2004 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike
What is it:
The Appalachian Trail spans roughly 2,174 miles across 13 states from Georgia to Maine.
Most people who hike Northbound start the AT in March or April and take 5 to 6+ months to hike it. It is best to finish before
mid-October when the snow starts in New Hampshire and Maine.
I started late, May 17th due to having just graduated college that year. I finished in about 5 months, October 7th 2004.
What is it like:
The AT is notoriously wet and can be muddy and rocky in some sections.
Some hikers get sub-freezing temperatures and snow near the beginning if they start early.
Others get snow at the end if they finish late. The middle states are hot and humid in the summer.
Trail towns and resupply are generally about 3-5 days apart. The longest section, the "100 mile wilderness" in Maine can be done in 6 or 7 days.
Logistically the AT is one of the easiest trails because there are many other people around to help, and resources are not far apart.
The AT has lean-to style shelters every 5-10 miles so you don't always have to camp, and water sources are generally plentiful.
The AT is a very well established trail, most of it is well marked and easy to follow. You can get by without a map or compass.
Physically the AT is quite challenging. It can be steep and rugged, and it constantly climbs up and down hills and mountains, often for no reason at all.
Most of the trail is under tree cover but there are some sections that are above tree-line.
It can be mentally wearing. You can walk for days under trees without much of a view, or be wet for days at a time.
What I actually carried in 2004:
When I did the AT I was a broke kid just out of school. I was into making my own gear but had not started Zpacks yet.
I carried a homemade backpack and tarp-tent made of Sil-nylon. My tent was a little bit too short for me and my pack often needed repairs.
I had a homemade 20F down quilt that was a little bit too narrow, with no closure on the bottom.
My rain gear was a homemade nylon wind shirt worn under a trash bag with holes at the arms and neck.
I hiked in board shorts and when it rained I got wet.
My gear may not have been particularly good, but my base weight (all gear not including food and water)
of about 8 lbs was incredible at the time. I picked up the trail name
"Lightweight Joe" for the AT. I could have hiked much more comfortably, and even lighter with modern ultralight gear!
What I would carry if I were to do it again today:
On the AT you need to be prepared for temperatures from a bit below freezing to hot and humid. You could get light snow.
It probably will rain every other day. Some people send home their cold weather gear during the summer, and pick it up again up North.
My updated gear list could be used for the full trip without substitutions. If I were to do it again I would start at the beginning of May
and plan to finish in September, to avoid most of the freezing weather.
Applachian Trail Gear List:
This is the gear list that I would take if I were to do any three-season thru-hike today.
It is much better than the homemade gear I actually carried on the AT in 2004!