I've been section-hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) since Feb., 1992 (a subject of another conversation...). I am now at the 1,025 mile point in Harper's Ferry, WV. This adventure was sparked by my first hike on the AT in Maine (June, 1973), while stationed on a submarine at the sub base in Groton, CT (another conversation subject).
I was recently asked, what has changed since I started hiking the AT. Here are some topics I've considered:
1. Hiking Population: There are more people on the trail. Prior to the mid-1970s, there were not many hikers on the trail (day, section, or thru). I have a 2-book series (hardbound, no longer in print), that is a compilation of people's journals who had hiked the trail in the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s. Many wrote that they did not see many hikers, sometimes for a week or more at a time! Hard to imagine now.
2. Trail Routing: The trail was around 2000 miles then, now it is 2190 (changes every year). There is less road walking now. Another thing I've noticed is, where the trail used to go straight up a hill/mountain, many sections have been changed to switchbacks or re-routed around the mountain (especially when there's no view at the top). I know that change is not every where, but in many places I've hiked and re-hiked.
3. Shelters: At one time, I planned to use shelters as I hiked north. However, with the increased population of hikers, I would much rather sleep in my own "shelter". In December, 2017, I purchased the REI Quarter Dome 2 tent (and the footprint). I love this tent, and look forward to using it as I hike north.
4. Equipment: One of the biggest changes is in the design of the backpacks. When I started my section hiking, I purchased a JanSport external frame pack (4400 cubic inches / 68 L). It was considered one of the best at that time. For some time now, the internal frame style is all that is used (based on my observations and shopping). For a tent, the older "pup" tents, or one-person tent was carried - which is much heavier than those sold and used now (see comment #3 above). Technology in design and material has made everything lighter.
5. Clothing: There was basically NO performance material for t-shirts, etc when I started hiking. Many people hiked in blue jeans. I really like the new performance clothing material, and the convertible pants that can be easily made into shorts. Footwear mainly consisted of things like combat boots, and the old, stiff mid-high hiking boots. For many years now, I've used a Merrell hiking shoe. I am now shifting to a Merrell mid hiking boot for more support.
6. Cooking: At one time, this was mainly done over a fire. When I started my section-hikes, I used a liquid fuel that was poured into a container attached to the stove part itself. I now have a very small stove that screws onto the top of a fuel canister. I MUCH prefer the new to the old.
There are other changes, but that's my summary.
Question: For those that been hiking the AT, what changes have you observed?