Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail: Baptism by bugs for the thru-hiker

Appalachian Trail Map - AT - with zoom and magnify featureLisa Garrett and Francis Tapon thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT) southbound in the summer of 2001. You can download the Appalachian Trail map as a PDF. Or, just run your mouse of the image on the right.

The Appalachian Trail thru-hike inspired Francis to write Hike Your Own Hike: 7 Life Lessons from Backpacking Across America. Please consider buying the book as a gift, because half of the royalty goes to the three biggest National Scenic Trails (see map of the Triple Crown on the bottom).

The Appalachian Trail is usually the first long trail that a thru-hiker attempts. It quickly becomes a baptism by fire, or, more accurately, by bugs! The east coast's humidity and abundant lakes is heaven for mosquitoes!

To keep running from the bugs, we were usually light and fast; normally it takes 5-7 months to hike the AT, but we did it in 3 months and 3 weeks.

Key to our strategy was to GoLite! Indeed, our average pack weight was only seven pounds!

Elevation Chart of the Appalachian Trail (AT)

Elevation on the Appalachian Trail

One of the challenges of the Appalachian Trail is the steep elevation gains and losses. When you look at the chart on the left, it doesn't seem that challenging on paper. The trail never goes above 7,000 feet, so how tough can it be?

What you quickly learn is that one thing is the altitude of the Appalachian Trail, and the other thing is how it goes up and over those mountains. In short, the trail designers didn't have the word "switchback" in their vocabulary. This is especially apparent in New England. Therefore, if you start in New England (as southbounders like us did), then it can be a rough start. Be prepared!

Appalachian Trail overview map
On the other hand, the Appalachian Trail, as the map on the right shows, is near civilization the whole way. At times you may feel like you're in the middle of nowhere, but compared to the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, the Appalachian Trail is always near a town.

In some ways, the Appalachian Trail is the toughest of the Triple Crown. The Appalachian Trail has the:

  1. Steepest trail. Mile for mile, the AT gains (and loses) nearly twice the vertical footage of the other two trails.
  2. Most brutal humidity and endless PUDs (pointless ups and downs), which make it psychologically challenging.
  3. Most people. For those who want to get away from people and enjoy the wilderness, this isn't the best trail because millions use the trail every year.
  4. Triple Crown - AT, PCT, CDT
    Least spectacular scenery. If you're used to the scenery of the PCT or CDT, then the AT will probably disappoint you. The AT is certainly a beautiful trail; however, most backpackers prefer the beauty of the other two trails. 

Mouse over the map of the USA to see a closeup of the three big trails!

To read about the trip check out the article links on this page!


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