Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker Categories

Last month I had the pleasure of reuniting with my PCT and AT hiking buddy The Burglar, who received the Triple Crown of hiking after walking the AT northbound.  He stayed with me a couple of days before heading back to where burglars live.

Descending Katahdin via the AT
Descending Katahdin via the AT

Before he left, I was able to squeeze out some of his distilled observations on the types of thru hikers he encountered out there:

Party Hiker– Tend to sleep late, and tend to rush through often long days where they congregate in shelters from late afternoon though dinner where you may experience episodes of spilling boiling water from cooking on the floor of shelters, or filling the lean-to with a nicotine cloud.  These folks hog shelters for hours where they focus on drinking, smoking herb, and in recent years, engaging in hand-rolled cigarette smoking. Their numbers diminish rapidly as one moves north. They victims of zero day (or two) sojourns in town where their funds are rapidly diminished due to purchasing relatively inexpensive 30 packs of cheap beer.  As they move north, the wise up and start carrying plastic flasks of Jack. Half-lidded eyes, speaking slowly in delayed responses, and appearing mystified when posed a question are secondary features.

Backpackers– These folks are the target audience for North Face products. It is not unusual for them to be carrying 50 pound plus packs.  Electric mattress pumps, five pound winter double-walled tents, leather boots, Tilley hats, and liquid fuel stoves are characteristic. Descendants  of Colin Fletcher’s The Complete Walker school of the outdoors. I sported a dorm-sized refrigerator-sized orange Trailwise external framed back when I was one of these folks.

Home Away from Home–  On vacation from life.  Adhere to a 10-12 mile a day program, finishing in 5-6 months.  Sleeping bag liners, camp shoes, actual pillows, frequent contacts from partners, friends, and relatives.  “We’ll get there, maybe we won’t. Who cares?  This is glorious!”  Very generous to to other hikers.  Costs of motel/hostels stays are not a issue, as these expenses are factored into trip cost.  Chronic users of paid shuttle services, and subsequent additional room rates.  Happy- the most cheerful group. We all really secretly strive for this status, but somehow never get there..

Sports –  Skin out pack weight are down to 12-15 pounds. Up early. It’ all about the day’s miles, Faithfully poised to stand atop Katahdin. Goal oriented, particularly focused on maintaining their feet.  Able to recite Ray Jardine when prompted, in private.

Racers- Constant suffering, no interaction with other hikers, no tents. If raining, appear after the shelter is full, generally arriving after dark and some hikers are already asleep,. They press to get in.  Don’t carry stoves, phones. Known to prefer a cheap shower curtain to a tent/fly, which doubles as raincoat. Descendants from Grandma Gatewood. Hungry, cranky, and edgy. Bye!

Bad Guys–  Is there a criminal element on the AT?  The superb con men.  The open-armed welcome of the AT community is nirvana to them.  Jailhouse tattoos and complete Walmart kit are give-aways. They are capable gaining a following from the unsuspecting.  If pressed, they make up a background story of woe- for instance, they are on the Trail to work through the death of their wife and two toddler children who were killed in a car crash from a drunk driver. Can call up teary eyes at will. Are skilled at yellow blazing (hitch hiking or bus ride) a hundred miles or more to jump ahead to new prey when they feel they might be called out.  They lift wallets in hostels and are particularly adept at preying on young attractive women (with money) as long as they can.  A tiny group, maybe 0.1 of the AT community. Law enforcement and the underground network of hostel owners eventually zero in on them.

Special thanks to The Burglar for sharing this info with me.  

4 thoughts on “Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker Categories

  1. Chip

    I alternated smiling and frowning while reading this post. Insightful.

    How about doing a post on the pro and cons of staying in shelters while on the AT? I’m not a fan of mice crawling on me or being bunched up with strangers stepping on my stuff or me. Yet people seem to prefer the shelters when given a choice?


    1. I have spent over a hundred nights in shelters and have never had a mouse crawl on me. I like to get the side spot next to a wall where I can hang my stuff. I like company, especially after hiking alone all day.Yes, there are those awful nights when there is a loud snorer, but the feeling of being in a dry space when the rain or worse, the snow, is pounding down is close to heaven on earth to me. And yes, if rain is predicted, I 100% always want to be in a shelter. I do not like to pack a went tent and fly and carry the extra weight. If you have multiple days of rain in a row, sleeping in a wet and getting wetter tent leads to wet sleeping bag and that is a trail crime for anyone to perpetrate on themselves.


    2. In my thru this summer I never once slept in a shelter. I often slept nearby in my tent because of the promise of flat earth, drinking water, shelter from the elements (only very rarely needed), and a social scene – but maintained the ability to walk away when the place got downright annoying – which it often does. Drunks, dogs, hipsters, stoners, children running around at dawn, lumpen who refuse modulate their voices – you’ll meet all the detritus of humanity in the Southern shelters. However, in the Northern shelters you will meet some serious hikers. I could go on for many thousands of words with dozens of stories about this one… but you get the picture. By comparison bring a tent, a mouse-trap, and earplugs. Bliss.


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