The 10 Hikers You Meet on the Appalachian Trail

1.  The Squirrelly Old Man

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This is Billy Goat. He’s awesome and has hiked everything.

If you’re a cyclist or runner, you’ve probably seen this guy already. He’s the one who pedals past you uphill, ignoring the popping of his own joints. You try desperately to sprint past him at the end of the 5K only to be shut down by a reserve of power he’s been rationing since the Depression. Somehow, his wiry old frame is just killing the free weights at the gym.

Well, he’s out there on the trail too.

Just when you think the last hiker has reached camp that night, you get a whiff of Bengay on the breeze. Soon you see him limping out of the forest, this octogenarian terminator. And you know that before you’ve even considered crawling out of your smelly bag in the morning he will have already shaved with cold water in his WWII helmet, taken a spoon of cod liver oil, and hit the trail. You might pass him during the day but don’t let your guard down. You’ll see him again.

He is the turtle to your hare, the tireless march of time that hunts you down. He is unstoppable, so you’ll just have to accept your fate and make friends with him – because he’s totally going to outlive you.

2.  The Squirrelly Old Woman

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The squirrelly old woman is just as unstoppable as the Squirrelly old man, but will pass you while chain smoking Virginia Slims and wearing Rambo sunglasses.

3.  The Romantic

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We’ve all been this person before. But then there’s the hiker who can’t turn it off. There they are, prancing through a meadow in bare feet, blowing flower blossoms into the air, and writing long log book entries about the noble Porcupine. You reach Greyson Highlands only to find them riding a pony. They weep for rainbows. They try to befriend the bears in Shenandoah and recite ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’ at every sunset.

No matter what you initial misgivings are, though, this person will inevitably make your hike better through their eccentricities, their exuberance, and the invention of cheerful songs like ‘singing in the hail’.

4.  The “Hiker

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Is he homeless? I mean, he has jeans on. And he said his tent got stolen… But he has a sleeping bag. And a jug of bleach to treat his water.

He looks familiar enough, but you can’t quite be sure if you saw his face on a half-way photo at the ATC headquarters or on the evening news. He might be a real hiker. But maybe for fun we’ll just hike another seven miles tonight to the next shelter.

5.  The Survivalist

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This guy has been preparing for his thru-hike at the same Tibetan Monastery that trained Batman. He has a machete, rabbit snare, fishing pole, and a hunk of flint. He sleeps in the shelters and occasionally builds his own tent by lashing together branches and covering them with leaves. He has been overheard asking ‘what would Bear Grylls do?’

You know you’ll be glad this guy exists when the zombies come, but at the moment you’re just trying to drink some instant coffee before a five-mile hike into town. You don’t need him doing upside-down crunches from the shelter rafters.

6.  The Stoner

You can see the Rasta colors from a mile away.  And even from the other side of a mountain you can pick up the distinct odors of Patchouli and Marijuana that always bring to mind your art teacher’s office.

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Usually, the stoner is pretty funny. They liven up the shelter scene with antics and jokes that make the hiking experience feel more like a wild vacation than a grueling march. But then they spill mac and cheese all over the shelter floor and you fall asleep wondering, ‘if a bear eats him, will it get stoned?’ and ‘What the hell is a stoned bear going to be like?’

7.  The Mayfly

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You blinked and missed it, but a blur of gym shorts and energy bars just shot by you. You can try to catch up but you’ll only be jogging behind them, trying to sound casual while gasping for air. You’ve met an elite May-starter.

They just finished their medical degree and only have three months, so they’re hiking the Appalachian Trail. About 25 miles per day so far, but it’s been pretty easy. They’ll probably have to slow down to 20 miles a day in the Whites.

Yes, these people are out there. It’s better to just let them fly by and dismiss them as mythical beasts, like narwhals or people who don’t like chocolate.

8.  The Snorer

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What is that horrible animal? Oh, it’s just the guy with sleep apnea. You will learn to dread the foreboding puff of his inhaler as he wheezes into the shelter at sundown. You’re unclear on how he is able to hike big miles when his vocal chords are trying to chainsaw their way out of his throat each night. Still, you learn to tolerate the unholy noise with earplugs and your head stuffed deeply into your sleeping bag – at least he keeps the bears away.

9.  The Ultra-lighter

There they are, trotting along with a bag the size of a day-hiker’s, stopping at the shelter after a thirty mile day. You won’t see them again but you’ll read their name for weeks to come, quickly scrawled next to a date that grows further and further away. You’ve seen purses bigger than the backpack from which they produce a shelter made of helium, an emergency blanket, and a single granola bar.

While they make you glad for your creature comforts, you can’t help but feel embarrassed as they perform their daily ablutions – brushing their teeth with half a toothbrush and shaving off all body hair – about your own gear, with its straps and whistles and camp mugs clanging.  Still, it’s hard to picture being in their shoes – especially since they cut off the front half.

10.  The Heavy-Weight

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On the other hand, there are the heavy-weight champions. While the ultra-lighter is rolling around like a baked potato in their emergency blanket, the heavy weighter is comfortable in their zero degree army surplus bag with a blow-up swim raft for their sleeping pad.

Bug spray, hammocks, camera tripods, and books pour out of their external-frame backpack like jugglers from a clown car. You are half expecting to see them pushing a wheelbarrow eventually. But, to their credit, they often share their wealth of food, and might even let you sit in one of their camp chairs.

 

Did I forget any trail characters?  Let me know in the comments!

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Comments 38

  • jack : Apr 1st

    reading this feels like 8 pounds of feces in a 2 pound bag….. so much judgement … really?

    Reply
    • Mary Faith : Apr 4th

      oh puhleeze……..go help Hillary find her emails and lighten up

      Reply
    • Moondoggy : Feb 14th

      This is done out of fun ! I love the post it’s done with good taste!

      Reply
    • Roberts Bradford : Mar 22nd

      Lighten up, Francis.

      Reply
    • East TN Ray : Mar 28th

      Come on Jack, Lighten up and have some fun! This was done in good humor. Love it!

      Reply
  • MadisonDragna : Apr 1st

    I got a good laugh out of this. Too funny, I love it Maggie. It’s the silly truth.

    Reply
    • Maggie Wallace : Apr 1st

      Thanks, Madi! I had fun writing it.

      Reply
    • Annie : Mar 22nd

      I laughed so much reading you !
      Bien franchement, those who don’t lack humour. Or auto-dérison.

      Wonderful caricatures !

      Continuez !

      Reply
  • Dutch : Apr 1st

    My brother and I have been section hiking the AT since 2000. In that time we’ve met the following trail personalities you might consider adding to your list.

    The AT “personality”. For example “Baltimore Jack” who hangs out at Harpers Ferry, fixing gear, stripping packs and showing off the most beat up pair of feet I’ve ever seen.

    The Youth Group. Generally taking up space in shelters, swarming over your gear, running on a collective energy that never seems to hit the trail with them. Always a bottle neck especially around the one who has “fallen and they can’t get up.”

    The Day Hiker. Out with the family in flip flops, a liter of sport drink, and no clue. There for the “experience”

    Finally

    The dog whisperer. Pups is off leash and on a tear. Often heard before seen, and a dog in the brush sounds a lot like a bear, or boar. Your choice.

    Reply
    • Aryan : Apr 2nd

      Lol the youth group! Good one! The llighting bolt dog gets me gripping my k bar every time lol!

      Reply
    • sonic : Jan 4th

      Squirell hunting trip near Stratton mt in VT few years back. Heavy weighting it, taking a quick break, and now some things coming at us quick. There was a 40 caliber pistol and 22 rifle barrel facing it before we saw Mr happy golden retriever… having trigger discipline, neither of us fired, and had our weapons down, feeding the dog ramen and crackers for 20 minutes before his overweight owner showed up

      Reply
  • imin2w8s : Apr 1st

    Funny! Looking forward to seeing for myself the various personalities I’ll meet on the trail!

    Reply
  • Randy : Apr 1st

    How about the hammock guy.

    Reply
  • Masshole. : Apr 2nd

    (Big smile)

    Reply
  • Drangus : Apr 2nd

    Hilarious.

    Reply
  • Dylan Niknot : Apr 3rd

    The Cub Scout (first cousin to the Youth Group) – slow and steady pace on the trail, travels in extremely large packs with extremely large backpacks, refuses to sleep in or be quiet within 5 miles of a shelter, everything is “awesome or gross”, shares ice cold watermelon slices at Kinter View

    Reply
  • Michael : May 1st

    Funny! Loved it Maggie!

    Reply
  • Putt-Putt : Jul 8th

    Nice.

    Reply
  • Lunch : Dec 24th

    Hilarious!

    Reply
  • Chris : Apr 6th

    Oh this was priceless! I can’t wait to get back out there and meet more of these people. And the squirrelly old woman had me in tears. Lol Thanks so much for this list.

    Reply
  • Wasted Chub : Feb 14th

    The Military Veteran: Doesn’t panic on the trail because they’ve lived through worse. May react to loud noises differently than other hikers. Morbid, dark sense of humor. Efficient and tireless. Uses lessons learned in various field exercises and third world countries. Doesn’t carry military issued gear unless they’re desperate or Tacti-Cool. May bring gourmet meals on shorter trips.

    I’ve also run into the Prepper which are similar to the Survivalist except they are carrying military issued gear.

    Reply
    • W : Feb 15th

      And he or she isn’t really concerned about pack weight because they carried 80lbs when they were in Afghanistan… one of these guys made me real coffee in his french press

      Reply
  • Mark Stanavage : Feb 14th

    I love it! I agree with earlier posts. Need the hammock dude, trail dreamer, juggernaut (mix of old squirrelly guy and heavyweight) and Eagle Scout (has something for every situation) Keep rocking! Fun posts like this where we can see ourselves and laugh at our own flaws/ piccadillos is a good thing.

    Reply
  • scott herndon : Feb 14th

    Love the post I would add: The Used Car Salesman THEM “Dear God man you can’t do a thru hike with that gear you need to buy an xyz brand tent like mine and abc brand sleeping bag etc or you will never make Maine and probably die before the next town. quick use my 1000 dollar phone it has an app they will ship it by drone to you in an hour! Please hurry and buy it I need the commission I get to buy food cuz I spent all my money on gear and haven’t eaten in 3 days. Me: umm you realize the amount you spent on gear you could have just hired the youth group from the last shelter to carry you on a litter the whole trail.

    Reply
  • Chris G. : Feb 14th

    The description of the old man was amazing, it literally made the whole article for me!

    Reply
  • Paul Boulay : Feb 15th

    I was the heavy weight, SOBO, 78-79, 50-60# base weight across the Hundred Mile – total crap weight out of Baxter: 86# including snowshoes – in August! Because we didn’t know about the post office method and we knew that we would “eventually be using the snowshoes. In the spring, base weight: 35#, documentable because I had run out of money, food and gas, carrying zip water, and running into Hot Springs to get to the Post Office before it closed – for the weekend. Fun memories.

    Reply
  • Luke : Feb 15th

    The conservationist, this hiker won’t pick any berry, ramps or mushrooms, they won’t forge for food, refrain from building a camp fire and instead invite themselves to use yours. They won’t kill anything but time not a snake, a mouse, a fly, mosquito or even a tick.

    The photographer, naturally this person is always spotted camera in hand often looking for that perfect angle for the perfect shot, at hostels and shelters they will call everyone together for group photos and occasionally they will take creepy candid photos of you and your tramily.

    The explorer, this person doesn’t have Kateyes. Ultimately they want to finish the entire trail but it would seem they want to finish every spur trail too. They feel like it is mandatory to take every trail to every view point, vista, or waterfall etc. They rate their days on trail not by the miles but rather by the smiles.

    The veteran, this hiker just can’t get enough they live breath eat and $h!t trail. This hiker has hiked end to end multiple times as well as various other trails. They are chalk full of helpful tips and tricks and usually have a few really wild stories. When you find yourself in their presence you’ll find yourself a little star struck and you become a sponge trying to take in all the useful info they share.

    I can probably come up with a handful of other ones too

    Reply
  • D.LynThomas : Mar 10th

    Loved it! I laughed so hard I cried! Thanks for a good laugh.

    Reply
  • Julia : Mar 22nd

    Loved this. I hope someday to meet them all, including those suggested, when I start to section hike.

    Reply
    • S Reilly : Mar 23rd

      Loved the post–wife and I laughed out loud. I heard of several female hikers giving names to male hikers who hooked up with them. The trail names that the girls gave them were: “Can’t take a hint” and Freaks me out” Not for the gear they had.

      Reply
  • Jacob : Mar 23rd

    The expert: Knows the best piece of gear for everything and why his is better than yours. Also spent more on his perfect gear than what I did on my last car. Struggles with every thing since he never once tried it out before hitting the trail because, you know, he’s read all about it and that should be enough

    Reply
  • Brother Blood : Mar 27th

    I’m sooo insulted, I’m a purist, I should be on the list !!!!!!
    and…loved the article !!!!

    Reply
  • lucas : Jun 21st

    This was hilarious. Hope to be one of those ultralight fellas soon hehe.

    Reply
  • LONG : Nov 29th

    This really made my day. Thank you for being so honest. I am going to show it to my wife now and hope it is still as funny then as it was the first time i read it. CHEERS!!!

    Reply
  • Gretchen : Dec 7th

    Awesome made me laugh???

    Reply
  • Moose : Jan 2nd

    The Weight Weenie (not an Ultra lighter as they rarely bother you) – had one come up to me while I was cleaning my teeth and suggested if I cut my toothbrush in half I would save a heap of weight. Has anyone really tried to clean their back teeth with half their hand in their mouth.

    The Best Gear Guy – I was sitting having my lunch with some others at a shelter and this guy keep looking at my feet. When he was leaving he leant over to me and said that on the WTF Gear Review site (not it’s real name) my shoes, NB 910s, were rated the worst shoes for walking in. Pointed to his own shoes and said these were rated the best and then strolled away.

    The Gear Talker – I was so over these walkers by week 2, every time I stopped and set up it seemed to be an invitation for someone to come up and discuss my gear choices, versus theirs.

    Reply
  • PowPow : Jan 29th

    The Bear guy…..has two super sized cans of Counter Assault Bear repellent in holsters, a Ruger .357 in a fanny pack, and a large Kukri knife worthy of Forged in Fire. This hiker may also have a small “backup” pepper spray on their keychain, an emergency whistle, and a bottle of cover scent to mask their own smell from forest beasts. In the shelters, this individual will be awake for much of the night, vigilant and alert, and will usually interpret most any forest sound as a “Predatory Bear.”

    Reply
  • Elizabeth : Jan 31st

    aaaand let’s not forget “PantsOnFire” who has through-hiked the trail 5 times by the age of 20 and only spent $3 for a week’s worth of food and sewed oak leaves together for rain gear. . .

    or “SadSack” who is not on the trail to heal himself, but rather to chew the ear off anybody and everybody at the shelter, complaining about every ache, gear failure, weather, etc . . .

    or Young Dinkus who thought it was a GREAT idea to skip town for the sake of speed and ran out of food 3 days out from the next road crossing …

    Reply

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