5 Tricks to Successfully Thru Hiking

It’s just walking, right?!

I mean, really, it is. That’s the mechanics of it, at least. But there is so much more than that to successfully thru hiking the Appalachian Trail, or any long distance trail for that manner. Potential thru hikers pour their entire lives into the attempt of a thru hike! I know this to be true because I did it. All the people I thru hiked with in 2013 did it. As an employee of an outfitter on the AT, I see thousands of customers a year who do it. We’re an all in sort of bunch, us thru hikers. We HAVE to be! It takes all you’ve got and then a bit more to complete a thru hike. Here are five tricks that will aid you greatly in successfully thru hiking any long distance trail.

Trick #1: Train

Get on them ridges!!

Get on them ridges!!

It should be obvious, but what may not be so obvious is that this means getting outside, with your pack on, in actual mountains. Don’t do yourself the disservice of calling a stroll around the neighborhood training.  You will instantly regret it once you put your feet on the trail. Georgia is a tough little bugger. You will feel it whipping your butt into shape no matter how much you set out on mountains hauling a full pack before hand. The difference is that if you’ve been training, when you make it 30 miles in, you will be smiling at the chance to set down your pack, eat some food and take a break instead of cursing your pack, the trail, yourself and generally being miserable. I LOVE when a happy new thru hiker pops their head in the door! They have the light of newly found confidence and a shine of wanderlust! On the other hand, it’s hard to be happy when you feel like you’re getting beat with a bat. But it is easy to be tired and snappy, so train on some mountains!

Trick #2: Test Your Gear

You just HAVE to see if your sleeping pad will make a good floaty, right?!

You just HAVE to see if your sleeping pad will make a good floaty, right?!

Your gear is your home on when you live on the trail. If you wanted to own a piece of land in this wonderful world of ours, you wouldn’t buy a trailer with busted out windows, water damaged walls and a caving in roof. That’s obvious. So don’t skimp on your bigger pieces of gear like your pack, tent and sleeping bag. (ie, no Coleman or Eureka, sorry.) Do yourself the solid of doing lots of research and investing in quality products.

Once you have them, take them on one of your training sessions! Even this means pitching your tent/hanging your hammock and cooking food on your stove during a day hike, then do it! Try to carve out an overnighter or two before you hit the trail to work out any kinks in your gear. To finish up what was said before, try to find cheap or used gear for things like stuff sacks, clothes and the smaller items. For those big items that will define your hike, go big or don’t go. It is hard to express how much of a bummer gear failure is when you are 2 days from a road that is in the middle of nowhere, leads to still nowhere and you are completely reliant on the broken POS in your poor, frustrated hands.

Trick #3: Mental Preparation

Reading Appalachian Trials is the LAST piece of the puzzle for your brain!

Reading Appalachian Trials is the LAST piece of the puzzle for your brain!

Your brain will take you exponentially further than your feet when on a long distance trail. Your feet are on auto and you can control them a bit based off of how much food you eat (a.k.a. energy you give them). Your head however, is doing much of the heavy lifting on a rough day of hiking. What many new thru hikers don’t realize is that your mental game is as important as the gear you’re carrying, the miles you cover or the weight on your back. A guy we all know and love came up with, seriously, undeniably, absolutely, the best way to get your mental game on point and help you keep it there. Check out his book on it all: Purchase Appalachian Trials.

Trick #4: Save Your Money


Any Lil Dickey fans out there?! eh? eh? He’s good at saving money. (That link may be NSFW… depends on your taste.)

Okay,  I know we all hate this part. We all like to think that the woods are free. And this is totally true as long as you don’t eat, drink, shower, sleep inside ever, use anything up, need anything new or any array of other possibilities. But the harsh reality of it is that thru hiking is expensive!! You can do it on the cheap, for sure, or you can ball out and spend exorbitant amounts. But the base line hike costs about $4,000 to $5,000 for most and this isn’t including gear.

As said before, gear is not the place to skimp (since it is your life force out there) and a good gear set up can easily cost $1,500 to $2,000. Don’t let these big numbers scare you away. Let them put a fire under your ass! They are just numbers and if you buck up to them and show them who is boss, you are making your thru hike immensely more enjoyable and you are also really, really upping your odds of success! Weird things happen out on trail. You may have to buy new gear unexpectedly (particularly if you weren’t diligent about buying good stuff in the first place!), you will want to stay in town every now and then, you may have an insatiable need for Mexican food every time you’re in town, you may have to go visit home for some unforeseen reason.

You will need money and you will need more than you expect. Not to mention, the only thing that happens when you leave with too much is that you have extra when you come home. That means you don’t have to immediately take a job at McDonald’s in order to support yourself. You can be choosy and wait for that perfect outdoor leadership position leading guided backpacking trips! So, I hate to say it, kids, but don’t be cheap! Not until you are out there being proper hiker trash dirt bags! (This is often a lesson that can’t be taught until its too late but sometimes people listen so I included it!)

Trick #5: Commit To It!


THIS is the sort of commitment you NEED!

All this really means is that you need to roll tricks one through four all into one big bundle of “I’m-Going-To-Kick-This-Trails-Ass!” Make yourself a training regiment and ask for time off to go spend a few nights on a vacation, testing your gear and crushing miles on actual mountains. Spend your free time looking up gear online. Look at how much it costs up against how much it weighs. Take a hit on the wallet when it is going to be a major help later (believe me, I see so many people waste money on re-buying gear and it kills me). Spend more if it will serve you better and last longer. BUY RIGHT AND BUY ONCE! (Did I say that in enough ways, because as a fellow broke hiker I want you to learn from my mistakes!) Read Zach’s Book, which shares his struggles on trail and how he got over them. Fill out “The Lists” and bring them with you! You will need them at one point. Save that Money! Unless mom is sending you off with her personal credit card (lucky you! can we hike together?!) then you will love having a solid stack of money behind you so you have one less part of the “real world” to worry about. If you do all these things, you are IN IT! You are on your way to standing on Katahdin, to hugging Monument 78, to getting into a scuffle with border control in Montana! You are practically there! All you have to do now is walk, right?!

A little side Soap Box from Rainbow Braid: Love yourself and respect yourself enough to dive 100%, head first into your dreams. Don’t let people change what you want or what you think you can do. Don’t cheat yourself like that. You deserve the best of everything when you are fearless enough to dream big and work hard enough for it. Dreaming big and working hard is how you actually get everything you want, you know!

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Comments 1

  • Mike Akerley : Jan 27th

    My search for the right equipment for me has taken almost 2 years. Save a little buy a little has been the program. I have bought from places with good return policies. You really don’t know what equipment will work for you until you try it on or try packing it. At 64 I will be attempting a thru-hike staring NOBO 3/17/16 if the two week forecast looks fair to good. If not it will be a Flip Flop from Harpers Ferry begining 4/17.

    I must say thank you to all the previous thru-hikers for their post and videos on what works and what has not on their hikes. For example, I’m going as light as I can afford. I have the ULA Circuit back pack, one person cook set with a MSR Micro Rocket Stove. My Jetfoil Minimo was too bulky and heavier. And, I tried alcohol stoves and preferred the quicker boil and clean up of the gas stove. My MSR Hubba Hubba was fine for bicycle touring, but my Big Agnes Coper Spur UL1 is 1/2 the weight at 2 lbs 8 oz. My sleeping Bag is a 20 Degree North face at 2 lbs 10. The big 3, pack, tent, and, bag came it at 7.5 LBS. So far total weight is qt 26 lbs with everything including clothes, 4 days of food and a liter of water.

    There was a definite difference in equipment choices changing from bicycle touring to hiking. I’m looking forward to the challenge, and at my age I will be slower that most and faster than some. But, I will enjoy the journey..


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