Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker Survey

What better way to prepare for a thru-hike than by learning from those who already did it? We survey hundreds of completed AT thru-hikers every year to learn about their habits, preferences, and behaviors on the trail. The surveys cover everything from demographics, resupply strategies, and gear preferences to hikers’ favorite/least favorite spots on the trail.

This project has grown and changed throughout the years along with our changing times. Thanks to everyone who has participated over the years—your contribution helps future hikers and the general public to understand the trail.

Planning to hike the AT? Don’t miss the next thrilling installment in the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker Survey (or the chance to participate yourself!). Sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date with this year’s survey.

The 2021 AT Thru-Hiker Survey

General Information

Read this one if you want to learn about:

  • Hiker demographics
  • Start/finish dates and hiking pace
  • Success rate and reasons for stopping early
  • Budget
  • And so much more!

Top Footwear

Boots continued to decline in popularity in 2021, and while Altras remained incredibly popular, HOKA One One is gaining on them rapidly.

Top Tents and Shelters

A significant number of 2021 thru-hikers went one size up when selecting a tent. Popular trekking pole setups from cottage companies Zpacks and Gossamer Gear were the most popular individual models this year, although big-name freestanding tent brands Big Agnes and NEMO were still more popular overall. Perhaps unsurprisingly, hikers using more complicated trekking pole setups reported a higher rate of dissatisfaction than those sticking to user-friendly freestanding tents.

Top Sleeping Bags, Quilts, and Pads

Quilts outstripped traditional sleeping bags in popularity for the first time this year, with a staggering 63% of hikers including a quilt in their sleep system. Interestingly, quilts from just one cottage manufacturer dominated the trail this year, finding a place in the backpacks of nearly two-thirds of survey respondents.

Top Backpacks

Base weights this year ranged from just six pounds to more than 30. The majority of hikers were satisfied with their backpack choice, and those who were not weigh in with the reasons they wish they’d switched.

Stoves, Diet, and Water Filtration

We learned this year that the overwhelming majority of hikers filter their water every time and very few respondents reported contracting a waterborne illness. Interestingly, a much larger percentage of the hikers who only filtered sometimes or never reported getting sick than those who consistently filtered, though we really don’t have enough data to be sure.

Summarizing the 2021 Survey (Plus Hikers’ Favorite Spots on the AT)

Your one-stop-shop for everything we learned from the Class of 2021—and to make things more interesting, we also report data on hikers’ favorite and least favorite sections of the trail this year.

The 2020 AT Section Hiker Survey

Motives and Logistics

Long overlooked in our annual surveys, Appalachian Trail (AT) section hikers were the focus of this year’s survey. This post focuses on the logistics of section hiking, like trips per year and how long section hikes usually take.

Companions and Demographics

This post focuses on the demographics of section hikers, including comparisons to thru-hikers. We also zero in on section hikers’ behavior and preferences when it comes to hiking with a partner vs. solo.

Resupply and Transportation

This post focuses on resupply, types of food carried, and transportation to and from the AT. Using data from the 2019 Thru-Hiker Survey, we also compare section hikers’ responses to thru-hikers.

The 2019 AT Survey

General Information

We collected data on hikers’ favorite AT hostels for the first time in the 2019 survey. Changes from last year also include several new resources hikers used to prepare for the trail.

Top Footwear

Trail runners continued their steady rise in popularity in 2019. Altra Lone Peaks were (unsurprisingly) the most popular trail runner, while Salomon was the dominant brand among boot-wearers.

Top Tents and Shelters

In the 2019 survey we collected data about shelter choices among hikers with canine companions. We also got into the nitty-gritty details of ultralight tarps.

Top Sleeping Bags, Quilts, and Pads

We asked 2019 respondents about the sleeping bags they used, as well as quilts and sleeping pads. We also looked at our data over time and noticed a trend that’s becoming more popular each year. For the details, keep reading.

Top Backpacks

We asked hikers about the frame type, capacity, brand, and model of their backpacks. This year a different brand and model emerged as the top choice ultralight pack. In the past, we’ve found that the load within that pack affects hikers’ perceptions of the backpack itself, so we’ve also looked into the weight hikers carry. Hikers this year packed a little differently from how they did in previous years.

Top Stoves and Filters

We surveyed 365 section or thru-hikers about their stove, food, and water preferences and their experience of illnesses on the Appalachian Trail in 2019. We found some interesting differences in stove and resupply choices among hikers with dietary restrictions.

Southbound Thru-Hiker Survey

Same questions, different cohort. Because SOBO thru-hikes are so much less common than NOBO itineraries, it took several years of data collection to get enough responses to analyze SOBO trends specifically. In this post, we compare southbounders’ demographics, hiking speed, gear preferences, and favorite sections of the trail to those of northbounders.

2014 – 2019 AT Thru-Hiker Survey: Five-Year Trends

The AT experience changes radically from year to year as the trail grows in popularity and gear and technology continue to evolve. Have you ever wondered how demographics, gear preferences, etc. on the AT are changing over time? This is the post for you.

The 2018 AT Thru-Hiker Survey

General Information

All the usual demographic goodness, including a detailed look at Leave No Trace adherence and littering practices on the AT. 2018 thru-hikers also weighed in on their favorite and least favorite (and hardest/easiest) sections of the AT.

Top Footwear

Fun fact: these surveys originated in 2014 when several of us who write for the website were discussing our surprise that we saw so few traditional hiking boots on our thru-hikes, even though most of us had worn hiking boots until our first long-distance hike. Five years later, the trail runner trend continues to grow, and some of the trends with brands and models have changed each year.

Top Tents and Shelters

A look at the types shelters used by 2018 thru-hikers, including a detailed breakdown of preferred brands and models of tents and hammocks.

Top Sleeping Bags, Quilts, and Pads

Read through to the end for a detailed breakdown of hikers’ favorite brands and models, as well as specific recommendations depending on your start date and the direction you’re hiking.

Top Backpacks

In the past, we’ve found that the load within that pack affects hikers’ perceptions of the backpack itself, so in 2018 we also looked into the weight that hikers carried along with their favorite brands and models.

Top Stoves and Filters

This year, enough hikers with dietary restrictions were surveyed that we found some differences in their stove preferences. Check out the posts for graphs, details, and a handy summary of our findings.

The 2017 AT Thru-Hiker Survey

General Information

This post covers our 2017 data on the timeline of hikers’ treks, their favorite sections of the Trail, the sections they found the most difficult, their hiking partners, and their adherence to Leave No Trace practices, their budgets, and participation in hiker festivals and check-ins.

Top Footwear

Data on hikers’ preferred shoe brands and models, plus a closer look at how often and why thru-hikers replaced their shoes. Recommended reading for anyone who’s wondering how many pairs of shoes they’ll go through on their upcoming thru-hike.

Top Tents and Shelters

Ah, the olden days before cottage brands like Gossamer Gear and Six Moon Designs were major players in the thru-hiking tent market. Take a trip down memory lane to see what shelters hikers preferred in 2017.

Top Sleeping Bags and Quilts

This year, we compared northbounders’ and southbounders’ sleeping bag preferences and took a closer look at the lowest temperature thru-hikers encountered on their treks.

Top Backpacks

Anyone else still think fondly back to when the Osprey Exos still had hip belt pockets? Click to see what packs 2017 thru-hikers preferred.

The 2016 AT Thru-Hiker Survey

General Information

2016 was the first year we collected demographic data as part of the thru-hiker survey. For the first time, we also took a look at the timeline of hikers’ treks, their favorite sections of the trail, the sections they found the most difficult, their hiking partners, and their adherence to Leave No Trace practices.

Top Footwear

Trail runners were still more popular than boots in 2016, but it wasn’t nearly as cut-and-dried as it is today. Though the majority of 2016 hikers finished in trail runners, nearly half of them started the trail in boots or hiking shoes.

Top Tents and Shelters

Most hikers this year were satisfied with their choice of shelter, though many wished they had tested their tents on longer backpacking excursions before starting the AT. Words of wisdom from the Class of 2016.

Top Sleeping Bags and Quilts

What temperature sleeping bag did hikers start with in 2016, and what temperature bag did they ultimately swap it out for when the weather warmed up? Click to find out.

Top Backpacks

Plot twist: this year we took a closer look at what gear items hikers added or discarded from their packs along the way. If you’re on the fence about taking a certain item with you on your hike, you might want to check out this post to see how previous hikers felt about it.

Stoves, Diet, Filters, and Illness

In addition to hikers’ favorite stoves and water filters, check out this post for tips on avoiding Lyme disease and waterborne illness.

The 2015 AT Thru-Hiker Survey

Top Footwear

You know it’s a vintage survey when Altra Lone Peaks aren’t even mentioned once. Brooks Cascadias were the preferred trail runner model in 2015.

Top Tents and Shelters

We looked more closely this year at hikers’ satisfaction rates with their shelter system compared to other types of gear. In other news, Hennessy dominated the hammock game in 2015 and trekking pole tents weren’t really a thing.

Top Sleeping Bags and Quilts

This year we looked at hikers preferences between natural, treated, and synthetic down. Quilts were still something of a novelty on the AT in 2015, and Enlightened Equipment—though still popular among quilt users—hadn’t yet risen to its current domination of the thru-hiking sleep system market.

Top Sleeping Pads

We looked at foam vs. inflatable, hikers’ preferences by shelter system, and overall most popular brands and models of sleeping pads in the 2015 AT survey.

Top Backpacks

We looked at pack capacity, top brands and models, and whether/why hikers swapped their packs along the way.

The 2014 AT Thru-Hiker Survey

Top Footwear

Our first-ever AT survey, and it all started with the age-old question: “boots or trail runners?”

Top Tents and Shelters

Big Agnes dominated the tent world (and the vast majority of thru-hikers opted for tents), Hennessy lead in the hammock department, and most tarp users opted for a hybrid Tarptent model by Henry Shires. The Zpacks Duplex wasn’t even a thing on the AT in 2014—weird.

Top Sleeping Bags and Pads

“Should I switch sleeping bags in the summer?”

“How warm of a sleeping bag do I need?”

“What kind of sleeping bag should I use?”

We attempted to answer these questions empirically for the first time in the 2014 AT survey.

Featured image: Graphic design by Chris Helm (@chris.helm).