8 First Time Thru-Hiking Fears

There are quite a few things I can’t help but worry about as I am preparing for my thru-hike. I am an engineer by day, and I like to joke that I am hardwired to mitigate possible failure. Because of this mindset, I’m doing my best to identify my fears so I can do everything I can before my hike to minimize the chances my fears stop my hike, or to be prepared if they do.


Fear: Ticks are hands down my biggest fear on the trail. They can come and go without you knowing and easily end my hike if I don’t get treatment in time. With my dog coming too, even a nightly tick check of myself won’t protect against him bringing a few friends with him into the tent.

Mitigation strategy: Before I leave, I am getting all of my clothes permethrin-treated, and I also plan to treat my tent and backpack with permethrin. I like to hike in pants in all seasons already so I will continue to do that. I would like to say I’ll tick-check every day, but I also know exhaustion is likely to get me some days, and I won’t be as diligent as I should be. Additionally, my doctor has already agreed to provide me with a prescription before I leave in case I suspect Lyme has struck and I’m a couple days from town.

My tick identification card I picked up a few years ago.

Jake Won’t Make It

Fear: I rescued my dog in 2017 when he was around one, and we have been inseparable ever since. I struggle to find friends who want to go on outdoor adventures with me, but Jake is always at the door wagging his tail ready to go. I can’t imagine having to leave him behind for an extended amount of time. That said, I’m adamant that if he gets hurt or exhausted, I’m not going to make him suffer. I know he would follow me to the end of the earth even if he had splinters in every paw.

Jake knows tent time is sleep time.

Mitigation strategy: I invested in gear for Jake from a brand called Groundbird Gear. Jake has a custom backpack and harnessed quilt. To get used to all of the gear, we have been taking overnight trips with full packs this fall. If I notice he’s not up to the day-to-day grind once we get on the trail, my mom will take him for me, and he will spend the rest of my trip living his best farm life with his doggie buddies Jett and Ella.


Fear: I am a picky eater. I will be shopping and cooking for both my dad and me. While we both love a good canned mini hot dogs and Mac and cheese dinner on the trail, I’m concerned I’m going to struggle with foods in a few ways:

  1. Having enough variety
  2. Having foods I want when I want them
  3. Planning enough calories
  4. Not completely living on processed foods

(I intentionally left off anything on the list about keeping my dad happy. Sorry Dad, if I’m cooking, you get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.)

Mitigation strategy: I’ve been scrounging the internet and browsing my local grocery store to come up with as many meal ideas as I can. I tend to buy more sweets when I’m hungry, so I’ll need to shop after a meal when possible. We plan to resupply along the way. This fear I am leaving up to “we’ll figure it out.” The planner in me is cringing.

A cold rain had me carefully cooking in my tent vestibule.

Running Out of Money

Fear: It is a very large financial commitment for me to go on this adventure. I will still have bills to pay back home as well as expenses on the trail. While most of my gear is already purchased, I’m more concerned about unexpected large expenses that I can’t recover from that would force me to return to an income before I’m done.

Mitigation strategy: Luckily, most days Mr. Krabs is my spirit animal so hoarding money isn’t difficult for me. I had a minimum savings goal in mind before I committed. I have reached that goal. Now my plan is to build as much of a cushion as I can. With every purchase I make right now, I consider if the possibility of getting off trail is worth whatever I’m purchasing, which has helped me reduce impulse spending. My biggest financial fear is a major repair bill is needed for something at my house while I’m gone. I don’t want to go into debt for this trip, but I’m also investing a lot of my life to get to the start at Springer Mountain.

I Won’t Be Physically Prepared

Fear: I sit at a desk for 8+ hours a day for my job. It’s hard to prepare for 12+ hours of walking a day carrying 30 pounds on your back. If I’m not physically prepared, it could lead to either of my next two points.

Mitigation strategy: I have gone to an incredible gym (hey Sweat Club fam!) for years. On top of my typical HIIT classes, I’ve started doing once-a-week personal training to help target my workouts for my trip. I also take a hike every weekend (nothing new there), and have started wearing a 30 pound weight vest on both my hikes and during my weekday workouts.

That’s either a grimace or a smile on my face getting to the top of Katahdin in 2018.

I’ll Get Hurt and Have To Quit Early

Fear: I have been very active all of my life, but knock on wood, I have never had a serious lower-body injury. It would mentally drain me if I had to go home due to injury or sickness after all of the work I’m putting in to get there.

Mitigation strategy: There are no guarantees I can prevent major injury on the trail by willpower alone. The best I can do is practice all I can and be as strong as possible before I leave. My dad and I also have plans to start slow so we don’t overwork ourselves from the gate.

I Won’t Like It

Fear: I have never been on a backpacking trip over three nights. I have no clue if the novelty will wear off after the first few weeks. I think I’m going to love thru-hiking, but you don’t know until you try it.

Mitigation strategy: I have to get off the trail about a month after I start for a family obligation. I plan to use those few days off trail to do a lot of reflection and make sure I’m enjoying what I’m doing. If I’m not, I’ll call it quits there and stay home for good.

I’ll Like It Too Much

Fear: I’m already pre-dreading post-trail grief. This experience will be life-changing. Even since I committed, it’s improved my outlook on issues that used to keep me up at night. More days than not now, I wake up and smile when I think about this adventure.

Mitigation strategy: This one is tough, and I don’t have a good answer. Good thing I have 2,195ish miles to ponder it. I have no intention of doing another thru-hike after this one anytime soon; the responsible saver in me will want to get back to my job and funding my retirement accounts. I will have to find more ways to fit my backpacking love into my life when I get back so it’s never too far away.

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Comments 5

  • JayL : Dec 13th

    Some of those are preventable and preparation can help. Others are simply baggage you need to drop.

    I hope it goes well for you.

  • Papa Dump (2022 FlipFlop) : Dec 13th

    Courtney, you already will have an advantage going with your dad. And taking the pup may swing it the other way. Either way, smart to start out slow and build up from there. My son and I completed our thru this year, and I brought my dog (Pearl) for the first two months. We started out in Damascus March 15 to avoid the hiker bubble, and it worked out very well! Consider a flipflop especially since you’re bringing your pup. You’re about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime; you got this! Good luck to y’all, and let me know if I can answer any other questions for ya.

  • Happy Feet : Dec 13th

    Courtney this is such a great post. I can totally relate to a lot of your fears! I’m starting the PCT in April (without my dog and my dad though) and have very similar concerns.
    I love the way you’ve addressed your fears with mitigation strategies, very logical plan!

    All the best to you, Jake and your Dad on the trail. Enjoy your hike!

  • Black eyed Susan : Dec 13th

    Thanks for sharing your fears and how to minimize or prepare to handle them. I will check with my doctor about Lyme disease treatment also. My worst fear is injury on trail causing hospital lay up and end of thru hiker journey. Will take it slow with tramily or without them if they too fast for me. Hike your own hike! I keep hearing this. This will help curb my fear of injury. I’m planning retirement thru-hike at age 68/68 in 2028/2029. I’m preparing now.

  • Alex messinger : Dec 14th

    Thanks for sharing all these fears, I have a lot of these as well as I prepare for the CT next year best of luck


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