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 was curious about these people who spend months on trail hiking upwards of 30 miles each day in pursuit of a goal of completing a monumental task and I wanted to find out if I could do it.
To “Thru Hike” means to hike a continuous trail (usually established) 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 shot. The truth is though, Thru Hiking is just a reason to spend as much time on trail as you possibly can.
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 newbs to experts, they’re all out there doing what they do and for their own reasons.
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.
Thru Hiking is all about being efficient with your body and your gear. The more streamlined you can be, 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.
The cost 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 likely 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!
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 and content as well as other resources outside of this website that I know are great sources of information.
Emory R. Wanger
My PCT 2017 Hike
Detailed posts on my hike from beginning to end
The By Land Podcast
Thru Hike specific Episodes
Effie Drew has hiked thousands of miles of trail with her dog Luna. On this episode, we dive into how to prep your dog, care for your dog, and feed your dog while on trail.
Devin Everett is a Thru Hiker, Yogi, and all around motivating person. We talk hiking for a cause, living with Lyme Disease, and being mindful.
Carrot Quinn is a long distance hiker, blogger, and the author of "Thru Hiking Will Break Your Heart."
Justin Helmkamp is a long distance hiker who, when not hiking, spends his time with teenagers and young adults in Wilderness Therapy. We cover his recent hike of the Te Araora and explore how the wilderness can promote a healthy mind.
2 Foot Adventures is a mobile backpacking gear shop focused ultralight gear for PCT Thru Hikers. Mary is back for round 2 and we talk about everything from popular gear, to lessons learned, and what the PCT can teach you.
Tyler "The Prodigy" Lau completed a Calendar Year Triple Crown in 2018 and I had the pleasure of picking is brain about everything that went into it and how it feels now that it's over.
Marie has plans to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 2019 and before she heads out, I had the opportunity to pick her brain about all the emotions and decisions leading up to the hike.
Gillian Larson is a Thru Rider. She's ridden her horse more than 9000 miles along the PCT, CDT, Arizona Trail, and many others. We talk about what Thru Riding is, how it works, and what is different for her and her horses on these long trails.
In 2013, Jeff "IBTAT" Oliver quit drinking and began hiking. In 2018 he completed the AT. He now has his sights set on the PCT in 2019 and when complete, will be only one trail away from completing the Triple Crown. This is his story.