View Full Version : How long does it take?

11-05-2003, 15:14
I've always had in my head that it takes six months to hike the AT. But reading trail journals and browsing here it seems as though a lot of people are doing it faster, without neccessarily killing themselves or racking up strings of mega-mile days.

For those of you who thru-hiked in under five months, would you go that fast if you had it to do over? Do you wish you had had more time to see the sights and relax? Were you moving quickly because you were in a groove or because you had a deadline at the far end and needed to make a schedule?


11-05-2003, 15:50
Its very doable to hike the trail in 5 months or less and not feel rushed. The main reason a lot of folks are taking 6 to 7 months is that they spend a month or more in town, on side trips or at home. For me, the AT was an ongoing goal and I found that the more time I spent away from the Trail, the more I lost the drive and mentality that I wanted.
The easiest way to hike for 5 months is to stay out of towns (or to hike fast and spends lots of time in town). Opposed to popular belief, you don't have to kill yourself or do monster days to finish in this time. In fact my highest mile day was 26, something that many hikers surpassed by a lot, including many folks who took much longer. My school of thinking was to just stay consistent. It was easy. Walk everyday, walk a good amount and bam you're progressing. Doing a 35 mile day will do you no good if you can only hike 6 miles or none the next day. Its all about finding a distance that is comfortable to you and sticking to it. Once I got to Virginia it was about 16-20 miles for me. I was able to keep that most of the way to Maine (except the whites).
I did have a schedule of sorts. I had exactly 6 months, but i was glad yto have a month to relax and readjust after the hike.
If i did it again, i think I would hike it in a similar amount of days, probably within a few of this hike. I'd simply have the knowledge now to spend more of my time enjoying the great sections, and less time in the less interesting parts. Of course terrain also dictates a lot. I didn't feel rushed, and I didn't miss out on any social aspect. There was a great group of folks with that exact same mindset and timeframe.
If you want to experiment and enjoy the fine local beers in every town, go for it. But a 5 month hike is very doable without pushing yourself too much. There will still be time to rest and relax. It wasn't ALL walking :)

11-05-2003, 15:58
16 to 20 miles a day isn't that bad, but it something happens, like a sickness or an injury you can easily lose two weeks to a month from the injury and building back up. We are planning to start in March of 2005, and are taking 8 month leaves just to be safe. It's a trip of a life time. Give yourself as much time as you possible can. If you get it done faster, GREAT go have some fun doing something else, or trail magic.

A lot of it depends on you personally. If you know you can do the miles, that its not a problem. I know that I get pretty bored doing 16-20 mile days week after week. I like taking a number of days off in town to mix it up a bit.

Gravity Man

11-05-2003, 15:58
I totally agree about consistency being the key. I finished my hike in 4 1/2 months, including over a week off for a wedding and lots of goofing off time, and could have finished reasonably in 4.

Especially in the beginning, my partner and I were very consistent, we didn't take many days off, mostly just half days when we needed a break. At the end of the trip, when we were taking more time off, it was harder to hike. We hiked 18-22 miles a day once we got in shape (of course taking into account the terrain). We did do some 30+ mile days but that was usually b/c we wanted to get somewhere, or take a day off without losing much mileage (or in one case, just for fun).

We did have a schedule b/c we both had to be back for school and I think that helped drive us the days we didn't feel like hiking. But I think that if you don't hike on the days you don't feel like it, its really hard to finish. Hope that helps!

Not Yet
Ga-Me 03

11-05-2003, 15:58
I think that the normal time for hiking the whole Trail used to be much faster than it is now for hiking most of it.

An irrational fear of snow and a dwinding bank account made me move faster than I would have liked, though. Having the option of taking a long time is a good thing, even if you decide not to.

But if you don't have 6 months, you shouldn't let that keep you away. Many, many people have had very relaxing hikes of 5 months or less. Besides, relaxing is over rated.


11-05-2003, 16:22
Sorry, I was a bit vague as far as my advice to avoid towns. I didn't avoid towns, just avoided spending superflous amounts of time there. One goal of mine, besides experiencing the natural Trail, was to experience the towns and culture along the Trail. I had never even been south of virginia. I went to probably all the major AT towns (besides Franklin and Vernon that I can think of) and some smaller ones.
I tried to spend a night in many of these towns and popular hostels. The key was simply putting in a full day into town and then putting in a full day coming out. Its not neccessarily the time off that makes a difference between a 5 and 6 month hike, but also the day or so a week that is lost or used differently. Sometimes a half days hike is a good substitute for a zero day, but if you are constantly doing a half day in to town and a half day out, its like taking a zero day eveyr town stop, or week or so. Those can pile up. I found getting up early on town days, putting in 15 miles or more and getting into town in the afternoon still allowed for relaxation and town chores. I wasn't out at the crack of dawn the next day, but tried to get out by 9 or 10 to allow for a full day. When you get into good shape you can sometimes become a little cocky and try to stay in town until noon or two and still pull out a full day. I generally found I hiked latest into the evening on days out of town. In short, staying consistent almost everyday really keeps you going. You;ll get into a natural momentum this way and not want to stop (until your body eventually wins out and gets some rest :))
Sorry my posts tend to be on the long side. What can I say i'm an english major...

11-05-2003, 18:11
Actually, the average is 5 1/2 months, or at least according to a survey done by Roland Mueser as published in his book "Long Distance Hiking." He writes that the average thru-hiker also takes 24 days off.

So, I'd say that the people who thru-hike in 5 months or so probably just do it by taking fewer days off (That's what I did).

As A-train says, it isn't the big mileage days that gets to Maine, it's the consistent hiking every day that gets you there. We both know hikers who did the big mile days, and then took the next couple of days off to recover.

I think that a better indication of progress is miles per week rather than miles per day. As long as you do about 100 miles per week, you can do the AT in 5 months.

11-05-2003, 19:18
Call me slow ...but it took me 6 months and 11 days. Sure, I may have been able to cut out a handful of zeros or maybe I could have gone 20 miles instead of 12 on some days.

Bottom line for me though was that the thru-hike was supposed to be fun, at least at some level. I played the mileage game at first and did my share of 20+ milers but I generally regretted it and found that I needed a day now and then to recover. So in the end I really gained very little.

At one point this year I realized I wasn't having much fun and decided to back off a bit. That made all the difference in the world in terms of my enjoyment on the trail.

Hey ...if you're young or in outstanding condition and 20+ mile days are easy, go for it. The AT can no doubt be hiked in a lot less than 6 months, as evidenced by many of the above posts. On the other hand, I would venture to guess that many of the hikers who were doing the big miles and were rushing to get to Katahdin may have missed some of the sights and sounds that I was priveleged to see and hear.

But, that's the beauty of the trail ...it's a "Hike Your Own Hike" and there is no right or wrong way to get from one end to the other.

11-06-2003, 16:01
Again, I totally agree...
I don't think there is an advantage to hiking in less time, just that it can be done without completely sacrificing the great things about the trail, like friends and towns and views.
I had to finish by a certain day, so I planned my hike accordingly...of course, there were many days I wished I could stop and enjoy a view or stay in a town but if I really wanted to do those things, I would hike more another day.
As always, HYOH...but if its a choice between finishing in 5 months or not hiking at all (as it was in my case)- you'd miss out on much more by not going.
Not Yet
Ga-Me 03

11-06-2003, 17:56
People are different. Some hike at a brisk pace, and still have time to see and enjoy everything. Some of us hike at a slower pace.

Some need a lot of time off. Some need to just keep on hiking.

There is no one way to do the trail. About the only thing that we can really tell you is that according to the survey done by Roland Mueser of 1989 thru-hikers, 80% of thru-hikers did the trail between 21 and 27 weeks.