30 Thru-Hiking Truths You Won’t See on Instagram

The other evening I was having a conversation with a fellow thru and day hiker at camp. The day hiker asked us why the sudden boom in popularity of the long trails. My fellow thru hiker quickly responded that social media’s glorification of long distance hiking has had a lot to do with it. We cracked up laughing at the idea that what we were doing  (which at that moment was sitting in the dirt) was glamorous.

Which got me to thinking. I, myself have over 6,000 followers on Instagram where I regularly post idealistic trail scenes. All of which are real shots taken soely through the lens I possess, but still, I quickly realized I was guilty of painting a hyper romanticized view of backpacking and thru hiking specifically.

We all know the shots: A beautiful girl standing at the summit of some glorified peak, doing yoga perhaps. Or a quiet old growth pine forest in the perfect morning light.

Yes, those moments really happen in the backcountry but those are the moments we work hard for. For instance, as I write this to you I am curled up in my tent with throbbing feet as a downpour threatens to wash me and my tent downstream.

Oh, I haven’t showered in 5 days and subsequently smell like pee.

Since we all have an image of what thru hiking is via the carefully selected and edited scope of social media, let’s also talk about what thru hiking is the other 99% of the time.


30 Thru-Hiking Truths You Won’t See on Instagram

1) Thru hiking is…eating 29 cent top Ramen and bagged tuna fish so that you can afford that burger and beer in town.

2) Thru hiking is…missing birthdays, weddings, reunions, and the births of your loved ones.

3) Thru hiking is…having that pit in your stomach when you realize you have gotten off course.

4) Thru hiking is..being constant food for mosquitoes and flies.

5) Thru hiking is…putting on dirty/wet/ or frozen socks & shoes each morning.

6) Thru hiking is…doing your laundry in a motel sink.

7) Thru hiking is…getting butt chafe, pack rash, and blisters, no matter how hard you try to avoid them.

8) Thru hiking is…not being able to call a friend or family member when you miss them.

9) Thru hiking is…sticking your thumb out on the side of a road relying on the kindness of a stranger to stop so you can resupply in town.

10) Thru hiking is…learning to love your own company.

11) Thru hiking is…pretending you didn’t hear that rustle in the bushes.

12) Thru hiking is…walking through bear, horse and cow poop.

13) Thru hiking is…making it work when your gear fails on you.

14) Thru hiking is…getting acute injuries and continuing to walk..because that’s just what you do.

15) Thru hiking is…using leafs as TP when you accidentally run out.

16) Thru hiking is… being 100% responsible for your self.

17) Thru hiking is…climbing mountains in worn out shoes.

18) Thru hiking is… being vulnerable to the thoughts in your head. The good and the bad.

19) Thru hiking is…talking to that deer or marmot on the side of the trail when you haven’t seen another person for hours, maybe even days.

20) Thru hiking is…not quitting even when you wonder why you’re out there in the first place.

21) Thru hiking is….splitting a motel room with 5 other people.

22) Thru hiking is…hiking through rain, sleet, hail, snow, wind and sand storms.

23) Thru hiking is…getting water borne illnesses.

24) Thru hiking is…playing pest control in shelters.

25) Thru hiking is…walking 12 hours a day just to make the miles you need to do.

26) Thru hiking is…hoping the sun comes out long enough for you to dry your wet gear.

27) Thru hiking is…pushing your self to your mental and physically limit. Every damn day.

28) Thru hiking is…quitting your job and leaving your home.

29) Thru hiking is… trying to complete your hike before winter arrives.

30) Thru hiking is…having some degree of pain in your feet for 5 months.

Thru hiking is…not for the faint of heart and certainly not the glamorous cherry picked images you see on social media, mine included.

Despite that laundry list of what thru hiking really is,  it is also *worth it*. It’s worth it for those who endure all of its tests and walk on.

And that list of rewards is something I’ve yet to be able to put into words.

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Comments 12

  • Rich : Jul 15th

    Thank you for this post! The struggles of hiking are so very often glossed over. I’m a guy that one day hopes to make the trek. I like to be prepared. So gear lists are great but your head is the first piece of gear that needs to be squared away.

  • Bushwhacking Fool : Jul 15th

    You only smell like pee after 5 days?!? Lucky!

  • PorchPotato : Jul 15th

    My daughter is a through hiker with a large following on social media. She posts lovely pix. So why don’t you guys just share some more realistic pictures along with the beautiful nature shots? Even if we can’t smell the poop, post it!

    • Deanna : Dec 4th

      Check out a trail friend, Spielberg’s video that captures the suckiness of living day to day in rain in northern Virginia from this past May:


      I am also guilty of having posted all glamorous photos of my 2016 nobo thru hike. I put up one of my trail runners taped together, but that’s it for a non glamour shot.

      When things were sucky weather wise: rain, 50 mph winds, or snow, I was more worried about my well being and eating food than capturing the moment on camera. I only posted photos for family and friends, so pictures of chaffing in not so pleasant areas was not something I considered.

      As a whole, on and off trail, how many times do we whip out to take a photo when we’re hungry, tired, worn out, thirsty? Life on trail as a thru hiker may diminish this desire because in the moment we are more concerned about climbing that last summit to get to a place where we can unwind, eat, drink, and continue the day or set up camp for the night.

  • Wolff Alterman : Jul 15th

    Thanks Dora-
    For those of us who “Thrued” pre-social media the current trail world can seem very strange and even a little threatening. Glad to see the old truths still hold. Happy Trails!

    JESTER! AT ’94, CT ’95

    • David Valenzuela : Oct 20th

      Hey Jester! This is Fireboy ’95 AT , I met you and Loopy at a Hostel I think you were running. I remember thesweat lodge! And the kitchen cabinets falling off the wall on Loopy. Good times.
      Cheers! Peacefoot ’16 AT aka Fireboy ’95 AT

  • Karla : Jul 16th

    “Thru hiking is… being vulnerable to the thoughts in your head. The good and the bad.” I’ve only done day hikes but this is the best part for me and what I look forward to when I hike. Thanks for sharing.

  • Windbo : Jul 17th

    Thank you Dora–

    These truths are what I love about thru-hiking. The reality of the journey strips away the romanticism, the idealized picture of the backcountry that I feel when I read John Muir quotes…

    “Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”

    …and replaces it with the unbound joy of exploration, of discovering and learning new things every day. Thru-hiking means getting to know adversity so well that we are like old friends. Thru-hiking is the day-to-day business of living with nature– and fellow dirty, stinky, hairy, joyful thru-hikers– it’s paradise.

  • anto : Jul 18th

    Great post! I’ve never done a thru hike but am an avid hiker and wander around a lot all over the world. However I can still relate to many of those and I hate it when pretty girls pretend like it’s all good and jolly when they are climbing mountains. I wrote a ‘Confessions of a Hiking Travel Blogger’ some time ago, check it out if you have some time: https://www.we12travel.com/confessions-of-a-hiking-travel-blogger/ – oh and I gave you a follow on Insta too. Enjoy the rest of your hike and keep on being honest! Cheers, Anto

  • Greyhound : Oct 20th

    One of the best blogs I’ve read, and I can relate to nearly every one of those points.
    Awesome post!

  • AMP-Absent Minded Professor : Jan 11th

    Ugh… the scent of an outhouse on a 90 degree day!
    I used a shammy at one point to wipe down my gear and it got musty overnight. I hung it on a shirt and the shirt got that musty smell in it, and everything else that came in contact with it got that musty smell on it.

    I didn’t smell like pee though, as far as I know 🙂

    The day I got off the trail, I took a shower that night. I took a nice shower in the morning and then went to the room next door where other hikers were staying. I went in offering any gear or food I had… and WOAH, I think I know what I smelled like the day before 🙂

    Love u guys!

  • Paul Boulay : Jan 12th

    Thru-Hiking is that shower at the Hot Springs hostel, when I arrived in soggy boots, clothes and gear, SOBO at the end of my 27.5 mile day (personal best that still stands). My blood was full of sulfur from eating way too many delicious wild ramps (onions). So I stunk very badly, and the other hikers at the hostel were begging me, “Would You Please Take A Shower, Like, Right Now, Please?”. So I got up from the table, and with a few toenails missing from extended soggy hiking, my 27.5 mile legs somehow took me into that hot, hot shower, and it was Heaven. About April, 1979.


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