How Long Does a Thru-Hike Take?


If you are still on the trail in late-September, you get to see the changing leaves in Maine.

How long does it take to do a thru-hike?  The standard answer is 5-6 months, but it’s best to give yourself extra time.  I started my hike on March 14th, and I originally thought I would be ending in August.  I actually ended on October 3rd.  It happens.

So, what would cause a person to take 6 1/2 months to complete their thru-hike?  Here are several factors that can lengthen (or shorten) a thru-hike.

•Athletic ability.  It does take a while for your body to adjust to hiking.  If you’re not an athletic god in your everyday life, expect to struggle.

•Daily mileage.  Some hikers like to wake up with the sun, hike until it’s dark, and take very few breaks.  Other hikers like to enjoy the views, take long lunch breaks, and socialize with other hikers.  Your daily mileage will depend upon your hiking style.

•Zero days.  Every now and then, you might want to take a day off from hiking.  Zero days are awesome, but they do add time to your hike.  I took about 45 zero days during my hike, and I was not the only hiker by far.

•Beer and socializing.  If you get drunk in town with your hiker buddies, you might not feel like hiking with a hangover the next day.  And that’s OK.  You’re on vacation.

•Focus.  If your super goal oriented, you might want to hike big miles and take few zero days.  In that case, you’ll probably be ahead of the pack.

•Level of fun.  If you find that you absolutely love the trail, you’ve made awesome friends, and you don’t have anything particularly compelling you need to get home to do; it may take you a while to finish your hike.

You won’t know what the trail is going to be like for you until you’re actually on it.  My advice is to start early, so you have plenty of time to finish no matter what hiking style you adopt.

7 thoughts on “How Long Does a Thru-Hike Take?

  1. i think i’m definitely going to hike on the slower side, but that photo of the colorful leaves is making me feel better about it and giving me something to look forward to! slow and steady!

  2. I’m loving your blog! Thanks for making so much info available. I plan on attempting my thru-hike in 2014, because of school I won’t get to start until mid/later-April. It’s making me a little nervous. What do you think of a later start? I’m not sure I see an alternative, but any advice would be nice.

  3. It’s definitely interesting to see how everyone takes the trail. We ‘planned’ ours for six months and finished a day or two under five. Another week or two could have been nice but the timing worked well. At the same time it is kind of fun to see the people who have taken 8+ months to hike it, too, though sometimes I’m wondering just what they are up to!

    Here via Sasquatch’s blog today.

  4. For the record (just as inspiration and not intimidation), an out-of-shape girl can hike it in four months flat. I hiked slowly (average 2.25 miles per hour) but long distances and passed all the men both times I hiked the AT. That said, I probably missed a lot, but it was my style–to end the pain and misery as quickly as possible?

    • Hey, Shera! Not sure if you will see this, but I was wondering if you could expand on “out-of-shape” and what that experience was like for you. I’m thinking of attempting a thru-hike this year and am pretty oafish, so I’m curious about how your time went.

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