If you are starting to look at hiking the Appalachian Trail you will more than likely be trying to figure out when you want to start. This will change depending on which direction of travel you choose though. So then, how do you choose when to start the Appalachian Trail?
This will depend on your direction of travel as to north or southbound which will have different start times based on the season. For a NoBo hiker, you are typically looking at March into April start dates. For SoBo you would want to look at a start date in May running to mid-June.
Since you now have the basics of what times are the normal starts for hikers attempting the Appalachian Trail let s dig into whether you can start earlier and what side effects this may cause to a successful hike or the gear that may change.
When you want to start hiking the Appalachian Trail you will tend to first need to figure out when you want to leave to start your trek, for those heading NoBo, or Northbound, this is very open.
If you plan to start a SoBo, or Southbound, hike you have some variables that cant be changed, places like Mt Katahdin have very specific open times and closed times through the winter you have to work around.
This time used to be March and April with March hikers trying to stay ahead of the bubble and hike with less overall hikers on the trail and more quiet.
As time has moved though this time crept into hikers starting the Appalachian Trail in February to jump on the March hikers while also adding some padding in for Zeros and Neros on the trek.
Fast forward to 2021 and now this year there are already people posting to YouTube about starting in Mid-January. This is definitely pushing an edge on dangerous when not prepared well for the drastic weather.
This start time will be limited by the opening of Baxter State Park to hike to the summit of Katahdin, the summer starts with opening on July 1st which means you cant start prior to this legally.
When looking to choose your start date you will need to think about what the weather and temperature will be along with what will be open to you.
Then you can focus on the date that works for you to be done within your time requirements and validate your gear to match those times.
While this may seem easy to understand, the earlier you leave the more warm gear you MUST have. This includes a higher R-Value 4 season sleeping pad for ground based insulation and at least a 0 degree sleeping bag or quilt like the EE Revelation Quilt to stay warm at night.
Then you will want to make sure your tent is suitable to 4 season use with less mesh walls in many cases to help conserve heat, then you need to make sure your gear is properly waterproof to maintain dry gear inside.
This will go into measuring your starting date as the AT, on average, is around 5-6 months to complete from end to end. Your start date will dictate your necessary hiking distance per day with the clock racing on Katahdin.
The earlier you choose to start the more time you have to take zero's and nero's while out on your hike. With additional issues related to the pandemic and testing requirements this additional time can make the difference between finishing or running out of time.
If you want to start the northbound hike time is never a limitation, the only issue with proceeding earlier in the year is that the weather can vary wildly and this means better packing and gear meant for more weather variance.
The traditional start time would be March and April, this allows for spring to have begun and more of the hike will be in better condition in most years. Though still being hit by random snow and heavy rain can frequently occur.
Choosing to leave earlier will mean much more cold weather so the hiking clothing and all camp gear will have to be built to keep you warm at lower temperatures and to help you manage being cold and wet together.
For the northbound hiker you will typically want to start your hike at the approach trail from Amicalola Falls. This approach trail is 8 miles leading up to the marker that signifies the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
When you are looking to make the journey south on the Appalachian Trail you need to plan around when the starting point, Baxter State Park, at Mt Katahdin opens for travel.
This time per the Baxter State Park website is July 1st, so travel southbound to start the trail will require waiting for this moment to begin, though you could introduce a flip and hike south of Baxter prior to backtracking to complete Katahdin.
Southbound has much more limitation to the starting time then the northbound trail does, many will start southbound right around the 1st after completing registration for the park to start their thru hike.
For the southbound hiker you will start your hike at Baxter State Park and take the trail from their to the peak of Mt Katahdin. This trail leads up to the peak and the marker that signifies the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
Choosing a start date for your Appalachian Trail thru hike is up to personal timing as unlike the PCT you don't get designated start dates given out.
The freedom for you then will come down to having the time available and the gear that can keep your safe and secure on the trail.
During the winter time the weather can be all over the place and snowing and super cold to rainy and clear. You need to be ready to be able to survive these all before choosing to start.