Thru Hiking Basics

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Through hiking or also known as thru-hiking, is backpack hiking for a long-distance. It is an end-to-end trail in one direction. Long ago, it was the only means of transportation to get from point A to B, but now it is done for its own enjoyment. It takes a lot of work and can be time-consuming. Some trails take an average of half a year to complete.


One of America’s legendary trails is the Appalachian Trail (AT), which stretches 2180 miles from Georgia to Maine. It passes through 14 states and is one of the longest hiking-only trails in the world. Another one is the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) runs from Mexico to Canada. The latest trail is the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) that goes along the crest of the Rocky Mountains. 

Emma_Gatewood Credit@Wikimedia Commons

Completing a thru hiking is one of the most rewarding experiences that you would want to put on your bucket list. Emma “Grandma” Gatewood, was one of the first thru-hikers that completed the Appalachian Trail in 1955 at the age of 67. 


Inspired by an article in the National Geographic magazine, she attempted her first hike and got lost. The following year, with a determined mind, she managed to walk from Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia to Mount Katahdin within 146 days. At the time, she was rather unequipped for the hike. She used a shower curtain as a tent and her blanket as a sleeping bag. She was known as the pioneer for ultralight backpacking. Her resilience and flexibility adapt to the outdoors helped her pull through.


Thru Hiking Challenges (2)

Mental Challenge

You will be surprised to know that most through-hikers hike solo. But you will definitely meet hikers alike along the way. If you are a solo hiker, you need to be comfortable being on your own. It can sometimes be very lonely, due to a lack of companionship.

Physical Challenges

You need to be prepared for walking with sore blisters, or an injured foot, or deal with altitude sickness. There will be times, you are hungry, cold, and filthy. So it is important to physically and mentally train yourself for the challenge. Remember to stretch often, as stretch injuries are a common problem for long-distance hikers.

Pre-training is recommended to avoid discomfort on your adventure. Resistance training such as squats, plants, or lungers helps prepare your muscles to handle the stresses of the trail. Take section hikes to prepare yourself. And gradually, increase the distance and elevation of the hike.

Financial Challenge

For such a long hike, be prepared that there is no paycheck during this period. You will not be on a shopping spree either. You will find most expenses come from food and gear. Plan and allocate your budget, so that you will have sufficient to last you throughout the journey.


Through Hiking Tips

Research upfront

Understand the trail that you are undertaking, and read the topographic maps to visualize the terrain. Check the weather for the next few months so you will know what to pack in. Be aware that regulations change often, certain trails require permits. Know where and when you are going to re-provision. And have a contingency plan, for alternative routes in case your plan does not pan out. Also find out, where to get to water sources with uncontaminated drinking water.

Pack light

Never overpack as it will weigh you down. Hydrate at water sources, so that you do not need to carry heavy bottles of water while hiking. Minimize the resupply. The less you carry, the more miles you get to cover.  After hiking for some time, you will realize that you may not need too much food. You may even get sick of eating the same food every day. You will find it even more enjoyable, that you are able to experience different delicacies found along with the trail towns. 

Walk at a comfortable pace

As it will be a long walk, it is more effective to walk at a comfortable and controlled speed instead of increasing the speed. It is necessary only to increase speed if you want to reach a certain destination before dark. Otherwise, it will tire you easily.

Once the morning light comes in, it is the best time to optimize daylight hours and catch up with your hiking targets.

View More Hiking Tips

Have a Positive mindset

There will be times, you are caught on a bad day, and you feel like just throwing in the towel. Reframe your mind and focus your end goal is an important trail skill. Do not give yourself pressure to conform to other hikers’ standards. It is important to do what makes you happy.

Get social support

There are lots of opportunities to interact with like-minded hikers on popular trails, such as the AT trail. You will be surprised, these hikers are a really close-knit community that is just as supportive as a family. 


Remember to also inform your family or friends about your journey so that they know where you are. In case of emergencies, they will know how to reach you.

Be flexible

There are times things may not go your way or your schedule is behind. Give yourself space to breathe and make adjustments as you go.  Listen to your body. If it tells you that you need to rest, then rest you must. Remind yourself, why you are doing this in the first place. Most importantly, enjoy the journey along the way. 

Through Hikers Lingo

hiking essentials

Here is a guide on some terminology used for long-distance hikers


Base Weight

Weight of your gear 


Blue Blaze

Alternative route


White Blaze

Distinctive trail


Yellow Blaze

Skipping trail sections by catching a ride on connecting roads


Trail Magic

Unexpected help on the journey


Triple Crown

Completed the AT trail, PCT trail, CDT trail


Camel Up

Drink as much water as you can 


Cowboy Camp

Camp in the open instead of under a shelter


Flipflop or Yoyo

Complete the hike and turn around to complete it in the other direction


Zero Day

Rest day, you are not gaining any mileage.


Nero Day

Hike only a few miles, while spending time in a resupply town



Anger due to hunger.


Hiker Box

Communal Box at locations where you can leave or take unwanted gear or food


Bounce Box

Resupply Box that is placed at a section of the hike where you need it 


Hiker funk

A hiker who smells.


Hiker hunger

Sudden hunger after burning a large number of calories along the trail.


Hiker’s legs

Well toned legs after accustomed to long miles.


Hiker midnight

A time where hikers sleep, once dark.








Slack Packing

Pack with minimal gear, while the rest of your gear is transported ahead by car.

Jules and Ken

Jules and Ken

We are outdoor lovers, travelers, and writers all rolled into one. You have seen our posts here reviewing lots of different types of outdoor gear, camping equipment, kayaking to cycling. Our reviews are guided by our years of experience being outdoors. We are happy to share our knowledge with you so that you can make a better choice when you are outdoors.

We hope you enjoyed this article and if you have questions about Thru Hiking, or want to leave your own personal views, feel free to leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you.

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