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How Long Does It Take to Hike the Appalachian Trail?

How Long Does It Take to Hike the Appalachian Trail?

Have you ever wondered how long it takes to hike the Appalachian Trail? Maybe you’ve even thought of hiking it. Think you’re up for the challenge? Then lace up your hiking boots. This iconic trail stretches more than 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine, making it the perfect destination for adventurous travelers. With stunning views of mountains and forests, this is one hike you won’t want to miss.

Start planning your trip today and learn how long it might take to hike the entire trail. Let’s get started! 

How Long Does It Take to Hike the Appalachian Trail?

The Appalachian Trail, which hikers commonly refer to as the AT, is one of three triple-crown trails consisting of the AT, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. Most don’t consider the Appalachian Trail the most scenic of these three trails. However, it is still majestic. After all, it’s a 2,193-mile trail. While its highest summit is only over 6,600 feet, hiking its entirety is not easy, and it takes time.

Appalachian Trail Basics: Everything You Need To Know To Hike The Appalachian Trail

Just how much time? Depending on each hiker’s goals, stamina, and how many times you get off the trail to enjoy the towns nearby will help dictate how long it will take to hike the Appalachian Trail. However, most hikers complete the entire length within five to seven months, walking an average of 15 to 18 miles daily.

Most hikers will take rest days, which they call zeroes, or neroes, days with nearly no hiking, as often as once a week or more. They may spend these days in town showering, resupplying, or enjoying the amenities and activities along the trail. If you are more interested in hiking as fast as you can, then these points of interest should not be a priority. Your timing should be less than the average.

What’s the Fastest Someone Has Hiked the Appalachian Trail?

Are you wondering if you could be the fastest person to hike the AT? The people seeking to hike the entirety of the trail with the fastest-known-time records (FKT’s in hiker lingo) are few and far between, but they are out there. Currently, the fastest time from 2018 belongs to a long-distance runner and dentist from Belgium, Karel Sabbe. He completed it in 41 days, 7 hours, and 39 minutes.

Appalachian Trail trail marker sign
Hiking the Appalachian Trail is sure to leave you with life long memories.

Keep in mind, when setting records for hiking a through trail, you are not walking; you’re running. These hikers/runners are also generally not taking rest days. Many of them have support vehicles nearby to help with supplies like food, water, and sleeping materials that they cannot carry on their back like a typical hiker.

Can a Beginner Hike the Appalachian Trail?

You’ll find more beginners hiking the trails than record-setters. You have to start somewhere. It’s not the best idea to be a true beginner hiker, meaning you’ve never donned a pair of hiking boots and hit the trails anywhere.

However, if you’ve hiked with a pack before, even if only for a few miles, you can hike the Appalachian Trail. Still, if you plan on being a thru-hiker or hiking the entirety of this mountainous, ever-changing terrain of a trail, you better come somewhat prepared for what lies ahead.

Do the research. Know the gear you’ll need. Understand your fitness level and nutritional needs. Have a general idea of how long you plan to hike daily and how long it will take you to complete it.

On that same note, be ok with not finishing it, whether that’s due to injury or not. You can always come back and hike portions of it again. Many hikers don’t walk it in one fell swoop. They hike the trail in sections. There are no hard and fast rules for hiking the AT. Be aware of what you are capable of and when to stop if need be.

Man looking out at view point while hiking with backpack on the Appalachian Trail.
Hiking the AT can take between five to seven months to complete!

How Much Does It Cost to Hike the Entire Appalachian Trail?

While hiking generally doesn’t cost a penny, hiking for months will involve costs. Depending upon how you trek a thru-trail, the price may or may not be significant.

With the AT trail running through 14 states, eight national forests, six national park units, and many other forested areas and towns along the way, you will spend some money.

In a recent article posted at REI.com, “According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), most hikers spend about $1,000 a month, and the majority take nearly six months to complete their hike.”

This doesn’t include gear ranging from $700 to $5,000, depending on what you already have, what you need, and what you can legitimately afford. The way to look at the cost is simple. It costs you money to live, no matter where you live, so for the six months you will be living on the trail, that’s a reasonably manageable cost.

What Do You Need to Hike the Appalachian Trail?

Hiking the AT isn’t as simple as grabbing a backpack, water bottles, a few granola bars, and a rain jacket. Hiking the Appalachian Trail takes planning. That planning requires the right gear for camping, hiking, safety, cooking, and more. Start your AT adventure off on the right foot with all the proper supplies. Here’s a short list to start.

Shelter

Let’s begin with shelter. Most backpackers will carry a backpacking tent. This is a lightweight, compact tent that will either fit on or in your backpack. Other backpackers will use a tarp or a hammock. Whatever you choose, have something on you for shelter. 

You may have heard that the Appalachian Trail has many backcountry shelters. You’ve heard right, but you must bring your protection with you. These sites are comfortable with their primitive huts, picnic tables, fire pits, and even nearby water sources, meaning they can attract crowds.

If you’re trying to get into nature and away from people, you might want to stick to your tent instead of the shelters. However, it can be comforting knowing they are available.

Pro Tip: On the hunt for a new tent? We uncovered How Many Types of Tents There Are & How to Choose.

Pitched tent along the Appalachian Trail
Your shelter should be your first priority when collecting gear for your thru hike.

Clothing

Clothing is another form of shelter. It can keep you warm when it’s freezing or can shade you from the heat of the sun. Temperatures can range from below freezing to over 100 degrees when hiking along the Appalachian Trail. This is why layering and the clothes you pack are crucial. 

Pack light, breathable clothing. Avoid cotton; when it gets wet, it stays damp and cold. Merino wool is some of the best fabric for apparel. It can act as a layer no matter the temperature and double as sleep gear.

You’ll need a lightweight jacket with winter and rain gear, including rain pants. Hiking socks are just as essential, if not more than all the other gear. Dry, cool feet make for happy feet and happy hiking.

Sleeping Bag and Pad

When you’ve stopped hiking for the day, crawling into your sleeping bag on top of a comfortable sleeping pad is blissful. Bringing along a 20-degree bag even in the spring and summer is ideal for cool evenings.

Like your tent, your bag needs to fit in or on your pack, and your pad needs to do the same. Many pads and bags are available, so find one that suits your hiking needs.

Hiking Boots

Hiking boots will be your best friend, so ensure they fit you. They need to give you the support you need without being overbearing and tight. They must provide comfort while retaining traction to keep you on the trail.

Hiking boots
Keep your feet cozy by investing in properly fitting hiking boots.

You’ll need to break them in first. Do not buy new hiking boots the night before your hike starts. If you need new shoes along the way, buy a pair that is a bit bigger than you normally would, allowing for swollen feet when hiking.

Backpack

A backpack for hiking the Appalachian trail isn’t any daypack from your closet. This backpack will become an extension of you. Like your hiking boots, it needs to fit, and if you haven’t already found one or are purchasing a new pack, we highly recommend getting it to fit your body shape and size.

A thru-hike is nothing to scoff at. It is challenging, and like having good hiking boots, a decent backpack will make this adventure more enjoyable.

Water Purification

Hiking for a few hours allows you to carry your water without worrying too much about water purification. Taking all your water when hiking for months is an impossible task. Along with clothing and sleeping gear, you’ll need a method of purifying your drinking water.

Luckily, purification tools are small and weigh next to nothing. There are many options, like water purification tablets, filtration pumps, filtering straws, UV water purifiers, and backpacking cook stoves for boiling water. Bring along a few, so you are ready no matter the water source. 

Pro Tip: Have safe drinking water during your hike by packing one of these 6 Top-Rated Water Purification Tablets and How They Work.

Water Storage

While there may be some options to drink straight out of a water source depending on your purification systems, you’ll still need to bring water with you while hiking. Whether you choose water bottles or water bags, have a couple on your person at all times, full of potable water. Being stranded without drinking water is one of the best ways to cut your hiking short.

Woman hiking for a short portion on the Appachian Trail
Hiking the Appalachian Trail is challenging, but definitely worth while.

Other Items

The above items are only a portion of the gear you’ll need. While humans can go many days without food, hiking a thru-trail requires nourishment and fuel. This isn’t car camping, so you won’t have the comfort of home to cook your food. You’ll need to bring food that doesn’t require a lot of prep. Bring freeze-dried meals, oatmeal, ramen, and raw foods like nuts and seeds. A high-calorie diet is a way to go as you’ll be burning calories while hiking.

You shouldn’t pack all your food for the entire trip, either. You’ll have to resupply in local towns or order items at specific points along the trail. When in town, you can choose to indulge in restaurant food. However, food is fuel on the trek and needs to be purposeful.

Other items you’ll need include guidebooks and trail maps of the region. You’ll also need items for your safety and hygiene, with hiking poles, cooking gear, headlamps, bug spray, sunscreen, and more. 

While you hope never to need it, you will need first aid and a survival kit. It’s best to start with blister kits, bandaids, a syringe, gauze pads, pain and other types of medication, an emergency blanket, and fire starters.

Bring anything that can help prevent or mitigate risk outdoors in the backcountry. A hospital is no longer around the corner, and while you are more likely to come across other hikers, you need to be prepared to care for yourself and your hiking partners if a situation arises.

An essential tool in your toolbox is planning and preparation. The more you prepare, the better off you’ll be. However, don’t over plan and risk talking yourself out of hiking. Ultimately, you’ll have to stop planning and start doing.

7 Mistakes Rookie Thru-Hikers Make on the Appalachian Trail

Is Hiking the Appalachian Trail Worth It?

Are you up for the challenge of joining this community? Is it worth the planning, time, strife, and money? Hiking the Appalachian trail is a worthwhile adventure for most people who try it. While most of us won’t claim to be the fastest, hiking it all is a title worth holding.

Whether you’re hiking the Appalachian Trail or a local trail in your city, make sure you carry these 10 Hiking Essentials You Should Never Hit the Trail Without.

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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