2018 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker Survey: Top Stoves and Water Treatments

We surveyed over 300 section or thru-hikers about their stove, food, and water preferences and their experience of illnesses on the Appalachian Trail in 2018. This year, enough hikers with dietary restrictions were surveyed that we found some differences in their stove preferences. For graphs and details, keep reading, or else skip to the TL;DR at the end. For more information on the hikers, check out our general information post.

Stoves

Stove type 2018

About 80 percent of hikers started and finished using canister fuel stoves. Using no stove at all was the second most popular option, with nine percent starting without a stove and 13 percent finishing without one. Alcohol fuel stoves ranked third in popularity, while liquid fuel, solid fuel, and wood stoves were uncommon.

Stove Satisfaction and Dietary Restrictions

Twenty-two percent of hikers (66 people) reported some sort of dietary restriction, including vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, and allergies to common foods.Stove diet 2018

Like the hikers on the whole, those with dietary restrictions preferred canister fuel stoves. More hikers with dietary restrictions appear to go without a stove, although the difference was not significant.1 Even when only including vegetarian or vegan hikers (44 hikers, or 14%), there wasn’t a significant difference for stove type.2

Favorite Brands and Models

We asked hikers about their favorite stove that they used during their 2018 AT hike. The majority of hikers preferred canister fuel stoves by MSR and Jetboil.

MSR (113 hikers)

Pocket Rocket 1 or 2 (101 hikers)

Jetboil (63)

Flash (38)

MiniMo (13)

BRS (26)

3000 or 3000T (9)

Snow Peak (23)

LiteMax (16)

Homemade stoves (21)

Steel can, e.g., cat food or tuna (n=7)

Generic, off-brand (4)

Esbit (4)

Homemade stoves from cans were used by seven percent of all hikers in the survey. The Supercat website has instructions on how to make your own. Homemade stoves from aluminum cans are also an option, and the Titanium Siphon by Toaks is a manufactured option using alcohol fuel.

Resupply

On average, hikers went 4.2 days between resupply, with about two-thirds of hikers falling between two and six days.

Hikers with dietary needs were significantly more likely to use mail drops compared to hikers who did not have special dietary needs.3 Neither group was more likely to do both or to resupply at stores in towns along the way.4 

Water

We asked hikers how often they treated water they took from natural sources.

Treatment frequency 2018

Overall, hikers tended to treat their water. Almost two-thirds said they treated their water every time, and treating all water except direct spring water was the next most common response. Very few hikers said they never treated their water.

Water treatment generally comes in four types:

  • A pump that filters the water, requiring no wait time before drinking.
  • Liquid chemical treatments that take a few minutes to react before the water is safe to drink.
  • Tablets that operate the same way. Tablet treatments have been around longer than liquid treatments and, while small, are more bulky than liquid options.
  • Devices inserted into the water bottle or bag that use UV rays to treat the water.

Midsize water filters, such as the Sawyer Squeeze, were preferred by over three-quarters of AT hikers. Liquid chemical treatments (e.g., AquaMira) and large pumps (e.g., Katadyn) were the choice of about one-fifth of hikers each. Another fifth of hikers used small filters such as the Sawyer Mini or the Katadyn BeFree.

Almost 90 percent of hikers either treated their water every time they used water from a natural source, or they did so with everything except springs.

Illness

Only 5.2 percent of hikers in the survey (16 people) reported they contracted a waterborne illness during their 2018 trek. The more frequently people filtered their water, the less likely they were to contract a waterborne illness.5

Only 3.9 percent of hikers (12 people) said they contracted Lyme disease on the trail in 2018. We then asked hikers about the actions they took to prevent Lyme disease. Forty percent of hikers sprayed their clothing with permethrin and 41 percent checked for ticks daily. No Lyme disease prevention tactic significantly predicted whether or not hikers contracted Lyme disease, which was expected since so few hikers got it. Several hikers also reported carrying a Lyme disease medication (for example, doxycycline) in case they had a tick bite.

TL;DR

  • The majority of AT long-distance hikers use canister fuel stoves, the most common model being the MSR Pocket Rocket.
  • Alcohol stoves are also common, typically handmade stoves from catfood-type cans.
  • For people with dietary restrictions (such as vegetarian), canister fuel stoves are still the most common, but going without a stove was more common than it was for hikers with no dietary restrictions.
  • The average number of days between resupply was four days, give or take days. *About three-quarters (75%) of hikers primarily bought food in town, rather than using mail drops. However, mail drops were significantly more common for hikers with dietary restrictions. While mail drops used to be the norm on the AT, at this time, if you don’t have dietary restrictions, you probably don’t need to bother with mail drops.
  • For the most part, hikers treated their water. The less frequently they did so, the more likely they were to contract waterborne illnesses.
  • Midsize pumps, such as the Sawyer Squeeze, are the most popular type of water treatment system.
  • This year, so few hikers contracted Lyme disease that it was impossible to get much information about how prevention tactics worked for them. About 40 percent used permethrin and about 40 percent checked daily for ticks.

¡Muchas Gracias!

Many thanks to all the hikers who provided information in this survey, and CONGRATULATIONS on completing your hike! Thanks also to Zach Davis and Maggie Slepian for their contributions.

More from the 2018 Thru-Hiker Survey

Check out my previous posts on general hiker information, backpacks, footwear, shelter systems, and sleeping bags.

Notes

  1. χ2 = 5.663094 d.f. = 4 p = 0.225761
  2. χ2 = 3.020354 d.f. = 4 p = 0.554425
  3. χ2 = 11.25516 d.f. = 2 p = 0.004. For hikers with dietary needs using mail drops, standardized residual z = 2.59, p < .01.
  4. Standardized residuals for all other cells z > 1.96, p > .05
  5. Pearson’s r = -.21, p= .0003
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Comments 7

  • Hilary : Jan 17th

    What is a normal % of hikers who contract Lyme disease? 3.9% sounds like a lot. I’m from the West so it’s not as prevalent here. Glad to hear that the incidents were lower last year.

    Reply
  • david : Jan 18th

    I found the survey very interesting and confirmed what i had thought and helped with my equipment selection for my next bicycling trip. Thank you so much for making this information available.

    Sincerely

    David

    Reply
  • thetentman : Jan 18th

    Great post

    Reply
  • Broadwing : Jan 25th

    Very nice information. Although I’m not a long distance hiker, the information on equipment is invaluable to me as I have several “Bug Out Bags,” and one “Get Home Bag,” in my car in case of SHTF emergencies. Knowing what works and how well allows me to make better decisions, save money, and cut down on bag weight. Thank you!

    Reply
  • Dennis Washer : Jan 25th

    Love the articles, but, please, please keep in mind that even us color-blind folks like to hike! The graphs all look the same color!

    Reply

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