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What is Thru Hiking? How To Prepare For A Thru Hike?

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Hikers making the transition from day hikes or weekend hikes to their first bona fide, long-distance hike tend to approach the new challenge in one of two ways.

Breezily underestimating the true test of their mettle posed not only by the hike itself but also by the logistics entailed in the weeks or months preceding it; or, hitting the panic button and spending so much time worrying and fretting about the hike.

When it comes to putting on their boots and backpacks, they have already become disinterested in anything remotely related to hiking and have chosen to engage in activities such as yoga, swimming, darts, or other activities that are less stressful and require less mental energy.

Our aim is to guide you through notable pitfalls by offering a practical and straightforward middle way. This approach allows you to efficiently and methodically prepare for your hike while avoiding the common stresses experienced by newcomers to long-distance hiking.

What is a Thru Hike?

Pacific Crest Trail for hiking

In short, a thru hike is any hike that starts in one place and ends in another, with a few overnight stopovers in between, but more commonly, the term is used to denote a number of longer-distance trails around the globe that might take weeks or even several months to complete.

Some of the most famous hikes in the world are as follows:

  • The Triple Crown of Hiking (USA)
  • The Pacific Crest Trail
  • The Appalachian Trail
  • The Continental Divide Trail
  • The Great Himalayan Trail, Nepal
  • Sentiero, Italy
  • GR20, Corsica (France)
  • Alta Via 1, the Italian Dolomites
  • Te Araroa, New Zealand
  • Hokkaido Nature Trail, Japan
  • The Transcaucasian Trail, Georgia, and Armenia
  • The Haute Route, France, and Switzerland

Hikes vary greatly in terms of not only the type of terrain encountered en route, but also the weather conditions, total ascent and descent, trail regulations, and, importantly, the facilities and accommodation available.

While some trails can boast a network of handy mountain huts at the end of each stage or day’s hiking (Alta Via 1, for example), others are far more remote and wild and offer little or nothing in the way of infrastructure, services, or lodging.

Thru Hiking Considerations

hiking in a group

For the adventurously inclined, hiking is almost always a life-changing experience that they will fondly remember for years and decades to come as one of the best times of their lives.

But choosing to spend several months on the trail is a big life decision impacted by a great number of variables, so it should not be taken lightly.

As much as we’d love to tell you just to load your pack, get your boots on, and get out there and do it, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t mention associated caveats and counterweights to the slew of enjoyable times you’re sure to have out on the trails.

To achieve that, we recommend asking yourself the following questions before handing in that letter of resignation: selling your car and/or finding a friendly neighbor to water your plants.

1. Affordability

Many first-time hikers underestimate the financial outlay required to complete a hike successfully.

We’d suggest that anyone in the early stages of planning take a favorable look at the costs involved before booking any tickets or buying their permits.

The cost of gear, permits, transport to and from the start and end points, food, food drops, accommodation, and insurance all add up.

Calculating an accurate, realistic estimate of the total expenses entailed before setting off is, we assure you, better than finding yourself sorely short of money somewhere in the middle of your trip.

2. Less Comforts

This is a biggie. Just how attached are you to your smartphone, laptop, favorite TV series, bed, home-cooked meals, and gourmet coffee?

Would you be able to go without them for several weeks, or even months?

While some trails will have telephone reception at various points along the way, it’s unlikely you’ll have the same kind of access you would have back home, and, as for the rest of those home comforts, your chances of enjoying any of them while on your hike range from slim to zero.

3. Long Preparation

Most experienced thru hikers would agree that the biggest challenge they faced was not the physical or psychological hurdles during the hike itself. Instead, it was the arduous logistical preparation needed beforehand.

This preparation involves enduring a grueling and often complex process to ensure that everything runs smoothly during the journey.

If you’re not willing to put in those hours of research, planning, and preparation, then you might well be setting yourself up for a fall—winging it on a day hike is one thing; doing so on a multi-week, thousand-mile adventure is another entirely.

While many romantically minded hikers have set out for the trailhead of various thru hikes with only a full pack and an admirable (but often misguided) can-do attitude, in our experience, these are the ones who typically face the most challenges or end up heading home with a few weeks or days to spare.

4. Loneliness

solo hiking

Even if hiking with a partner, loneliness—or at least solitude—is an integral part of the thru hiking experience.

Even on frequented routes, there will be days when you see few people and often only briefly.

If you happen to be a very social animal who craves interaction, ask yourself whether the benefits of your time on the trail will outweigh the hardship entailed by the lack of human contact.

5. Set Priorities

While many of us may instinctively think, “Oh, hell yeah!,” this one is a little trickier than you might expect. For those of us with busy lives, changing from doing nothing but putting one foot in front of the other for a very long period of time can leave something of a void.

As strange as it may sound, in many cases, the freedom inherent in hiking can scare the absolute life out of many hikers new to the game of long-term walking and cause them to feel a little disoriented.

We carefully select our words because walking will occupy the majority of your awake hours.

The journey continues, mile after mile, day after day, week after week. If that doesn’t sound like an absolutely awesome use of your time, then it might be worth reconsidering your plans.

6. Fitness

One of the gravest misconceptions held by novice thru hikers is that their performance on day hikes will somehow equate to comparable performance on thru hikes.

Unfortunately, this is akin to a 100-meter sprinter assuming his or her physical fitness for sprints will see them through an ultramarathon without any issues.

Before embarking on a thru hike, we strongly advise you to acclimate yourself to a few week-long hikes to gain a sense of what it’s like to commit to a 6, 7, or 10-hour hike, only to repeat it the following day.

And then the next day. And then… you get the point! As magical as the thru hiking experience can be, this hike-eat-sleep-repeat routine can be grueling if you are not used to it.

While many are apt to think they will adapt to the rigors of the trail as they go and even succeed in pulling themselves through the inevitable fatigue that’s bound to kick in after a week or even just a few days, you’ll enjoy the trip a whole lot more if your body has some familiarity with the demands you’ll be placing on it before you set off.


Thru hikes in North America generally have excellent signage, frequent resupply points, and minimal technical requirements.

However, on many international thru hikes, the experience can be quite different.

You may find yourself going days without any markers to guide your way, needing to carry a week’s worth of food between resupply points, and encountering snow-bound sections that demand skills in using crampons and an ice axe.

8. Personal Satisfaction

happy while hiking

When push comes to shove, there are motivating factors that will get you through the almost inevitable hard times.

The challenges you’ll face on any thru hike are those of a more personal nature (joy, curiosity, a sense of adventure, and a desire to test yourself for your own sake all score highly), as opposed to any wish to show others what you’re made of.

9. Regrets

In my experience, if none of the previously provided information has already turned you off, then the answer to this one is very, very likely to be a resounding “no.”

In fact, of all the thru hikers I’ve met who have successfully completed a trail, I haven’t met one who regretted taking it on.

And while I’ve met dozens of others who have looked back on failed attempts with various regrets, for the most part, these regrets stemmed from failures to plan or budget properly—and, thus, complete their hike—rather than any quibble or qualm with their time on the trail itself.

10. New Friendship

This, we assure you, is a perfectly serious and legitimate question. Thru hiking is a heartbreaker.

If you are at all emotional, a few months or even years down the line, you’ll shed tears reminiscing over the experiences you had on your hike.

On a daily basis, you’ll see things that you’ll be nostalgic about the next day, meet people you’ll sorely wish you could’ve spent more time with, and forge memories that will tug at the heartstrings for many years to come.

Common Thru Hiker Mistakes

rain hiking

1. Wrong Mindset

Very, very few thru hikers reach any point on their journey and think, “Gee, I really wish I had brought a lot more stuff!”

While there are, of course, a list of absolute necessities that every thru hiker needs to carry, for the most part, the greatest and gravest error of newcomers to thru hiking is to pack way too much stuff.

Overpacking—or the “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink” approach—is usually motivated by nerves or fear of leaving something important out or trying to ensure every eventuality or possibility will be covered. Not having everything covered, however, is part and parcel of the thru hiking experience.

Once you’ve taken care of the bare essentials—heat, shelter, food, hydration, navigation—pretty much everything else is simply a luxury. Alternatively, it could be considered superfluous.

We’ve seen game consoles, fondue kits, pedicure kits, portable TVs, laptops, numerous copies of Harry Potter, snowshoes on snow-free terrain, climbing rope on routes with nothing in the way of climbing, pillows, cans of energy drinks, and teddy bears. 

You might have noticed that we implemented all of these in an attempt to make the trail experience as homely—or home-like—as possible. While this is understandable, it also detracts from the experience of being in nature.

  • You’re going to make yourself miserable carrying all the extra weight.
  • You’re overlooking the fact that certain hardships are par for the course when thru hiking and that you’ll simply be creating new hardships in an effort to avoid or diminish them.
  • Depriving yourself of some serious (and possibly much-needed) downtime from the internet and other distractions can prevent you from being fully present and reaping the full benefits of the wilderness experience.

2. Not Knowing Your Gear

An old saying tells us that “a poor tradesman blames his tools.” Over my many years as a thru hiker, I’ve witnessed dozens of “tradesmen” (hikers) pointing an accusing finger at their “tools” (tents, stoves, GPS devices, compasses, boots, maps, you name it) for failing to live up to their wishes or expectations.

Of course, in every case, the accused kit was entirely blameless, but the accusing hiker had failed to put in the time required to learn how to use it correctly.

The take-home? Before setting off on your thru hike, get to know every item in your pack inside and out so you’ll be able to make use of it when need be. Here are a few steps you can take to achieve this goal:

  • Practice pitching your tent in your garden, at a local park, or on a local trail until you have it “dialed in.”
  • Practice navigation by pinpointing locations on a map—both on and off established trails—and navigating to them with both a compass and your GPS device (ideally in low visibility!).
  • Break your boots in thoroughly.
  • Read up on how to use every item in your first aid kit and consider taking a course in Wilderness First Aid.
  • Learn how to use repair kits for your tent, sleeping bag, boots, and clothes.

3. Underestimating the Physical Demands

difficult hiking trail

Most of us simply aren’t accustomed to hiking several miles every day, week after week.

Add to this the additional strains posed by a heavy pack, rough terrain, a less comfortable sleeping setup, adverse weather conditions, and the absence of hearty home cooking, and it’s easy to understand that the thru hiker’s life, although sure to shave off a few pounds and elevate our fitness levels, is not one that fails to take its toll on our body.

Many first-time thru hikers are apt to think that they can hit the ground running without putting in any pre-trip physical prep and simply adapt to the rigors of trail life as they go along. While this is certainly doable, we wouldn’t recommend it.

In most cases, those who take this approach are liable to “hit the wall” far sooner than those who take the time to train properly and end up putting themselves through something of a sufferfest until their bodies get up to speed—which might, we should add, take quite some time.

To make sure you’re in trail-ready shape before leaving on your thru hike, the best course of action is to start a training program around 2 to 3 months before your intended departure date.

Ideally, this training should include a couple of overnight or multi-day trips with daily mileage comparable to those you expect to put in on your thru hike. Not only will this prep your body, but it will also allow you to “dial in” your camp setup and get familiar with all your gear.

4. Running Out of “Gas”

Almost all first-time thru hikers underestimate just how long it will take them to complete their route and overestimate their own capabilities when it comes to daily mileage.

From the comfort of our homes, it’s all too simple to pore over maps and tick off huge swathes of terrain we hope to cover, failing to account for the many variables that might make doing so trickier than expected: fatigue, the need for rest days, days off for adverse weather, mishaps, detours, side trips, injuries, significant elevation gain, etc.

As a general rule, hikers start off close to their maximum daily mileage capacity in the first few weeks and then see these mileages tail off as their time on the trail progresses.

For example, if your maximum daily mileage is 25 miles, you should expect to be putting in somewhere between 15 and 18 miles per day for the last third or quarter of your trip.

The need for rest days is another frequent omission in pre-trip calculations. To give your body the time it needs to fully recover, I’d recommend throwing in at least one full “zero day” every seven to ten days, using bad-weather days if possible.

Most importantly, be adaptable, pay attention to your body, and don’t obsess over schedules when your body signals that it needs a break. A “zero day,” in trail speak, is a day with no mileage, compared to a “rest day,” which is half your usual mileage.

5. Getting Lost

Taking an overly lackadaisical approach to navigation on popular thru hikes is an error common to newbies and old hands alike. And in most cases, you’ll probably get away with it. But what if you want to go on a little side trip?

What if you’re on one of the numerous trails around the world that lack the signage and foot traffic found on the Big Three in North America or popular European trails?

More importantly, what if you find yourself in a situation with poor visibility, unable to distinguish one of the four cardinal directions from the other?

Carrying a map and compass and knowing how to use them is, simply put, something every thru hiker should do. It lets you give emergency services your location in an accident.

Secondly, it provides you with the liberty to venture off-trail and discover areas not included in your itinerary, all without the risk of losing your way. Thirdly, it can save you a lot of time on those odd occasions where there’s an unsigned fork in the trail or visibility is poor.

Ten Steps to Thru Hiking Success

long hiking trail

Preparing for your first big thru hike can be an overwhelming experience.

The cold reality of arranging funding, applying for permits, and so on soon tempers the initial excitement, and few aspirants make it to the first day on the trail without at least a few hiccups.

The following list of ten steps is designed to provide a methodical approach that will help to ensure you don’t leave out any important aspect of planning and avoid the hassles and frustrations experienced by so many—the author of this article included!

1. Choose Your Challenge

There are dozens of trail hikes out there that will suit the time frame you’re hoping to work within and the challenge you’re looking for, whether you’re keen on a two-week wander or a multi-month epic.

But the duration of the trip isn’t the only consideration. Other factors to bear in mind when choosing the thru hike you’ll take include:

  • Location
  • Costs: Is it more expensive to travel abroad or is there a more affordable option closer to home?
  • Is there any technical skill required?
  • How comfortable are you spending several days or even a week away from civilization?
  • Services, facilities, and accommodations en route
  • Weather conditions
  • Altitude
  • Total ascent

When choosing your route, we highly recommend taking into account your own capabilities as regards fitness, any technical skills required, navigation, and perseverance.

While opting to take on a trail that’s going to pose a true challenge to each of the above will certainly add to the thrill, it’s best to be careful not to bite off more than you can chew.

2. Research, Research, Research

Most often, individuals who struggle to complete their thru hikes or give up before reaching the trailhead on the first day are those who did not conduct the necessary research at the beginning of their planning.

While it would be great to just rock up at the trailhead with a full pack, plenty of optimism, and a strong resolve to see it through to the end, come what may, the chances are that such an approach will land you in trouble somewhere further down the line.

When conducting your initial research, you should be looking for some vital information.

  • Total trail distance
  • Distance per stage
  • Permit requirements
  • There are seasonal variations due to weather, insects, allergy considerations, and the presence of snow.
  • Total ascent/descent
  • There is a presence of wildlife, including bears, snakes, elk, boars, wolves, ticks, midges, and mosquitoes.
  • Special equipment such as snowshoes, an ice axe, crampons, and a rope are required.
  • Altitude of campsites and passes
  • Localized viruses or parasites (such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever)

If you have any doubts about your route, don’t hesitate to send an email to past finishers to get a better picture of what to expect and to answer any questions not answered in online route descriptions or guidebooks.

3. Detailed Stage Planning

After selecting your route and familiarizing yourself with a broader overview of what to expect, the next step is to break the trail down into more manageable sections and get to know each of these from the inside out.

While this may seem like a fairly unromantic approach and one that may detract from the element of surprise that lends a sense of adventure and discovery to any thru hike.

It’s far preferable to discovering any surprises of a nastier or more unwelcome nature at a time—i.e., when you’re out on the trail—when you are less equipped to avoid them or negotiate them safely.

Among these unexpected surprises could be:

  • Trail closures
  • A shortage of water sources
  • Distant supply points
  • Tricky or dangerous sections (particularly true of routes with via ferrata sections or snow early or late in the season)
  • Rivers to be forded
  • Potentially troublesome flora or fauna
  • Closures of mountain huts and other accommodations
  • Elevation increases and falls.
  • Permit requirements
  • Potentially snow-bound stretches of trail

We advise obtaining the most recent guidebook for your route and searching online for reports from recent trail completers to ensure you avoid any of the aforementioned issues.

Doing this detailed research will not only give you a better picture of what to expect and help you avoid any unexpected detours, but it will also let you gauge things more accurately when applying for permits and deciding how much food and water you will need to carry for each stage.

4. Permit Applications

Probably the most stressful and uninspiring part of the preparation for your thru hike comes when it’s time to submit your permit applications for any national parks or wilderness areas passed en route.

While most European trails don’t require permits, the biggies in North America, South America, and Asia all have some form of permit regulation for trail or campsite use.

To offer an example, the highly popular Appalachian Trail requires three park permits (Great Smoky Mountains NP, Shenandoah NP, and Baxter State Park) and an AMC (American Mountain Club) pass for use of campsites in the White Mountains.

While the scheduling and timing of your permits are relatively simple, allowing you to reach permit areas just a few days into your hike, longer treks may require you to reach these areas several months after submitting your application.

Naturally, the chances of having at least a day or two off schedule are very high. Despite the seeming futility of estimating an arrival (and, consequently, permit) date for the later stages of your hike.

However, it’s a good idea to do so regardless, because by entering your name into the system, you make it far easier to change your dates at a later time and will save yourself the hassle of dealing with all the requisite paperwork* while on the trail.

Finally, if your thru hike includes stages in particularly popular hiking destinations, make sure to submit your application within the first few days of acceptance, usually 3 months before your anticipated arrival. This is because during peak season, permits sell quickly and campsite quotas may fill if you delay.

5. Food

conserving food during backpacking

Staying healthy while on your thru hike means paying close attention to nutrition.

While many are apt to think that all the calories they are burning mean they can take a more lax, anything-goes approach to what they put in their tummies, the reality is that what you eat is never more important than when you’re putting your body through the rigors and uncommon exertion faced on the trail on a long-distance hike.

While at home most of us spend our days trying to limit our calorie intake in the face of the thousands upon thousands of them at our disposal, on the trail just the opposite is true, and the main challenge posed is trying to get in enough calories given the lack of readily available sources and our inability to carry all of the grub we’d like.

Logistically, ensuring we don’t go hungry while on our hike can be one of the trickiest aspects of planning. To help ensure you don’t succumb to starvation or even a minor dose of malnutrition, we’d recommend following a simple, three-step approach:

Choose Your Chow Carefully

While we all have different dietary requirements and tastes, there are a few food types out there that lend themselves better to trail life than all others.

For the most part, these foodstuffs give us the required fill of proteins, fats, and carbs but are also calorie dense, so they offer a better energy-to-weight ratio that helps keep pack weight to a minimum.

This category includes the following foods:

  • Peanut butter
  • Trail mix
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Jerkies
  • Oatmeal
  • Powder meals
  • Powder eggs
  • Dried fruits
  • Dehydrated meals
  • Greenbelly meals

Try to balance your daily food intake to include roughly a quarter of proteins, a quarter of fats, and two quarters of carbohydrates.

Do the Math

When hiking with a heavy backpack, we burn through calories at a scarily rapid rate—up to six hundred per hour at lower elevations and in excess of a thousand per hour above 7,000 feet.

To ensure that we replenish our energy reserves and have “fuel in the tank,” it’s wise to calculate just how many calories we anticipate needing on a daily basis.

This will help us gauge just how much food we really need to carry and eat between resupply points, so we’re not running short or carrying more than we need.

While not an exact science, you can estimate your daily calorie consumption a little more accurately by multiplying your body weight by 25. So, if you happen to weigh 180 pounds, then the number of calories you can expect to burn on any given day hiking will be around 4,500.

Given that most adults consume 2-3,500 a day back home, this should give you a decent idea of just how much grub (and weight) you’ll have to carry and how difficult it is to get in the necessary victuals while out on the trail.

Scary, right? Well, the good news is that you won’t have to carry it all with you, at least not over prohibitively long stretches of trail, as almost all thru hikes around the globe have a number of resupply points and/or locations where you can mail-drop supplies for the next stage of your route.

Find Resupply Points

Naturally, trying to carry enough food for the duration of your trip is likely to be impossible unless you happen to have a team of Sherpas or sled dogs providing support and doing the carrying for you.

Luckily, however, very few long-distance trails cover excessively long stretches of terrain without passing villages or mountain huts where you can replenish food supplies.

On the most remote of these, the longest period you can expect to go without finding a store, mountain hut, or mail-drop location should be in the region of 7–10 days, depending on the route and your speed of travel.

Before setting off, you should attempt to identify all of your route’s resupply points and calculate how much you’ll need to buy (or mail) there to see you through to the next resupply point.

6. Additional Logistics

Regrettably, merely completing your permit applications doesn’t resolve all the logistical aspects of your trip. Before you set off, we recommend addressing a few additional practicalities:

Arranging a Support Team

It is always wise to have someone back home with whom you can touch base every now and then, and who can take care of any unexpected contingencies.

Not only can this help to give you peace of mind, but it also means you’ll have someone who knows roughly where you are in case of an emergency, who can mail food supplies and replacement gear if need be, and, if hiking solo, provide a little bit of emotional support now and then if you hit upon tough times.


Sleeping in your tent for months on end might seem easily done while prepping from the comfort of your home, but given a few weeks of trail time—particularly in inclement weather—even the hardiest of trail-goers is likely to crave a night or two between four solid walls and on a real mattress.

If you are undertaking your thru hike in the high season, however, many of the huts or hotels en route are likely to be fully booked if you leave things until the last minute.

Our advice? Once you’ve done your detailed, stage-by-stage planning (and factored in a day or so of leeway or buffer), book a two-night stopover—even if you only stay one of those nights, it’s far easier to cancel a night than to book one.


Given that the trailhead and endpoint of your chosen thru hike may be thousands of miles apart, each of these may be even further from your home and in possibly remote locations.

Before leaving, make sure you research available public transport to and from the trail’s beginning and endpoints, and include the cost of tickets in your budget estimations.

7. Financial Planning

Sorry to get all anal and businesslike on you, but this is one aspect of your pre-trip planning that needs serious consideration, no matter how much of a buzzkill it might be.

Many of us make the mistake of throwing together some casual calculations at the outset of our planning only to then discover, a few weeks or months down the line, that we’ve vastly underestimated just how much dough we’ll need to see us safely from our starting point through to the end of our hike.

It’s easily done. After all, how much can we really spend sleeping in a tent and living on a diet of basic trail food and water sourced from streams and rivers? If only it were that simple…

Some of the expenses many newcomers to thru hiking are apt to overlook or underestimate include the following:

  • Bills, bills, bills (just because you don’t have them on the trail doesn’t mean they won’t be piling up at home).
  • Food and postage costs (for food drops by mail) are also included.
  • Permits
  • Travel to the starting point and then back home from the endpoint.
  • Accommodations are available at the start and end of the trail, as well as at stopovers en route.
  • New and replacement gear
  • Emergency fund
  • Insurance
  • Enjoy a celebratory bottle(s) of champagne and celebrate the trail’s end!

8. Choosing What to Pack

While this is often one of the first steps enthusiastic first-timers take after deciding to do a thru hike, we’d highly recommend you leave it until later in the planning process.

Why? Well, most people who rush out and buy new gear often discover later that much of that gear is either unnecessary, inadequate, or not worthy of its place in their pack.

The best advice I can give anyone with regard to gear is to wait until you’ve completed all of your research before rushing into any purchases.

This will not only help you avoid the temptation to overload your pack with newly purchased items that you don’t really need but also, in all likelihood, save you a load of money.

To get an idea of what will be required on your route, hunt down a few gear lists from past completers and compare them with your own “rough drafts” before finalizing your own list.

9. The Backup Plan

If I could give one piece of advice to prospective thru hikers that will hold them in good stead more than any other while on their hike, it would be this: be flexible.

On a long-term hike, countless variables can contrive to throw us off schedule—the weather, injuries, fatigue, emergencies back home, gear issues, trail closures, illness, or simply the decision to rest up and enjoy any particularly impressive trail stopover.

All of this means that attempting to stick to a tight schedule is likely to be a futile task and one that will diminish our enjoyment of our time on the trail.

There are three key points to consider:

  • Have a contingency plan in case things go wrong.
  • Be willing to alter your plans.
  • Factor a few “buffer” days into your scheduling to allow for delays.

10. Shutting Up Shop

So, we’ve now got every part of our pre-trip prep taken care of, and we’re ready to go, right? Well, yes and no.

At this point, unforeseen issues that arise back home while you’re hiking could potentially ruin your trip.

Dealing with day-to-day problems or issues when there is someone to take care of them is easy, but if we’re hundreds or thousands of miles away, then even relatively modest mishaps or overlooked obligations could seriously disrupt our adventure or, at worst, force us to head home early.

Some examples of hassles from home that have derailed many an adventure include forgetting to pay bills, co-workers or employers unaware that we’ll be very much “out of office” for the duration of our trip, similarly uninformed clients (if we run our own business), and fretting partners or family members.

To get around these potential problems, we recommend:

  • Setting up direct debits for all bills, or having someone responsible back home take care of them
  • It’s important to have someone check on your house periodically.
  • Alerting your neighbors
  • Disconnecting the gas, water, and electricity
  • Sending an “out of office” or “wish me luck” email to all your contacts
  • Leaving a detailed itinerary with your family, friends, and/or partner

Thru Hiking Preferences

hiking partners

Solo or With a Partner?

We can answer this one with another two questions:

  • How comfortable are you with solitude and alone time?
  • Just how friendly are you with your would-be hiking companion?

Sharing the experience of a thru hike with a good friend or hiking partner has many benefits, meaning you’ll have someone who can:

  • Share the weight of your tent with yourself.
  • We are here to help you avoid going crazy due to loneliness.
  • Help in case of an emergency, accident, or illness.
  • Share cooking duties with you.
  • Help you through the hard times.
  • Help with decision-making

On the other hand, hiking with a partner has certain drawbacks.

  • The possibility of killing each other arises when mildly annoying habits become infuriating a few weeks into the trip.
  • The possibility of being less open to meeting new people exists because couples tend to stick together and, as a result, seek company elsewhere less frequently than solo hikers.
  • One of you is traveling much slower than the other, and you are holding him or her up.

The bottom line is that any hiking partner should be someone you’ll be comfortable and happy spending every day and night with for weeks or months on end.

While completing a thru hike together has the potential to form a strong, lifelong bond between you and your partner, it could also potentially ruin a relationship if the various stresses and strains of trail life and spending all that time together prove to be too much.

Should I Take My Dog?

There’s no doubt that dogs make excellent trail partners, but taking your pooch along for the ride isn’t quite as straightforward as you might think.

First off, unless your dog is a sled and you’re hiking in snow, you must carry its food.

Given that you’ll already be weighed down with all of your own provisions and kit, this is unlikely to be conducive to a good time or, for most mere mortals, even remotely feasible.

Secondly, park or trail regulations in many areas forbid dogs, so be sure to check these first—if, that is, the food portation problem hasn’t already put you off!

Can I Get Away Without a Permit?

In a word, no. While there’s a chance that you may somehow evade park authorities, the cost of getting caught far exceeds that of doing things legitimately and paying for your permit.

Should I Carry a Can of Bear Spray?

Make sure the areas you plan to hike through allow bear spray before deciding whether or not to carry it. Certain national parks, such as Yosemite NP, prohibit the use of bear spray.

Carrying a spray can, at the very least, will provide you peace of mind if you are heading into bear country.

Even if you never have to use the thing, you’ll at least sleep more soundly and feel more comfortable on the trails, knowing you have some means of defending yourself should you happen to confront a bear.

Is it Worth it?

Yes, without a doubt! It will break your heart, inflict a serious blow to your bank account, and leave your feet and potentially several other parts of your anatomy in a sorry state, but it will, I assure you, rank as one of the most unforgettable and rewarding experiences of your life.

Tricks to Improve Your Thru Hike

  1. Go for a dental checkup before leaving. The likelihood of locating a dentist in your destination is significantly low.
  2. If you are trekking in the summer months and want to save on pack weight and space, consider buying a quilt.
  3. Get in the system: By requesting permits early, your name and details will be in the national park system, and modifying your dates or itinerary will be far easier than starting from scratch.
  4. Reproof your tent and waterproof gear. Once you’re on your way, it’ll be far, far trickier!
  5. Go pole-free. You can save a little weight by leaving the poles at home and using your trekking poles instead.
  6. Buy “Renewable” Boots: Certain stores have a “no questions asked” returns policy and will send your boots out to wherever you are on your trail should yours fall apart en route.
  7. Consider trail shoes. Substitute your 3-pound hiking boots for a pair of trail shoes weighing only one pound; that would equate to saving eight to ten pounds from your backpack.
  8. Bring a urine bottle or bladder. Getting out of your tent in the middle of a downpour to answer nature’s calls is never fun. This handy little addition to your kit can save you the hassle.
  9. Bring a book for those inevitable days when the weather prevents you from leaving the tent.
  10. Enjoy it One of the hardest things to see on any trail is hikers rushing around, trying to squeeze in every add-on available, meet “targets,”  and, in general, take things all a little too seriously.

Thru hiking is one of the few times in anyone’s life when they will be entirely free of the strictures and stresses that dominate most of our lives the rest of the time. Therefore, we advise you to relax and relish each moment.


Making the jump from day-hiking to thru-hiking is not without its hassles, and a number of notable pitfalls and potential problems can make things a lot more complicated than most would like.

However, by prepping and planning for your hike thoroughly and following the steps listed above, you’ll be one step ahead of the game and, we’re sure, well on your way to having the trip of a lifetime.