What comes to mind when you hear “flip-flop”? Not hiking in flip-flops! As fun as that sounds, it’s highly impractical. Unlike a flip-flop, a thru-hike readily rings a bell for most people. So, what’s a flip-flop hike?
A flip-flop hike is a type of thru-hike. It is a popular alternative method of hiking the Appalachian Trail where a hiker starts walking from wherever they want, frequently in the middle of the trail and not a designated trailhead. They may hike north and “flip” back to their starting point to hike southbound for the rest of the trail.
You might be wondering why someone should choose to hike in such an unconventional way. Here are some reasons.
- There’s an infinite list of where to start and end a hike.
- You can beat the crowd since you aren’t doing the linear hike like most. You can avoid all the crowded spots and traffic jams by flip-flopping and hanging out in trail towns.
- You have a more significant weather window and can hike in weather that favors you.
- Flip-flopping lengthens your hiking season. If you’re hiking north on the Appalachian Trail, there’s no worry that the Baxter State Park will close before you make it.
- One benefit of a flip-flop hike is that you gradually build your trail legs if you’re not in the best-hiking shape. You can start hiking from the easiest terrains on the trail and move on to more challenging trails.
- Thru-hiking also allows you to meet amazing people in the thru-hiking community. Whether you’re a lone wolf or a socialite, you’re covered. You’ll meet other hikers and fellow flip-floppers at different points.
- You’ll be helping support hiker-focused businesses in the off-season.
- It also offers you the benefit of starting with moderate terrain and milder weather.
You must prepare thoroughly for your adventure if it’s your first time as a thru-hiker. Three significant challenges thru-hikers face are physical, mental, and financial. Here’s how to prepare yourself ahead.
Make no mistakes; as a flip-flopper, your stamina will be stretched to its limits. The distances are long and often grueling. There’s always the risk of injuries and disease; taking a comprehensive first aid course is helpful.
Start training ahead of time. You can start by doing a dedicated exercise regimen. Going on short backpacking trips will prepare your feet and shoulders for future strain.
As a thru-hiker, you may have to do long stretches of the entire trail alone except on days when you come across some day-hikers. The loneliness can be overwhelming for most thru-hikers who are just starting. There are a few things you can do to prepare. Going on short solo trips before the hike will help prepare you mentally for what’s to come.
Flip-flopping requires you to save money for the adventure ahead since you’ll be off work for the duration of the time spent on the trip, which changes anywhere from a month to five months. You’ll also be buying a ton of stuff like clothes appropriate for cold temperatures, insect repellents (if you hate bugs), food, and many other necessary things.
As the conventional idea of what a flip-flop hike is continues to evolve, more alternatives keep emerging. Most people cannot afford a five-month-long break, so they have to find other ways to flip-flop.
What’s important is that you achieve your goal. You can pick a shorter trail that’ll take you less time to complete, maybe a month. There are several such trails; find them and have fun flip-flopping. This option makes the most sense for slower hikers.
Alternatively, you can choose to hike selected sections of classic trails. This means you’ll focus on just one section each hiking season and finish just one section. There’s no need to start at one point and head in the opposite direction. This way, it’ll take you several hiking seasons to finish a trail, but then, you can flip-flop in your own time and commit the amount of time you’re comfortable committing.
The Appalachian Trail is the most popular for flip-flop thru-hikes, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other excellent hike trails that you can choose flip-flop through. Thru hikes are long distances, and two others are on the list.
Most long-distance hikers are already very familiar with the Appalachian Trail. It’s a 2,000-mile-long trail that starts at Springer Mountain, Georgia. Southbound start at Harpers Ferry in West Virginia.
Many hikers wonder if they should start from Springer Mountain, Georgia, and hike northbound to Maine, then flip back to Virginia to continue hiking south. There are several ways to do the flip-flop.
You can start at the Appalachian Trail stop near Pawling, NY, head north to climb the Katahdin and flip back to New York to finish the rest of the trail southbound.
Alternatively, you can start at Harpers’ ferry. While Harpers Ferry is a good starting point, you must expect steep climbs if you start at Harpers’ Ferry. Start the first half by April 15 and return to finish the second half by early September to avoid the humid weather. Start earlier if you want to avoid the cold weather during the southern half of the hike.
If you want more time to complete your hike, start at Shenandoah National Park but be prepared for the winter conditions.
It all depends on where you’re starting from and where you finish. Harpers Ferry has the longest window of mild weather. You can avoid the summer heat if you’re on Harper’s Ferry in early August.
To enjoy the spring weather, you can take the cool breeze route, hiking the mid-Atlantic in spring, hiking in New England after bug season, and ending in early November.
This 2600-mile trail takes an average of five months to complete the entire hike. A NOBO hiker can start in mid-April through to early May. A SOBO hiker can begin in late June through to early July.
This trail is 3,000 miles long and takes an average of six months. The best time to hike it is from late April to mid-October. One of the popular ways to hike the CDT is to hike the southern terminus to Cumbres Pass and flip to the northern terminus.
Flip-flopping is an alternative if you’ve always wanted the hiking experience but in an unconventional way. It’s fun, self-paced, and an opportunity to meet a community of like-minded people.