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Changes to the Appalachian Trail


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?



17 Replies

@KenBrenner for me it's the crowding at the shelters and the an obvious sub-culture of folks who want to (IMO) be some sort of AT resident, searching for words here.

The party atmosphere, e.g. 'trail days' in Damascus gets a little ridiculous. (funny, I sound like the 'get off my lawn' guy)

It seems to me, from my observation, that many if not most folks start as 'backpackers', but somewhere along the line, the whole thing for many becomes some sort of moving fraternity party.

AND, at every shelter, there is some really old grizzled thru-hiker guy (or says he is), very nice, but is more than willing to 'share his wisdom'. (reminds me as I write this of the guys that dress up like Roman soldiers at the Colosseum...."get your picture taken with a real life 'thru-hiker'").

I do a lot of 'section hiking' along the AT's longest corridor (tree tunnel?) here in VA and these 'caricatures' never seem to change.

Although the AT is convenient, I always recommend to folks, get out of the tree tunnel, go hike the PCT or CDT.

It's like Mark Twain noticing certain patterns of characters along the Mississippi


REI Member Since 1979

An interesting post.  What struck me is how the changes in clothing, equipment, and cooking have changed in a similar way in locales far distant from the AT, like southern Arizona, where I started hiking in blue jeans, carrying a nondescript pack, and cooking over campfires.  I certainly now prefer a canister stove, carried in my nice internal frame pack.  Blue jeans are for yard work...

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@hikermor Hi.  Thanks for your reply and comments.  

RE: Arizona - Have you done any of the Arizona Trail?  I have done a part of the southern most section in the Huachuca Mountains.  My oldest son was stationed at Ft. Huachuca and we went out 3 times (from the Atlanta area) to visit him and his family.  I found the hiking to be very interesting and so different from the Appalachians.  Also, I've watched Chris Berry's youtube playlist on hiking the AZ Trail.  Like me, he films and shows the details of every section he hikes.  It looks like a VERY nice hike...


@KenBrenner I have done bits and pieces of it from time to time.  Miller Peak in the Huachucas was my first Arizona summit many years ago.  I surely must have walked parts of what became the Trail in Saguaro in 1957 in my first seasonal NPS job fighting fires.  I note that Sabino Canyon West Fork is part of the trail.  Been there many times.  Also crossed Grand Canyon several times.

Arizona is neat country.  Unfortunately the Trail does not visit Canyon de Chelly, in my opinion some of the best country in Arizona, but there are lots of contenders for that title.


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@Philreedshikes Hi Phil.

I appreciate your reply. 

I will be posting a new conversation this week about my section-hiking "technique".  It did not allow me to get involved with the social part (as you'll see in that post).

Also, I am so focused on hiking and taking pictures/videos, I'd not have time for the part you mentioned.  

Speaking of pictures: I will look at your channel.  Mine is Ken Brenner.  On it, I have a playlist called "Hiking the AT - Ken Brenner".  In that, you will see 14 videos showing the trail I've walked and seen from Georgia to Harper's Ferry, WV.  I have 8 for Virginia: 1 for Mt. Rogers area, 1 for SW Virginia, 3 for Central VA, 2 for Shenandoah National Park, 1 for northern VA.   I'd enjoy your comments regarding what sections of VA you've done and compare notes.



@KenBrenner Hi Ken, found your site, subscribed.  Looking forward to seeing your vids.

REI Member Since 1979

Thank you Phil...



Any fun insights to add here? Some of you are close to the AT, all of you have lots of experience to draw from, what are some changes you've noticed in gear over the years?

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

A general comment about changes in gear that applies to the AT and everywhere else.  It has become a lot more expensive.  My first climbing rope, 120 feet of laid nylon, was $20, and my first stove, a Primus 71L, was $8.95  At least that is what I remember.....

Of course, thee gear available today is almost always better in important aspects.

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
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