QUICK ANSWER: It takes anywhere between 5-7 months to complete the AT. Yes, you read that right! This is a mammoth undertaking and not to be taken lightly. The exact number depends largely upon your experience and commitment, how well you’re prepared, how physically fit you are, how many people are in your group and many other variables.
And no wonder – the AT is simply massive. The trail’s full length spans 2,200-miles across 14 states in the eastern United States, from Georgia up to Maine. It’s generally recognized as the longest hiking-only trail in the world, attracting thousands of travelers from across the globe every year.
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You should expect to walk around 10 to 14 miles a day if you want to complete the trail in under 7 months. This adds up to 3-5 hours a day spent hiking at a reasonable pace. Since it takes about 15 minutes to walk a mile, you will need to spend about 33,000 minutes (550 hours) on the trail.
The current record for the fastest Appalachian Trail hike is held by Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy. He averaged about 50 miles a day to complete the trail in 45 days, 12 hours, and 15 minutes. Amazing!
Statistics illustrate that most people who attempt the AT never finish. On average, 20% of the people who start the trail will actually finish. This means that out of the estimated 3,377 people who started the trail in 2016, only about 675 people actually finished it.
To complete the Appalachian Trail you’re looking at spending $1,000 a month, so at least $5,000 per person, some people also say that it can be done for a little under $5,000. Of course, there are also those who have boasted finishing it for less than $1,000 per person. Since the cost will depend on your needs, here is a breakdown of the basic things you need.
The vast majority of your expenses will be spent on food. Although you might envision being able to sustain yourself off the land by fishing and picking edible plants, the likelihood of this is slim. It’s easy to plan on being able to take care of yourself, but when hunger strikes you will definitely want to feast as much as possible after a long day’s hike.
Although some people can expect to spend $5-6 a day just for food and water, it’s best to budget for an average of $10/day so that you can remain nourished and strong. Your costs will also depend on how, and how often you resupply, as described here.
For many thru-hikers, camping along the AT is a natural choice, and part of the experience and adventure of long distance hiking. Plus, this is a great idea since, after all, you can sleep in a tent for free. However, there will surely be times where you will want to stay at a hostel, motel, or hotel to have a nice bed and indoor space. If you consider that hostels will cost anywhere between $10-20 a day, this can add up very quickly.
Then, there might be nights where you need to relax in a luxury hotel which can cost all the way up to $200/night. At the end of the day, how much you spend here will depend on your budget and decisions.
Choosing the right gear is one of the most important considerations when embarking on a thru-hike. Your clothes and gear require careful planning since you don’t want to bring too much with you. At the minimum, you need to purchase a top quality backpack, hiking shoes, clothing, tent, sleeping bag, gas stove, torch, etc, and anything else you can’t live without.
Then, you will need to budget for replacing all of these things! For example, no matter how good your hiking boots are, most people end up going through several pairs. When added up together, this can surpass $1,000 rather easily, and realistically reach $2,000 by the time you are finished with the trail. Finally, if you have drinking or smoking needs, calculate what you normally spend on these things and factor it into play.
As described by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, hiking the AT alone can be a dangerous thing to do. Although many people assert that this can be safely done, there is always a risk when traveling by yourself. In any case, keep in mind that you will likely not be alone after all since many of the camp and trail sites will be inhabited by more people than you might otherwise expect.
Freedom! When you hike by yourself you will still be able to make friends, go at your own pace, and do everything that you want along the way. Sounds great to us.
Simply put, there is little that can prepare you for the long, strenuous journey by yourself along the Appalachian Trail. However, some people suggest being careful about surrounding yourself with strangers and finding a way to keep in contact with your loved ones back home. Outside of keeping the above factors in mind, make sure that you are ready to leave familiarity and security behind as you begin the long and sometimes unpredictable journey along the AT.
The National Park Service has several safety guidelines which have been created through careful consideration of the experience of past hikers of the AT. In a nutshell, make sure that you bring the same street sense you have learned at home and amplify it on the trail. Always know where you are, bring basic survival equipment, and be sure to have a plan B if things take a turn for the worse.
There are plenty of females who successfully (and safely) embark on and complete the AT every year. Although there are many tips for solo female hikers, here are some of our favorites.
Here are some of the top tips for people embarking on a thru-hike.