Thru-hiking: an introduction to a great adventure

Hiking can have many forms and it can actually involve a lot of activities that fall into this category. One of the most extreme kinds of hiking certainly is thru-hiking.

Even though it’s not an activity for beginners, it is a very popular kind of hiking and many outdoor lovers decide to get closer to it at some point in their lives.

However, many don’t really know what thru-hiking means and how it works, so we thought of sharing some knowledge and introduce this concept properly for those who are not really familiar with it. So welcome to Apache Pine’s introduction to thru-hiking.

What is thru-hiking?

Also known as through-hiking, thru-hiking basically is long distance hiking. Very long distance.

More specifically, this term normally refers to the activity of hiking a considerably long trail within one hiking season. Indeed, we are not talking about days or week: we are talking about months.

The United States is particularly famous for this activity because of the many trails that allow this sort of activity. Among the most famous ones, there are the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail.

Thru-hiking is the opposite of section hiking, which implies walking a trail dividing it into sections and pursuing them one at a time, in different moments of the year, or season after season.

Halfway between hiking and pilgrimage, thru-hiking actually has its origins a very long time ago, when walking was a means of transportation and many people would choose it not only to move around, but also to see the world and spend no money.

What’s the difference between thru-hiking and backpacking    

The line is actually very thin and sometimes people confuse the two, but thru-hiking and backpacking are not the same thing. Actually, we can say that one is a niche version of the other. Indeed, it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that thru-hiking is a very specific kind of backpacking. Funny thing is, thru-hiking actually was born before backpacking. However, when backpacking became popular in the US and in Europe, thru-hiking actually became a less practiced activity. But let’s see why they are different.

Backpacking is a very broad kind of experience, during which you carry all your stuff in a backpack and you move around a lot from one place to another. However, there are many kinds of backpacking and it’s not unusual that backpackers move from one destination to the other using trains, plains and transportations in general. In some cases, you can even decide to rent a car and move around with that. In that case, backpacking would turn into road tripping.

Also, backpacking means you can sleep wherever you like. Many backpackers opt for hostels and similar kinds of accommodations. Not all of them decide to camp. Generally speaking, backpacking doesn’t necessarily involve nature and wilderness, as it can happen in cities only.

On the other hand, thru-hiking involves necessarily a trail, which means you are going to walk into nature, in wilderness, and you will most luckily be free camping most of the time. On the other hand, thru-hiking normally requires a better organization: the majority of these trails are very well marked and organized, with many opportunities for hikers to rest, refuel and in general deal with their endeavor. However, you must be 100% ready to go on a thru-hike, both physically and mentally.

On the contrary, most backpacking adventures don’t involve much planning and are a more “spontaneous” way of getting around. Many backpackers trend to make no plans for their travel and don't really know what is going to happen: but that’s the fun of it exactly.

Also, thru-hiking doesn’t involve many chances for a shower, and of course no internet connection or chance to charge your devices - at least not every day - so of course it won’t be very comfortable from this point of view. Of course every trail has its shelters and points where to find electricity, running water, phones, and get in contact with civilization, but they are dislocated along the trail and not always very near to each other.

Of course, one is no better than the other: they are just different and they have different goals. This is why it’s good to make this distinction, as those who will opt for one or the other will need to know what to expect and how to get ready for it.

How to get ready for thru-hiking

In the next few days we are going to cover this topic, giving you tips on the right gear for thru-hiking, what you really should have with you and what you can leave home, what are the best thru-hiking trails around the world and how to get ready for a thru-hiking adventure.

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