The Lowdown on AT Guidebooks in a Nutshell

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Just head north, you say? Follow the white blazes? All right, seems simple enough.  Oh wait, how will I know the distance to the next shelter? Where’s the next reliable water supply? Wait, that’s a blue blaze. What the…?  How? Wait!! I need an Appalachian Trail guidebook! Fortunately,  a guidebook, unlike gear, is not an overwhelming decision to make because essentially there are two main guidebooks for the Appalachian Trail in use right now, and the one I used which is no longer being published. It proved invaluable to me and will get a mention here, but you won’t find an updated, useful version of it.

Appalachian Trail Guidebook


One of the current AT guidebooks in use just happens to have been written by AWOL, who hiked the AT the same year I did in 2003. I met him along the way, but don’t remember where. He was bearded and dirty,  and like the rest of us, he had his own special aroma. I had no idea at the time that he was writing an AT guidebook or I might have made more of an effort to get a mention in it. Ha!

The A. T. Guide by AWOL

AWOL’s real name is David Miller. His guidebook is The A. T. Guide. You can buy it any number of places including Amazon The AT Guide 2017 or AWOL’s webpage which is The AT Guide  Like all great guidebooks for hiking trails, he gives the lowdown on mileages between shelters, elevations, important landmarks, and water sources, which is especially important in a drier hiking year.

In 2003 when I hiked, it was, and still is, the wettest year on record for the AT. If I got thirsty, all I had to do was tilt my head back and open my mouth, but when it doesn’t rain so much, knowing where that next reliable water source is located is invaluable. The A. T. Guide is very detailed and includes over 2400 landmarks. I got that information from AWOL himself. Another advantage to his guide is it includes about 90 scale maps for towns and town information is incorporated into the book, not lumped together at the back. Town information and maps are critical for saving time and finding necessary supplies.

Official Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker’s Companion 

by The Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Another great guidebook is published by The Appalachian Trail Conservancy called Official Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker’s Companion and it is the oldest guidebook out there. It’s updated every year, of course, by volunteers, and all proceeds are returned to the AT. This guidebook contains all the BASIC information a thru-hiker needs to make a successful thru-hike, but no extras. If you like finding things out for yourself, this guide might be a good choice for you.

I’m big on planning and not so big on surprises, so I chose not to use this guidebook because I was not actually a very experienced hiker. I wanted as many landmarks as possible and detailed town information. But that’s just me. I saw loads of these in use on the trail and it is still widely used and very useful. You can get a copy of this guidebook here Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker’s Companion I actually suggest you buy one of each guidebook and use them both for planning and research, and then choose the one that suits you best to use on the AT.

I am a supporter of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and all the great work they do. I do not receive any compensation or commission if you click on the link above and purchase the guidebook from them, nor do I receive any money from the sale of AWOL’s book. He’s a fellow thru-hiker who put a tremendous amount of work into a great guidebook. That’s why I mention him. I just want to share the links to make it easier for you to find. I encourage you to check out the ATC’s entire website and learn more about what they do to promote the AT. It is an amazing organization of mostly volunteers. By the time I reached their headquarters in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, I felt like I was meeting movie stars when I met the people working there.

The Thru-Hiker’s Handbook Georgia to Maine

by Dan ‘Wingfoot’ Bruce

AWOL’s Appalachian Trail guidebook didn’t exist in 2003. The Thru-Hiker’s Handbook Georgia to Maine 2002 was my best friend. Keep in mind, I thru-hiked in 2003, so this was up to date.  Dan ‘Wingfoot’ Bruce is the author and he has since gone on to publish many other books not related to the AT. It provided a very detailed account of each section of the trail, divided by state, including mileage, elevations, and even the smallest, most minute water sources. Every shelter, every hill, every landmark, every historical marker, even every large tree it seems got a mention. I knew exactly where I was because it was described in this guidebook.

The trail has changed since 2003. This book was first published in 1991 and has 17 editions, but I’m not sure what the last publication date is. You can find a 2006 copy on Amazon here The Thru-Hiker’s Handbook but it would not be a good choice to use on the trail. It might help with research if you wanted to get an idea of how much the AT has changed since then.

I still have my waterlogged, stained, dog eared copy of this book and I know exactly where it is. I still look at it and smile. If someone asks really nicely, I might even let them touch it. Okay, look at it while I hold it. I have many books, but this one is my most valued.

No matter what guidebook you choose to use, it will become your nearest and dearest companion. And don’t forget the Ziploc bag. Never forget to put it back in the Ziploc.

Mary Lyons
I have had incredible travel opportunities since moving overseas eleven years ago. I created this blog to share my experiences, what I've learned, and my mistakes and frustrations, in hopes of entertaining readers and helping people to create and plan their own travel opportunities.

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