When most people think of thru-hiking, they imagine someone hiking the entire Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail. But what is considered a thru-hike?
If you're new to the hiking world, the term "thru-hiking" may be foreign to you. The conflicting information out there on what thru-hiking is doesn't help either.
So, what exactly is thru-hiking? Thru-hiking is defined as completing a long-distance hike from start to finish in one hiking season. This typically falls between late spring and early fall when trails are snow-free, and weather conditions are ideal for hiking.
If you're thinking of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, or any other long-distance hike, it's important to understand what is considered a thru-hike. Simply put, thru-hiking is hiking a long-distance trail from beginning to end in one go. Some of the most popular trails in North America include the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail. In this article, we'll provide an overview of the definition of thru-hiking and everything you need to know before embarking on your journey.
Our experts had the chance to talk with some of the most experienced thru-hikers out there. They provided their insight on what they considered a thru-hike and what it takes to complete one.
What Is Thru-Hiking?
As we mentioned, thru-hiking is the act of hiking a long-distance trail from beginning to end. This usually takes place over the course of several months and often requires hikers to take on steep elevation changes, difficult terrain, and extreme weather conditions. It is a strenuous endeavor that requires planning, preparation, and a significant time commitment.
Unfortunately, only a small percentage of people who attempt a thru-hike are actually able to complete it. There are a number of factors that can contribute to this low success rate, including poor weather conditions, inadequate supplies, and injuries. However, the most common reason for failing to complete a thru-hike is simply not having enough time. Many people underestimate the amount of time it will take to finish the hike, and they end up having to quit before they reach the end. It is important for those considering undertaking a thru-hike to be realistic about your timeline and make sure you can commit the necessary time to see it through.
Most thru-hikers attempt to hike the entire trail length in one continuous journey, although some will break their hike up into shorter sections. The Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail are some of the most popular thru-hikes in North America. Thru-hiking requires a significant amount of preparation, as hikers must be in good physical condition and have the necessary supplies for an extended period of time in the wilderness. While thru-hiking can be an incredibly challenging undertaking, it's also an incredibly rewarding one. Many people who thru-hike report feeling a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction upon completing their journey.
History Of Thru-Hiking
In the 1970s, the term "thru-hiking" was coined by a man named Horace Kephart. Kephart was an experienced hiker and author who wrote extensively about hiking and the outdoors. In his writings, he used the term "thru-hiking" to describe the act of hiking a long-distance trail from beginning to end. The term quickly caught on and soon became the standard way to refer to this type of hike.
The term "thru-hiking" is relatively new, but the concept of thru-hiking long-distance trails is much older. One of the first recorded instances of thru-hiking took place in 1948 when a man named Earl Shaffer managed to successfully hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. Earl's hike was an impressive feat, and he is credited with popularizing the idea of thru-hiking. In the years that followed, Earl's example inspired many others to attempt thru-hikes of their own.
While thru-hiking has only been around for a few decades, it has quickly become a popular activity among hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. Every year, thousands of people attempt thru-hikes on trails all over the world. While not everyone is successful, the experience is one that many people cherish for a lifetime.
Why Do People Thru-Hike?
People thru-hike for a variety of reasons. For some, it is a way to challenge themselves physically and mentally. Others see it as an opportunity to connect with nature and escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. And for others still, thru-hiking is simply a way to test their limits and see what they are capable of.
Whatever the reason, thru-hiking is an activity that can be both rewarding and challenging. If you're thinking about undertaking a thru-hike, be sure to do your research and prepare accordingly. You can make your thru-hiking dreams a reality with proper planning and preparation.
Popular Thru-Hikes In The US
You have a few options when it comes to thru-hiking in the United States. The three most popular trails are the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail.
The Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail is one of the most iconic hiking trails in the United States. Spanning over 2,000 miles, it stretches from Maine to Georgia and passes through 14 states along the way.
The most popular period for thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is from late March to early April. This time frame generally has the best weather for hiking, and avoids both the heat of summer and the cold of winter.
The Appalachian Trail is used by millions of people each year for hiking, camping, and backpacking. The trail provides a unique opportunity to experience some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes in the United States. In addition to stunning vistas, the trail also passes through a variety of ecosystems, including forests, meadows, and wetlands.
Hikers who embark on a thru-hike (a hike from beginning to end) can expect to take 5-7 months to complete the journey. While the Appalachian Trail may not be the longest or most difficult thru-hike, it is certainly one of the most popular.
The Pacific Crest Trail
The Pacific Crest Trail is a long-distance hiking and equestrian trail that runs from Mexico to Canada through the states of California, Oregon, and Washington. The trail stretches for over 2600 miles, making it one of the longest trails in the United States.
Hikers typically start their journey on the Pacific Crest Trail in late April or early May. This allows hikers to avoid both the extreme heat of summer and the snow-covered mountain passes that are common later in the year.
The Pacific Crest Trail passes through some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes in North America. Hikers can expect to see everything from deserts to forests to mountains along the way. In addition, the trail provides access to a variety of different ecosystems, including Joshua tree forests and alpine meadows.
Like the Appalachian Trail, hikers who embark on a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail can expect to take several months to complete the journey. The trail is generally considered to be more difficult than the Appalachian Trail due to its longer length and higher elevation.
The Continental Divide Trail
The Continental Divide Trail is a long-distance hiking trail that runs from Mexico to Canada through the states of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. The trail stretches for over 3000 miles, making it one of the longest trails in the United States.
You will have to start your journey on the Continental Divide Trail in late April or early May in order to avoid the extreme heat of summer and the snow-covered mountain passes that are common later in the year.
The Continental Divide Trail passes through some of the most remote and beautiful landscapes in North America. Hikers can expect to see everything from deserts to forests to mountains along the way. In addition, the trail provides access to a variety of different ecosystems, including alpine tundra and sub-alpine forests.
Hikers who undertake the entire journey can expect to spend months on the trail, braving everything from high mountain passes to rock-strewn desert. Along the way, they will be rewarded with breathtaking views of glaciers, wildflower-covered meadows, and rushing rivers. The Continental Divide Trail is a true test of endurance, but those who make it to the end will feel a sense of accomplishment that is unlike any other.
Essential Gear For Thru-Hiking
Whether you're planning to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, or the Continental Divide Trail, there are certain items that you will need in order to make your journey a successful one.
When most people think of camping, they picture a tent. After all, tents are one of the most essential pieces of gear for any camping trip. However, they are also an essential piece of gear for thru-hiking, a type of long-distance hiking that involves completing a continuous journey on foot.
Thru-hikers typically walk for several months at a time, covering hundreds or even thousands of miles. A tent provides them with a safe and comfortable place to sleep at night, protecting them from the elements and giving them a place to rest and recharge for the next day's hike.
In addition, tents can be used as a base camp for other activities such as cooking and relaxing. For thru-hikers, a tent is more than just a piece of gear; it's a home away from home.
We recommend going with the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 Tent. It's spacious, lightweight, and has plenty of features that will make your thru-hike a comfortable one.
When you're out on a long hike, a good night's sleep is crucial to keeping your energy levels up and your spirits high. But if you don't have the right gear, getting a good night's sleep can be a real challenge. That's why a sleeping bag is an essential piece of gear for any thru-hiker.
Sleeping bags come in various shapes and sizes, but they all have one thing in common: they keep you warm at night. Thru-hikers typically choose sleeping bags that are lightweight and easy to carry, as they will be carrying their sleeping bags with them for the duration of their journey.
We recommend the Western Mountaineering UltraLite Sleeping Bag since it's lightweight, compressible, and keeps you warm in various climates.
Your feet are your foundation, so choosing the right footwear for your thru-hike is important. Hiking boots are designed to provide comfort and support on long hikes, and they can make all the difference when you're out on the trail.
There are various hiking boots available on the market, but we recommend going with the Salomon Quest Prime GORE-TEX Men's Backpacking Boot. They're comfortable, durable, and waterproof, making them perfect for any thru-hiker.
A backpack is another essential piece of gear for thru-hiking. A backpack allows hikers to carry all of their gear with them as they walk, including their shelter, clothing, food, and water.
Backpacks come in a variety of different sizes and styles, so it's important to choose one that will fit your needs. For example, ultralight backpacks are designed for those who want to minimize the weight of their pack, while internal frame backpacks are better suited for carrying heavy loads.
No matter what type of backpack you choose, make sure that it is comfortable to wear and has enough space to store all of your gear.
The Osprey Aether AG 70 Backpack is a great option for thru-hikers. It's comfortable, lightweight, and has plenty of space for all of your gear.
First Aid Kit
A first aid kit is an essential piece of gear for any hiker, but it's especially important for those who are undertaking a long-distance hike.
First aid kits come in various sizes and styles, but they should all include basic items such as bandages, antiseptic wipes, and pain relievers. We recommend including additional items such as a water filter, insect repellent, and sunscreen for thru-hikers.
No matter what type of first aid kit you choose, make sure that it is comprehensive and that you know how to use all of the items inside of it.
The Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight and Watertight First Aid Kit is great for thru-hikers. It's lightweight, waterproof, and includes everything you need to stay safe on the trail.
How To Train For Thru-Hiking?
One of the best ways to prepare for your thru-hike is to start training early. This will allow you to build up your endurance and strength to make it through your hike without any problems.
There are a few different ways to train for thru-hiking, but we recommend doing a combination of long hikes and cardio exercises. For example, you could go on a day hike every week and then supplement it with some running or biking.
Another great way to train for thru-hiking is to join a hiking group. This will allow you to meet other hikers who are preparing for their own thru-hikes, and you can learn from each other as you train.
No matter how you choose to train, make sure you start early and give yourself plenty of time to prepare. The last thing you want is to be unprepared when you start your thru-hike.
About THE AUTHOR
I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.Read More About Peter Brooks