Thru-hiking is to hike an established trail that is usually long-distance with continuous footsteps in one direction. Usually associated with the Appalachian Trail (AT), thru-hiking is no easy feat. It involves a lot of planning, practical skills, and gear.
Aside from AT, the newest trail that thru-hikers have been enjoying is the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), which rambles for more than 3,100 miles along the crest of the Rocky Mountains. Rugged, remote and having long trail-less stretches, it’s not recommended for first-time thru-hikers.
How will you prepare your food? Where will you camp? How will you break up the hike? In this article, we will answer all these questions as suggested by thru-hiking experts. Continue reading to find out more.
Define Your Purpose for Thru-Hiking
Walking the AT might be your actual purpose. But that’s different from completing the AT thru-hike. Both are wonderful, but the latter takes focus and effort. That said, you must realize that it is necessary to acknowledge what you are signing up for when you decide to thru-hike.
It means walking for almost half a day in all types of weather, being away from normal nights of sleep, and it also means having achy bones from time to time. Align the purpose with how much time you have, your fitness level, the elevation gain, time of the year, and your planned food supply.
Learn Thru-Hike Lingo
Like any close-knit community, thru-hikers have a language of their own. Here are some words and phrases you might hear:
- NOBO – north-bound
- SOBO – south-bound
- Bounce Box – a box used to tighten your load
- Hike your own hike – happiness comes from knowing yourself and hiking accordingly. Respect the hiking style of other hikers.
- Hiker midnight – the usual time when thru-hikers are usually asleep, which is 9 PM
- Camel up – Drink as much water as possible because it’s a long way to the next water source.
- Trail magic – unexpected help along the journey
- Yoyo – Completing a thru-hike, then turning around and completing it in the opposite direction.
- Triple crown – having completed a thru-hike in the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail.
Preparing Food and Water
It can be tough to know how much food you need when you go thru-hiking. The rule of thumb for how much to eat during a hike is 200-300 calories per hour. For water intake, half a liter per hour is enough when your activity is moderate in terms of temperature, the intensity of the hike, your age, and your body type.
Learn how to filter water from backcountry streams, lakes, and other sources to reduce your load.
Prepare and Test Your Gear
Aside from the set of skills you need, high-quality pieces of equipment are needed. Go for more lightweight yet robust gear. Invest in high-quality boots, even try buying multiple pairs of the same design so you will have new ones when they break along the trip.
Once your checklist is complete and all ticked off, make sure to test them. Many tend to forget this step when it comes to gear, so let’s focus on this.
There is no way to know if your backpack is waterproof unless you test in the rain. There is also no other way to know if your hammock is durable unless you try lying on it! The same goes for shoes, clothes, lighters, and everything else.
Before heading out, test everything, get recommendations from others, and make sure you know how to use all your gear!
Train for Your Adventure
More than 2,650 miles of hiking with a total elevation gain of just under 500,000 feet is what you will need to achieve in the PCT. This alone is already a physical challenge. You may also encounter blisters, Lyme disease, and other injuries while on the way.
To prepare yourself for the long-term hike, train your body by lifting weights, going on other backpacking trips, and trying to lose or gain weight. It is also recommended that you rake a first-aid course and double-check the contents of your first-aid kit.
Consider Section Hiking
Some find it impossible to commit more than five months of thru-hiking, so section-hiking becomes an option. It is also a strategy to knock off a full length of a trail like PCT but to accomplish the feat over several hiking seasons.
Many say that this activity is not a true thru-hike, but the definition of a thru-hike is hardly set in stone. It’s all about challenging yourself!
Flip flop to Complete a Classic Thru-Hike
A flip flop has at least one section that’s hiked in the opposite direction. The upside to this approach is avoiding the throngs of hikers who follow a classic end-to-end scenario. You can also strategically flip flop to avoid severe weather. The downside to flip-flopping is that your trail and transportation itineraries are more complicated.
Start Slowly and Work Up Faster
Starting the trail out too fast can cause injuries. You don’t have to accomplish big miles within the first few days or your feet will swell, you can get thin splints, get tired easily, or even get a fracture. Even if you’re fit and well-trained for this, we’re sure you didn’t train on a mountain, so don’t be overconfident or you’ll destroy your body trying the same mileage up and down mountains carrying a full pack.
Here’s a great plan:
- First week – maximum of eight miles per day
- Second week – 10 miles maximum per day
- Third weel – 12 miles maximum per day
- Fourth week – 14 miles maximum per day
Positive Attitude is Key to Success
Thru-hiking is not just about the environment, gear, and physical aspect. Focus on what’s best for you during the hike, your mental attitude. It’s probably the most important trait for you to achieve your thru-hike for whatever purpose.
It will not only take the right pair of boots, the right company, or even the best hiking strategy, but it will also take unwavering commitment and mental toughness. Humans can achieve many amazing things when they focus and work hard, and you are no different.