group of person walking in mountain

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​Everyone has a dream to accomplish something great in their life. Everyone wants a story to tell their friends, family, colleagues. A journey through one of America's legendary trails is this exact dream or story for some of us. The accomplishment of being in the wilderness and pushing yourself to get from point A to point B on foot is a primal feeling. If you have the desire to thru hike a challenging American trail, the dream is as simple as educating yourself on what it takes, properly preparing, and the gear you'll need for the long journey. If you are still asking yourself, "what is thru hiking?" this beginner's guide will help you understand what you're getting yourself into and will help you accomplish your first thru-hike.

What Is Thru Hiking?

Some of us enjoy a peaceful backpack through the wilderness. However, thru-hiking differs from this. Instead of throwing on a backpack with a picnic lunch and spending an hour or two moving along a trail in the woods, thru hiking takes it to the next level. Thru hikers are your long distance hikers that want to cover great distances. They will spend several months sleeping in tents to hike over hundreds or thousands of miles.

Not all of us can take five or six months out of the year to leave our friends, family, and home to commit to one of these thru hikes. Alternatives to thousand-mile hikes include those that are just a few hundred miles. This type of hike would take less than a month to accomplish. You can find dozens of these hikes all over the country.

You can also thru hike in sections. This will involve hiking through a section of a longer trail, then being done for that season. When the next season rolls around, you do the next section. It may take several seasons to finish the thousands of miles in total, but that will depend on how big of a section you tackle during each season. Section thru hiking can be an ideal strategy for those who don't have a lot of time but who are willing to dedicate every season to one particular long trail.

Preparing and Planning

Group of hikers are walking the mountain trail while wearing their hiking gears

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Now that you understand what thru-hiking will involve, it's time to do your prep work. After all, this will be a major expedition. Preparation and planning will be highly critical, especially for a beginner thru-hiker. Expert thru-hikers will suggest preparing and planning for your expedition months before your actual trip, and more time should be spent planning than being on the hike. This is wise considering everything you will mentally and physically go through during the journey.

What is thru hiking? It's an enormous challenge. Your mind and body will be challenged in ways unlike you've ever experienced before. Your resolve will absolutely be challenged. Before you even consider food and water, dive into the mental process of it all.

Mental preparation should be your first step because a lack of understanding about what you can mentally overcome can be the deciding factor when it comes to whether you make it home or not. Many hikers fail to acknowledge what they are and are not capable of, and this spells doom for them. Have realistic expectations for your journey because mental fatigue is quite dangerous when hiking for miles and miles every single day. Thru hiking will demand a strong mental fortitude for overcoming pain and suffering and loneliness. Even experienced hikers can question the hike several hundred miles in and quit.

Mental Strategies

Physical Strategies


Planning Process

Food and Water

​WHAT GEAR YOU'll need

Group of hikers are climbing the rock mountain while wearing their hiking gears

Photo by Mathias Jensen on Unsplash

Now that you have completed your process and planning, you can move into a final stage of your adventure: the gear. You may already have the gear you think is suitable for a thru hike if you are a backpacker. Look extensively into:

  • Lightweight gear
  • Robust gear
  • Seasonal gear
  • Footwear

You will be hauling gear for hundreds to thousands of miles. Obviously, you will want to travel as light as possible with few luxuries. Buying robust gear may cost more, but it will last longer. If your thru hike lasts for many months, you will be hitting different seasons along the way. Plan your resupply stops to have alternative gear depending on the seasons. Trail running shoes or full-leather boots will do the trick for a thru hike. You may want both, and you will definitely need more than one pair.

Other than this gear you will want simple things. Other essential gear may include:

  • Sleeping bag/tent
  • Hiking clothing
  • Cook set
  • Repair kits
  • Cleaning wipes
  • Repellents

​Start a list months ahead of time. Add to it along the way for anything you may think of as important or essential for you to accomplish the thru hike with comfort and success.


Group of friends Hiking together

Popular thru hikes in this country include those along the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. These are the three long-haul treks for thru hiking that will involve a journey of thousands of miles. Work your way up to these types of month-long journeys. Do not be discouraged if purists out there say you aren't a true thru hiker because you aren't traveling thousands of miles by foot. Choose one of the alternative, shorter trails if that suits you better..

Many will ask you, "what is thru hiking?" if you do decide to commit to one. At its core, thru hiking is ultimately about challenging yourself. How you define that challenge is simply up to you. Use this guide to aid you in researching and preparing for your first thru hike. Get moving and get away from that grueling 9-5 job and average life. Your thru hike adventure awaits, and you'll never know what the feeling is like to complete one if you never challenge yourself and give it a try.

Featured Photo by Eric Sanman from Pexels

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