5 Tips for the First Time Thru-Hiker

Great Stories Usually Begin out in the Wilderness

The idea of traveling thousands of miles in nature where the sunrise and sunset are your clocks and your internal drive is your alarm clock sounds incredible. With books like Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, it's not a wonder more people are feeling the call to leave their job, sell possessions and take to the open trails.  

Completing a thru-hike will certainly leave a profound impact on your life. Many have only been able to describe it as, "transformative". You will spend months connecting with nature, building your endurance capacity, and developing friendships with some of the most incredible adventures along the way. Finding the courage to take the journey for some seems like the hardest part, but actually, there are some challenges our expert thru-hikers thought would be critical for you to know before you head out on the trail.

Here are 5 Tips for the First Time Thru-Hiker

1. The first tip, SQUIRREL, no we don't mean have a short attention span. We want you to gather information like a squirrel stocking up for winter. Many first-time thru-hikers believe their experience will be an extended version of their backpacking trips. 

The last thing you want to do is be caught off guard on the trail because you didn't take the time to do your research. Reach out to other thru-hikers by searching things like #thruhiker on Twitter or Instagram. Follow blogs by the Big Three Thru Hike Organizations: Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Pacific Crest Trail Association, or the Continental Divide Trail Coalition. These are great resources to start your trip planning. In fact, many of their resources include trip planning. 

Part of your research would include self-evaluation of your physical preparedness. To get better at hiking, start planning longer hikes. Never gone solo? Practicing smaller excursions prior to your thru-hike will be incredibly helpful in understanding how you deal with solo trips and if you want to reach out to other hikers or complete a thru-hike with a partner or team. 

2. Know some of the Pitfall-- Then make plans of action to avoid them

While the imagery of Reese Witherspoon traveling the Pacific Crest Trail in the movie Wild feels like enough butane to fuel your camp stove, many people setting out to complete a thru-hike don't make it the entire way. But if you are determined to make it to the very end you should probably know some of the common pitfalls others have fallen into so you can make a plan to avoid an incomplete trek.

Common Reasons for Quitting

  • Unrealistic expectations
    • While hanging out around the campfire drunk of the sugar rush of your s'mores it's easy to romanticize the idea of thru-hiking. But the actual hike will take many months of continuously challenging work. Come into this adventure ready to push your edge.
  • Mental fatigue
    • Thru-hiking is tough on your body, and even tougher on your brain. There will be times where you’re exhausted, sore, hungry, cold, filthy, and wet. There will also be times where you’re homesick, lonely, and bored out of your mind. It takes mental fortitude not to give up in those moments. 
  • Running out of time/ money 
    • This is an area where planning is key. Everything from falling behind on your planned hikes and overspending on unexpected expenses (see next pitfall) can cut your hike short. 
  • Physical injury/ sickness
    • Thru-hiking puts an incredible amount of stress on your muscles, bones, and joints. It’s critical that you take excellent care of your body while you hike. With the right training, preparation, and daily stretching you’ll keep your body running strong. Injuries and illnesses that take weeks to heal will likely end your trip early.
  • Family/ life events
    • Sometimes life gets in the way of a thru-hike and there’s nothing you can do about it. The trail will be there waiting for you when you’re ready to get back on it.  

3. Define your success -- that's right not everyone sees completion as the success.

This is perhaps our 15 years of fitness coaching coming into play, but what is your "WHY" statement. You need to really evaluate what your reasoning for being out on this journey is and how you will know if you were successful. For some it's about self-exploration and for others it might be just overcoming the physical challenge. Make a clear, measurable definition of your success. It will help you on the days that really challenge your sanity.

4. Drop Weight -- in your gear. 

People pack like they are on an extended backpacking trip without really evaluating the weight of what is on their back. Many first-time thru-hikers abandon unnecessary gear within the first week. Completing your through hike is not about brute strength, it's about efficiency. The less weight you have to carry the more efficiently your body can move. Not to mention, you will reduce the amount of muscle and joint fatigue. This is invaluable for your thru-hike success.

5.  Stretch Daily, Stretch Often

You knew you wouldn't get tips from Camp Asana without us reminding you of the importance of self-care. From your tired feet to your aching shoulders,  you need to spend a little time recovering your body. Stress injuries are common with long distance hikers and a few stretches to target your calves, quads, and hamstrings each morning and evening can impact your experiences. It's easy to neglect these stretches when you are tired, but that's why we have an entire video series on backpacking equipment uses for your restorative practices in the backcountry. Check out how to use your equipment to help keep you strong.

These 5 Tips are not all-encompassing by any means, but they are insightful pieces of information to get you thinking about your first Thru-Hike. Make sure to follow us on social media for more tips, humor, and movement advice and adventures. Share this post if you find it helpful for other adventurers to experience.

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