March 13, 2017 / Comments Off on Hiking the Appalachian Trail: Should I FlipFlop?

Hiking the Appalachian Trail: Should I FlipFlop?

[This post is rated “B” for “Beginner,” meaning it is basic information to the Appalachian Trail community.]**

In my early posts I have used a few terms that are common on the AT, but should probably be defined before we go any further.  This post will be an introduction to unique terminology necessary for “navigating” the Appalachian Trail.

First, and fundamental to this trip, is the concept of a “thru-hike,” a term I have used often in the early posts.

thru-hike – hiking the entire AT in one season (within a 12-month period of time). A thru-hiker, of course, is an individual who is working on a thru-hike.”Thru-hike” is also understand in relation to a “section-hike.”

section-hike – a series of shorter hikes (“sections”) of the AT that over time (usually over many years ) combine to cover the entire AT; section-hiker is an individual who is working on a section-hike.

As I have indicated, I will be attempting a thru-hike next year.  Sometimes “thru-hikers” is confused with “2,000 Milers.”

2,000 Miler – a hiker that has walked the entire length of the AT, whether in a single season or over a lifetime.

2,000 Miler is the “official” designation used by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.  Here’s a brief quote from the ATC about thru-hiking:  “Each year, thousands of hikers attempt a thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) but only about one in four make it all the way. . . .  To qualify as a 2,000 Miler, hikers must walk the entire estimated 2,180 miles of the A.T.”

Above I pose the question – should I FlipFlop? It does not refer to any second guessing I might be doing about whether to undertake the audacious task of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail.  Rather, the term is a unique, AT term that refers to the direction one hikes to complete a thru-hike.  I have decided to hike north from the southern terminus (Springer Mountain) and “return” to Mt. Katahdin (the northern terminus of the Trail).  Hikers heading north are “NOBO,” – NorthBound.  But should I consider a “FlipFlop?”

SOBO a southbound thru-hike; a thru-hike that begins at Mt. Katahdin and finishes at Springer Mountain.  While only about 10% of thru-hikers pursue a SOBO, its popularity is rising.  It is the preferred direction for someone seeking more solitude along the Trail.  Probably the best book about a SOBO is The Barefoot Sisters Southbound.

NOBO – a northbound thru-hike; a thru-hike that begins at  Springer Mountain and finishes at Mt. Katahdin.  Traditionally, many more thru-hikers (over 85%) attempt a NOBO.  The concept is that you can “walk with spring” as you head north.  Earl Shaffer, the very first sucessful thru-hiker, started this tradition by completing a NOBO and writing a memoir of the trip entitled Walking with Spring.

Flip-Flop (or “FLFL”) – hiking one direction then driving to a different location to hike back in the opposite direction (e.g., a person hikes from Georgia to Virginia but then skip ahead to Maine and hike back to where they got off the trail in Virginia)

Due to the increase in traffic on the AT, especially of those starting early, there is a much greater need to spread hikers along the Trail.  Consequently, flip-flopping is more popular.  It is being encouraged by the ATC, which hosts a “Flip Flop Festival” – being held April 22 – 23 this year.

There does not appear to be a “settled” acronym for a Flip-Flop hike, but consistency would suggest, as I do here, that such a hike (like a NOBO or SOBO) be referred to as a “FLFL” or maybe “FLFP.”

In summary – I plan to attempt a NOBO thru-hike

Please follow this planned adventure as I use the year prior to starting the trip to discuss planning for my thru-hike as well as the history, personalities, and events about the Trail. (If you have not already, you can sign up at the right to receive an email whenever a new post is made).

Please feel free to pose whatever questions you may have about this planned journey in the “Comments” section below any post.

Finally, please share this site with others who might be interested in the Appalachian Trail or with my plan to attempt a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.


** Rating System. Due to the difference experience level people have with the AT, I will “warn” people at the beginning of a post as to whether I consider the information “Basic” or “Beginner” level – for those essentially new to all things Appalachian Trail. I like to think of Beginners as “Day Hikers.” (Follow along and by the end of my hike you will be completely literate about the AT and thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.) The other “ratings” will be “I” for “Intermediate.” and “E” for “Expert.” I like to think of those with Intermediate knowledge as “Section Hikers” and those with Expert knowledge as “Thru-Hikers.” [For instance, until this post, a Beginner will not yet know to what Section Hiker or Thru-Hiker refers. More about Section Hikers and Thru-Hikers in a future post.]

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Last modified: December 27, 2017