The first annual AZT thru-hiker survey results are finally in!
A huge thanks to everyone who contributed to the survey! The information would not exist without your time and helpful answers.
This survey was created in an effort to aid future thru-hikers in their planning and journey. After reading the similar survey results about the PCT conducted by Halfway Anywhere, I was eager to know the same information about the Arizona Trail. (Disclaimer, I am not Halfway Anywhere. I am Double Orca. While I have participated in the past PCT surveys, I did not conduct them.) I wanted to know what the experience of other hikers was like, how they prepared for their trip, where did they stop, what did they eat, etc. The AZT is a much less frequented trail with a lot fewer people on it relative to the PCT, therefore a lot of the specifics seem to be shrouded in darkness and secrecy. In an attempt to cast a light on the thru-hiking community and experience, here are the results from NOBO and SOBO thru-hikers from 2018. At last we have a few answers to some important AZT questions. I was surprised by a few of the answers, too! And hopefully some of these results are helpful to future AZT thru-hikers as they prepare for their upcoming adventure.
Disclaimer: the results and statistics are not extremely scientifically rigorous. More like approximately pretty good. Results are based on the memories of thru-hikers who may or may not have been in Snicker-induced sugar-high states while hiking. I tried to sort out any outliers or obviously bad data to the best of my ability as a thru-hiker.
- The survey was conducted into two parts, I and II. Part I focused on basics and resupply. Part II focused on gear, health, and other details.
- 30 hikers responded to Part I of the survey. 20 hikers responded to Part II.
- The survey was created at the end of the sobo hiking season and may be biased toward sobo responses
- Hopefully 2018 is the first of many years of survey results!
First, who hiked the AZT in 2018 and where are they from?
How old are the AZT thru-hikers? Average Age: 37.5
- 20-24: 22.5%
- 25-30: 22.6%
- 30-34: 9.7%
- 35-39: 16.1%
- 40-49: 6.5%
- 50-59: 3.2%
- 60-69: 19.4%
Where do you consider home?
- Home Country: USA 83.9%, Australia 3.2%, Canada 3.2%, Japan 3.2%, New Zealand 3.2%, Russia 3.2%
US folks – Which state do you hail from?
TOP 6 HOME STATES: Arizona 18.5%, Texas 11.1%, Michigan 7.4%, Montana 7.4%, New York 7.4%, Washington 7.4%
THE HIKE BASICS
Was this the first thru-hike for hikers? What other trails have folks already hiked? Which direction did hikers go? When did they start? How long was their hike? Did they start alone? Did they camp and hike alone?
- Of the 2018 thru-hikers, a whopping 32.3% were on their first long-distance thru-hike!, while 67.7 had already hiked another long-distance trail.
- Other trails hiked by 2018 AZT thru-hikers: Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Colorado Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Long Trail, Te Araroa, John Muir Trail, previous hikes of the Arizona Trail, Cohos Trail, Pinhoti Trail, Northville Lake Placid Trail, Sheltowee Trace Trail, Wonderland Trail, California Coast Trail, and Oregon Coast Trail.
- Did you begin SOLO or with others?
- 54.8% began SOLO (so many!)
- 45.4% began with other(s)
- Percentage of time solo starters hiked alone: 75%
- Percentage of time solo starters camped alone: 34%
- Began with others: with a friend 22.6%, with a romantic partner 16.1%, with a sibling 3.2%, with a friend of friend 3.2%
So NOBO or SOBO?
- 58.1% of respondents hiked NOBO while 41.9% of respondents hiked SOBO
Here are the some numbers for the 2018 NOBO thru-hikers that started their AZT hike in the Spring:
- NOBO start month:
- February 12.5%
- March 50%
- April 31.3%
- May 6.3%
- Average NOBO Spring start date: 3/18/18
Here are the same numbers for the 2018 SOBO thru-hikers who started in the Fall. October appears to be the month to start!
- SOBO start month:
- September 16.7%
- October 75%
- November 8.3%
- Average SOBO Fall start date: 10/6/18
To train or not to train? Is it actually important? I always make an effort get in shape prior to my long hikes – often so I can “hit the ground running” – but do others do the same? What percent of thru-hikers prepared for their hike by getting in shape?
- 65% trained for their hike, 35% did not train
Here’s how thru-hikers trained for their hike before hitting the trail:
- 25% Hike/backpack, 25% walk, 15% lift weights, 10% run, 5% cycling, 5% stair master
Length of a thru-hike is important – are you in a time crunch and can you do it? Are you going to have to hurry your way through Arizona? Can you relax and spend a few days off in town? Here are a few numbers that may help inform how much time you may want to dedicate to your hike.
How much time did hikers spend on trail? How many zero days did they hike (full days off)? How many near-o days (partial days off)?
- Number of days on trail: average 45 days (min: 23, max: 79)
- Miles per day: average 19.6 mpd (min: 10.1, max 34.8)
- Number of zero days: 5.2 days (min: 1, max: 10)
- Number of near-o days: 4.9 days (min: 1, max 14)
Would you consider hiking the AZT again?
Did you finish your AZT thru-hike?
Reasons for ending hikes include: injury and lonely/stress/limited time/snow
So who went where? These are the towns and/or locations that the AZT Association lists on its website – and a few that aren’t listed but are visted. A lot of day and section hikers may visit some of these towns, but do thru-hikers really stop at Winkleman and Dudleyville? Nope! But a few folks did swing by Phoenix, Sonoita, and Sahuarita, which surprised me. Here are the important towns for thru-hikers:
So just how popular are each of the trail towns and trail stops? I broke the trail town popularity down into the following categories, color coded for easy-viewing: hardly visited (0-20%), some people went here (20-40%), visited half the time (40-60%), often visited (60-80%), you gotta go there (80-100%)
Jacob Lake (38.7%)
North Rim Country Store (35.5%)
Grand Canyon North Rim (29%)
Phantom Ranch (25.8%)
Grand Canyon South Rim (77.4%)
Mormon Lake (48.4%)
Tonto Basin (19.4%)
Roosevelt Lake (61.3%)
San Manuel (3.2%)
Mt Lemmon (51.6%)
Colossal Cave (38.7%)
Green Valley (0%)
Sierra Vista (12.9%)
Trail town favorites
Respondents chose these towns as the four top favorites:
- Flagstaff (77.4%)
- Oracle (58.1%)
- Patagonia (54.8%)
- Pine (48.4%)
Why did hikers like these trail towns and why did they top the list? Generally speaking, they were cute, friendly, accommodating, welcoming, had helpful trail angels, good food and drink, good amenities and services, or were easy to access.
Respondents chose these towns as their four least favorite:
- Roosevelt Lake (33.3%)
- Superior (19%)
- Tusayan (14.3%)
- Page (14.3%)
Why didn’t hikers enjoy these towns? General reasons these trail towns were not favored among thru-hikers is because they were: expensive, had limited options, few amenities, not much for food, were difficult to access, not hiker-friendly, or somewhat sketchy.
So how did folks get their needed food and supplies? Some sent all of their boxes ahead of time, others sent a few, while others didn’t send any at all. Here’s how the resupply strategy breaks down for the AZT class of 2018. How did thru-hikers resupply?
As far as mailing resupply boxes go:
- 12.9% of thru-hikers mailed all of their boxes
- 45.2% mailed some boxes
- 41.9% mailed no boxes
How would you change your resupply strategy if you hiked the AZT again?
- No change: 26.9%
- Send fewer boxes: 23.1%
- Send more variety: 19.2%
- Send less food in boxes: 15.4%
- Send more boxes: 7.7%
- Send more food in boxes: 3.8%
- Send healthier and/or better food: 3.8%
Respondents recommend buying food in town over sending resupply boxes generally on the AZT. However, there are a few spots where sending a box ahead may be helpful.
Where would you recommend future hikers send a resupply box? These are the top 5 suggestions (and the percent of hikers that would recommend sending a box there). Note: anything over 10% is mentioned here:
- Roosevelt Lake (43%)
- Colossal Cave (23%)
- Patagonia (20%)
- Mormon Lake (17%)
- Oracle (13%)
Where would you recommend future hikers definitely BUY food in town and not mail a box? Here are the top 8 answers (and the percent of hikers that recommend it). Note: anything 20% and over is mentioned here:
- Flagstaff (50%)
- Grand Canyon South Rim (37%)
- Pine (33%)
- Superior (33%)
- Patagonia (33%)
- Kearny (23%)
- Tucson (23%)
- Oracle (20%)
Looking for resupply nuggets of wisdom? Here are a few tips from the class of 2018:
- Subways 6 for $18.
- No need to send boxes.
- FYI Jacob Lake does not accept packages!
- Mail only the essentials in resupply boxes and pick up snacks in town depending on what you crave.
- It’s possible to either send 100% of packages or buy 100% of food in town so do what you are comfortable with.
- Use an electrolyte powder instead of Gatorade powder, and try chia seeds with electrolyte drink.
- Variety is good.
- Carry between Roosevelt Lake and Pine – it’s a hard hitch in the middle.
- Would not use an alcohol stove, HEET was hard to find in Oracle, North Rim, and South Rim stores.
- Resupplying in towns works well.
- Skip Payson.
- If you’re sending bars, mix it up – Clif bars get old fast.
- I sent hot sauce/mayo/olive oil/coconut oil packets in our boxes which we really liked having.
- You could get by with never mailing a resupply, but it is hard to find nutritious bars at some locations. We ordered bars through Amazon Prime and had them delivered “general delivery” in areas that had small grocery stores – it was cheaper and turned out to be a good option for us.
How did folks get from the trail to town? When asked if they hitchhiked, here’s how respondents answered:
- 74.2% of hikers hitchhiked at least once, while 25.8% did not hitchhike at all.
As for difficult locations, the following places were mentioned as challenging spots to catch a ride (in geographical order from north to south):
- Getting to the Northern Terminus
- Payson on Highway 87
- Tonto Basin from Roosevelt Lake
- Out of Roosevelt Lake in general
- Sahuarita on Sahuarita Road
- From the Southern Terminus.
How did hikers find their way along the trail? Who used the AZT Guthook app? What about paper maps?
- 85% app only
- 15% app plus paper maps
GEAR & EXPENSES
Gear is a big part of every thru-hiking experience. Choosing the right gear can be both challenging and fun. And costly! Here’s the lowdown what the 2018 AZT thru-hikers carried. (Note: costs and expenses are extremely subjective to memory unless methodically tracked, which appears to be a rarity. Most responses were approximate. A few answers included “Who knows?”)
- Average base weight at the start: 16.8 lbs (min: 7 lbs/max: 28 lbs)
- Average base weight at the end: 15.9 lbs (min: 7 lbs/max: 26 lbs)
- Average cost of entire gear setup: $1295 (min: $500/max: $2500)
- Average cost of new gear for AZT specifically: $300 (min: $0/max: $1200)
- Average amount spent on trail – food, lodging, etc: $1005 (min: $450/max: $2800) – aka an average of $1.25 per mile
What about shoes? How many hikers got a new pair while hiking?
- Yes, new shoes 70%/No 30%
- NOBO: Swapped for new shoes:
- Oracle: 17%
- Payson: 17%
- Pine/Strawberry: 33%
- Flagstaff: 17%
- Grand Canyon South Rim: 17%
- SOBO: Swapped for new shoes:
- Jacob Lake: 13%
- Flagstaff: 25%
- Payson: 13%
- Superior: 25%
- Oracle/Tucson: 25%
What kind of sleeping bag did folks carry?
Average sleeping bag temperature rating?
- 20 degrees (50%), 15 degrees (15%), 30 degrees (15%) 10 degrees (10%), 0 degrees (5%), and 40 degrees (5%)
Average pack capacity?
MOST POPULAR PACKS (and the percent of hikers who carried them):
- ULA – Circuit or OHM (30%)
- Osprey – Exos or Aether (15%)
- Deuter – Act Lite 60+10 or other (10%)
- Granite Gear – x60 or Nimbus Trace (10%)
(other packs carried include: Gossamer Gear Mariposa, MLD Burn, Mystery Ranch XXX Trance, Pa’lante Packs, Zpacks, Atom Packs)
MOST POPULAR SHELTERS (and the percent of hikers who used them):
- Big Agnes – Fly Creek 1 or 2, or Copper Spur, generally UL or Platinum (40%)
- Zpacks – Hexamid regular or solo plus or tarp, or Duplex (30%)
(other shelters used include: Ozark Trail, Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo, Nemo Hornet 1p, Tarptent Stratospire 1, REI Quarterdome, and Big Sky Singlewall)
MOST POPULAR SLEEPING BAGS (and the percent of hikers who used them):
- Enlightened Equipment quilt (10%)
- Marmot – Quantum or Helium (10%)
- Western Mountaineering (10%)
MOST POPULAR SLEEPING PADS (and the percent of hikers who used them):
- Thermarest mattress – NeoAir or other (60%)
- Closed cell foam pad (15%)
MOST POPULAR STOVE (and the percent of hikers who used them):
- MSR – Pocket Rocket or Whisper Lite (30%)
- Jetboil – Minimo or Flash (15%)
MOST POPULAR WATER TREATMENT (and the percent of hikers who used it):
- Sawyer – Squeeze or other (70%) – of these 10% carried backup Aquamira
- Katahdin – BeFree, Gravity Camp 6L, or other (15%)
MOST POPULAR TREKKING POLES (and the percent of hikers who used them):
- Leki – Corklite, Super Makalu, Journey, or Speed Lock Vario z-fold (25%)
- Black Diamond – Trail Trekking Poles, Alpine Carbon, or other (20%)
- Cascade Mountaineering (10%)
What was your favorite piece of gear? Responses include: my sleeping pad, Sawyer filter, backpack, Sawyer squeeze, homemade quilt, sit pad, NeoAir, pack, sleeping bag, iPhone, zero degree down bag, tent, 6L gravity water filter, umbrella, and hiking poles.
What’s the next piece of gear you plan to buy? Responses include: rain gear, an enlightened equipment quilt, a warmer sleeping bag, new tent, tent, tent, sleeping bag, pack, maybe switch to a quilt, pack, rain jacket, sleeping bag, a new pack in a few more hikes, down jacket, a pack in a few more years, and a camera.
What GEAR WISDOM would you like to offer future AZT thru-hikers?
- Wear a full rim hat!
- You don’t have to break the bank to have quality stuff. Sometimes cheap (inexpensive) means cheap quality – but not always.
- Use a 20 degree bag. 30 wasn’t really enough.
- Use a pee pot at night!
- Beware that thorns on trail will be rough on gear and clothes!
- Go light, but don’t skimp on water capacity or water filter (aquamira doesn’t get rid of cow poop, it just sterilizes it)
- Do whatever feels good
- The lighter the better
- Dress warmly if you start early (March or February)
- Windbreaker and sturdy rain gear are important. Have microspikes and winter boots in a bounce box waiting for ya if going sobo when you go over higher elevations. Chances of snow are likely (late season SOBO).
- In dry desert heat wear a cotton shirt & pants and Darn Tough wool socks
- Squeeze filters are nice, but a pump makes getting water out of sketchy sources much easier
- A solar umbrella was nice to have in the afternoon sun.
- HYOH – Hike Your Own Hike!
FOOD AND HEALTH
Let’s face it, hikers love to eat. And they often hike to eat! There’s no better topic of conversation than food. So let’s talk food…and health.
What cook system did folks use?
- Canister Stove 51.6%
- Stoveless 41.9%
- Alcohol Stove 6.5%
How did you store your food at night/while sleeping? (Note: respondents may have stored food in more than one way, for example: both in an Opsack odorproof bag and inside their tent, or others sometimes stored their food inside their tent and sometimes would hang their food)
- 74.2% inside tent* (responses included inside tent, as pillow, and under feet)
- 25.8% inside Opsack odor-proof bag
- 16.1% food bag hung as bear/critter hang
- 6.5% inside Ursack
- 3.2% other
How long was your longest food carry?
- 4 days: 16.7%; 5 days: 23.3%; 6 days: 26.7%; 7 days: 20.0%; 8 days: 6.7%; 10 days: 6.7%
About how long was your average food carry?
- 3 days: 33.3%; 4 days: 37%; 5 days 29.6%
What were some of your favorite foods? Responses include: PROBAR, White Chocolate Peanut m&ms, cheese and pepperoni, RX Bars, Larabars, chips, fresh fruit, homemade trail mix, PackItGourmet sandwich meals, cheese/salami, granola, jerky and sour patch kids, Poptarts, bars, cheese, premade dehydrated meals, muffins and GORP, summer sausage and cheese, chips and bars, tuna Mac, dehydrated black beans & rice with Fritos and hot sauce, Mountain House lasagna, m&m, nuts & dried cherries, chocolate, hot chocolate coffee, Almond Snickers, Snickers, creative lunch wraps, mac & cheese, deli stuff, Beaver Mustard, tuna and cheese wraps, dehydrated refried beans, tuna jerky and pemmican, cream cheese: cream cheese with honey on a tortilla or cream cheese with bologna on a tortilla, nuts and beef jerkey, and WildZora meat snacks.
What were some of your least favorite foods? Responses include: Nuts, none, oatmeal and Clif bars, mac & cheese, tuna, Ramen, overeating the same thing, stale trail mix, tuna, endless Clif bars, dried fruit, too much of the same thing, bland/unsalted seeds and nuts, cold Ramen gets old, got sick of Clif bars after a bit, cold soaked instant potatoes, Kind bars are as hard as a rock, bars in general, tuna, none, energy gels, trail mix unless it involves a lot of chocolate, cold soaked Idahoans, none, Teriyaki rice cakes, too much nuts and seeds, and cocao nibs after a week.
Did you treat your water?
- Always 72.7%
- Mostly 13.6%
- Sometimes 4.5%
- Never 9.1%
Did you get sick?
- 0% of respondents got sick!
FEAR, REGRETS & ADVICE
I asked hikers if there was ever a time when then felt unsafe while on trail or in town. This is how they responded to “Did you ever feel unsafe on/off trail”?:
- 66.7% no, always felt safe
- 13.3% had moments where they felt slightly unsafe
- 20% yes, did feel unsafe at times
What were the situations that created unsafe feelings? Here are a few other reasons: The most frequent reason was being on trail on during hunting season and/or hunters. The next most frequent reason was being a solo female. Other mentions include: being around traffic and cars, bikes on trail, Globe was sketchy/had a bottle thrown at them while hitching, animal noises, a sketchy hitch with a creep in Hurricane UT, highly trafficked/isolated area south of Cedar Ranch TH, animal noises, and homeless near Flagstaff.
There’s a plethora of amount of information on the interwebs and in books about the AZT, but there’s always something a little surprising about every trail. I asked folks if there was there anything about the AZT that SURPRISED YOU? Here are the answers:
- How beautiful and diverse it was!
- The diversity.
- Two bear sightings.
- Water sources were surprisingly good given a drought year (spring).
- How much of it is a forest.
- Lots of beautiful spots.
- How remote it is – and how many mountains there were surprised me too!
- How gorgeous it was – didn’t see a single rattlesnake.
- Just the beauty.
- It seemed like there was actually plenty of water sources, even if some were a little gross.
- It was amazing!
- How cold and wet it can be! How rocky the trail is in places.
- Way more mountains – yayy!
- How different northern and southern Arizona feel.
- Surprised that most towns were very close to trail and no long hitches were necessary.
- Surprised by the weather! Rainiest October on record in AZ – plenty of water flowing everywhere. Surprised by the amount of volcanic rocks – very cool.
- Gotta love those desert sunsets!
- The variety in scenery. I was expecting way more of just a desert trail.
- A lot of people with guns.
- Many, many miles of forest 😦
- The diversity of Arizona’s ecosystems is amazing.
- It’s hard.
- Not really.
- There was MUCH more walking on two-track roads than I expected. I had read the trail was overgrown in places, but it was more overgrown than I expected.
- I had heard a lot about the changing environment but it was surprising still.
- The solitude in some places because of the time of year was a great surprise.
And what ADVICE FOR FUTURE AZT HIKERS do you have? Here are a few responses:
- Go do it, it’s an awesome trail!!!
- Have fun!
- Go hike it! It is a very beautiful trail. You see things only in your dreams! Saguaro cacti colonies, Grand Canyon, mountains, wildlife. Be done with your hike no later than end of May due to heat.
- Just do it!
- Bring a water scooper or cut off bottle for scooping water out of troughs.
- Always be aware of where your next potential water will be.
- Be prepared for cold weather and rain!
- Get the paper maps!!! They show side trails to different monuments and parks. A lot of spots are within a 2 mile detour and worth it.
- Don’t stress about caching water. A lot of people put too much effort into caching and it’s not necessary.
- Update water availability notes on Guthook to help hikers following you.
- Be prepared for cold nights, muddy water sources, and being attacked by cholla. Also, be ready to spend a lot of your time in, on, or around cow poop.
- You HAVE to eat pizza in Pine at the Old County Inn. Sure, get a beer at THAT Brewery, but get the pizza!
- Guthook is essential for navigation and water report. Stay in close contact with the AZT group for any questions about water cache, safety, help with rides, etc.
- If you take water from a cache carry out empties!
- There are incredible trail angels along the trail. I only met some, but really wish I had reached out to more.
- It’s hard but it rocks
And lastly, MANY THANKS to all of the contributing AZT thru-hikers who responded to the survey, including (but not limited to):
Bear Ryder, Bill, Brooklyn, Cleary, Crash, Cruise, Dakarti, Dan, Data, Double Orca, Farting Owl, Farvehar, Flex, Hiking Solo, Ice Man, Karts, Kremlin, No Butt, Mary Poppins, Mr.Cup, Oklahoma, One Eleven, One Ton, Pebbles, Phantom, QB, Saccrosse, Squirrel, Sweatlines, UOK, Washington
Please leave any comments and questions below!