[MAILBAG] Appalachian Trail FAQ: Am I Too Old to Thru-Hike?

Today’s question comes from Owen B.

Did you see a lot of post retirees thru hiking? You know of many that have made it? I’d like to think I could do it at 50, but any stats or stories could give me the encouragement or reality check I need!


And to be perfectly honest with you, the older folks of the trail were my favorite demographic. Although the typical thru-hiker is a guy with a 5″ bush-of-a-beard and somewhere between the ages of 18-30 (purely observational), those in their golden years definitely seemed to be enjoying themselves more than anyone else.  For them, this has been a dream that has been snowballing for decades, but circumstance made it too impractical to disappear for a half year.  Finally, their kids go to school, and their wife/husband grants permission to attempt the insane.

Although the fresh-out-of-school population has a distinct physical advantage, especially in the beginning, after a few weeks to a month on trail, everyone’s muscles, joints, ligaments, and spirit have hit their hiker-stride.  I would definitely recommend a bit of pre-trail physical training to ease the transition to shouldering 20+ lbs up and down mountains, but as I state in the book, it’s not totally necessary.  Less training will just translate to fewer miles out the gate.  Always, always, always listen to your body.

But that’s where the disadvantages end.  The premise of Appalachian Trials is helping hikers to find their why.  Those who have been dreaming about the AT for years-on-years-on-years, have a very strong why, whether they’re actively aware of this or not.  They’re the ones smiling in the storms, humming on the uphills, and leading the charge in the fire-pit fart-off at night’s end.  Once their bodies adapt to the physical rigors, their unwavering spirit helps them coast to Katahdin.

Lastly, from a community standpoint, although most hikers are typically younger, our post-retirees are definitely well-represented on trail.  The common thread amongst thru-hikers are those who have minimal life commitments.  This roughly translates to before, between, and after jobs. All that being said, the AT has only one category of people: awesome.  Age, sex, religion, political beliefs, etc. all go out the window.  You’re all chasing a common goal: to achieve something monumental while having a blast in the process.  The year you were born is irrelevant.  (However, if you do want to connect with hikers before embarking check out the 2015 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers Page)

I have a few friends from the AT who might roughly fit the criteria you have suggested.  I will ask them to throw their thoughts into the comments section.

Lastly, a 74-year old woman thru-hiked this year.   So, if you’re younger than that, you are effectively out of excuses 🙂

Hope that helps!

 – Have a question you want answered?  Let us know in the comments below. –

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Comments 24

  • kab421 : Apr 11th

    I observed two populations on the PCT in 2007/08. The bigger population of hikers was the 20-30 something crowd but there was also a substantial number that were in their 50’s and some in their 60’s. That 50’s group included early retirees, taking a break types and children just went to college. There’s no doubt that if you are older you will need to train a little more to get ready for the hike but 50 definitely isn’t too old. Neither is 60 if you are healthy.

  • Bearfoot : Apr 11th

    I was 56 when I started the AT in 2013. I was definitely not in prime shape when and had a few injuries leading to several route changes along the way. Sometimes a Nobo needs to go Sobo to get to Maine. Watched many 20 somethings fall to the side as I continued on. Slow and steady gets you there. When all was said and done, I averaged exactly 12 miles a day, with zeroes included. 6 months and 2 weeks total.

    • Anne : Mar 14th

      To Bearfoot : I like to read messages like yours, because I plan to do the AT in March 2019 and will be… 56 at that time. 🙂

      I have been dreaming about doing it for several years now, so I, like Zach wrote, have a very why.

  • TicTac : Apr 11th

    I turned 68 just 5 days ago, and I will be starting my SoBo AT thru-hike on 02Jul2015. Too old? Oh hell no!!!

    • Gary Kuykendall : Jan 12th

      I’m so proud of you, I just turned 65 and my friends and family think I’m nuts, but in May of this year I am going to start section hiking The AT.
      I have been hiking for many years, but only day hikes. I just retired from my job and a guy that I worked with for 12 years has section hiked the AT for many years so it’s not like I’m going with someone that doesn’t know what he is doing, we are getting ready to start over night hiking a day or two as training hikes, I am joining a jim to start building up my legs and back. Sorry I hope I didn’t bore you with all my stuff. I wish you all the luck in the world, please keep me posted on your progress.
      Your friend Mr Gary

  • Davo 64 : Apr 12th

    Going to hike the AT in 2017. I’ll be 64 then. So, so, so looking forward to it!

    • Lawnchair : Dec 13th

      My wife and I will be doing it then too! I will turn 66 on the trip and she will turn 57. We are going to do the ATC-suggested flip-flop starting in S VA in late March as a Nobo to K, then back there to head to Springer as a Sobo. See you there!

  • Bo L Boazy : Oct 10th

    I cannot wait to retire and hit the trail in the year 2026 and I will be 61 years old female.

    • Gramcracker : Mar 25th

      I will start the AT in March of 2021 I will be 66, my brother is coming along he will be 71. Hope we will be OK, I am ready now, but the boss won’t hold my job . Hope to reach MT. K in September on the 26th—My birthday

  • Nancy : Dec 12th

    I can’t do the full trail…yet…I start my section hike on june 9 at the age of 58! Looking forward to this life long dream

  • Oak : Dec 12th

    I Thru hiked the AT in 2013 after retiring at age 58. Age doesn’t matter if you have the desire…Dream, Believe, Achieve was my mantra.

  • Steve : Dec 20th

    I”m doing a NOBO in 2016 – age 58. Just need the knees to hold up!

  • Bigfoot : Dec 24th

    I am 66 and have in the past year hiked various sections of the A/T in Pa and NJ. In 2016 I plan to do Del Water Gap south to Springer and then the Gap north to Maine. I never had great muscle mass on my legs and always thought this deficiency would do me in. However, the well known phenomenon of developing “trail legs” held true for me as I breezed home on my latest A/T 8 day trek. I think I’m prepared for the long trek. Planning is the key, as as a former Scout….always, always, be prepared!.

  • Jeff : Jan 2nd

    I’m age 57, cancer survivor and starting to section hike the AT in 2016. Starting now on a 4-month exercise routine to prepare my body (mainly knees). Looking forward to it!!!

    • John : Jan 19th

      hay Jeff looking to partner up with a hiker I am 68 y/o have already finished GA section email if interested; planning
      N.Carolina line to Fontana Dam in April 2016. Email me HYOH!!

  • Gary Kuykendall : Jun 28th

    My name is Gary, I am turning 65 on 12/31/16 , my wife and I have been going th the smokey mountains for about 35 years, we have hiked a lot but only 3 to 5 hour trips, never over night, I bought a pack and a friend that has hiked the AT many times is helping me fill my pack with the right things, I will be going with my friend and a few others in May of 2017, I am so excited, my wife told me I was out of my mind, but this is something I have wanted to do or years, I am 5’9″ and I weigh 170 lbs. I can’t wait. Any one have any tips on how I should train for my trip ? Oh BTW we will just be hiking only 6 or 7 days as my friend will have to get back to work, oh yes I almost forgot to mention that I will be returning from my job at the end of this year.

    • Zach : Jul 11th

      Hey Gary-

      Sounds like a fun adventure- you and your crew are going to have a blast! The best advice for preparing for a backpacking trip simply is to backpack 🙂 Not only will this give you a good idea for what you’re getting into physically, but it’ll help you refine your gear list- what works, what doesn’t, etc. If you guys are able to get out on a couple of shakedown hikes before the real deal, you’ll be much better suited to enjoy your time.

      Have a blast and let us know how it goes.


      • Gary Kuykendall : Jan 12th

        Thank you for replying to me, this is 1/12/17 we are going in May, I am more excited now than I have ever been.

  • Mike"Rowdy" : Aug 8th

    Go for it! Will be an AT thru hiker April 2018 (God wiling) .In good shape and excellent health and 76 yrs young !

  • Cindy : Sep 22nd

    My husband and I are planning on summiting Katahdin on June 2nd, 2017 and then continue south to Georgia. I just turned sixty and Michael is 63. We can’t wait for this! I want to find a Gunne Sax dress to wear when it rains! lol We have been practicing… made it up Mount Chorochua which was a proud moment, we walk the power lines and can do 8 miles with 15-20 pounds in 3.5 hours including breaks and cooking lunch. When we started, we thought 3 miles on a paved road was difficult. I hope to meet some of you on the trail. Look for the little pink Piggle Wiggly pig! Best wishes to you all!

  • Tricia E Bratton : Jan 27th

    I find this very inspiring. I am 60 this year and am beginning to plan for hiking the AT in 2020, when I retire. I will be 63. I have become obsessed with the idea of doing this since my husband died a couple of years ago. I have been getting fit and doing a lot of hiking here in England, usually 8-15 mile hikes with other ‘Ramblers’, as we are called, here. I plan to hike about 55 miles of Hadrian’s Wall this summer, to see how well I do hiking long distances. I look forward to getting in shape and flip-flopping the AT in 2020!

  • Judy Huffman : Mar 28th

    I’m wanting info on people in the Houston Texas area who want to hike the trail. I’m a 65 yr widow. I don’t really want to “hike around” Houston. I would like to meet, prepare, share a like mind, hike partial trips on trail Etc. I have no experience but REALLY want to do this. At this time in very good health. Help! Anyone out there. Judy 3/2017

  • Joseph : Apr 22nd

    Planning at 2019 or 2020 age 65….. Love those trees. From Tallahassee in North Florida a great outdoorsy place! Thanks!!

  • Jim b : Aug 24th

    Just got this idea of doing the AT over the past week or so. Plan on doing it when I retire in about 6 yrs – so plenty of time to salivate and plan and prepare and read up on it. I am really looking forward to following the ‘fall’ from Virginia southward tp GA from August into November. The long term change of the leaves on the Trail would be absolutely amazing imho. By the way, I’ll be coming from New Zealand in order to do it – 1/2 one year and the northern half the next year going when the leaves are changing again – that is the prelim plan. Happy Trails to all.


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