Only 50 Hikers Age 70 and Above Have Completed a Thru-Hike on the AT

When I first decided to thru-hike the AT I thought I would be the first at my age to do it, then some dude 82 years old (Dale Sanders) sets the record and I realized lots of older people must have completed the hike.

Now an 87-year-old hiker is attempting to complete the trail for his second time! Let’s hear it for Pappy. So now I kind of think it’s no big deal to be a hiker of age. Then I read the stats on the trail and found that number is 50 people (in the 2017 ATC stats) and I realized that it is a big deal to be of age and complete the hike. It’s a big deal regardless of age.

No Fear

It has never entered my mind that I would not finish. I have read the list deal in the book “Appalachian Trials” of where you write what would you think if you didn’t finish. I have no thoughts of what I would think or do because the only way I don’t finish is if I get sick or hurt and that is somewhat beyond my control. I had wanted six months off from my part-time job but could only get five so it is possible I will have to finish in 2019. I am going to enjoy the journey, and not hurry. I will take that side trail to a view or stay a little longer in a cool trail town. That being said, I do want to be a thru-hiker so it will be a balancing act close to the finish.

My goal is to have the time of my life. I look forward to beautiful days in nature. I want to be a child in wonder. I want to be totally present. I also want to experience the worst kind of suck. I will tell my granddaughter about the time it was wet, cold, miserable, and a trail angel appeared to give me a ride to warmth and food. I am the person who believes that if my piece of gear is lost or breaks that I will find one in the next hiker box. All of my life when a door is closed on me another one opens, always leading me to a better place. I always know I am where I am meant to be. I will have a blast.

Baby Boomer

I have always been close to the leading edge of my generation and have had great experiences (I am disappointed that my generation is not as progressive as I had hoped it would be). I want to learn something from each person I meet on this quest and above all I want to learn from nature. I also hope I can pass something on to others.

Next Up, Waiting to Start

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What is the record for hiking the appalachian trail

How long does it take to hike the Appalachian Trail?: AT sign

How long does it take to hike the Appalachian Trail?

The Appalachian Trail stretches nearly 2,200 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Tens of thousands of people set foot on the A.T. every year, mostly for day hikes or other short trips, but there is a growing number of people who attempt to hike the entire trail in one go. While most won’t complete the trail, many still do succeed. So, how long does it take to hike the Appalachian Trail from one end to the other?

Most successful thru-hikers complete the Appalachian Trail in 5 – 7 months, averaging 12 – 16 miles a day. It can be completed faster by increasing your hiking pace, lengthening your days, and/or carrying less weight. There are also some additional things you can do to shorten the length of your thru-hike.

Let’s explore what affects how long it takes to hike the Appalachian Trails and what you can do to complete the trail in a shorter amount of time.

What affects how long it takes to hike the Appalachian Trail?

There are many factors that will ultimately determine how long it takes for someone to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Most of these are within your power to control, but there are others that are unpredictable and cannot be helped.

So, what are these factors? Let’s list them. But first, if you are unsure of exactly how long the Appalachian Trail is, read this to get up to speed.

Hiking pace

You are in control of your hiking pace, which is the first thing someone will think of when it comes to determining how long it will take to hike the Appalachian Trail. Your pace will be determined by your strength, stamina, and motivation. Thru-hikers will average 3 miles per hour on the Appalachian Trail, though this will likely be less when starting, before receiving your “trail legs.”

How long you hike

You can hike at a slower pace and still finish the trail before a faster hiker. Do this by hiking longer during the day. Someone hiking 3 miles an hour for 6 hours will ultimately accomplish fewer miles than someone who hikes from sun up to sun down at 2 miles an hour.

Zeros and Neros

A “zero” is a day that a thru hiker takes off and hikes – you guessed it – zero miles. A “nero” is a near zero, meaning few miles are hiked for the day and usually precedes a town visit. It goes without saying that the more days you go without knocking out miles, the longer it is going to take to complete the Appalachian Trail.


“Tramily” is short for trail family, which is typically a small group of hikers who decide to hike and camp together in hopes of finishing the Appalachian Trail at the same time. A tramily can help keep members of the group focused on their goals and can lift a member’s spirit when they are down in the dumps.

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A tramily ultimately can determine your hiking pace and the amount of time spent hiking, since the group usually intends to meet up to camp together at the end of the day. The group usually agrees on the mileage for the day, which can be more or less than you planned, but for the sake of keeping the tramily together, you agree to the terms. A tramily can also determine when zeros and neros are taken, possibly leading to more or less zeros/neros than you had planned.

Blue Blazes

Blue blazes mark side trails on the Appalachian Trail that usually lead to additional views, water sources, shelters, or to trailheads to catch rides to town. Some blue blaze trails can be less than half a mile while others can be several miles, and the more time you spend hiking these side trails the less time is spent knocking out miles on the Appalachian Trail.

How long does is take to hike the AT?: Blue blazes

The views are worth it, but blue blazes will add more time to your thru-hike.


The weather is obviously out of your control, but rainy days will slow you down. Not only does the rain slow you down, but it can force you off the trail if it’s bad enough. And rain is a guarantee during your 2,000 plus mile trek on the Appalachian Trail. You can even run into snow during your thru-hike which presents new challenges that can slow you down even more than rain.


While some injuries can be your fault due to carelessness or pushing yourself too hard, other injuries are accidental or can be from general wear of your body. You can also become sick and being sidelined in town for a couple of days due to illness or injury will extend the time you need to complete your thru-hike and maybe even bring it to a screeching halt.

How can you hike the Appalachian Trail faster?

If you are planning a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail but have strict time constraints, then you need to be prepared in order to complete the trail faster than the average thru-hiker. Here are a few tips to help you do just that.

Hike longer days

As previously mentioned, the longer you hike during the day, the more miles will fly by. Try being up at the crack of dawn and hiking for at least 8 hours a day if your body can stand it. Even at a moderately slower pace you can still knock out big miles in a day if you hike longer.

Build strength and stamina beforehand

Thru-hikers have completed the Appalachian Trail with no physical training or having ever slept in a sleeping bag before, but that is not the norm. If you are aiming to finish the trail within a shorter time period than the average thru-hiker, it is best to be physically prepared for this daunting task.

Building your strength and stamina before your hike enables you to hike at a faster pace out the gate and helps you to hike longer. Most hikers start the Appalachian Trail averaging 8 – 10 miles per day, but if you can start at 12 – 14 miles you will find yourself knocking out 20-mile days much sooner.

Zero and nero less

Trail towns can be enticing. The chance for good food and a cozy bed is hard to turn down. However, best practice is to get in and get out and avoid the zeros and neros if you are fighting the clock. Towns are inevitable as resupplying is a necessity when hiking the Appalachian Trail, but zeros/neros can extend your hikes by weeks. They can also up your expenses, increasing how much it costs to hike the trail . But, if you need a zero, take one because at some point, both your body and mind will need a day off.

Carry less weight

The less weight in your backpack, the better off your body will be, plus you will be able to hike faster. There’s plenty you can do to lighten your load. First concentrate on your base weight . This includes the big items like your tent, sleeping bag, and backpack. Also, water is plentiful on the Appalachian Trail! There is rarely a need to carry more than a couple of liters at a time.

If you are interested in reducing the weight of your sleeping bag, here is a list of my top recommendations for an ultralight sleeping bag or quilt. And one of the biggest contributors to your base weight is your tent. Lighten your load by upgrading to one of these ultralight 2-person tents .

Slackpack when possible

Speaking of carrying less weight; slackpack when possible if you don’t think it’s cheating. Slackpacking is when someone takes your backpack or some of its contents to a point further up the trail. Meanwhile, you keep hiking with only some necessities to get you to that point. Friends, family, or trail angels may offer this opportunity for you.

Hike with the right person

If you aren’t hiking solo, then make sure whoever you hike with is someone who won’t slow you down. This can be an individual or a whole tramily. On the flip side, you can hike with someone who is going to push you to do bigger miles, as long as you don’t overdo it.

Is there a time limit for finishing the Appalachian Trail?

This may seem like a silly question, but you can run out of time to complete the Appalachian Trail, and I’m not referring to the amount of time you have scheduled off from work.

Most thru-hikers end their hike at the northern terminus of the A.T., Mount Katahdin, but if you don’t reach Katahdin before it is too late in the year, you might not get to touch that glorious sign since Katahdin usually closes sometime in October due to safety concerns.

Regardless of how fast you want to hike northbound on the A.T., make sure you plan to finish by mid-October. That’s if you like to take chances. Be done before October otherwise.

What is the fastest anyone has completed the Appalachian Trail?

The fastest known time for completing the Appalachian Trail is 41 days, 7 hours and 39 minutes, achieved by Karel Sabbe on August 28 th , 2018. A support team provided him with food, water, and a place to sleep in order to help him achieve this.

The fastest self-supported time for completing the Appalachian Trail is 45 days, 12 hours and 15 minutes, a record held by Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy who accomplished this on August 31 st , 2017.

These records were set going northbound on the A.T. by ultrarunners. Do not expect to be able to complete the trail in this amount of time simply by “hiking” the trail.

While most thru-hikers won’t come close to completing the Appalachian Trail in such a short amount of time as these record holders, it is not uncommon to complete the trail in 100 – 120 days.

Time aside, just enjoy the Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail shouldn’t be about how fast you can hike it, but it should be about you and what you are hoping to accomplish by completing this trail. Perhaps you do want to go for the record, but most of us simply want to enjoy the majesty the trail offers. If you can afford to take your time on the trail, do it and don’t worry about the miles or the destination, just enjoy the journey and the lifelong memories sure to be made.

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Appalachian Trail Record

A list of the current and historical Appalachian Trail record holders.

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Achieving the fastest known time, aka FKT, on the Appalachian Trail is the ultimate speed achievement in the hiking and trail running community. In this article, we’ll cover current and past record holders, famous attempts, and a brief history of FKTs.

FKT is the total elapsed time from start to finish on a given route. There is no official governing body for keeping FKT records. However, the website, started by Pete Bakwin and Buzz Burrell, is the most widely agreed-upon collection of records, routes, and attempts related to FKTs.

Table of Contents

Current Appalachian Trail Record Holders

NameTimeMiles Per DayDirectionGenderStyleDate
Karel Sabbe41d 7h 39m53 milesNorthMaleSupported2018-08-28
Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy45d 12h 15m48 milesNorthMaleSelf-supported2018-08-31
Jennifer Pharr Davis46d 11h 20m47 milesSouthFemaleSupported2011-07-31
Heather Anderson54d 7h 48m40 milesSouthFemaleSelf-supported2015-09-24

Historical Appalachian Trail Record Holders

NameTimeMiles Per DayDirectionGenderStyleDate
Karel Sabbe41d 7h 39m53 milesNorthMaleSupported2018-08-28
Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy45d 12h 15m48 milesNorthMaleSelf-supported2018-08-31
Jennifer Pharr Davis46d 11h 20m47 milesSouthFemaleSupported2011-07-31
Heather Anderson54d 7h 48m40 milesSouthFemaleSelf-supported2015-09-24
Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer45d 22h 38m48 milesSouthMaleSupported2016-09-18
Scott Jurek46d 8h 6m47 milesNorthMaleSupported2015-07-12
Andrew Thompson47d 13h 31m46 milesSouthMaleSupported2005-01-01
Pete Palmer48d 20h 11m45 milesNorthMaleSupported1999-01-01
Joey Campanelli48d 23h 48m45 milesSouthMaleSelf-supported2017-09-22
Liz Anjos51d 16h 30m42 milesNorthFemaleSupported2020-08-27
David Horton52d 9h 42m42 milesNorthMaleSupported1991-01-01
Dan Binde53d 22h 57m41 milesNorthMaleSelf-supported2017-07-19
Matt Kirk58d 9h 48m37 milesSouthMaleSelf-supported2013-08-07


Attempting the FKT on the AT is not for the faint of heart. Many attempt the trail multiple times before setting the FKT or throwing in the towel. Below are a few noteworthy attempts.

Although he finished, near the end of Joey Campanelli’s 2014 attempt he received support during Hurricane Aurthur and was disqualified.

Injuries ended trail running legend Karl Meltzer’s 2008 and 2014 attempts.

Scott Jurek’s 2021 attempt garnered immense media and sponsorship attention. A week into his attempt Scott suffered a quad tear and had to leave the trail.


Understanding FKT

There are two types of FKT records, self-supported and supported.

  • Self-supported FKTs: Also known as thru-hiker style FKTs, are attempts where an athlete carries all of their gear. They can use any means of support along the trail that is equally available to all hikers. Mailing packages to a post office, staying in motels, and resupplying in trail towns are all acceptable forms of self-support.
  • Supported FKTs: also known as ultramarathon style FKTs, are attempts where an athlete has a crew assisting them along the way for things like food drops, navigation, and pacing.

Records have been kept on the AT since the first thru-hike by Earl Shaffer in 1948. Many credit David Horton’s 1991 FKT as the beginning of the ultrarunning style speed competition on the AT. During the 10s the pace ramped up and new FKTs were set almost every year. In 2020, the cancellation of races due to the COVID-19 pandemic caused another surge of FKT attempts on all trails.

Today, setting the FKT on the AT has become one of the most prestigious accomplishments in the endurance sports world. It attracts high-profile athletes, corporate sponsors, and media attention.

FKTs have been set traveling both north and southbound directions. Some favor heading NOBO, the traditional direction of travel, and some favor SOBO to get the most rugged terrain out of the way at the start.


Appalachian Trail Record Holder Profiles

appalachian trail record holder karel sabbe

1. Karel Sabbe

In 2018 the Belgian ultrarunner Karel Sabbe became the current supported FKT holder with a time of 41d 7h 39m. His NOBO attempt beat Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy’s record by 4 days. Karel was the first person to average 50+ miles a day on the AT.

Unlike many attempting FKTs, Karel is not a professional runner and a relative newcomer in the ultrarunning scene. He works as a dentist in Belgium and has said running is a “hobby that got out of hand.”

Karel previously held the supported PCT FKT. He was the first person to hold the supported AT and PCT FKTs at the same time.

appalachian trail record holder Joe McConaughy

2. Joe McConaughy

Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy is the current self-supported AT FKT record holder with a time of 45d 12h 15m. In 2017 when he set the record he also beat the supported record held by Karl Meltzer. Therefore, he held both supported and self-supported FKT titles at once.

This achievement is particularly notable because Joe had to carry all his supplies and set up camp every night, unlike Karl. On top of that, Joe lost nearly two days to an injury in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

From Seattle, Joe got the nickname “Stringbean” from his mother, who said his body shape looked like a string bean.

appalachian trail record holder Joe McConaughy

© | Jennifer Pharr Davis

3. Jennifer Pharr Davis

Jennifer Pharr Davis first set the female supported AT FKT in 2008. In 2011 she finished in 46d 11h 20m, nearly a day faster than Andrew Johnson’s record from 2005. Her all-gender record stood for 4 years until it was broken by Scott Jurek. Her 2011 attempt is still the current supported female FKT. Both her attempts were completed traveling southbound.

Pharr Davis also holds the female self-supported Long Trail FKT which she set in 2007. She was named one of National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year in 2012. She lives in Asheville, NC.

appalachian trail record holder heather anderson

4. Heather Anderson

Heather Anderson, aka Anish, is one the fastest and most decorated long-distance hikers in the world. She currently holds the female self-supported FKT on the AT with a time of 54d 7h 48m. When she set the record in 2015 she crushed the record for any gender, 4 days faster than the previous best time held by Matt Kirk.

She holds the overall self-supported FKT on the PCT and the female self-supported FKT on the Arizona Trail. In 2018 she became the first female to complete a calendar year triple crown, completing the 8,000-mile hike in just 8 months. In 2019 she was named a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year

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appalachian trail record holder karl meltzer

5. Karl Meltzer

One of the most widely known ultrarunners, Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer started his professional running career in 1999. After leaving the trail due to injury in his 2008 and 2014 attempts, Karl set the support FKT in 2016 with a time of 45d 22h 38m. He beat Scott Jurek’s 2015 FKT by a mere 9 hours.

Due to his status as an elite ultrarunner, the attempt received significant media coverage and his trip was documented by Redbull. At 48 Karl is the oldest AT record holder in the modern era of FKTs.

Karl has won the most 100-mile ultramarathons of any runner. He lives in Sandy, UT.

appalachian trail record holder scott jurek

6. Scott Jurek

The term household name doesn’t generally apply to ultrarunners, but if it did Scott Jurek would be it. One of the most dominant runners of the last 20+ years he set the supported AT FKT in 2015 beating Jennifer Pharr Davis’s record by just 3 hours. His time of 46d 8h 6m stood only a year before Karl Meltzer broke it in 2016.

In 2021 Jurek made national news with his attempt to once again break the supported AT FKT. After only a week he suffered a quad tear and had to call off his attempt.

Outside of running, Jurek advocates for a plant-based diet and has been a vegan since 1999. He lives in Boulder, CO.

7. Andrew Thompson

The third time was the charm for Andrew Thompson. After attempting to break Pete Palmer’s record in 1999 and 2001 he set the supported FKT in 2005 with a time of 47d 13h 31m. His record stood until 2011 when it was broken by Jennifer Pharr Davis.

Unlike other attempts, Andrew was the first to set the FKT by traveling southbound to get through the difficult northern terrain while his body was still fresh.

Andrew is one of only 15 people to have completed the Barkley Marathons. He lives in Orford, NH, a trail town of the AT.

8. Pete Palmer

In 1999 Pete “Cujo” Palmer broke David Horton’s supported FKT heading northbound with a time of 48d 20h 11m. Wanting it to be a personal challenge, Palmer didn’t seek media attention or sponsorships and was entirely self-funded. His crew was made up of mostly friends and family who donated their time.

At the time of his record, Palmer was 46 making him one of the oldest to set the FKT on the AT. Palmer worked as a US Postal Service mail carrier in his hometown of Avon, CT.

appalachian trail record holder joey campanelli

9. Joey Campanelli

In 2014 Joey “Flash” Campanelli completed the AT a day faster than Matt Kirk’s self-supported FKT. Due to inclement weather from Hurricane Arthur and a foot injury near the end of his trip he accepted a ride into town from his father, breaking the self-supported standards.

Determined to try again in 2017 Joey achieved success setting a new SOBO self-supported FKT of 48d 23h 48m.

Living in Alta, Utah, Joey has set many other shorter FKTs in the mountain west including Nolan’s 14, one of the most notorious trail-running routes in the world.

appalachian trail record holder liz anjos

10. Liz Anjos

​​In 2020 Liz “Mercury” Anjos attempted to break both male and female supported FKTs. Her finishing time of 51d 16h 30m was short of both Karel Sabbe and Jennifer Pharr Davis’s times. It did however set the female supported FKT for a northbound attempt. Liz’s 69-mile first day is an AT FKT record for the longest first day.

She began running at the age of 14 and ran her first ultramarathon in December of 2019, less than a year before her AT FKT. Based in Portland, OR Liz is a classically trained pianist who has toured internationally as a pop keyboardist.

11. David Horton

David Horton’s 1991 FKT of 52d 9h 42m is credited as ushering in a new era of ultramarathon style attempts on the AT. It also marks the start of increased scrutiny, competition, and tracking of FKT attempts.

A pioneer in the ultrarunning community, David is the race director for some of the toughest races around. The most famous is the brutal Hellgate 100k. Totaling 66.6 miles (107km) the Hellgate is held in December when the weather can range from 80F to blizzard-like conditions.

David is a professor of health sciences at Liberty University and has run over 100,000 miles.

12. Dan Binde

Dan “Knotts” Binde claimed a new self-supported FKT of 53d 22h 57m in 2017. However, his SPOT tracker had technical problems and large sections of the trail are missing. His logs and SPOT data also show discrepancies. The AT community conducted an investigation into Dan’s claim which was inconclusive.

Later in 2017 Joe McConaughy and Joey Campanelli both finished record-breaking self-supported attempts of 45 and 48 days respectively. This eased the controversy around Dan’s short-lived FKT time.

Hailing from Minnesota, Dan has attempted the speed record on the AZT and has thru-hiked over 24,000 miles.

13. Matt Kirk

A former school teacher from North Carolina, Matt Kirk set the self-supported FKT in 2013 going southbound with a time of 58d 9h 48m. His time beat the previous 60.5 day record by Ward Leonard that had stood for 23 years.

Notability, Matt also did the entire journey without riding in a car, accessing all his resupply points by foot. To keep his gear light Matt handmade many of the items he used on his attempt.

It was after his first thru-hike of the AT in 2001 that Matt became obsessed with long-distance hiking and running.

Appalachian Trail Overview

appalachian trail map

The AT is one of the oldest and most renowned long-distance trails in the world. Holding an AT FKT puts you in exclusive company with the most elite athletes in the hiking and running communities.

Completed in 1948 and running 2,185 miles, the AT’s southern terminus is Springer Mountain, Georgia and its northern terminus is Mt. Katahdin, Maine. Clingmans Dome is the highest point at 6,643 feet and the notoriously rugged trail features approximately 515,000 feet of total elevation gain.

90% of thru-hikers head northbound starting in early spring and finishing in late summer. The remaining 10% head southbound starting in early summer and finishing in late fall. A thru-hike typically takes most hikers 4 to 6 months. Quite a difference from the self-supported records of 45 days (male) and 54 days (female)!

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Justin Sprecher photo

About Justin Sprecher

By Justin Sprecher (aka “Semisweet”): Semisweet is a Wisconsin-based thru-hiker, adventurer and digital storyteller.

He’s thru-hiked the Pacific Northwest Trail, LASHed the Great Divide Trail and Arizona Trail, and sectioned hiked large parts of the Continental Divide Trail, amongst others.

About Greenbelly

After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail .




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