A few days ago we started to give you some tips about thru-hiking. As we said, even the most experienced hiker still wonders how to get ready for thru-hiking and how to face a similar kind of adventure.
Indeed, thru-hikes are absolutely incredible, yet, they are no jokes and a very in-depth and well planned preparation is absolutely fundamental in order to succeed, besides good thru-hiking gear of course.
So let’s get back straight to you preparation with some more tips on how to get ready for thru-hiking and everything there is to know about it.
Be honest and clear about your goals
Thru-hiking can mean many things and many goals. Some hikers want to achieve very specific goals, some others aim for the finish line, yet they already consider it a success to reach a certain point of the trail, or to cover the whole trail in more time than most people do.
There can be a number of reasons and variables that can determine your goals and your idea of success. Many thru-hikers take it as a more personal and reflective kind of experience, many others like to take long detours and explore more than "just" the pre-determined path. For some others it’s a matter of performance. The point is: we are not all the same, so don’t let anyone tell you what you should do, or how your thru-hike should be, otherwise you’ll risk to jeopardize the whole hike: just be honest with yourself, very specific and well focused. Everything will fall into its right place and you won’t have any trouble to identify what you need for your endeavor and how you need to get ready for it.
There’s never such thing as too much practice
When you are about to go on this kind of experiences, practice is absolutely key. In this case, practicing refers to two things: body/mind and gear.
First of all, you should train before your thru-hike. The more you train, the better you’ll meet this experience of a lifetime. Of course, there’s not one single answer to how to train for thru-hiking, but you can be sure that it will involve two things: endurance and strength. Your body must be ready to carry a rather heavy weight (as light as it may be, it will still be a big bagpack on your shoulders) for thousands of miles. Your knees will certainly be put to test big time, as well as your shoulders, so make sure your muscles are ready.
You should train at least twice a week and of course some long weekends hiking around will set the right tone for your Big Hike.
When we talk about endurance, we don’t talk about body endurance and breath only, but also about mental endurance. In this case, meditation and yoga can be good practices to learn, that you will probably use during you thru-hike too. Indeed, they can be practiced almost wherever and they help in strengthening mind and body.
Also, make sure to get your stretching straight: this is absolutely vital if you want to keep your body safe during your hiking.
Last but not least: a healthy lifestyle. This is incredibly important to get ready and make sure your body and your mood will behave correctly and will support you, instead of coming against you. This is also because food and water conditions (besides weather) will already be rather hard and extreme during your thru-hiking weeks, so feed and hydrate your body correctly the months before “departure”.
A healthy lifestyle refers to food, of course, but also to you habits. Quit smoking, of course, cut on alcohol drinking and adopt a regular sleeping pattern, so your hard training and your good diet will actually reach their goal and you’ll get to thru-hiking in great shape.
From this point of view, thru-hiking is some sort of paradox. Even though it is an experience that most people do alone or with just one hiking partner, you will need plenty of support from both people around you and the other hikers you’ll meet along the trail. These are both core for a positive outcome of your thru-hike.
People from back home should have as much detailed as possible of a schedule of your hike. They should know when you are expected to arrive to a new town, so they can make sure everything is going okay. If they don’t hear from you by that date, they will know something is not going as expected and they can act in regard to it.
Also, they can send you more food, or more money, or whatever you need to find at your next trail town in case of emergency. However, don’t resupply too much. Trail towns are ready and stocked up with stuff that hikers need for their trails, so sometimes it’s just easier and less expensive to buy food and gear there, instead of having family and friends to send it over. The only disadvantage is that you might have always the same sort of supplies and a lot less variety than in bigger towns, so maybe you can alternate in order to have everything you need (or sometimes simply wish for).
In general, just make sure someone is there to help you if you need it and that at least one person who is not with you is going to know your plans and your position. And always keep them updated.
People you are going to become friend with during your hike are actually going to be your community and those who can give you precious information you maybe didn’t know. Besides, they can be of great company and they can be a great hand to fight the lonely and homesick feeling you might get sometimes.
However, always makes sure to hike your own hike and don’t be afraid of loneliness. Also, don’t feel the pressure if someone is faster or stronger than you: remember, you have your own goals and those are the most important ones!
This really is the name of the game when it comes to thru-hiking. Many go solo, but even if you go with a partner, make sure you both have your spaces, your times and your independence. Indeed, to spend every day with anybody can be very hard when you do it for 5 or 6 moths in a row, no matter how close you are.
In order to preserve both your thru-hike and your relationship (regardless of its nature), give each other plenty of freedom. It could actually be a very good idea to bring plenty of gear so you don’t end up getting stuck together because you cannot actually divide.
Of course, it’s absolutely unadvisable to go with someone you don’t know, whether it’s just the two of you or a group.
Flexibility is key if you want to do this, so you will both have to compromise with each other and reach an agreement, whether it's about stopping to pee, or waiting the other one for a couple of days at some trail-town.
So how to choose a good hiking companion? Probably the best way is to find someone who shares your same values, moral and ethics. You should both see hiking in the same way, give to your thru-hike the same value and have the same goal. This is probably not going to be important when everything is fine and happy, but it will be vital once you meet the hard times...and there’s going to be plenty of those during a thru-hike. To have the same attitude is one of the most important things during thru-hiking.
Last but not least, actually, one of the most important things to do while thru-hiking. Positivity doesn’t mean to fool yourself and think that because you think everything is going to be fine, then everything is going to be fine. It means to not give up, to always see obstacles and problems as opportunities, to learn to trust, to support yourself, be kind to yourself (and others) and to not let negativity get the best of you.
How to stay positive while thru-hiking? Actually, the answer is very simple: gratitude. Even if you are tired, or the section you are going through is a very hard one, or whichever other negative thing that happens to you, always remember that if you are lucky enough to be in the mountains, then you are lucky enough. So be grateful for that!