austria, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Canada, Chile, The Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Guatemala, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, North Ireland, Norway, the Philippines, Romania, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Wales have reported completing the Trail.
Hikers of a wide range of ages have completed the A.T. While more than half of all thru-hikers are in their 20s, many people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s have thru-hiked the A.T. The number of thru-hikers in their 60s is fewer than 500, and only about 25 people age 70 and above have completed thru-hikes.One person was 81 when he completed his 5th hike of the entire A.T. Teens comprise about four percent of thru-hikers; a very small number of children have completed the A.T. with their parents. Section-hikers tend to be older, with a median age of 40. Their ages at the time of their hike completions have ranged from 15 to 86.
In 1936, ATC Chair Myron Avery became the first “2,000-miler,” which he accomplished primarily in the process of flagging and measuring the original A.T. route.
Five others reported completing the entire Trail between 1939 and 1946, including a 1939 completion by George W. Outerbridge, who now has a shelter named after him just south of Lehigh Gap, Pennsylvania, on the first stretch of Trail he completed in 1932.
First reported thru-hiker.
In 1948, Earl V. Shaffer became the first to report a thru-hike, walking the entire Trail from Georgia to Maine. He was a World War II veteran. Part of the reason he was drawn to hike the A.T. was to "walk the Army out of his system." He choose to start in Georgia so he could, as he said, "walk north with spring." In 1965, he hiked again—this time from Maine to Georgia. On his third thru-hike, 50 years after his first, he became the oldest thru-hiker at age 79, a distinction he held until 2004. His memoir about his first thru-hike, Walking With Spring, is still in print.
First female thru-hiker.
Mildred Norman is the earliest female thru-hiker on record, having reported a flip-flop hike in 1952. Under the name "Peace Pilgrim", Norman later walked over 25,000 miles throughout North America.
First solo female thru-hiker.
Emma Gatewood, better known as “Grandma Gatewood,” mother of 11 children and grandmother of 23, was 67 when she first hiked the Trail in 1955. In 1957, she completed her second thru-hike at age 69. In 1964, she became the first person to complete the A.T. three times when she finished a section-hike. She was famous for wearing only “Keds” tennis shoes and carrying a small knapsack.
Hikers with disabilities.
Although hiking the entire Appalachian Trail is a demanding endeavor for a person in the best physical condition and optimal health, hikers with a variety of disabilities have successfully completed the entire A.T. These include several blind hikers, an above-the-knee amputee, hikers with diabetes, and organ transplantees.