The decision of undertaking a Thru Hike isn’t something that happens overnight. It is usually a long thought out process that takes into account many aspects of life. Uprooting your life for 4 to 6 months is by no means an easy task. Plenty of people get stuck in this stage and never end up attempting a thru hike. Here I am going to lay out a guide to Thru Hiking Basics. I am not going to cover a lot of the common information out there, if you are truly new to the idea of Thru Hiking there are plenty of other internet resources that cover that. This guide is going to provide you with things you probably haven’t heard about Thru Hiking and pose questions that you need to answer before heading out onto whatever trail you choose.
The Three Stages of the Thru Hiking Basics
Your Thru Hike can be broken up into 3 manageable stages. Pre-hike, hiking, and post hike. You should have a plan for all of these. I’ll walk you through the stages and what I wish I knew when I was doing them. Then add the end I’ll make a quick list of miscellaneous information that I wish I knew!
If you’re reading this then you are probably in this stage. You may have an upcoming trip planned of the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Colorado Trail, or any of the other trails. I don’t want to focus on any one in particular so I will try to give information that would be useful in any circumstance.
- Weight Matters – If you do your research on the right gear before the trail you will likely end up happier on the trail. This can end up cheaper because you won’t have to buy new gear when you decide to become Ultralight.
- Save Enough – I’ve seen people hike on budgets of $.5/mile to $5/mile. When people ask about budgets I only have one piece of advice. Know yourself. If you need more creature comforts you’ll likely end up spending a bit more.
- Additional Note here: If you will be quitting a job make sure you have enough money to come back home and live until you get a new job!
- Don’t Over-plan – It may be tempting to plan out where you will be at certain dates in a spreadsheet but DO NOT! In the beginning you should be hiking based on your body, this will help you stay injury free not to mention more relaxing.
- Research Gear – Gear is your most important part, this goes beyond the first point. You should know how to use all of your gear and if it will hold up properly to the elements. Check out some of our gear reviews over here.
- Talk to past hikers – They are a passionate group of people. Reach out to them with questions and for advice. If you happen to be planning for the Appalachian Trail reach out to us!
During Your Hike
So the time is finally here, you’re headed to the trail. The day you’ve waited for, now here are some quick tips to make the most of it and make sure it is a successful hike. After all, success rates are rather low for thru hikes and we want to increase them!
- Listen to your body – Starting out on a long distance hike this is the most important thing when you finally get out there. Your body is likely not used to hiking everyday so start off slow. You probably won’t feel the pain until about day 3.
- Carrying too much food – Depending how long your initial food carry is you are likely carrying too much. Your body hasn’t adapted to hiking everyday yet so you will still eat normally, pack accordingly.
- Carrying too much water – This is dependent on where you will be but read where your water sources will be from your guidebook and plan accordingly. A rule of thumb for me was 8 miles per liter. It is also good to “camel” at water sources, meaning drink a bunch of water at the source so you don’t have to carry it.
- The trail provides – This is somewhat of a motto out there, when you need something the trail will provide so don’t sweat it too much. Of course, it just means you will figure it out because all situations can be competed with hard work.
- Take pictures – One thing most thru hikers regret is not taking enough pictures, not of the scenery but of the people! Try to take pictures when hiking with others that capture the mood, you’ll enjoy looking back on them. On this note, get their contact information too.
- Prepare for the mental – Thru hiking is an extremely difficult physical task but depending on the length, it may be mentally harder. You have to take these moods in stride, remember why you are out there and keep going. This is a hard topic for advice, but know it will get tough. A good book on the subject is Appalachian Trials found here. You’re tougher than you think.
- Savor it – Your out there to enjoy yourself and change your life. Remember to enjoy the moments, because before you know it you’ll be done.
You should be planning for your post hike the entire time. If you finished that is great news, now have a plan.
- Rest – Take as much time as it takes to feel good, but you should be getting back into regular exercise because this is the time to build good habits.
- Eat well – You were likely eating like crap over the last few months, now its time to get healthy. It is going to be very easy to gain weight if you aren’t hiking 20 to 30 miles a day anymore.
- Transition to real life – Give yourself time to transition back. This should be planned in advance so have the means, and will to transition. Take what you learned and apply it to life. Look how you thrived in the woods with little. Now apply that to your life and don’t get caught up in the details.
Spotting the Unprepared
I wanted to add this to the end, as a fun section with tips to help you. This is a list of things that we saw throughout our trip that you don’t need!
- Nalgene water bottles – Smart water or Gatorade bottles are fine. Check out a review on filters over here.
- Stuff sacks on stuff sacks – Organizing your gear can be a challenge, but get a system. You can shave a ton of weight by keeping the bags to a minimum. I had three, a tent bag, a pack liner, and a food bag.
- Large knives – In some cases these may be warranted. Most of the time you can get away with a small pocket knife. I only used mine for cheese.
- Hiking boots – Assuming you aren’t lugging around 50 pounds you shouldn’t have a need for these. A light pair of trail runners should take you around 500 miles and will make you hike faster!
Well, that should be it for the thru hiking basics. If you think I missed anything or you have any questions let me know! Good luck in your upcoming adventure. Keep on planning and making those gear changes.