Appalachian Trail Thru Hike - Jersey Joe Alaya 2002
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Appalachian Trail Thru Hike FAQ's

1) What is the Appalachian Trail?
The Appalachian Trail is a 2,168 mile continuous footpath stretching from Springer Mountain in northern Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in northern Maine. The Appalachian Trail follows the Appalachian mountain chain, is mostly in the woods and tends to hit most major mountains.

2) What exactly is a "thru-hike"?
A "thru-hike" is when someone hikes the entire trail (2,168 miles) in a single year.

3) How long does it usually take to hike the whole Appalachian Trail?
On average it will take a thru-hiker 5-7 months to complete a thru hike.

4) How do thru hikers get their food along the way?
The trail frequently crosses roads and even passes through some towns. Hikers will head into towns along the way to resupply. Some hikers go to town grocery stores to resupply and some use mail drops. Mail drops are supply boxes filled with food and supplies that are sent to post offices in towns near the trail. Typically 5-7 days worth of food are carried between resupply points.

4) When do most thru-hikers begin their hike?
80% of thru-hikers start in Georgia and hike north to Maine. These hikers are called northbounders or NOBO's. They typically begin their hike in March or April after the colder weather in the south but before the warmer weather and bug season. Southbounders, hikers beginning in Maine and hiking to Georgia, typically begin in July after the cold snowy Maine winter and after the black flys are at their worst in Maine.

5) Do I need maps?
It is possible to hike the trail without maps and many people do. Many people just use a trail guide, popular ones are Wingfoot's Guidebook, The Thru-Hikers Companion, or Aldha's Guidebook. Maps however are very useful for planning and in an emergency, are your best source of information on how to get off the Trail and find help.

6) How many people have hiked the entire lenghth of the AT?
Approximately 5,000 people have hiked the whole trail. Somewhere between 1,500 - 2,000 hikers attempt to hike the AT each year, and about 12% (200 - 300) succeed.

7) What is section hiking?
Section hiking is hiking the trail over a longer period of time, usually 2 or more years.

8) What are "trail shelters"?
There are around 200 shelters along the AT that are spaced about a day's hike apart. The shelters are usually 3-sided, with an open front, a roof, and a raised platform (floor) for sleeping. There are also usually places to set up a tent and camp nearby. Most of them also have a water source nearby. They are used on a first come, first served basis. The smaller ones sleep 6 - 8 hikers; the larger ones can accommodate 18 - 25.

9) How much does it cost to hike the trail?
The trail is on public property, and there is no actual charge for hiking. However, there are minor charges for shelter use and camping in some areas, like in the White Mountains in NH. Most hikers spend an average of $1.00 - $2.50 per mile for food and town expenses. Without the cost of gear it is possible to hike the trail only spending money on your food ($600), but town services along the way are hard to pass up.

10) Where can I get additional information??
  • The Appalachian Trail Conference
  • Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association (ALDHA) - Free online companion booklet
  • WhiteBlaze - The Forums are very informative
  • TrailJournals - Great place to read other hiker journal entries

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