The AT Guide vs. The Thru-Hiker’s Companion
When it comes to Appalachian Trail guidebooks, there are really only two options: The Thru-Hiker’s Companion by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and The A.T. Guide by David “Awol” Miller. I used both of these guides along the trail, as I used Awol’s Guide and my hiking partner used the Companion. While both guides will get you from Springer to Katahdin (or Katahdin to Springer), there are some important factors to consider before making your purchase.
The most important part of both guides is how they depict the trail. The Companion uses a combination of a table and an elevation profile, while Awol’s Guide uses just an elevation profile.
In this case, Awol’s Guide is a much better resource. Roads, water sources, shelters and other important places are marked on the elevation profile exactly where you’ll find them as you hike.
The Companion’s information was last updated in 2012, so it’s outdated. If you’re looking at the elevation profile, you’ll find that shelters, water sources and the like will not be located where they are marked. While the table is accurate, the elevation profile is misleading. In fact, Katahdin is marked around 2,185 miles, not 2,189, so everything’s just a little off. That may not sound like a big deal, but expecting water or a shelter to be at the top of a mountain when it’s actually a few miles down the mountain could be a lousy surprise.
The Companion’s table format makes planning a lot easier. It includes separate tables in the back with information on post offices, hostels, camping, and showers along the trail. Planning can certainly be done with Awol’s Guide, it’s just not conveniently organized like the Companion.
While You’re Hiking
One of the most important differences between the two guides is Awol’s includes landmarks in the elevation profile that the Companion doesn’t. When you’re on a long stretch of trail with little info to figure out your location, having a power line, stile, bog board, footbridge, or railroad tracks on your map is very helpful. Awol’s guide also marks more water sources than the Companion.
While both guides mark parking areas, Awol’s includes GPS coordinates. If you’re section hiking or planning to have people meet you on the trail, this will be helpful.
The town maps and information are also very important. Both are decent in this category, but Awol’s is slightly more detailed.
The Companion also has information on the history of shelters and landmarks you’ll pass. While this isn’t necessary, it can be an interesting read.
Though I hate to say it because I always want to support the ATC, go for Awol’s The A.T. Guide. The ATC is a great organization that does tons of wonderful things for the Trail (we encourage you to become a member here), but their book is just not as good as Awol’s. And with the elevation profile being so inaccurate, it could be misleading for 2015 hikers. The AT Guide is more detailed, accurate, and a safer bet to use for your thru-hike.
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Jessica, the info in the Companion is updated continuously. It’s hard to explain but the elevation profiles are 99% accurate. While the baseline mileage is off the tables have the correct mileage. For instance, the state of Maine hasn’t changed (most of the relos were down south), the mileage from Monson to Katahdin is still 114.5 in the profiles and tables, and ascents and descent 100% accurate. If you actually used the book, you’d pick up the slight differences more easily.
Thanks. That’s the information I needed!
I’d give the companion a shout-out for being far less expensive. I agree with everything else you posted.
I guess it’s a matter of personal likes. I used the companion for close to fourteen hundred miles and then purchased the AWOL guide and found it less readable though I liked the elevation profiles.
Returning to finish the trail this year and decided to stick with the companion. The table format just appeals to me but hats off to Miller for thruhiking the trail.
Each to their own!
Each person has different preferences. I checked out one of each from my library. They’re old editions, but allowed me to get a feel for them. There are things I like about each, and it’s very hard to choose, but I think I’ll go with the companion.
I haven’t read this article yet, before I do I wanted to throw out a large thank you to you all for providing this information. I’ve had friends recoment the AWOL guide and I’ve been resistant to buy another book as I already have the Thru Hikers Companion, and when I googled “AWOL guide vs. others” this was the first result. That’s probably the 5th or 6th time google has lead me to Appalachian Trials to find the answer to a question, no mater how vague or out there. Thanks for making this process a breeze.
If you are willing to drop a bit more money and are carrying a smartphone anyway, guthooks is pretty much the best (in my opinion and experience ). No off trail/town information, but lots of information and basically on time info through the comments. The last thing was especially crucial through this year’s drought.
The AWOL guide is also available as a download to your smartphone. I carried both the hard copy and the downloaded version with me on my 2016 thru hike, and I used them both.