Plan and Prepare

Answering Questions About 2021 A.T. Hangtags and 2,000-Miler Recognition

January 21, 2021

Hangtags distributed by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) are frequently seen dangling off an aspiring thru-hiker’s pack, marking their intent to traverse the entire Appalachian Trail (A.T.). Like many things over the past year, the ATC’s hangtag distribution plan has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, we want to address some frequent questions about our 2021 hangtags.

What are A.T. hangtags?

  • The A.T. hangtags distributed by the ATC are plastic tags designed to hang from a hiker’s backpack. The front features the A.T. logo and the year of the attempted thru-hike; the back provides Leave No Trace information and a blank area where hikers can personalize them with a registration number, trail name, or whatever they choose. The hang tags are in the shape of an elliptical triangle, the same shape as the Appalachian National Scenic Trail logo.

Who creates the A.T. hangtags?

  • The ATC developed the A.T. hangtags in 2015 when they first started their voluntary thru-hiker registration (now known as ATCamp) and have issued them annually since then, through March 2020. Since March 2020, we have not issued hangtags, as we have advised aspiring thru-hikers to postpone or cancel their plans until the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) deems the COVID-19 pandemic under control.

What is the purpose of the hangtag?

  • In addition to providing a way for hikers to celebrate their thru-hike attempts, the primary purpose of the A.T. hangtag is to promote sustainable hiking practices aligned with Leave No Trace principles.

Who is eligible to receive an A.T. hangtag?

  • Anyone who has registered an A.T. thru-hike on ATCamp is eligible for a hangtag once distribution has been resumed. Section-hikers who have the goal of hiking the entire A.T. who have registered their hikes on ATCamp will also be eligible. Registering your hike is still important; understanding how many hikers will be on Trail in 2021 informs the ATC’s and Trail clubs’ management and maintenance priorities. However, we have paused hangtag distribution until the CDC deems the pandemic under control. Please see below for further explanation.

Why are 2021 A.T. Hangtags not currently available?

  • Due to the pandemic and the risk that interstate travel could spread COVID-19 (including the emerging variants that could be even more contagious), the ATC has been advising hikers to postpone their hikes until the CDC has deemed the pandemic “under control” or a COVID-19 vaccine or effective treatment is widely available and distributed. We do not feel it is appropriate to provide what could be perceived as a reward for long-distance hiking, which we are actively discouraging until one of the above conditions is met.

If health officials are advising that the risk of transmission in the outdoors is quite low in most situations, why are you concerned about hikers contracting or spreading the virus?

  • The risk of hiking the A.T. during the COVID-19 pandemic comes not in the hiking itself, but in travel to the Trail from points all over the country, and travel in and out of Trailside communities. The CDC travel guidance continues to state, as it has since the beginning of the pandemic, that “travel can increase your chance of spreading and getting COVID-19. Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.”

Will 2021 A.T. Hangtags will be available later in the year?

  • When the CDC has deemed the pandemic “under control,” COVID-19 vaccine or an effective treatment is widely available and distributed in 2021, hangtags will be made available at that time at the following visitor centers when they are open: Amicalola Falls State Park Visitor Center in Georgia; Damascus Trail Center in Damascus, Virginia (scheduled to complete construction in 2021); ATC Headquarters and Visitor Center in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia; and the A.T. Visitor Center in Monson, Maine. The ATC currently does not have plans to mail hangtags to ATCamp registrants.

By not giving out A.T. hangtags, aren’t you taking away an incentive for hikers to register and attend educational offerings designed to help them become better A.T. stewards?

  • Unfortunately, we had to choose between doing our part in a national health crisis to help reduce the spread of a highly contagious virus (that to date has killed more than 400,000 Americans and sickened millions) and providing an incentive to participate in programs we have developed that help protect the A.T. We hope that hikers who choose to proceed with their plans to thru-hike before the pandemic is under control will still do all they can to help preserve the Trail for their fellow hikers and will participate in thru-hiker registration (to help reduce crowding) and will participate in our educational offerings. We have also developed a webinar series to provide information for 2021 hikers on how to hike safely and responsibly if they choose to proceed with their hikes. Since we are advising hikers to postpone thru-hikes and section-hikes until the CDC has deemed the pandemic “under control,” or until a COVID-19 vaccine or effective treatment is widely available and distributed, we will not recognize hikes undertaken and will postpone distribution of the A.T. hangtag (which could be construed as a sanction for undertaking a thru-hike) until that time.

Will it be possible to complete a thru-hike in 2021 and be recognized by ATC?

  • We do not know enough about the course of the pandemic and the vaccine to be able to answer this question. We can say that the odds of the CDC deeming the pandemic “under control,” or a COVID-19 vaccine/effective treatment becoming widely available and distributed are more likely as the year progresses. We will point out that a hiker has 12 months (not restricted to a calendar year) to complete a thru-hike. We are also allowing any 2020 aspiring thru-hikers who left the Trail by March 31, 2020, due to the pandemic to count any of the miles they completed toward any future thru-hike attempt after the aforementioned conditions are met.

If I get vaccinated, does that change anything?

  • At this time, no. It is not known whether vaccination prevents you from spreading the virus even if you are protected from getting it yourself. Currently, we are not planning to make any exceptions.

These are challenging times for all. We know that many 2020 thru-hikers made the sacrifice of ending their journeys in March of last year to help reduce the spread of the COVID-19 — just as they were starting to get their trail legs. They have been waiting almost a year to resume their hikes. Others have waited many years for their chance to start their epic journey this year.

However, we ask hikers to continue to postpone their plans for the greater good to keep their fellow citizens safe, just as others have postponed weddings, travel, and many long-planned events with uncertainty about when they can safely reschedule them. Although we don’t know when the pandemic will be declared “under control” and we can resume distribution of A.T. hangtags and 2000 miler recognition, we hope for all concerned it will be soon.