Thru-hiking is an experience that changes you in profound ways that are unpredictable and unforgettable. Each person is faced with the challenges and transformations that the trail throws at you whether you are ready or not.
There is going to be points along the trail when you question your commitment, ability, physical state, mental state and if you can do it. The people that make it through the sea of doubts have a life changing story to tell that very few ever get the opportunity to experience.
The highs and lows that you experience are akin to life and learning to apply these lessons in life after the trail is where the real growth begins. Whether you are first time thru-hiker or on the last leg of the triple crown there is always something to learn from the experience.
Tips for a beginner thru-hiker
These tips are geared for the first time thru-hiker, that being said, there is something here for everyone. Hopefully, you take away a thing or two that you go forth and use in your first or next thru hike.
1. Have realistic expectations
Thru-hiking is sweaty and dirty. There won’t be a daily hot shower and the food you eat is often less than appealing. It’s not going to be easy and understanding the struggles from the beginning will get you much further than going into it blind.
2. You will get homesick
The comforts of home become magnified when your away from them for a long time. Understand that going home is not an option no matter how good your bed sounds. You will get homesick, just don’t let it lead you towards a rash decision that you will regret.
3. Get fit before you leave
A marathon runner doesn’t run a marathon with zero training. The training regiments differ, however, each person runs daily. Apply this same logic to thru-hiking, you won’t have your trail legs on day one, but you sure as shit can get a head start.
4. Save more than enough money
Everything adds up quickly. Food, boots, an occasional hot meal get expensive after 4 months. Be sure to save more than anyone tells you to bring and have enough to go back to normal life.
5. Pace yourself
As the saying goes… Slow and steady wins the race. This doesn’t mean you should half-ass it the entire way, but hiking at your own pace is super important.
6. Don’t fall in love
This isn’t a hard and fast rule, there are always exceptions. A big part of thru-hiking is the journey of self-discovery and it’s hard to discover yourself if you’re enamored with someone else the entire time.
7. Pack light (but not too light)
With the ultralight movement in full swing, you may want to shed all your gear and walk barefoot and naked, don’t do that. The sweet spot for pack size is anywhere from 25-40 pounds. Take everything you think you need and cut it in half responsibly.
8. Stretching is your best friend
Stretch early and stretch often. Our bodies are machines and stretching is the lubrication that keeps that engine greased. Make it a habit to stretch in the morning, afternoon, and evening before you hit the sack. The benefits of stretching should never be neglected.
9. Physical injuries are going to happen
This is in line with having realistic expectations. No matter how much you stretch or how careful you are, injuries are bound to occur. Be prepared to treat minor scrapes and sprains. Toughness and resilience are two key components to finishing a thru-hike, injuries and all.
10. Treat your feet like a lover
Ok, so that’s a little bit of a reach but you get the point. The two sole express is your only means of transportation so a lot of TLC goes a long way. Plan on burning through multiple pairs of shoes and learn how to treat blisters safely.
11. Use ultralight gear
I know that we said to not overdue the ultralight movement and we stand by it. That being said, ultralight gear is made with ultralight materials and will save you precious ounces. Ounces feel like pounds and saving every ounce you can is a wise investment in yourself and your back.
12. Mindset is everything
There has been a lot of talks lately on the benefits of having a positive mindset. Positive thinking a limiting negative self-talk is an enormous part of the process. This takes practice but the juice is worth the squeeze.
13. Do your research
Take in as much information as possible. Read blogs, watch videos, consume all the input you can before you embark on your own magical journey. Don’t let this delay the trip but a lack of preparation is a recipe for failure, learn from other peoples failures.
14. Major life events happen
This is one of the few reasons to consider jumping off the trail. Keep in mind that the trail will always be there and family has a limited timespan. Make the right choice for you and avoid missing out on parts of life you can’t get back.
15. Arrange supply drops
Supply drops on the trail are your lifeline on the trail. There is industry along the trail, however, not everything that you need is going to be available. Supply drops are one of the main pillars of a successful long distance hike (this is controversial).
16. Eat more calories
The average consumption of calories on the trail is much higher than a normal day. Plan on eating 4000-5000 calories each day. This takes a lot of planning and a whole bunch of food.
17. Prepare to get eaten
Bug bites suck, big time. You’re going to be living your life outdoors and sharing the space with everything else that calls it home, including bugs that enjoy biting you. Staying covered as much as possible will mitigate the feast of insects on your precious skin.
18. Plan for obstacles
There is going to be a number of obstacles in your way that are out of your control. Road closures, trail access, and extreme weather are all potential obstacles that will slow your role. Don’t let these stop you, take it on the chin and figure out a way around.
19. Water is a hot commodity
Water needs to be planned for and consumed on a regular basis. You can’t physically carry all the water you are going to drink so have a means to sanitize your water and the knowledge to find reliable water sources.
20. Catch up on trail lingo
If you talk to an electrician about electrical work it will sound like a foreign language to the average person. The same goes for trail speak. You don’t need to study it like a foreign language but take a look at hiking terms so you have some prior knowledge and soak everything else up on the trail.
21. Bear canister required
Understand where and when you are going to need bear canisters. It won’t be at every twist and turn of the trail, however, there are times when they are necessary. Don’t let Yogi Bear crash your campsite.
22. Be flexible with your plan
As important as planning is, remaining flexible is equally important. There is no sense to rush to a maildrop or worry about having a low mile day. Often times the unforeseen circumstances are the most memorable.
23. Eat in town
A hot meal after eating thousands of calories that aren’t necessarily healthy is a gift wrapped in gold. Take advantage of a normal meal in town, it will balance the amount of junk you eat on the trail.
24. Take it one day at a time
The idea of walking thousands of miles is overwhelming, to say the least. Own the day, each and every day and the time will fly by.
25. Buy used gear
If there is gear you need, try and find it used if you don’t already have it. Gear prices add up quick and new gear gets beaten up quickly. Take the budget route when possible, just don’t buy complete shit gear.
26. Buy multiple pairs of shoes
Believe it or not, one pair of boots or trail runners are not going to be enough. The shelf life for comfortable boots or shoes that keep your feet dry is around a month or two. Plan on using a few pairs of shoes and purchase them accordingly.
27. Practice pooping in the woods
Something that people don’t like to talk about, however, everyone does. Look for back support, dig a 6-inch hole, and give it a shot. You are going to have to poop in the woods and knowing the proper techniques saves you from embarrassing mistakes.
28. Pack some comfort candy
There are going to be times when everything sucks, this is inevitable. Having a piece of chocolate or your favorite candy is a great way to put a small smile on your face. It may not be the healthiest option, however, it will give you a morale boost and a shot of energy.
29. Lots of socks and underwear
Two pieces of clothing that are the least important in real life are the most important in trail life. Clean socks and underwear should be the one place that you don’t skimp on weight. You won’t regret it and your feet and groin will thank you.
30. Waterproof your backpack
There is more than one way to skin a cat and more than one way to waterproof your bag. Keeping a dry bag inside your pack to keep your clothes bone dry is the best way to waterproof your bag. Waterproofing your bag works in a limited capacity.
31. Avoid blisters
There are two types of hikers… Hikers that get tons of blisters and hikers that only get a few. Good socks, shoes, liner socks, and vaseline are all on the first line of defense from dreaded blisters.
32. Double check everything before you leave
Leaving something behind is awful. Backtracking to get said gear is even more awful. Take a look around and be 100% sure that you have everything back where it belongs.
33. Have fun and smile more
Remember to laugh, smile, and remain positive. This trip is about you and having fun each and every day is the single most important thing you can do.