6 Tips for Thru-Hiking

Backpacking

With all of the preparation articles and hiker videos out there, it can be easy to get caught up in the smallest of details while trying to get ready for your thru-hike.  This is my contribution. In its simplest form, these are the most important tips I have from my journey on the AT.

You need less than you think.

After reading about this concept in various thru-hike blogs, I really thought I understood what it meant. But within the first few weeks, I sent home a box full of gear I wasn’t using or didn’t need. I did not do a shake down hike or have any past thru-hiking experience to go off of, but hindsight is 20/20 and less is more. Some things I sent home included hiking pants (I wore shorts everyday), extra first aid materials (I kept a couple bandaids and anti inflammatory meds), one of my two shirts (you just don’t need two shirts), go pro, and a book. My rule of thumb was, if I didn’t use it for a week, I didn’t need it. I was always close enough to a town to get something if I really needed it, and I was also surrounded by other hikers who could most likely help out in a pinch.

Take photos of people just as much as the landscape.

Looking back through my photos, my favorites are usually the ones that captured friendly faces and silly moments. On the trail, a few days will go by and it can feel like months so I love having pictures to help me piece the days together.  I still look back through photos and am like, “wait, hot chocolate night happened only 11 days before Katahdin?!” I haven’t once met someone who complained about having too many photo memories.

Honor your experience.

Recognize that everyone you meet is also on their own journey, honor that too.  I think honoring your own journey can be a bit more challenging when you’re in a group, but don’t be afraid to do your own thing if that’s what feels best. There were times when I stayed back a few miles due to injury, exhaustion or to stay at a campsite I was excited about. Hike your own hike is a mantra you will hear over and over again. Do just that.

Write it down. 

As many details as you can remember. It is already therapeutic and hilarious to read through my journal entries, I can only imagine how grateful I’ll be in a few years to have these moments documented. Some things to keep track of: how many miles you hiked that day, what you ate, where you slept, who you’re hiking with, your mood, your expenses, the weather, how many times you tripped or how many bogs you fell in, etc. And unless you REALLY love to write, ditch the journal and keep a log on your phone. I started out writing but eventually found it more convenient to keep a daily log on my phone- more accessible, lighter pack weight and I didn’t need a firm surface to write on.

The trail provides. 

In friendship, magic, sunrises and sunsets, chafing, tears, growth, independence, courage and love. Embrace every moment for it is fleeting, and stay open to the journey.

Say yes. 

Many of my favorite moments on trail stemmed from unplanned and spontaneous opportunities. “Do you want to skip the last three planned miles of the day and sleep on top of the mountain to watch the sunset/sunrise?” says a tramily member. Yes. “Do you need a warm shower and a place to sleep?” offers a stranger. Hell Yes. “Do you want to spend an extra day in town to lay in bed, watch tv and eat ice cream all day?” says Professor. YES. Be flexible in your schedule, be open to adventures, and be grateful for every beautiful moment that is about to come your way.

Already thru-hiked? Share your favorite tips or learnings are from the trail!

Thinking about thru-hiking? What are some questions you have?

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