The Adventure of a Lifetime: Tips to Prepare for a Thru-Hike – Guest Post

Categories:Backpacking | Backpacking Advice | Hiking | Hiking Advice

A thru-hike is a hike from one point to another. You don’t backtrack; you start at point A and arrive at point B. Famous thru-hikes include the Pacific Crest, the Continental Divide Trail and the Appalachian Trail, among many other thru-hikes that aren’t as well known.

Many people attempt these hikes, but few finish them. However, with the proper training and gear there’s no reason you can’t tackle this considerable adventure. Here are some tips on how you should prepare.


Your Route

Your route will dictate the kind of gear you pack, and the trail is only one part of the hike. Before you leave, scope out which towns you’ll pass through, where you’ll buy food and where you might spend a night instead of in your tent. There are many books and guides for these hikes as they’ve grown in popularity in recent years. Start with these guides and outline your route.

Condition & Train

Get in shape. A lot of guides are available for advice on the best way to do this, but even if you’re an athletic person, nothing can prepare you for the amount of physical endurance you’ll need while on the trail — though this isn’t to say you shouldn’t train.

Thru-hikers have different ways of training. Some walk an hour a day, six days a week in the nine months leading up to the hike. Others hike near or around the trailhead on a regular basis and get a feel for the heat of the day. Still others go on high-altitude hikes for increased endurance.

The fact of the matter is: Nothing can condition you for a 3,000-mile hike except the hike itself. However, if you’re in shape before you start, the first couple weeks will be more bearable.


An emergency tool that all hikers should take with them, even if they don’t use it, is a satellite phone. It’s likely that your cell phone won’t have service at various points of the trail, but satellite phones get service anywhere. If a sat phone is out of your budget or you’re not ready to purchase just yet, rent one for your trip.

Your other gear is just as essential. Weight is always an issue when hiking, and a hike of this magnitude increases the importance of a light pack, tent and other essentials. Limit your big three items — backpack, sleeping bag and tent — to three pounds each. Light gear may be more expensive, but it will make the adventure more enjoyable.

A camp stove, water filters, sleep pad, water bottles and handheld GPS are other items to bring, and the hike you plan will determine the type of gear. For instance, a wood-burning camp stove may work great on the Pacific Crest Trail, and it saves you the weight of fuel. But the Continental Divide Trail takes you above the tree line where small sticks and brush aren’t necessarily available.

Alex Clark-McGlenn is currently taking his MFA in creative writing from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. He has been published in eFiction Magazine, Inkwell at Evergreen, Slightly West Literary Magazine, and appeared in Smokebox Literary Magazine July, 2014. He currently lives in Bellingham, Washington.


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