A New Way To Travel Across the US

by Shelli

Do you know much, if anything, about thru hiking? It’s different from backpacking. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that hiking has grown in popularity with younger people. Some people think of hiking as a way of soul searching, while others view hiking as a great outdoor physical exercise to build up strength and perhaps courage. I think hiking is a fantastic life experience that we all should try at least once in a lifetime. And it certainly belongs in the travel adventures category because there are many amazing destinations to visit and hike.

Something you may not know about hiking is that it can take many forms, from solo hiking to group hiking, and not to mention a more challenging form known as thru hiking. Thru hiking is becoming increasingly popular among adventurers.

Is Thru Hiking For You?

So what is thru hiking? Should you try it? And how do you try it?

I started planning some hiking trips and that got me delving more deeply into the different types of hiking trips I could consider. I became fascinated by it all, and what I learn I share! Here’s what you need to know about thru hiking plus some essential tips to help make your thru hiking even better.

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What Is Thru Hiking?

Thru hiking, or also known as through hiking, can be defined as a type of long-trail hiking. It’s hiking end-to-end within one hiking season. In other words, thru hiking is foot traveling through a long trail uninterrupted.
The definition of thru-hiking is to complete a long-distance trail continuously in one calendar year (or within 12 months) from start to finish.

There’s no single universal definition of thru hiking, though. My kind of sport/hobby! Each hiker may have their own definition of thru hiking.

Check out this website for a curated list of long distance hikes around the world!

So now you’re thinking, what can be qualified as thru hiking? Is it the same as section hiking? The answer is no, as section hiking refers to hiking a trail one section at a time. Thru hiking is hiking a trail from the beginning to end without skipping any part of the trail within the hiking season.

That’s why thru hiking is also called end-to-end-hiking. But doesn’t the definition make thru hiking the same as backpacking? In fact, thru hiking differs greatly from backpacking. Here’s why.

Thru Hiking vs Backpacking

To understand the difference between thru hiking and backpacking, let’s first look at the definition of backpacking. I’m sure the term “backpacking” is a term you’re familiar with.

Backpacking refers to the way we travel with our backpack, which is packed with all of our stuff. So if someone tells us they are going backpacking, what they mean is most likely they are wandering around with their backpacks. Simple, isn’t it?

Given the loose definition of backpacking above, we can more or less see some of the differences between thru hiking and backpacking.

While backpacking is a more relaxed way of traveling around, thru hiking is a more focused and specialized form of hiking that requires more commitment and determination.

You can suddenly decide to go backpacking at the very last minute and then off you go. However, for thru hiking, you will need to plan everything a lot more carefully before heading out.

Backpacking is more about freely traveling and exploring at your own leisure. Thru hiking is a more calculated effort to hike through long trails. As a result, the gear you need to bring for backpacking will be different from the gear you prepare for thru hiking.

Here’s some other great advice for thru hiking basics!

To go thru hiking, you will need more navigation equipment, food and safety gear. For backpackers, the items are fewer and more lightweight. But sometimes the situation becomes reversed, especially when a thru hiker is hiking through a popular trail and chooses to travel really light.

Another difference is the skill required for each type. Since thru hiking means long distance, you will need to acquire certain skills and strength in order to have what it takes to complete the long trail safely. As for backpacking, the requirements are slightly different and can be lower than what is expected of a thru hiker.

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Thru Hiking Tips

Here are some essential thru hiking tips. These tips will be especially helpful for first time thru hikers. They prepare first timers for what to expect during a thru hiking trip.

Even if you are already an experienced thru hiker, I hope these tips below will still be valuable.

1. Do as much research as you can: Because thru hiking is different from backpacking, keep in mind that the logistical arrangements won’t be the same as a backpacking trip. Therefore, research and preparation are key for a thru hiking trip.

2. Don’t try to improvise as you might with other types of trips. Create a plan! And only start your trail when you are fully prepared physically and mentally. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

3. Some lessons are learned in a hard way: Even the best planner can’t be 100% correct. So apart from research and planning, it is good to learn from previous mistakes of thru hikers. This will increase your chance of success. Once you are aware of potential challenges ahead, you stand a much higher chance of completing your trail.

4. Choose your gear carefully: Not all of your backpacking gear will work for thru hiking. Prioritize more lightweight (as light as possible) and robust gear. The weather will be an important factor. If you choose to thru hike in fall or early winter, opt for a warmer sleeping bag, a durable tent, and warm yet light clothing.

5. Train yourself: In addition to your gear, it is necessary for you to be up to the challenge. You’ll likely need to improve your stamina. So getting some training in advance is never a bad idea. Take great care of your feet, as they will be thoroughly tested along the trail. You might also consider taking a first-aid course just in case.

6. Connect to the thru-hiking community: You don’t necessarily have to be alone. I learned that there is a large community of fellow hikers out there. Try connecting to that community before your trip to learn from them. Along your trail, you will meet other thru hikers who will be your closest contacts along the way. There are also trail angels, who are kind and helpful in providing aid and comfort to hikers.

7.  Hike your hike: This is an insanely popular mantra among hikers, which means hiking in your style. You know what works best for you! Listen to your body, trust yourself, and do the hiking the way you want. Once you are comfortable with that, you are ready to kickstart your journey.

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Final Thoughts

Have you ever done or thought about planning a thru hiking journey? Do you know anyone who has successfully completed their thru hike? I’m still considering the idea. Thru hiking seems tough, and it requires physical and mental strength and an enormous commitment to pull it off. I have a feeling, though, that for those who do thru hike, their determination is rewarded with a most memorable life experience!

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1 comment

DaninMCI April 8, 2023 - 2:51 pm

It didn’t work out well for John Rambo but it sounds fun 🙂


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