• AT Hiking Rates, Section by Section

    AT Hiking Rates, Section by Section
    (updated in February 2011)

    by map man (Steve Shuman)



    I often see anecdotal estimates of how long it takes to hike various sections of the AT, sometimes as miles per day estimates and sometimes as proportions (someone might say, "allow three days to hike in the White Mountains a distance that had taken two on other parts of the trail"), but since the advent of Trailjournals.com we now have access to hundreds of detailed accounts of AT thru-hikes, and since I'm a numbers nerd from way back I decided to see if I could verify with real numbers just how long the typical Thorough Journal Keeper (I'll call them TJKs from now on) takes to hike the AT and various sections within the AT.

    So I went through many, many journals day by day for the 2001 thru 2010 hiking seasons and ended up with a group of 240 TJKs who did such a precise job of documenting not only when they started and stopped their thru-hike and when they passed certain relevant landmarks along the way, but even accounted for when and where they took their "zero days."

    This study is limited to north bound thru-hikers (NOBOs) who completed their hike in one hiking season and passed ten section defining landmarks along the way in south to north chronological order (though the study does include hikers taking occasional SOBO dayhikes within sections). The sample sizes would not be large enough yet for me to make a meaningful study of SOBOs or flip-floppers, but someday I would like to replicate this study for SOBOs.

    The section defining landmarks I chose either have psychological significance (Harpers Ferry is an example of this -- it's often called the psychological half-way point) or mark a change in topography that can influence hiking rates (the Glencliff to Gorham section is an example of this). The points I chose are: Georgia Border, Fontana NC, Damascus VA, Waynesboro VA, Harpers Ferry WV, Delaware Water Gap (DWG) PA, Kent CT, Glencliff NH, Gorham NH and Stratton ME. Combined with Springer and Katahdin they mark off eleven distinct sections.

    The study includes 7 NOBOs from the class of 2001, 17 from 2002, 24 from 2003, 33 from 2004, 24 from 2005, 38 from 2006, 30 from 2007, 25 from 2008, 25 from 2009 and 17 from 2010 (these were the only journals from these years detailed enough for this study). This is how the journal keepers broke down by gender: 165 were male, 42 were female, 31 journals were for a male and female hiking together, 1 was for two females hiking together and 1 was for two males hiking together (I count each journal as one hike for this study even if it is for multiple people). When calculating the distances between my landmark points I was aware that these distances sometimes changed slightly from year to year as the trail changes, so with the help of the AT Data Books for various years I calculated a weighted average for the distance of each section based on how many hikers were in the study for a given year.

    The result of all this journal reading and number calculating is a DESCRIPTIVE study of a certain thru-hiking population (NOBO thorough journal keepers) and may or may not be representative of all thru-hikers (though I hope it's pretty close). This study is in no way meant to be a PRESCRIPTIVE analysis of how people OUGHT to hike the AT.

    So with that said, let's get to the good stuff. Table 1 shows the average (mean) number of days it took these TJKs to hike each section. The first number is the days for that section, the second number is the running total for the hike, and the median number of days to hike each section is listed after the description of that section (The mean number of days for these TJKs to thru-hike was 168.8 while the median number was 171.):


    TABLE 1 -- Days to Complete Various Sections

    DAYS ~~~ TOTAL DAYS ~~ SECTION
    8.0 days..........(8.0)............Springer to Georgia Border (7.7 days)
    7.9 days.........(15.9)...........Georgia Border to Fontana (7.7 days)
    24.4 days.......(40.3)...........Fontana to Damascus (24 days)
    28.7 days.......(69.0)...........Damascus to Waynesboro (28 days)
    11.2 days.......(80.2)...........Waynesboro to Harpers Ferry (11 days)
    19.2 days.......(99.3)...........Harpers Ferry to DWG (19 days)
    12.6 days......(111.9)...........DWG to Kent (12 days)
    23.5 days......(135.4)...........Kent to Glencliff (23.2 days)
    9.7 days........(145.1)..........Glencliff to Gorham (10 days)
    9.9 days........(155.0)..........Gorham to Stratton (9.85 days)
    13.7 days...... (168.8)..........Stratton to Katahdin (13.6 days)


    When I started this study I was not going to try to figure out how many zero days were being taken but it quickly became apparent that some sections were a lot more prone to hikers taking zero days than others. This would in turn have an effect on how long it took to hike each section and might provide somewhat misleading numbers when calculating miles per day for the average TJK in any given section. Did a section take a longer time to hike solely because of difficulty or were many tempting places to take zero days in the section also playing a role? By figuring out how many zero days were taken in each section both Miles Per Day (MPD) and Miles Per Hiking Day (MPHD) could be calculated. When stripping out the zero days from the calculations, Table 2 shows a remarkably smooth linear progression in the number of miles covered in the first four sections of the trail as TJKs gradually increased the number of miles hiked per day (in the Miles Per Hiking Day calculation). The table also shows that thru-hikers were slowed down by the rugged terrain of the White Mountains and western Maine, though perhaps not quite as much as legend suggests. The first number in this table is MPD (Miles Per Day) and the second number is MPHD (Miles Per Hiking Day). The weighted distances for each section follow the section description:


    TABLE 2 -- Miles Per Day and Miles Per Hiking Day

    MPD ~~~~~~~ MPHD ~~~~~~ SECTION
    9.4 miles..........(10.1 miles).........Springer to Georgia Border (75.6 miles)
    11.2 miles........(12.0 miles).........Georgia Border to Fontana (87.5 miles)
    12.2 miles........(14.0 miles).........Fontana to Damascus (297.1 miles)
    13.4 miles........(15.9 miles).........Damascus to Waynesboro (388.6 miles)
    14.4 miles........(16.8 miles).........Waynesboro to Harpers Ferry (161.1 miles)
    13.9 miles........(16.8 miles).........Harpers Ferry to DWG (270.3 miles)
    13.9 miles........(16.1 miles).........DWG to Kent (172.4 miles)
    14.0 miles........(15.5 miles).........Kent to Glencliff (323.8 miles)
    10.5 miles........(11.4 miles).........Glencliff to Gorham (100.6 miles)
    11.1 miles........(12.5 miles).........Gorham to Stratton (110.1 miles)
    13.6 miles........(14.7 miles).........Stratton to Katahdin (187.9 miles)
    12.9 miles........(14.7 miles).........The entire AT (2175.0 miles)


    Here's the distribution of hikers grouped by the month they left Springer and the month they reached Katahdin:

    2 hikers in this study left Springer in January
    30 in February
    144 in March (60%)
    57 in April
    7 in May

    4 arrived at Katahdin in June
    35 in July
    52 in August
    113 in September (47%)
    36 in October

    The first date in Table 3 is the median date each point was reached by the TJKs (same number of hikers arriving after this moment as before) and the second date is the mean date:


    TABLE 3 -- Date Landmarks Were Reached

    MEDIAN DAY ~~ MEAN DAY ~~~ LANDMARK
    March 17............March 20...........Springer
    March 25............March 28...........Georgia Border
    April 1................April 5...............Fontana
    April 28..............April 29..............Damascus
    May 29..............May 28..............Waynesboro
    June 9...............June 8...............Harpers Ferry
    June 29.............June 27..............DWG
    July 12..............July 10...............Kent
    Aug. 5...............Aug. 2...............Glencliff
    Aug. 15.............Aug. 12..............Gorham
    Aug. 26.............Aug. 22..............Stratton
    Sept. 9..............Sept. 4..............Katahdin!


    Of course no single hiker is "typical" and people will vary in their own ways from the 168.8 days (about five and a half months) it took these TJKs to get to Katahdin. But I think it can be useful to see the rate of progress these TJK thru-hikers have experienced on their way there for planning purposes. One thing I discovered is that if a group of hikers in this study taking four months to thru-hike takes 20% less time to get there than a group taking five months, 33% less time than six month hikers and 43% less time than seven month hikers, those figures tend to stay true for each section within the thru-hike as well. So with that in mind I calculated the number of days a "typical" TJK thru-hiker might have needed to reach these section landmarks for four different hypothetical hikes. Table 4 lists the "typical" number of days it would take to reach each landmark for hikers taking 4 months (122 days), 5 months (153 days), 6 months (183 days) and 7 months (214 days) to thru-hike:


    TABLE 4 -- Four Hypothetical Hikes

    4#HIKE ~~~ 5#HIKE ~~~ 6#HIKE ~~~ 7#HIKE ~~~ LANDMARK
    6 days...........7 days..........9 days..........10 days..........Georgia Border
    11 days.........14 days........17 days.........20 days..........Fontana
    29 days.........37 days........44 days.........51 days..........Damascus
    50 days.........63 days........75 days.........87 days..........Waynesboro
    58 days.........73 days........87 days.........102 days.........Harpers Ferry
    72 days.........90 days........108 days.......126 days.........DWG
    81 days.........101 days......121 days.......142 days.........Kent
    98 days.........123 days......147 days.......172 days.........Glencliff
    105 days.......132 days......157 days.......184 days.........Gorham
    112 days.......141 days......168 days.......197 days.........Stratton
    122 days.......153 days......183 days.......214 days.........Katahdin


    Finally, I wanted to take a close look at the nature of "zero days," the days that no miles are logged by hikers on the AT (TJKs took a mean 20.7 of them on their thru-hikes -- the median number of zero days was 19). I wanted to look at both the short term breaks (1 or 2 day breaks from the trail) and long term breaks (3 or more consecutive days with no AT miles hiked). I hypothesized that hikers would need to take a lot of the short term breaks in their earlier days on the trail to cope with hiker's fatigue and with the sometimes nasty weather in the southern Appalachians in March and April, and that these short term breaks would lessen in frequency as a hiker walked north. It appears I was wrong, as Table 5 shows. TJKs took very few of these zero days in the first two sections. It's my speculation now that hikers seemed to take these short term breaks largely due to the availability of trail towns and concentration of hiker focused shuttle services and hostels. For example, the section with the highest percentage of these short term zero days taken was the Fontana to Damascus section with Hot Springs, Erwin and many famously hospitable hiker services in this stretch.

    On the other hand, I hypothesized that long term breaks (breaks of 3 or more consecutive days when hikers often leave the vicinity of the trail completely) would be scarce in the early days when the novelty and newness of the experience alone might carry people forward and again scarce toward the end when the goal was so close, and more frequent in the middle of the journey. On this, it sure looks like I was right, as the "Long Term Break" percentages in each hiking section in Table 5 show. In this table the first number is percentage of days taken to complete a section that are zero days. The second and third numbers break the zero days into two groups -- STBs (zero days taken in Short Term Breaks of 1 or 2 days) and LTBs (days taken in Long Term Breaks of 3 straight days or more):


    TABLE 5 -- Zero Days

    %ZERO DAYS ~ %STB ~~~ %LTB ~~~ SECTION
    ....(5.7%)..........(4.8%)........(0.9%)........Sp ringer to Georgia Border
    ....(7.5%)..........(6.3%)........(1.2%)........Ge orgia Border to Fontana
    ....(13.0%)........(9.0%)........(4.0%).........Fo ntana to Damascus
    ....(15.0%)........(8.2%)........(6.7%).........Da mascus to Waynesboro
    ....(14.3%)........(7.8%)........(6.4%).........Wa ynesboro to Harpers Ferry
    ....(16.3%)........(7.3%)........(9.0%).........Ha rpers Ferry to DWG
    ....(14.9%)........(7.6%)........(7.3%).........DW G to Kent
    ....(11.1%)........(7.2%)........(3.8%).........Ke nt to Glencliff
    ....(9.1%)..........(6.8%)........(2.3%).........G lencliff to Gorham
    ....(11.1%)........(8.5%)........(2.6%).........Go rham to Stratton
    ....(7.3%)..........(5.8%)........(1.6%)........St ratton to Katahdin
    ....(12.3%)........(7.5%)........(4.8%).........Fo r entire AT


    METHODOLOGY

    If a hiker started on the approach trail to Springer and only went as far as the Springer Mountain Shelter I didn't count that as the first day of the thru-hike even though .2 miles of the AT were covered. Likewise, if a person got a ride to USFS 42 and walked the .9 miles to Springer and hiked no more of the AT that day I didn't count that as the first day of the hike either. I think these small partial days would distort the results for the first short section to the Georgia border. The day a hiker passes USFS 42 going north is the day I start the thru-hike clock ticking for the purposes of this study.

    When a hiker reached one of my landmark points -- for example, Waynesboro -- I stop the clock for that section (in this case, the Damascus to Waynesboro section) and start the clock for the next section. So any zero days that hiker took in Waynesboro are counted in the Waynesboro to Harpers Ferry section.

    If a hiker passed a landmark, let's say DWG, and hiked on past without stopping for the day, I break that day into fractions of tenths of a day. So if that day began at Kirkbridge Shelter, 6.4 miles short of DWG, and ended at the "Backpacker Site" 4.8 miles past DWG, I counted six tenths of that day in the Harpers Ferry to DWG section and four tenths of that day in the DWG to Kent section.

    In tracing hikers' progress in their journals I used all the clues available to tally zero days and hiking progress. Some were very thorough and gave exact starting and ending points for each day, with mileage accurately logged and separate entries for each zero day as well. These journals were easy to follow. But not all journals used in the study were this thorough. Some just gave starting and stopping points. Some only registered mileage. Some were odd combinations of the two. Some left gaps when they took zero days. Some would recount multiple days of hikes in one entry (and all of these oddities often meant that the "Stats" section available to look at for each journal at Trailjournals.com had inaccurate numbers for "zero days" and "hiking days"). As long as I could reconstruct what had happened, even if it took reading the entire text of multiple journal entries to get it done, I made every effort to do it. But if there was anything in the journal that made me uncertain if every stretch of trail was actually hiked, and about tracking which days were hiked, and which devoted to zero days, I did not include that journal in this study.

    (For a more in-depth discussion of how data was gathered for this article, and a series of tables and illustrations going into more detail about different aspects of the data, as well as my responses to suggestions from White Blaze members with more knowledge of statistical methods than I have, see Post #28 in this thread. For information on which towns TJKs were most likely to take zero days, see Post #69. For preliminary findings on how the numbers for men and women compare, see Post #80. For a table comparing miles hiked per day with trail ruggedness, see Post #93.)


    ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

    A big thank you to the folks who created and maintain Trailjournals.com and WhiteBlaze.net. These sites are a great service to the hiking community. I could not have done this study without Trailjournals and could not hope to share it with so many people without WhiteBlaze. And thank you as well to all the WhiteBlaze members who offered suggestions to improve this article or offered encouragement.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: AT Hiking Rates, Section by Section started by map man View original post
    Comments 16 Comments
    1. johnnybgood's Avatar
      johnnybgood -
      Great job on crunching the numbers Map Man. I'm glad someone has the patience and meticulous nature to do this , because it sure isn't me. Again great job !
    1. jeffmeh's Avatar
      jeffmeh -
      Attachment 15573This is great, and certainly a reasonable rough guide. Here's the miles/day (not per hiking day), by section, restated for the visually inclined.
    1. Kerosene's Avatar
      Kerosene -
      Thanks for the visual representation. What's interesting is that my personal average has been much higher (2-6 mpd) than represented here, at least south of Harpers Ferry. I'm much closer to the stated average through Gorham, where the trail surface tends to be a lot more variable.
    1. map man's Avatar
      map man -
      Hey, thanks for doing this, jeffmeh. You know, if you read the graph like an elevation profile there are some pretty outrageous ups and downs.
    1. jeffmeh's Avatar
      jeffmeh -
      Quote Originally Posted by map man View Post
      Hey, thanks for doing this, jeffmeh. You know, if you read the graph like an elevation profile there are some pretty outrageous ups and downs.
      Indeed there are. It is you I should thank for crunching all the stats on this. Throwing it into a spreadsheet and producing some charts was the easy part. FYI, I played around with it a bit more and posted some other charts in another thread. http://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/show...ay-in-a-Visual

      One of them is the same as what I posted above, but it also shows the cumulative average (miles/day) at each waypoint. The others chart the progress of my son, who is out there with a deadline to finish, so it is not an entirely academic exercise.
    1. GMTMinusFive's Avatar
      GMTMinusFive -
      Fascinating
    1. CarolinaATMom's Avatar
      CarolinaATMom -
      What valuable tools your research offers to not only thru-hikers, but also to their families and support systems! As the mom of a 2012 AT thru-hike still on the trail, I can't tell you how much it helps to alleviate worry, offer realistic expectations and help with planning mail drop boxes. Wow - I can't imagine the time energy and mental real estate it took to do this study but I'm going to recommend it every 2013 supporter I come across and put the link in my blog. Brilliant dedicated work. Bravo!
    1. HikerMom58's Avatar
      HikerMom58 -
      Wow, I agree with CarolinaATMom!! I'm going to share this with a group of ladies planning their 2013 hike.. this is very valuable information.
    1. acif0714's Avatar
      acif0714 -
      My son & I are just starting the research for a potential AT thru hike. As a fellow number geek, this is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks, very much appreciated!!
    1. map man's Avatar
      map man -
      I decided to look at the journals for the hikers in this study to see if I could determine how old each hiker was. Often, in the first post or two, or on the page "about" the hiker at trailjournals.com, folks freely reveal their age. And in most other cases it's possible to deduce someone's general age, even if they don't mention a specific number (someone might say "I'm hiking after 32 years as an airline pilot" or "my boyfriend and I have decided to thru-hike after college graduation before we look for jobs"). So I looked at all the journals, putting hikers in three different age categories: younger (under 30); middle (30-49); and older (50 and older). In the end there were only a handful of the 240 journals in my study in which I could not make a very educated guess.

      Here's what I found. Of the hikers in my study:

      45% were under 30
      26% were age 30-49
      29% were 50 and older

      The conventional wisdom is that most thru-hikers are pretty young or old enough to have retired from work so I was a little surprised that there were as many as there were in the middle group. I'd be curious to know if experienced observers of thru-hikers here at WB think these numbers sound right, or if anyone knows of any surveys that have been done to try to determine the ages of thru-hikers.

      Here are the average (mean) times, and number of mean zero days, it took these various age groups to finish their thru-hikes:

      Under 30 -- 167 days to complete and 20 zero days
      30-49 -- 170 days to complete and 21 zero days
      50 and over -- 174 days to complete and 21 zero days

      These differences are not dramatic. Where the interesting difference are revealed are when we look at both age AND gender. Here are how the average (mean) numbers broke down for women keeping a journal for just themselves (no couples):

      Women under 30 -- 180 days to complete and 21 zero days
      Women 30-49 -- 179 days to complete and 22 zero days
      Women 50 and over -- 180 days to complete and 21 zero days

      The different age groups for women have amazingly similar numbers. How about for male-female couples thru-hiking together and keeping a journal? Here are the average (mean) times for them:

      M/F couples under 30 -- 182 days to complete and 25 zero days
      M/F couples 30-49 -- 172 days to complete and 21 zero days
      M/F couples 50 and over -- 179 days to complete and 16 zero days

      The desire for zero days seemed to decrease with age for these groups. I'm curious why the days to hike was a little lower for middle aged couples -- perhaps because in most cases one or both of them still had a career to get back to and didn't feel like they had unlimited time.

      But where the really pronounced differences showed up was for men keeping a solo journal. Here are their mean averages by age group:

      Men under 30 -- 154 days to complete and 17 zero days
      Men 30-49 -- 168 days to complete and 20 zero days
      Men 50 and older -- 174 days to complete and 22 zero days

      The difference in the age groups in days to complete the trail was much more pronounced among the men, for some reason. I wondered if there were a lot more men in the "younger" age group doing truly quick hikes -- that is, completing in under 130 days, something fewer than 10% of all hikers in the study were doing. But this does not seem to be the case. Here are how the numbers for "quick" hikers in the study broke down:

      52% were in the younger age group (under 30)
      29% were in the middle age group (30-49)
      19% were in the older age group (50 and over)

      They were overwhelmingly male (95%) but they weren't overwhelmingly young. The numbers above are not all that far off the percentage breakdown by age of all the hikers in the study (if you go back to the top of this post and look at those numbers).

      So in the end, looking at ages did end up showing some things of interest, I think. Another reason I did this, though, was because I've been thinking about continuing to look at hiker classes beyond 2010 (the last hiker class currently in this study), but I noticed in that last class of 2010 that the age of people journaling at trailjournals.com seemed to be changing -- only 25% of journals in that year were for hikers under 30 which is a lot lower than the 45% for the 2001-2010 period as a whole. I have speculated in the past that this change might be because younger hikers were now more likely to gravitate toward other social media for journaling rather than trailjournals.com -- places like Facebook and various non-hiking blogs.

      I think what I will do is go ahead and look at the classes of 2011 and 2012 to see if this "graying of journalists" trend is truly a trend, and then decide whether to include those classes in a future edition of the Hiking Rates study. Stay tuned.
    1. map man's Avatar
      map man -
      Using the database I compiled for this article, here is the list of the most popular trail towns to take zero days, listed by the percentage of hikers who zeroed there:

      84%.....Damascus VA
      61%.....Hot Springs NC
      51%.....Pearisburg VA
      50%.....Waynesboro VA
      50%.....Harpers Ferry WV
      44%.....Gorham NH
      40%.....Erwin TN
      38%.....Daleville (and Roanoke etc.) VA
      38%.....Fontana NC
      35%.....Delaware Water Gap PA
      32%.....Monson ME
      28%.....Hanover NH
      27%.....Duncannon PA
      26%.....Franklin NC
      23%.....Manchester Center VT
      22%.....Hiawasee GA
      22%.....Gatlinburg TN
      20%.....Dalton MA

      And here is a longer list of zero-day locations where at least 5% of hikers zeroed, starting in the south and proceeding north:

      Neels Gap GA (US 19, 129), 8%
      Helen, Unicoi Gap GA (GA 75), 7%
      Hiawasee GA (US 76), 22%
      Franklin NC (US 64), 26%
      Nantahala Outdoor Center NC (US 19, 74), 18%
      Fontana NC (NC 18), 38%
      Gatlinburg TN (US 441), 22%
      Standing Bear Farm NC (NC 284, I 40, Waterville School Road), 8%
      Hot Springs NC (US 25, 70), 61%
      Erwin TN, 40%
      Elk Park NC, Roan Mountain TN (US 19E), 6%
      Kincora Hostel, Laurel Fork Lodge TN (Dennis Cove Road), 13%
      Damascus VA, 84%
      Troutdale VA (VA 16), 6%
      Atkins VA (US 11), 9%
      Bland VA (US 21/52), 7%
      Pearisburg VA (US 460), 51%
      Catawba VA (VA 311, 624), 10%
      Daleville, Roanoke, etc. VA (US 11, 220), 38%
      Waynesboro VA (US 250, I 64), 50%
      Front Royal VA (US 522), 16%
      Harpers Ferry WV, 50%
      Pine Grove Furnace State Park PA, 5%
      Boiling Springs PA (PA 174), 7%
      Duncannon PA, 27%
      Port Clinton PA, 15%
      Palmerton PA (PA 873), 10%
      Delaware Water Gap PA, 35%
      Unionville NY, 5%
      Vernon NJ (NJ 94), 7%
      Bear Mountain NY, 10%
      Pawling NY (County 20), 5%
      Kent CT (CT 341), 14%
      Salisbury CT (CT 41), 6%
      Great Barrington MA (MA 23), 6%
      Upper Goose Pond Cabin MA, 5%
      Dalton MA, 20%
      North Adams MA (MA 2), 7%
      Bennington VT (VT 9), 6%
      Manchester Center VT (VT 11, 30), 23%
      Killington, Rutland, Inn at Long Trail VT (US 4), 19%
      Hanover NH, 28%
      Glencliff NH (NH 25), 13%
      Kinsman Notch NH, 5%
      Franconia Notch NH, 15%
      Crawford Notch NH, 13%
      Pinkham Notch NH, 10%
      Gorham NH (US 2), 44%
      Andover ME (East B Hill Road, South Arm Road), 15%
      Rangeley ME (ME 4), 14%
      Stratton ME (ME 27), 15%
      Caratunk ME (US 201), 7%
      Monson ME, 32%
      Baxter State Park and vicinity ME (Abol Bridge, Millinocket etc.), 14%
    1. map man's Avatar
      map man -
      Using the database for this study, here is how the numbers broke down by gender:

      The 165 male hikers have taken a mean 164.5 days to complete (median: 167) with 20.3 zero days (median: 18).
      The 42 female hikers have taken a mean 179.7 days to complete (median: 184) with 21.2 zero days (median: 22.5).
      The 31 M/F couples have taken a mean 178.8 days to complete (median: 180) with 22.1 zero days (median: 22).

      Here's how the numbers broke down when grouping the hikers in this study by start date:

      Jan. 1 -- Feb. 24 (22 hikers)
      Feb. 25 -- March 10 (51 hikers)
      March 11 -- March 24 (78 hikers)
      March 25 -- April 7 (56 hikers)
      April 8 -- May 20 (33 hikers)

      Here's how many mean zero days and mean total days to complete each group took:

      Zeros~~~Total Days~~~Departure Date
      26.0.............170.2..........Jan. 1 -- Feb. 24
      23.3.............174.2..........Feb. 25 -- March 10
      21.1.............173.2..........March 11 -- March 24
      18.4.............167.4..........March 25 -- April 7
      16.1.............151.0..........April 8 -- May 20

      Here is another table that has the mean departure date and arrival date for each of these five groups:

      Departure~~~Arrival~~~~Departure Range
      Feb. 13...........Aug. 2...........Jan. 1 -- Feb. 24
      March 3..........Aug. 25.........Feb. 25 -- March 10
      March 17.........Sept. 6.........March 11 -- March 24
      March 31.........Sept. 15.......March 25 -- April 7
      April 21...........Sept. 18........April 8 -- May 20
    1. Teacher & Snacktime's Avatar
      Teacher & Snacktime -
      My husband suggests that perhaps you have too much time on your hands, but he does not yet fully understand the AT mentality (we're working on him). I think this is brilliant, and a great use of your time! Now I can have a clear idea of the likelihood of encountering thruhikers on our sections, and when and were to be to hand out goodie bags.....thanks.
    1. Dogwood's Avatar
      Dogwood -
      WOW! Perusing all those journals and crunching all those numbers. For those that might want to know these stats you're as God send.
    1. map man's Avatar
      map man -
      Again, using the database for this study, for most journalists I was able to determine where these hikers were spending their nights on their thru-hikes -- shelters, tents, motels, hostels, etc. Trailjournals.com has a feature where hikers can log stats like these.

      The mean number of nights that hikers in the study spent in various places broke down like this:

      Shelters: 62 nights
      Tents or Hammocks: 53 nights
      Motels: 23 nights
      Hostels: 21 nights
      Private Homes: 9 nights

      Before they set off on a thru-hike people often try to budget for how many nights they will end up paying for housing (motel or hostel) so it seems useful to know that the mean is around 44 nights -- I believe this number is higher than what a lot of people budget for. Of course the number of nights in town is closely related to how many zero days people choose to take, so there is a pretty wide range. Even if you exclude the extremes -- the 15% who pay for the most nights of lodging and the 15% who pay for the fewest -- the range still varies from 26 nights to 62 nights in paid lodging for this "mainstream" middle 70%.

      It also interested me to compare how many nights out on the trail people were spending in shelters versus in tents /hammocks. 35% of hikers spent at least two-thirds of their trail nights in a shelter (a definite preference), 20% spent at least two-thirds of their trail nights tenting or hammocking, while around 45% were in the middle, without an overwhelming preference for either. Overall, 55% of hikers spent more nights in shelters while 45% spent more nights tenting, hammocking or sleeping under the stars. This seems to be changing subtly over time, however. For instance, in the first four years of my study, 2001-2004, 68% spent more nights in shelters, while this number had dropped to 44% preferring shelters over the alternative by the last four years in the study from 2007 to 2010. I wonder if this is due to shelters becoming more crowded in NOBO thru-hiker season as more people attempt thru-hikes each year?

      Another subtle difference is that hikers later in the study were cutting down on the number of nights spent paying for lodging in town. The mean number was about 45 in the first four years and had dropped to about 41 for the last four. There is a bit of conventional wisdom here at WB that holds that thru-hikers have become less self-reliant and more pampered as time has gone by. But based on the hikers in my study perhaps the opposite might be a possibility -- after all, it takes more effort and self reliance to pitch a tent or set up a hammock than it does to sleep in a shelter, and more recent hikers seem to be pampering themselves a little LESS with motel and hostel stays than earlier hikers.

      Admittedly, the sample size in the study is small enough that conclusions should be drawn with great caution, but I think it is food for thought.

      In my next comment I will explore how the numbers for where nights were spent thru-hiking varied by gender and age.
    1. map man's Avatar
      map man -
      There is very little difference between men and women when it comes to where they choose to sleep on the trail and in trail towns (that is, men and women who keep a solo journal). The percentage breakdowns for motels, hostels and nights spent in town versus spent on the trail are very similar for the genders, with the one small difference being that lone women tend to prefer shelters to tents and hammocks a little more than lone men.

      There is a big difference, though, when it comes to comparing couples and non-couples. Couples seem to seek out more privacy. They tend to prefer motels to hostels (which are more communal in nature). They spend a mean 32.5 nights in motels on a thru-hike compared to about 21.5 nights for non-couples. Couples also prefer tents to shelters with 74% of couples spending more nights in tents than shelters. Compare that with non-couples -- only 40% of them spend more nights in tents/hammocks than shelters. Moreover, on average couples spend a mean 50 nights in paid lodgings while the average is 43 for non-couples.

      When looking at age groups there are also differences -- mostly between those that are under 30 versus those that are 30 and over. The younger group has more of a preference for shelters, with 63% of them spending more nights there than in tents or hammocks. The 30 plus bunch, on the other hand, are split almost 50/50, with just 49% spending more nights in shelters than in tents/hammocks. Older hikers also spend significantly more nights in town, about 57.5 nights on a thru-hike compared to about 48 nights for the under-30s. The young, perhaps because of tighter budgets, spend a mean 37 nights in paid lodgings while that number is about 48 for those 30 and older.