“I am often asked, ‘What is thru hiking?’ and my answer is always the same: it is the most amazing experience you will ever have.” – Jennifer Pharr Davis
Thru hiking is a term used to describe the act of hike a long-distance trail from start to finish in a single journey. This can be done in one continuous trip, or broken up into sections over the course of several months or years. Regardless of how you choose to do it, thru hiking is an incredible way to see some of the most beautiful places on earth and challenge yourself in the process.
What is thru-hiking?
Thru-hiking is an extremely challenging form of long-distance hiking, usually involving an uninterrupted journey along a single trail from start to finish. The term is most commonly used in the United States, where thru-hikes are particularly popular.
The Appalachian Trail, which extends from Georgia to Maine, is probably the best-known thru-hike in the world. Other popular US trails include the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Mexico to Canada along the west coast, and the Continental Divide Trail, which extends from Canada to Mexico along the Rocky Mountains.
Thru-hiking is an extremely demanding undertaking, both physically and mentally. It typically takes several months to complete a thru-hike, and hikers must be prepared for all kinds of weather and terrain.
The history of thru-hiking
Thru-hiking is long-distance walking, usually involving 6 to 8 months to complete. The first known thru-hike was in 1855, when a gentleman by the name of George W. Featherstonhaugh hiked from Albany, New York to Niagara Falls. In 1898, a New Hampshire lawyer named Carlton Taylor became the first person to hike the length of the Appalachian Trail (AT), walking from Mount Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia.
In recent years, thru-hiking has become increasingly popular, with more and more people venturing out onto trails all over the world. While the AT is still the most popular thru-hike in North America, other trails such as the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and Continental Divide Trail (CDT) are gaining in popularity.
Thru-hiking is not for everyone – it requires a great deal of physical and mental strength and endurance. But for those who are up for the challenge, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience that will stay with them for a lifetime.
The benefits of thru-hiking
There are many reasons why people choose to thru-hike, but most hikers agree that the experience can lead to positive personal and physical changes.
Through extended time in nature, disconnected from the hustle and bustle of daily life, many hikers report experiencing a newfound appreciation for the simple things in life. This allows them to recharge and recalibrate, coming back to everyday life with a greater sense of peace and perspective.
In addition to the mental health benefits, thru-hiking can also have positive effects on physical health. The long-distance nature of thru-hikes means that hikers cover a lot of miles over varied terrain, burning a lot of calories along the way. This can lead to weight loss, increased muscle tone and improved cardiovascular health.
The challenges of thru-hiking
There are a few key challenges that all thru-hikers face when embarking on their journey. The first, and perhaps most obvious, is the sheer distance that must be covered. A typical thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, for example, covers nearly 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers). That’s a long way to walk!
Another significant challenge is the time commitment required. A successful thru-hike generally takes between four and six months to complete. This means that thru-hikers need to be prepared to be away from home for an extended period of time.
Additionally, thru-hiking generally requires a fair amount of physical fitness. Because of the distances involved, and often the challenging terrain, thru-hikes tend to be quite strenuous. Hikers need to make sure they are in good shape before embarking on a thru-hike.
Finally, thru-hiking can be a very expensive undertaking. The cost of equipment, food, and other supplies can quickly add up. And because thru-hikers are on the trail for such an extended period of time, they often have to deal with additional costs like resupplying their food supply or replacing worn out gear.
The gear you need for thru-hiking
When it comes to thru-hiking gear, there are a few items that are essential, and then there are items that are nice to have. Here is a list of must-haves for your thru-hiking packing list:
Backpack – You will need a backpack that is comfortable and big enough to fit all of your gear. Make sure to try on a few different packs before you buy one.
Tent – A tent is a great option for thru-hikers because it provides shelter from the elements and can be set up just about anywhere.
Sleeping bag – A warm sleeping bag is crucial for camping in cold weather. Down is the lightest and most packable option, but synthetic bags are less expensive and still work well.
Stove – A stove is necessary for cooking food on the trail. There are many different stove options available, so do some research before you purchase one.
Water filter – A water filter is an important piece of gear for thru-hikers because it allows you to drink from any water source without getting sick. Be sure to get a filter that can handle the amount of water you will need per day.
First-aid kit – A first-aid kit should include basic items like bandages, pain reliever, and antiseptic wipes. It’s also a good idea to include any specific medications that you take.
Map and compass – A map and compass are essential for navigation in the backcountry. Make sure you know how to use them before you head out on the trail.
The best time to go thru-hiking
Late spring and early fall are generally considered the best times to go thru-hiking, as the weather is usually more favorable during these months. However, it’s important to keep in mind that conditions can vary greatly depending on where you’re hiking. For example, if you’re hiking in the southern United States, you may want to start your hike in late February or early March so that you can avoid the heat of summer.
The most popular thru-hikes
Each year, thousands of people attempt to thru-hike one of the eleven long trails in the U.S. These hikes range in length from about 500 miles to over 2,000 miles, and take anywhere from two weeks to six months to complete.
The most popular thru-hikes are:
-The Appalachian Trail: This trail runs from Georgia to Maine and is about 2,190 miles long. An estimated 3 million people visit the trail each year, and about 2,000 attempt a thru-hike. (Approximately 25% of thru-hikers are successful.)
-The Pacific Crest Trail: This trail runs from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon, and Washington. It is about 2,659 miles long. Each year, about 300 people attempt a thru-hike of the PCT. (Approximately 50% of thru-hikers are successful.)
-The Continental Divide Trail: This trail runs from Mexico to Canada through Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. It is about 3,100 miles long. Each year, about 200 people attempt a thru-hike of the CDT. (Approximately 30% of thru-hikers are successful.)
Tips for successful thru-hiking
Thru-hiking is an extremely rewarding — and challenging — experience. Whether you’re planning to hike the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, or another long-distance trail, here are a few tips to help you make the most of your journey:
- Do your homework
Before setting out on your thru-hike, make sure you’re familiar with the trail you’ll be hiking. Research the terrain, weather conditions, and what kind of amenities (if any) will be available along the way. Once you have a good understanding of what you’re getting into, start planning your hike by mapping out a rough itinerary and estimating how many miles you’ll be able to hike each day.
- Pack carefully
Weight is a major factor when it comes to thru-hiking, so take care to pack only essential items. Make a list of everything you think you’ll need, then edit it down to the bare essentials. Keep in mind that you can always buy or borrow items along the way if necessary.
- Train beforehand
Hiking for days or weeks on end is no easy feat, so it’s important to train your body (and mind) for the challenge ahead. If possible, try to get in some long hikes — 20 miles or more — before embarking on your thru-hike. This will not only help your body adapt to the physically demanding nature of thru-hiking, but it will also give you a chance to test out your gear and fine-tune your packing list.
- Be flexible
One of the best things about thru-hiking is that it allows for a lot of flexibility and spontaneity. If you find yourself enjoying a particular section of trail more than expected, don’t hesitate to spend an extra day or two there. Similarly, if bad weather moves in or you’re simply not having fun, don’t feel like you have to stick to your original plan — there’s always another trail waiting to be explored.