Ah yes…Thru Hiking!
What would drive someone to spend months on end hiking thousands of miles in a single go? Great question, the answer depends on who you’re asking. For me, it was born out of curiosity. I wanted to find out if I could do it.
Thru Hiking is an incredible adventure and one that will literally change your life if you allow it to. You’ll work harder than you ever have both mentally and physically. You’ll experience the highest highs and the lowest lows, but when it’s over you’ll wish you could do it just one last time.
what is thru hiking
To “Thru Hike” means to hike a continuous trail from end to end in one calendar year.
This can be done in a number of ways such as section hiking portions of the trail a little at a time, but traditionally, it’s done in one single effort. If you ever find yourself splitting hairs over what a Thru Hike is and isn’t, then you’ve probably missed the whole point of it the first place. In my opinion, Thru Hiking is more about discovering who you are and what you’re capable of rather than a specific metric.
how to thru hike
There’s not a rule book on how to complete a Thru Hike. Everyone has their own style and pace so it’s really up to you to figure out what works best for you. That said, if you do intend on completing a trail of any distance from start to finish, the name of the game is efficiency. Efficiency is key when covering so many miles each day for months on end. Ask any experienced Thru Hiker and they’ll tell you that the more efficient you can be with your body, your gear and your mind, the better off you’ll be.
The more streamlined you are, the less you have to worry about where you put the thing you need. And yes, it pays off to go as light as you are comfortable with. Each hiker has their own way of going about achieving efficiency, so it’s up to you to determine what that looks like. It’s a constant cycle of refinement and even those who have hiked thousands and thousands of miles, still look for ways to improve.
That said, no one can tell you HOW to Thru Hike. It’s up to you to decide what works best for you. If you want to crush big miles or mozy up the trail, that’s great! However you choose to do it is 100% OKAY.
Aside from being efficient, the next biggest thing is to hike how you want to hike. You’ll hear a common phrase among thru hikers; “Hike Your Own Hike.” It’s there as a reminder to stay true to yourself and to not compare yourself to other hikers.
who Can Thru Hike?
Contrary to popular belief, Thru Hiking isn’t something that’s reserved for elite athletes or advanced outdoor experts. The more I learn about Thru Hiking, the more I find that those on trail are a smattering of experience levels and backgrounds. From newcomers to experts, they’re all out there doing what they do and for their own reasons.
Big, small, short, tall, old, and young - I’ve seen them all and continue to see others who break the mold of what a Thru Hiker might be. What matters is what’s inside of you. Your drive is what makes you a Thru Hiker, not your physical appearance of attributes.
If you want to Thru Hike, do it! Yes, you’ll have to make sacrifices of time, money, and energy, but it WILL BE WORTH IT. Don’t let let social media or videos you find online define what a Thru Hiker is and make you think you’re not capable. The act of even attempting a Thru Hike is far more courageous than you could ever imagine. Most wouldn’t even try so when you do find yourself standing at that terminus of a trail looking forward, know you’ve made if much farther than most ever will.
The Impact of weight
Pack weight is a big issue in long distance hiking because it has a direct impact on how your body performs. When you’re covering 15-30 miles per day for days, weeks, and months on end, it’s not easy on your body. There is a reason why experienced Thru Hikers count ounces, because they know ounces create pounds, and the less weight you have to carry, the more miles you can do pain free.
When I hiked the PCT, I reached the point where I could feel the difference of a single pound in my backpack. It sounds strange to hear, but it’s true. A single pound at the end of a long day on trail could mean the difference in hiking a few more miles or camping where I was because my body was just done for the day.
When dialing in your pack weight, you’ll have to make personal decisions on what you’re willing to live without. As you progress in your experiences, those comfort items or things you bring “just in case” will eventually be left at home. This is a direct result of your confidence and personal comfort level in the wilderness.
Why Thru Hike
Each hiker has their own story and own reason behind their passion, but one thing is for certain, you’ll likely never hear a Thru Hiker tell you it’s not worth it. Instead, you’ll hear them encourage you to do whatever you have to do to make your hike happen because they know there’s some sort of magic out there waiting for you.
Thru Hiking is hard to describe outside of what the definition is. Yes, it means hiking a lot of miles, and yes, you get to live on trail for months on end, but it’s more than that. It’s more than just a hike. It’s emotional, physical, personal, and it’s more like a pilgrimage than anything else.
The longer you stay on trail, the better it gets - Mary “Pilsbury” Scudder
It’s true, the longer you stay out there, the more you’ll learn about yourself and the world around you. You’ll experience complete and utter kindness from strangers, enjoy the most simple of things, spend time in your own head sorting through the chapters of your life, and reconnect with nature. Thru Hiking is a gift and something that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.
If Thru Hiking is something you’re interested in learning more about, I’d suggest you begin your research now and set that goal to make it happen sooner rather than later. Whatever hurdles you have to overcome to make it work will be worth it and you’ll look back at some point and be thankful you moved mountains to pursue this dream you had.
If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate in reaching out. If I don’t know the answer to your question, I know someone who does and we’ll get you squared away!
Thru hiking Resources
There are a number of places throughout this website that touch on the subject of long distance hiking and I encourage you to explore them. Below are some of my own writings, as well as other resources outside of this website that I know are great sources of information.