Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take?
From five to seven months, depending on how fast you hike. The average is just under six months.
How can I avoid the crowds and still hike the entire Trail?
Hike southbound, or “flip-flop.” Increasingly, hikers are choosing to start somewhere in the middle of the Trail; they hike to Katahdin, then return to their starting point and hike south to finish their hike at Springer. On flip-flops such as that you'll find some fellow hikers (without the crowds), better terrain to begin with, and better weather.
Do I have to register?
No. There's no formal thru-hiking registration system. But, let friends and family know where you are, what your itinerary is, and your “Trail name.” The A.T. passes through numerous state and national parks, forests and public lands, a few of which require permits, fees, or reservations to stay overnight in shelters or campsites. In some cases, the reservation system is different for long-distance hikers. You need to acquire a backcountry permit for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in advance of arriving; northbound thru-hikers are encouraged to purchase a Great Smoky Mountains National Park AT backcountry permit just before leaving home.
Do I need to carry maps?
The Trail is well-marked, so many thru-hikers, who become skilled at following the blazes, try to get by without them. But, maps are quite useful for planning a thru-hike, and, in an emergency, are your best source of information on how to get off the Trail and find help.
How detailed should my plan be?
A detailed itinerary is not necessary for a successful thru-hike, but an outline of when you expect to reach specific milestones will be helpful to friends and family back home. Be mindful that they will worry if you do not check in on schedule.
What are my chances of finishing a thru-hike?
One in four thru-hikers report completions to ATC. Half make it to ATC Headquarters in Harpers Ferry, the “psychological half-way point” on the Trail. A variety of reasons cause hikers to leave the Trail before they intended: an injury, running out of money, family matters at home, or finding the experience was not what was anticipated.
How do I know if I’m ready?
The smartest thing you can do is to take a practice hike that includes at least two nights on terrain that approximates the part of the Trail you plan to start on. This will help you evaluate gear, physical conditioning, and mental readiness.
How much does it cost?
Most hikers spend $3,000 to $5,000 or more during the hike itself, and $1,000 to $2,000 or more for gear.
What will I need money for?
Aside from trail food, most of your money will be spent in town. Few thru-hikers can resist the temptation of restaurant food, motel beds, and hot showers after days of deprivation. You will also need money for supplies, laundry, postage, equipment repair, and equipment replacement. The more days you spend in town, the more money you will spend. There are also a few fees hikers will encounter along the Trail. An A.T. Thru-hiker permit in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park costs $20 and must be purchased in advance. Some overnight sites require fees, particularly in New England. These sites typically range from $5 to $10 a night, but there are usually alternate sites without fees available within a few miles. Hikers should be prepared to pay a campsite fee in Baxter State Park in Maine.
How many hikers have completed the entire A.T.?
More than 13,000 people have informed the ATC that they have hiked the entire Trail. This includes hikers who have completed the Trail over many years as well as those finishing in one trip.
How does the ATC define thru-hiking?
We don't. The ATC uses the term "2,000-miler" as a matter of tradition and convenience. ATC defines a "2,000-miler" as anyone who has hiked the entire Trail between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Katahdin in Maine. We don't consider issues such as the sequence, direction, speed or whether one carries a pack. We do expect that persons applying for inclusion in our 2,000-miler records have made an honest effort to walk the entire Trail.
How can I reach out to past thru-hikers to get tips and advice?
The ATC maintains lists of people who have completed hiking the entire A.T. (or large portions of it) recently. They are willing to share their experience and give advice. The lists themselves are not currently available online, but you may e-mail [email protected]
to request a copy. Available lists:
- Alternative Hikes - Flip-flop, leapfrog and other non-traditional hikes.
- Canadians - Hikers from Canada.
- Couples - Couples that hiked the Trail together—including honeymoon hikers.
- Diabetic Hikers - Includes insulin-dependent diabetics.
- Disabilities and Injuries - Hikers with heart disease, food allergies, scoliosis, kidney transplants and other physical conditions requiring special attention.
- Dogs - Hikers who hiked the Trail with their dogs.
- Early Starters - Primarily northbound hikers who began in January and February.
- General - Includes a selection of northbound, southbound, and flip-flop hikers.
- International - Currently includes hikers from Australia, England, Finland, Germany, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland, South Africa, Switzerland.
- Lightweight - Hikers with pack weights ranging from 12 - 30 lbs.
- Over 55 - Current age range on list: 55 - 77.
- Section Hikers - Most have hiked the entire Trail over a span of 10 - 20 years, some longer.
- Winter - Hikers with winter backpacking experience; primarily southbound and alternative thru-hikers.
- Southbound - Hikers traveling end-to-end from Maine to Georgia.
- Vegetarian/Special Diet - Vegetarians, vegans, and hikers who dehydrated their own food.
- Women - Current age range on list: 23-62.
Where can I get more information?
The ATC’s Ultimate Trail Store offers thru-hiking how-to books and videos and a number of memoirs. There are also intensive workshops that can be valuable information.
The Internet is a great place to connect with other hikers, both those who have completed the Trail in the past and can offer a wealth of “lessons learned,” or those who are planning a future trip. These Web sites are popular starting points for further explorations: