At the risk of dating myself, when I was planning my AT thru-hike in 2002, I had just a few good resources to tap into; the AT thru-hiker’s companion and the AT data book were pretty much the only game in town. Oh and that spry-looking ex-thru hiker fella in the LLBean camping section…thanks guy. Modern-day thru-hikers have a lot more info at their fingertips. Websites, especially, are CRAWLING with hiker information.
So how does an aspiring first-time AT hiker locate the best resources?
Distancehiking asked 267 AT thru-hikers from the class of 2014 to rate up to three websites that they found to be most valuable in planning their thru-hike. Results below:
Whiteblaze was the top-rated website with just over half of thru-hikers identifying the site as valuable. Whiteblaze is a free news and forum website dedicated to the AT. Forum topics cover all topics that could possibly be of interest to AT hikers, and does so quite extensively: health and safety, gear, skills, prep, etc. Plenty of experienced and inexperienced hikers post to Whiteblaze and it’s often a place to find up-to-date information on the AT. It’s a great place to post a question and get a variety of opinions and even some debate.
#2: AT Conservancy
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to protect and preserve the AT. The “explore the trail” section of the website contains an interactive map, official updates, and all the basic, essential information needed to begin planning a long distance hiking trip on the AT.
Trailjournals is a massive repository for online hiker journals from trails worldwide, including the AT. It’s a great place to go to find out what hiking the AT is like on a day-to-day basis.
#4 Appalachian Trials
The Appalachian Trials website (there is also a book) is an online magazine/blog for all things AT. There is a very large roster of hikers who contribute to the site, with perspective skewed a bit to the youthful side. The site shares a similar mission as Distancehiking.com, that is, to help aspiring long distance hikers succeed and have a great time on the trail. Way to go Appalachian Trials!
There are a number of dedicated AT groups on Facebook with groups like Bearfoot’s consisting of over 15,000 members. ALDHA has a 6,000+ member site. Facebook can be a good place to get a quick answer to a question about the AT. Or it can be a nice jumping-off point for finding more in-depth information. Usual Facebook perils (trolls, etc) apply.
A smaller segment of hikers cited YouTube, Reddit, and Backpackinglight.com as valuable websites. Of these three, BPL is a favorite of Distancehiking’s. It’s not AT-specific, but gear reviews, trip reports, and technical info is incredibly in-depth and objective. Access to the full library of articles is through a paid subscription.
32 (12%) thru-hikers did not identify a most valuable website (even with a write-in option). Surprisingly, 27 of the 32 were new to long distance hiking and 17 of 32 were in the 20-29 age group. So the idea that grizzled, experienced through hikers are the ones shunning websites is unsupported.
Websites can be an excellent resource for planning a long distance hike on the AT and most hikers have at least one site they have found to be valuable. Whatever your choice, enjoy the planning process!