Thru Hiking Southbound Compass Icon

southbound (sobo) - maine to georgia

Thinking of a Southbound thru-hike? We don’t recommend thru-hiking southbound starting in Maine unless you have extensive experience backpacking on the A.T. in Maine or New Hampshire.

Why is a Southbound Thru-Hike Not Recommended for most hikers?

Extremely difficult terrain to start. A southbounder or “SOBO” begins with the hardest part of the Trail first. Unlike starting in other more moderate sections of the Trail, you do not have a chance to get your trail legs under you before hitting the steepest mountains. Katahdin, the mountain you climb on your first day, is arguably the hardest climb on the A.T. It features more than 4,000 feet of elevation gain, the greatest sustained ascent on the entire Appalachian Trail. It is a scramble. Expect to use your hands as you climb over steep boulders and ledges above treeline. As you head south into the Hundred Mile Wilderness, the mountains may seem small because of modest elevations, but they are some of the most rugged in Maine. Expect the footing to be on rocks, roots and mud rather than a smooth footpath.

Swarming insects. If you start in June, you will encounter insects. The most infamous are Maine’s black flies, which are out in swarms at the end of May and the beginning of June. They hatch in the cold clear streams and are an indication of healthy and clean water, but their sting hurts and their bites itch for days. Mosquito season lasts from May through the beginning of July, but there can be hatches later in the season depending on weather. Deer flies, gnats and horse flies make more local appearances through the early summer months. If you hike in Maine in early summer, a headnet is highly recommended.


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Formidable stream crossings. The majority of stream crossings in Maine do not have bridges. This means you have to ford. At times streams can run swift and deep. See here for tips on fording. Water levels are highest in May and June when the snow melt is still occurring. The water is also very cold during these months, especially in May. River depth also spike after thunderstorms or lengthy rain events during the summer and fall.

Challenging weather. Weather in Maine can run the gamut through the summer months. Often times, there can be quick temperature swings from hot and humid to cool and brisk. Many years, there are still pockets of snow in the high mountains in late May. June often sees consistent rain, while severe thunderstorms are more common later in the summer, but both can happen at any time.

Early drop-out rates are high. Sadly, a relatively high number of SOBOs drop out before even reaching the summit of Katahdin, or in the first few days. The completion rate of SOBOs is lower than for other categories of hikers.

You can’t reasonably start until June, losing prime spring hiking time. We do not allow SOBOS to register thru-hikes until June 1 because Baxter State Park may not be open until this date. Conditions in Maine are poor in June, but to wait until July when conditions improve means adding another month of winter hiking in the high-elevation mountains at the southern end of the Trail. While waiting to start, you’re losing out on hiking at a time is one of the best months to hike in every state from Georgia through the mid-Atlantic.

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TIPS FOR PROSPECTIVE SOBOS

Katahdin

Savor Maine’s wild beauty. Maine is often cited as a thru-hiker’s favorite state. In some respects, it is the wildest, most remote section of the entire Trail. It also has more lakes than almost the rest of the Trail combined. Some of the most thrilling wildlife encounters of the entire A.T. are likely to happen here: seeing a moose or hearing the haunting call of a loon. Don’t rush through this wonderland.

Don’t expect a great deal of solitude. Although far fewer thru-hikers choose to do a SOBO hike than a NOBO hike, you will not be alone on the Trail. Maine and New Hampshire are popular for dayhiking and section hiking. Camp groups are also common on the Trail during the summer months.

In-depth tips on logistics for starting a southbound thru-hike. [Click here for pdf]

Consider different thru-hike start locations

To avoid the extremely difficult conditions at the start of your hike as well as to give yourself an earlier start, consider a different thru-hike plan. If you’re eager to get going in May, consider starting in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Hike northbound to Katahdin, and hike the southern half in either direction. You can also start in Georgia in May, after the crowds have thinned, and plan on doing a “leap” or a “flip” later to extend the time you have to complete your hike. If you plan to start in June, consider a thru-hike starting in Delaware Water Gap, PA (at the New Jersey border) or at Pawling, New York . Hike north for the first half, then hike the southern half in either direction.


Click Here for some alternative hikes

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A typical southbounder, starting in June or July and finishing in December, can expect:

  • Starting with Katahdin, a mile-high mountain that requires scrambling and hand-over-hand climbing; with almost half of the climb on exposed terrain above treeline.
  • Shortly after, entering the "100-mile wilderness" which has no resupply--making your pack very heavy. Novice backpackers should be carrying 10 days worth of food.
  • Black flies, muddy trail, and difficult stream crossings in Maine in June.
  • About a month of hot, humid weather in the mid-Atlantic states.
  • Fall colors in Virginia.
  • Hiking through hunting season from late October onward.
  • Cold weather during last month or two of the hike, with snow likely.
  • A small number of other southbound thru-hikers for companionship.

 

recommendations and considerations

There is a narrow window of favorable weather in which to complete a southbound thru-hike. Most years, the section of the A.T. on Katahdin does not open until the very end of May or the beginning of June. Although better conditions in Maine come later in the summer, the days are shorter. Cold temperatures, snow, and ice can occur in late October in the high mountains of the southern Appalachians.

a word of caution

A southbound thru-hike is recommended only for experienced and fit backpackers who are looking for an extreme physical challenge right at the start. A southbound thru-hike starts with the most difficult climb on the entire A.T. (Katahdin), the most remote section of trail (100-mile wilderness), and the two most challenging states of the Trail (Maine and New Hampshire). Through 2017, fewer than 2,000 people had reported completion of the A.T. southbound.