An Introduction to Thru-Hiking – Preparation, Trails, and Tips


So you’ve probably heard of thru-hiking. It’s growing in popularity and is a fun way to hike and push yourself while going through an experience that can take months to complete.

Thru-hiking is also known as ‘end-to-end hiking’, ‘through-hiking’, and ‘end-to-ending’. All of which is exactly the same.

Thru-hiking is a hike across a long-distance end-to-end trail in one session. There are a few well-known trails used for thru-hiking in the US, such as the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail.

Some of these trails, like the Appalachian trail takes between five and seven months to complete. So it’s a huge time commitment that not everyone can make, but if you can it’s an experience of a lifetime.

As with most outdoor activities, preparation is the key to a good thru-hike. This introduction to thru-hiking will help you find the best hikes, explain the gear you need, and clue you up on everything else you need to know about this fun outdoor activity.

Thru-Hiking Basics: Getting Started and How to Prepare

Being Mentally Prepared

If you’re preparing for your first ever thru-hike you need to be mentally prepared. It’s going to be like nothing else you’ve done.

Thru-hiking isn’t a good idea if you’re not experienced with normal hiking. You’re going to face some mental challenges over the months and need think and act on your feet.

Experience with camping and surviving outdoors is going to make your hike a lot easier, and more enjoyable.

I recommend increasing your hikes and getting in as much experience as possible before going for a full thru-hike.

Being Physically Prepared

Although you can take thru-hiking at your own pace it’s quite the endurance event. Most of the well-known hikes take several months so you’re going to put your body to the test hiking each day.

There is only so much you can do without going through the real thing, but being at peak health is going to make the experience a whole lot more enjoyable.

Be prepared to cover more than 2k miles across a few months. Some trails as also at altitude, if you’ve never hiked at altitude you’re going to be in for some hurt if you’re not in top condition.

Time Commitment

This is the main restriction for most people. How many of us can give up half a year to go backpacking and hiking across a 2k+ mile hike?

If you are able to do it then it’s going to be an experience of a lifetime, and while going headfirst into this is the right thing to do, don’t neglect other areas of your life.

Put in the adequate planning around what’s going to be happening at home when you’re gone. Take care of all your financials, friends and family, and make sure everything is being taken care of in your absence.

The Difference Between Thru-Hiking and Backpacking

This is a question that comes up a lot, yet the thru-hiking and backpacking are two very different activities.

Backpackers focus on traveling from point a-to-point-b with enough gear in their backpack to carry them through.

Thru-hiking has the added goals of completing a trail in the best possible time. This means you have to take into account what you’re carrying and keep weight to a minimum.

You’re going to be traveling a lot further while thru-hiking too, that’s a given. So it takes a whole different mindset and motivation.

So, in a nutshell thru-hiking is a much more niche activity. Can be seen as more of a solo adventure, and has a much larger time and financial commitment.

Thru-Hiking Tips

Thru-Hiking Tips

Here are some basic tips that will give a huge payoff if you take the time to prepare properly and be aware of what you’re heading into.

Research Your Hike

It’s vital that you know all the terrains, landscapes, and any obstacles that lay ahead of you on your hike.

You will need to have the appropriate clothing for the weather, gear to tackle any obstacles, enough food and water, etc.

Only Take What You Need

It’s always tempting to try and squeeze in some luxuries when you’re going to be away from home for a long period, but keeping weight to a minimum is incredibly important.

You need to be efficient and travel light. Just a few lbs can add days to your overall hike over weeks and you’ll feel the extra toll on your body.

Preparation Is Everything

I covered this above, being mentally, physically and financially prepared is essential to a successful hike.

If you’re not prepared or something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.

Don’t Push Yourself Too Hard

Everyone wants to do their best, but it’s not a race. Just completing a thru-hike is merit enough, sure you can try and improve next time but don’t burn out. Look at thru-hiking as a marathon, not a sprint.

Enjoy It!

Don’t forget to enjoy yourself. Take time to enjoy the scenery, breathe the fresh air of the outdoors, and experience wildlife. Afterall, that’s some of the reasons you’re doing this, right?

How Long Do Some of the Popular Thru-Hiking Trails Take?

To give you an idea of the time and financial investment needed to complete some of the most popular thru-hiking trails here are a few of the most notorious:

How Long Does It Take to Hike the Pacific Crest Trail?

How Long Does It Take to Hike the Pacific Crest Trail

The Pacific Crest Trail is around 2,650 miles and takes anywhere between 2-5 months to complete.

I’m unsure of the fastest recorded time, but pros endurance athletes can complete the trail in less than 100 days.

How Long Does It Take to Hike the Ozark Mountain Trail?

How Long Does It Take to Hike the Ozark Mountain Trail

The exact distance varies depending on the route you take but this trail is around 350 miles. It covers some difficult landscapes and will take the average hiker around 30 days.

How Long Does It Take to Hike the Appalachian Trail?

How Long Does It Take to Hike the Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is a huge undertaking. It’s approximately 2,200 miles long and will take most people 5-7 months to complete.

It’s one of the more advanced thru-hiking trails and not for beginners. It’s estimated only around 20% of hikers complete the trail.

How Long Does It Take to Hike the Continental Divide Trail?

How Long Does It Take to Hike the Continental Divide Trail

One of the longest trails is the Continental Divide Trail which is a hike that takes you from Mexico to Canada and covers a staggering 5,600 miles.

This trail will take around 7 months and a considerable amount of endurance and planning.



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