Putting this Gingerly: What’s With All of the Redheads on the AT?

It certainly isn’t soul searching.

This year, I’ve heard the same remarks from hostel owners, hotels and trail angels. “There are so many of you people out this year.” You people? They aren’t being rude as inquisitive on why so many redheads are on the Appalachian Trail. Hear me out:

Pictured (Left to Right): Author “Barefoot”, PhifeDawg, and RedBull.

How We Got the Fire

Redheads make up a little less than 2% of the world’s population. Ireland has a higher percentage of gingers with almost forty percent of the total Irish population harboring a dormant MC1R gene. The gene is responsible for that milky pale skin and red hair. It’s been the focus of studies for decades for its relation to “fountain of youth” properties, low pain tolerance, and resistance to medicines and anesthesia. While this all sounds awesome, what does it have to do with the Appalachian Trail?

We Will Walk In the Shade

Of the eleven U.S. National Scenic Trails including Florida National Scenic Trail (FNST), Ice Age Trail (IAT), and Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), the Appalachian Trail is one of the only trails with consistent protection from the sun. Redheads are four times more likely to get melanoma, or skin cancer. According to an October 2000 Science Magazine article, one of two versions of MC1R causes redheads to release a red pigment and burn when in sunlight. How does a pale skinned person not get a nasty sunburn? The Appalachian Trail. It allows more redheads to walk the trail in canopied bliss and avoid the painful burns. Accidents do still happen, though.

So what’s with all the red beards? As mentioned above, MC1R is dormant in many Irish, Italian and Scandinavian ancestry. A redhead is just a result of the recessive gene and can come from almost any culture.

Pictured above: Sunburned hand after sleeping in for one hour exposed to full sunlight.

Other Theories

So, if you are a fellow redhead and have wondered yourself “why all the redheads?”, here’s an answer. Daywalkers on the AT get the perks of the great outdoors, the community, and a little extra SPF without the added weight of sunscreen from which to hide from the rays of our slow killer, the sun.

Not to discredit other top redhead scientists, we also believe fire crotches may have figured out the sun is bad and are experiencing a mass exodus at a scale never seen before.

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

What Do You Think?