12 Tips When Preparing For Your First Thru-Hike

Completing your first thru-hike is guaranteed to be a life-changing experience. You’ll meet amazing people, share unforgettable stories, and accomplish something that few people ever will.

wouldn’t shouldn’t run their first 26.2-mile marathon without months of training slowly building up to race day, neither should you hit the trail without sufficient training time. Head out for progressively longer backpacking trips, starting with simple one-day excursions and ramping up to at least overnight outings.

Take the gear you’re planning to use and put it to the test. How hard is it to carry, set up, and re-pack? Do you even need it?

Oh, and don’t just wait for a nice mid-70s and sunny day. Got a storm moving in? Get out there and go overnight! You’re guaranteed to hit a lot of bad weather on the trail, so you absolutely have to see how both you and your gear stand up to it.

study of AT hikers to see if he could predict if a hiker would complete that 2,180 mile trail. His model successfully predicted whether a hiker would complete the entire AT 82.1% of the time with just four factors accounting for 70% of the variance:

  1. Pack weight
  2. Load percentage (pack weight as percentage of body weight)
  3. Average miles
  4. Gender

Those are in order, meaning the top two predictors are both related to how much you’re carrying. So, if you want to maximize your chances of success, pack as little as possible.

Ideally you should cap your pack weight at 20% of your total body weight. As a 175-pound male, that means I shouldn’t be carrying more than 35 pounds, and even that sounds like a few pounds more than I’d prefer!

Backpacker recommends carrying 1.5 pounds of food per day at the start, scaling up to three pounds per day by the end.

You want that food to be nutrient and calorie dense so you don’t need to bring as much. Peanut butter, protein bars, and powdered meal replacement shakes are great ideas. You’ll eat a lot like a kindergartener when you’re on the trail, so make sure to fill up on copious amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables when you stop at a town.

5. Embrace The Pain, Especially Going Uphill

We’re only on tip number five and already we’ve mentioned the mental battle three times. It’s that important!

Look, you’re going to hurt. You’re going to be cold, your feet will be wet and sore, and you’re not going to want to tackle another day of steady uphill climbs. When you feel that way, listen to Arnold Schwarzenegger: “Pain makes me grow. Growing is what I want. Therefore, for me pain is pleasure.”

This article from Hiking Dude goes in-depth into bug bite prevention and treatment.

7. Plan And Track Your Finances Carefully

Beyond the initial outlay of cash to get the right gear, your complete thru-hike trip is going to cost you a pretty penny. Food, water, supplies, occasional accommodations, health insurance, transportation, cell phone—it adds up. (And that doesn’t even include your regular monthly expenses, such as rent, mortgage, or student loan payments.)

Adventure Possible recommends putting aside $1,000 per month that you expect to be on the trail, which can mean upwards of $6,000 for a full thru-hike.

Remember how pack weight was a huge predictor of whether a hiker will complete the trail? Money is another. If you run out of money halfway through, it’s game over. Track your spending carefully and plan properly.

Bryan Hunter

I’m Bryan, creator of The Outdoor Authority. While I’m from the United States, I have visited Europe and South America, including a life-changing trip to the Galapagos Islands, and currently live in the beautiful island paradise of Hawaii. My goal with The Outdoor Authority is to share my passion for all things outdoors, from camping and hiking to fishing and recreational activities. Come check it out and share your outdoors experiences, as we can all be outdoor authorities!


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