A couple months ago I announced my intentions of hiking the Appalachian Trail with the goal of completing it in record time. With the trip quickly approaching, I wanted to clear up exactly what it is that I am doing. There are essentially three types of records for long trails: supported, self-supported, and unsupported. Supported essentially means a crew follows the hiker/runner for the duration of the trip, providing their food and drinks as well as sleeping arrangements and any other help along the way. Unsupported on the other hand involves no support from anyone and no resupply, and is essentially limited to a few days because of the near complete refusal of assistance, even in the form of food from a town. The third, less well defined type is a hike done in self-supported fashion which involves resupplying in towns but no assistance from vehicles or a dedicated support crew. For all of the types, the hiker must complete every single foot of the trial by their own effort.
The self-supported category is typically described as backpacker style and is more feasible for the common adventurer than recruiting a dedicated crew to follow for a nearly two-month trip. It opens up the door for someone like me to enjoy chasing a fastest known time (FKT) while not having to worry about the logistics of meeting people at road crossings. With that said, I imagine emotionally it is a much more daunting trip without the support of friends and family. In fact, meeting friends and family along the trail is frowned upon on this sort of trip.
I have outlined several quotes from people who have essentially defined what self-supported means below. It is by nature a more ambiguous category in need of defining than the other two categories. But I believe Matt Kirk did a good job of establishing the rules he followed for his hike which I will be adopting for my hike.
“The PCT is usually done in typical thru-hiker style, which we would classify as “self-supported” — rather than having a dedicated support crew, the hiker may use mail drops, facilities in towns along the way, and the kindness of strangers. Technically, any pre-arranged support such as friends meeting you along the trail with supplies would be considered “supported”.” –Peter Bakwin
“One thing I would like to stress as well for anyone that hopes to challenge the record is that they need to be on the PCT every step of the way.” -Adam Bradley
Copied from Matt Kirk’s wiki page for his self-supported hike:
“Self-supported” guidelines followed (Mostly adapted from the writing of Scott “Bink” Williamson):
- Walk into and out of resupply towns to purchase or pick up prepacked and mailed supplies.
- Hike as a backpacker, carrying all food and equipment between resupply towns.
- Follow the official AT route, no detours, road walks or alternates of any kind.
- Do not have anyone follow, or provide support in a prearranged manner.
- Do not get into a vehicle for any reason during the attempt.
- Honestly and thoroughly document the attempt.
- Practice Leave-No-Trace ethics.