Number Cruncher: A glimpse at the most popular brands among thru-hikers

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Thanks to Hollywood, thru-hiking interest and numbers are on the rise. The Pacific Crest Trail saw a 92 percent increase in prospective thru-hikers in 2015 following the film release of Wild, and Appalachian Trail Conservancy officials expect as much as a 60 percent increase in traffic this season courtesy of Robert Robert Redford and Nick Nolte’s 2015 version of A Walk in the Woods.

The average thru-hike takes six months. That makes a thru-hiker’s choice of shelter one of the most important decisions they’ll make that year. We found some interesting data about top thru-hiking shelter picks. For starters, about 16% of AT thru-hikers opt for hammocks, versus only 3% for PCT-ers.

Not terribly surprising given that the PCT winds over a more varying landscape—including sparsely vegetated desert and open areas above tree line, neither of which are opportune habitat for hammock campers.

Marcela Weber, who performed the AT survey for AppalachianTrials.com said many northbound hikers chose hammocks due to intense congestion especially at the beginning of the hike. “If you’re at a crowded campsite, there aren’t many spots to tent, but there’s usually a place to hang a hammock even on a steep slope,” Weber said.

A hammock along the AT. Photo from Fickr

A hammock along the AT. Photo from Fickr

Peter Wagner, who conducted the survey of PCT hikers confirms Weber’s theory: on his own thru-hike, he rarely saw long distance trekkers using hammocks.

“Section hikers, especially in more forested areas like in Washington, seem to use hammocks much more frequently,” he said.

As for traditional double-walled tents: AT thru-hikers seemed to stick to a core group of name-brand tents while PCT thru-hikers varied more widely in shelter choice: Over one-fifth of PCT hikers surveyed said their tent was a brand other than those listed above. These “other” brands included Mountain Laurel Designs, Mountain Hardwear, GoLite, Sea to Summit, Big Sky International, and HyperLite Mountain Gear.

Of all shelter brands reported, the most loyalty lay with Big Agnes and Tarptent, a cottage company specializing in hiker-specific lightweight tents. Tarptent has carved out a niche of its own, comprising 16% of participants’ choice shelters on the AT – more than all hammock brands combined.

Full disclosure on the data: While the PCT survey was aimed at 2015 thru-hikers, it was openly distributed, which means it could include responses from participants who thru-hiked in other years. That could be one reason for the increased variability in favorite brands. The AT survey was more restricted – only those who hiked the AT in 2015 could respond. However, the results of the AT survey are consistent with Weber’s 2014 survey, indicating that the data from the two surveys are still comparable.

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