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The Appalachian Trail (AT) is one of the most popular long trails for backpackers, dayhikers, and thru-hikers. At 2,149 miles and passing through 14 states and some of the most scenic terrain on the east coast, the AT is a dream hike for many, but tackling the whole thing is a massive undertaking. Thru-hikers, those who endeavor to walk its length in one go, can expect to spend between four and seven months on the trail.
Most AT thru-hikers travel northbound from Georgia to Maine beginning in the spring and finishing in fall.
Spending roughly half a year living on the trail is a logistical, physical, and mental challenge. While some thru-hikers draw up detailed itineraries ahead of their hikes, it’s important to remain flexible as changing conditions and circumstances almost always influence the timeline.
Average Pace for AT Hikers
A thru-hiker’s pace will likely change over the course of their trek. A number of factors can influence how long it takes to hike a certain number of miles, like increased fitness over time. Most thru-hikers cover fewer miles at the start of their journey than a few months in. Average hikers travel at roughly 2.5 miles per hour; focused thru-hikers with strong legs might walk upward of 3 miles per hour.
With this pace, many AT hikers are able to cover 20 or more miles in an average day. Especially fast thru-hikers might average 25 miles per day and even occasionally hike 30 miles in a day. At this rapid pace, a thru-hiker will be able to complete the AT in just a few months.
Factors that Slow Pace
While strong legs and flat trail make for fast hiking speeds, there are plenty of factors that can slow a hiker down. Injuries, especially those that arise from day-in and day-out hiking and little rest, are common on the AT. Sprained ankles or muscle soreness might slow a hiker’s pace or force them to rest in town for a few days. Variable weather can also influence a hiker’s pace. Most AT thru-hikers start in spring in order to walk through the summer, when conditions are ideal. But if a hiker finds themselves still on the trail in late fall, they might encounter snow, wind, and cold, all of which make it difficult to maintain a strong pace.
Different sections of the AT also necessitate slower hiking speeds. The White Mountains of New Hampshire, for example, are home to some of the hardest sections of the trail due to their steep elevation gains, rock-strewn treadpath, and variable weather. Hikers that fly through easier states like Connecticut and New Jersey might adopt a slower pace in the Whites.
Anticipating changes in pace is crucial for anyone attempting a successful thru-hike of the AT. Flexibility is a thru-hikers’ best friend when calculating how long it will take to complete the AT.
Maintaining a Strong Pace
Achieving a solid fitness base before starting a thru-hike allows hikers to hit the ground running at the start of their treks. Regular training hikes with a loaded backpack ahead of a thru-hike will prime the body for big mile days ahead, allowing a hiker to ramp up pace more quickly than if they were thru-hiking off the couch.
Maintaining a daily schedule on the trail also helps you stay on track and achieve significant mileage goals, even if you aren’t hiking especially fast.
Section Hiking the AT
For hikers who are unable to spend months away from family, jobs, or other obligations to complete a thru-hike, section hiking is an easily accessible way to experience the trail in its entirety. Rather than hiking the trail in one go, section hikers break the trail into chunks of varying length, completing them as their schedules allow. Section hikes can take anywhere from months to decades to complete.
Fastest Known Times
|Male supported (northbound)||Karel Sabbe||41 days, 7 hours, 39 minutes|
|Male self-supported (northbound)||Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy||45 days, 12 hours, 15 minutes|
|Female supported (northbound)||Liz “Mercury” Anjos||51 days, 16 hours, 30 minutes|
|Female self-supported (northbound)||Elizabeth “Snorkel” Thomas||80 days, 13 hours, 11 minutes|
|Male supported (southbound)||Karl Meltzer||45 days, 22 hours, 38 minutes|
|Male self-supported (southbound)||Joey Campanelli||48 days, 23 hours, 48 minutes|
|Female supported (southbound)||Jennifer Pharr-Davis||46 days, 11 hours, 20 minutes|
|Female self-supported (southbound)||Heather Anderson||54 hours, 7 hours, 48 minutes|