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  1. #1

    Default Words of Wisdom for Those Setting Out to Section Hike the AT

    What advice would you give to someone wanting to complete the AT as a section hiker?
    • Don't leave gaps in the trail
    • Use a credit card to earn air miles (you'll need them down the road)
    • Don't wait on others to go with you in order to complete a section
    • While using common sense on the first bullet point, Have 2 areas of focus - Close to home completion and your 1-2 week trip completion area of focus. In other words If you live in Virginia, don't invest a whole week of your time hiking in Virginia, go up to an area of trail that you cant access on a shorter trip and leave the miles for close to home for weekend trips.
    • Use your ability to design your trip to what works best for you. Be flexible to hike 1 section northbound, and another section southbound.
    • Set yearly goals
    • Set up shuttle rides at least 2 weeks in advance, and call to confirm the week before your trip. Everyone's calendar stretches out for a whole year, so it cant hurt for your name to be written down well in advance of a trip instead of last minute.
    • Never make a shuttle driver wait, keep your shuttle driver up to speed on your trip.. "Hey I'm looking good on time see ya at 12!"
    • When planning a trip, look 1 - 2 trips in advance and see how your end point is going to set you up for the trips to come...May need to make this trip a 32 mile instead of 26 so that the next one is 34 instead of 40 kinda thinking. You cant always help where the roads cross a lot of times you can walk on to that next road 5 miles down the way and make the next trip a little easier for yourself.
    • Start in the spring or fall for your first year of completion, where the weather will be a little more forgiving and anyone who can skip the "I carried too much" phase of hiking, I am jealous...If you know your going to love it, or you already have some backpacking experience and have the extra bucks for lighter gear, go ahead and bite the bullet and lighten your load.
    • When others say they want to go on a hike with you, and they are not backpackers.. Keep in mind that this is their maybe 1 trip every so often so they would more then likely prefer to go somewhere great like Roan Mountain or Grayson Highlands, maybe the Smokies! Instead of a 30 mile stretch of green tunnels in Virginia that you just so happen to need to complete still.


    Interested in what advice the more experienced folks have here as I will be starting a second Map from Springer to somewhere in Virginia for 2018 while I wait for my 1 week and 2 week trips to roll around again.
    Trail Miles: 4,007.6 - AT Trips: 70
    AT Map 1: 2004.8
    AT Map 2: 265.0
    Sheltowee Trace Map: 84.0
    BMT Map: 57.7
    Pinhoti Trail Map: 0.0

  2. #2
    Hiker bigcranky's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gambit McCrae View Post
    What advice would you give to someone wanting to complete the AT as a section hiker?
    [LIST][*]Don't leave gaps in the trail
    Yeah, this. I have several tiny gaps of 15-30 miles that I need to fill in. I got one of them this past spring (Deep Gap to Blue Ridge Gap), but there are several more, plus some larger gaps in central VA. It can be a pain to fill them in given the logistics of shuttles and driving time.

    Once I fill those in I'll have Springer-Harpers done and i can worry about the northern half
    Ken B
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    When you live farther away from the trail, some of this changes. In my case, I have done all of the first 600 or so miles of the trail in the south, but I can only get away a couple times a year for a few days at a time. Having started much later than many of you (2010 at age 56) it will take me another 18-19 years to totally complete the trail--highly unlikely that this happens. I decided that I will probly skip some less interesting parts of the trail and then come back later and hike them if time allows.
    Logistics are more of a problem now than they have been to this point because the trail is gradually farther away as I hike north.
    I do agree with bulk of the OP's post, good points.

  4. #4

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    Leaving gaps gives you incentive to go back and revisit an area.
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    Registered User evyck da fleet's Avatar
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    1 - Start at one end and don’t leave gaps. Preferably the end that is farther away from home.
    2 - Consider waiting until you have time to thru hike. Why? I’d rather spend those 10-20 weeks of two week trips seeing different parts of the US, world etc.

  6. #6
    Registered User evyck da fleet's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by evyck da fleet View Post
    1 - Start at one end and don’t leave gaps. Preferably the end that is farther away from home.
    2 - Consider waiting until you have time to thru hike. Why? I’d rather spend those 10-20 weeks of two week trips seeing different parts of the US, world etc.
    *10-20 years.

  7. #7
    Registered User Christoph's Avatar
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    Get the ATC AT map and highlight the sections you've completed to keep track. My bro puts his in his office at work and it's always a topic of discussion when fellow workers see more highlights throughout the year. Don't try to do all the "fun" sections first or you'll never go back and complete the boring/not so fun sections. Try not to complete the same section twice (if you're really trying to complete the entire trail) or you'll possibly end up hiking a LOT farther than the 2190 miles, unless you really had fun at a specific area and want to return. Pick starts and stops at good pick up/drop off points.
    - Trail name: Thumper

  8. #8
    Registered User JPritch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by evyck da fleet View Post
    2 - Consider waiting until you have time to thru hike. Why? I’d rather spend those 10-20 years of two week trips seeing different parts of the US, world etc.
    Interesting take Evyck, and one that's been popping into my head more and more lately. Quick background, I began this past April with the goal of section hiking the AT, in order, from GA to ME to try and get as close to the full thru-hike experience as possible. That goal is trying to morph into a just do what sections you can (I'm right in the heart of the AT and it's hard not doing local sections while waiting for a chance to travel way back down into NC to pick the section hike back up). Now, I'm kind of wondering if it may be best to just thru the entire thing when I get the chance, which I may in the next few years. Plus, I actually enjoy the camaraderie aspect of the trail experience, which you don't get a lot of while sectioning.

    So my question to all you dedicated section hikers is this: if you had the chance to go back and choose between section hiking or thru hiking the AT, which would you do?
    While searching for that unknown edge in life, never forget to look home. For the greatest edge you can find in life is to stand in the protective shadow of those who love you.

  9. #9
    Registered User QuietStorm's Avatar
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    I started in June, 2016 and did pretty much what the OP suggested. I hiked my home turf first and then moved further and further away. It helped that I live in Maryland, which is essentially in the middle. I started with day hikes, then out and back overnight weekend hikes, and now weekend hikes using shuttles and twice-yearly week-long hikes. I hike all 4 seasons. When it got too snowy up north I moved south. I’m about to cross 900 miles this weekend in southern VA.


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    Registered User QuietStorm's Avatar
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    To answer the question, I would thru hike in a heartbeat. It sucks to get up at 12:30 a.m., drive 5 or more hours, hike all day, and then hike and drive back the next day. I’ve missed out on places in towns I would love to experience. I’m a purist, so I haven’t missed any of the trail thankfully, but it’s hectic being a section hiker.


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  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by JPritch View Post
    So my question to all you dedicated section hikers is this: if you had the chance to go back and choose between section hiking or thru hiking the AT, which would you do?

    If I had my wish, I would take 1 month trips until it is completed, once or twice a year. If I had to thru hike I would start march first and take my time. I hear thru hiking isn't all its cracked up to be.
    Trail Miles: 4,007.6 - AT Trips: 70
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    AT Map 2: 265.0
    Sheltowee Trace Map: 84.0
    BMT Map: 57.7
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  12. #12
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    Cross Hiking works well for shorter sections where you only need 1 car for a group of hikers to hike a section. The hikers in the car are divided into two groups. You drive the car to point A and drop off the first group/person to begin their hike. The second group/person drives to the end point B. The two groups hike toward one another and exchange the car key in the middle of the hike or take two keys, one for each group. The group/persons can even camp together in the middle. At the end of the hike the first group drives the car back to point A to pick up the other group/person for the drive home.

    Another option is to stash a bike in the woods to ride back to your car either at the beginning or end of your hike depending on preference. However, the ride on some highways can be very dangerous.

    Keep clean cloths in the car for the ride back. Garbage bags to stash dirty gear/cloths in for the car ride back home help with smell.

    Floor mats in car to protect car from muddy boots.

    Leave nothing of any value in plain sight for trailhead vehicles.

    As a 58 year old section hiker and lifelong backpacker, I have always wanted to thru-hike. However, section hiking and backpacking around North America has been awesome for me through the years. Sometimes you have to take what you can get. It is all good.

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    Registered User Suzzz's Avatar
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    I live in Canada at about a 5 hour drive from Katahdin and debated a long time about where I should start sectioning. Like many here, I felt the best course of action would be to start at the furthest point from me in Georgia and work my way up, but then I decided that I should get rid of the hardest parts first so that I could finish the rest of it with a big smile on my face (don't smile much in Maine, lol). But now, I'm thinking that I might do a section down south now and then just to keep it exciting and also to knock down more daily miles as I think it could be easy to get discouraged while only doing the northern harder states.

    In a perfect world, I would do a one month section every year for six years and have it done but leaving my family for a month is not doable for me at this point in my life so I'll do what I can when I can. One of the things I will try to avoid as much as possible is to leave gaps in between hikes since those can quickly become big pains in the you know what.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gambit McCrae View Post
    If I had my wish, I would take 1 month trips until it is completed, once or twice a year.
    This is kinda like I hiked the AT, one-month-ish trips. Specifically, in order, 6 weeks, 2 weeks, 3 weeks, 2 weeks, 3 weeks and 4 weeks. Six total trips, 3 spring trips and 3 fall trips because we like our spectacular summers in Colorado. Six cheap roundtrip flights from Denver to Atlanta, Roanoke, Wash DC twice, Newark and Boston. All direct flight from Denver. Didn't step foot on the AT in summer, basically cherry-picking the best times to do the 6 sections. We're basically repeating this for my wife's benefit, though she did join me for the smokies+, the Whites and the 100-mile wilderness, but we might repeat the last two.

    Because of weird circumstances, I did leave one 10-mile gap once, pain in the butt to pick that up. I personally don't see any reason though to not flip around directions here and there, as long as you can be sure to connect the dots w/o gaps. I hiked NH in reverse (SOBO), seemed logical at the time.

    I never intended to try a Thru, but I did want to make Harper's Ferry my first trip, but cut it short (6 weeks, 700 miles) out of sheer boredom. I tip my hat to any that can hike a trail for 4-5 months straight! Truly.

  15. #15
    Registered User Kaptainkriz's Avatar
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    Love your list - These 4 have been huge for me. Improper planning has led me to leave some gaps that I had to go back and get. If in a boring place, no one wants to go with me to pick it back up.
    As a section hiker:
    I love these two maps of shelters and parking for planning - https://tnlandforms.us/at/googleat.php?lat=39.8&lon=-77.48&scale=6
    https://tnlandforms.us/google.php?trk=atparking

    There are a lot of places worth exploring - SNP has lots of side trails with cool waterfalls, etc. Plan some side trips and loops.

    Keep jumper cables and a spare key on your car somewhere...

    Don't carry what you don't really need. I started with a fat pack - If I did not use something I took it out - now my pack is pretty empty.

    I carry a garmin GPS to log my miles and store the combined tracks on my computer.

    Pick up some trash and hike it out.

    No rain no pain no Maine - Prepare for the weather and expect to hike in the rain. Even a section hiker gets wet.



    Quote Originally Posted by Gambit McCrae View Post
    What advice would you give to someone wanting to complete the AT as a section hiker?
    • When planning a trip, look 1 - 2 trips in advance and see how your end point is going to set you up for the trips to come...May need to make this trip a 32 mile instead of 26 so that the next one is 34 instead of 40 kinda thinking.
    • Don't leave gaps in the trail
    • Don't wait on others to go with you in order to complete a section
    • When others say they want to go on a hike with you, and they are not backpackers.. Keep in mind that this is their maybe 1 trip every so often so they would more then likely prefer to go somewhere great like Roan Mountain or Grayson Highlands, maybe the Smokies! Instead of a 30 mile stretch of green tunnels in Virginia that you just so happen to need to complete still.

    Plaid is fast! Ticks suck, literally...
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    Registered User Old Hiker's Avatar
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    This thread is why I was amazed and deeply impressed by the section hikers I walked with in 2012 and 2016.

    NO way I could get the resources to hike sections over a years-long time frame.

    Kudos and keep hiking.
    Old Hiker
    AT Hike 2012 - 497 Miles of 2184
    AT Thru Hiker - 29 FEB - 03 OCT 2016 2189.1 miles
    Just because my teeth are showing, does NOT mean I'm smiling.
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  17. #17

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    Don't overthink it. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

  18. #18
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    I ran into a couple of retired guys while sectioning that were sectioning the AT the slow way. They drove to a trailhead, hiked half way to the next trailhead, set up camp that night and then hiked back to their car and repeated it the next day from the other side. They seemed to enjoy their evening liquor, I expect there was a question if their livers would last the entire trail .

    I know someone that bought a very small motorcycle that was street legal so he could go on interstates. He had a rack on the back of his truck and would stash the motorcycle at the end of the section he was dayhiking. At the end of the day he just rode back to the truck. Probably not a great idea in built up areas but he mostly hiked off season.

    There was at least one individual who reportedly slackpacked much of the PTC with two cars solo once he did the initial car spot. He had someone help him drop the first car at the first trail crossing then drove to the next trail crossing with a second car. He would then hike back to the 1st car and then drive the first car to the next road crossing past the location of the 2nd car using the 1st car. From then on he just leapfrogged his way along although at some point at the end he would need someone to drive the second car.

    There was a hiker on Trail Journals (might have been Big Red?) that started out as standard thru hiker but his joints were acting up. At some point he picked up a truck and connected up with a couple who were thru hiking with their own car. They would take turns spotting a vehicle every day. I think they did more than half the trail that way

    I encountered one hiker in my sectioning career that was doing something similar with a bicycle, he claimed he got stranded once at a remote trail head as the bike was gone when he finished the days hike. When he finally got into town he found his bike leaning up against a hostel.

  19. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by peakbagger View Post
    They seemed to enjoy their evening liquor, I expect there was a question if their livers would last the entire trail .

    I know someone that bought a very small motorcycle that was street legal so he could go on interstates. He had a rack on the back of his truck and would stash the motorcycle at the end of the section he was dayhiking. At the end of the day he just rode back to the truck. Probably not a great idea in built up areas but he mostly hiked off season.
    I usually carry 16oz of Jack Daniels with me for the trail. Resupply in towns has been pretty easy, especially up north.

    I met a guy at the base of apple orchard mt that had a motorcycle! I think he was from New York and was sectioning the whole trail.
    Trail Miles: 4,007.6 - AT Trips: 70
    AT Map 1: 2004.8
    AT Map 2: 265.0
    Sheltowee Trace Map: 84.0
    BMT Map: 57.7
    Pinhoti Trail Map: 0.0

  20. #20
    13-45 Section Hiker Trash
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    Planning to section hike the whole AT…and when I say section hike my definition of section hiking is hiking the AT in pieces over several years with a plan to actually finish (I meet lots of people that say they are section hiking only to find out later in the conversation that they have zero intent to do the whole AT, we’re talking semantics here, but don’t say you are gonna run a marathon when you are actually only going to do a 5k)…is something that would be awesome if a plan could be developed and followed to completion.

    In reality section hiking is more of a “learn on the job proposition” in my personal experience, and from what I have read of most section hiker's accounts on White Blaze. You start out with one style, and then that morphs over the years to something totally different.

    So anyway, a few things I would add are as follows:

    • Keep a detailed spreadsheet (or something similar) documenting completed sections, as this helps out significantly when you get several years in and have gaps. My spreadsheet has a lot of info in it including details of the logistics of each section (mileage, parking spots, etc.), details of camping spots, water info, type of bear food storage (i.e. cables, boxes, poles, etc.), how many miles I’ve done per year, and so on.
    • If you are very detail oriented like me you can use the spreadsheet above to track your own personal AT total mileage. Over the years small re-routes occur, and your total mileage will probably be unique since you aren’t completing the whole trail in a single year. So far mine is looking to be 2,183.4 miles assuming I don’t have a formula error in my spreadsheet.
    • Keep a journal and/or at the least keep a set of detailed notes. They’ll both be fun to read later, and helpful for subsequent sections that abut up to sections already completed.
    • STAY IN SHAPE!!! You don’t have to train for a marathon all year every year, but you want to at least keep a nice foundation of exercising regularly when you get to that part of the year (for me it’s winter) where you don’t do much hiking. I’ve let myself go in the past, and some springs have been brutal trying to get back into shape.
    • EAT WELL!!! This goes with the bullet above. Have fun over the holidays, but don’t start chowing down during the months you are off…been there done this, and it took a while to work things back off.
    • Embrace the suck. A lot of us section hikers have had to do sections in less than ideal weather because there’s no flexibility in our plans due to the logistics (getting time off, planning around other stuff, the amount of time we have for the hike, etc.). Heck, I don’t even know what some parts of the AT look like because I hiked whole sections in the fog or crappy weather. I figure I can just go back and hit them again at some point.
    • Plan where you want to finish. Some may not care, but for me I'm doing the 100 mile wilderness and summitting Katahdin on my last section. As a side note I have done all sections NB without fail, so I'll have completed a NOBO hike when I finish.



    Quote Originally Posted by Gambit McCrae View Post
    Don't leave gaps in the trail
    I have to respectfully disagree on this one. Gaps are fine as long as you make a good plan to fill them in, and by this I mean make sure to have good access points on either end and leave an appropriate amount of mileage for the length of time you think it will take to finish the section. I've had and still have gaps in my journey and I only have 352 miles left to go.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gambit McCrae View Post
    While using common sense on the first bullet point, Have 2 areas of focus - Close to home completion and your 1-2 week trip completion area of focus. In other words If you live in Virginia, don't invest a whole week of your time hiking in Virginia, go up to an area of trail that you cant access on a shorter trip and leave the miles for close to home for weekend trips.
    Excellent advice here. For those that live near some portion of the AT, you can do a lot of the AT near where you live over weekends leaving the stuff further away for longer trips. This is what I've done. I didn't quite plan it that way from the get go, but I was able to work it around where I still have a bit of stuff down here to finish as well as part of ME over the next couple of years.
    AT: 2007-2019 (45 sections)
    JMT: 2013

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