How to Hike the Appalachian Trail In Four Months or Fewer

I completed my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail one year ago today. Here’s a quick-and-dirty guide for how to do it fast.

Have a plan

The only way you’re going to hike over 2,190 miles in sixteen weeks is if you have an idea of how far you need to hike each day. This naturally manifests itself in the form of an itinerary, which lists out where you plan to stay each night. You might know David “AWOL” Miller from his best-selling trail guide, but few people are aware he has itineraries on his website for free. You can give my itinerary a try as well.

Some people will say having an itinerary takes away the magic of thru-hiking. These are the same people who will be eating your dust.

Pack light

The average thru-hikers takes between five and seven months to complete the A.T., with an average base weight of 19 pounds. If you want to go faster, you have to go lighter. Here’s an algorithm for cost-effectively getting a lighter pack:

  1. Weigh out everything you have in your pack, and find lighter alternatives on sites like OutdoorGearLab.
  2. Figure out how much weight you’d save if you bought the alternative, and divide it by price to get a savings-to-price ratio.
  3. Buy gear in descending order of the savings-to-price ratio.
  4. Stop when you don’t want to spend any more money.

My base weight was around 13.6 pounds. Get to a weight like that and you’re golden.

Be consistent

More than 80% of people who start an A.T. thru-hike don’t complete it. There are lots of reasons behind this: injury, improper budgeting, getting homesick. You can help yourself avoid some of these issues by being consistent. Learn the range for your pace and stick to it; set a budget and stick to it; make a plan for seeing friends and family and stick to it. If popular books are any indication, we’re just starting to realize how important habits are. By forming a good set of habits on the trail, knocking out miles will be the norm for you, not the exception.

Have a support system

If I can say one thing for certain, it’s that I wouldn’t have been able to complete the A.T. without my support system: my family. Here’s an incomplete list of what my family did to support me:

Your support system needn’t be your family! It can be friends or relatives in various states, or even just some kind people in trail towns. Whoever it is, try and get help from them when you need it. You’ll be surprised how often people are willing to lend a hand.

Take help and be thankful

Letters to folks that helped me

You may think that you’re completing the A.T. all by yourself, but the truth is you’ll be propelled to the terminus by a group of strangers.

Whether it’s a family that buys you a meal after a bear eats your food, or a day hiker that gives you a Clif Bar, or a woman that drives you to a gas station to re-supply, there will be lots of people that show up for you as trail angels. I recommend taking down their name and address and sending them a thank-you note when you complete your thru-hike (the photo to the left is all the thank-you notes I wrote when I finished). Not only will it make them smile, but it will also motivate you to keep going when times are tough—after all, you don’t want to disappoint them.

That’s all I have for now. If you’re considering hiking the A.T. and want to talk through any plans, feel free to reach out. My email’s at the top of my CV.