Golden Rules for Thru-Hikers: There’s More Than LNT

I want to preface this by saying there are so many amazing thru-hikers. Most of whom would do anything to help you, always have a positive word to say, and truly love and respect the AT.

Unfortunately, there are more than few who are giving thru-hikers a bad rep. I don’t think many are aware that they are giving off a bad impression, so here are a few things to keep in mind during a thru-hike.

1. Be Respectful in Town

Just recently, at a store along the trail in New York, I witnessed two business owners venting to each other about the way thru-hikers were acting. One owner was even expressing concerns over hikers sending packages to her place of work without her permission and going through her mailbox.

Please. Be respectful when you go into town. These business owners don’t owe us anything, but the majority of the time they are the kindest people and would do anything to make our hikes better.

Don’t assume things. Ask permission if you need something special (i.e., sending packages, loitering to charge your phone, etc.) Treat their business like you would their home.

2. Be Kind to Day Hikers/Section Hikers

On McAfee Knob, I witnessed a group of thru-hikers being crude very near two day hikers. Before I really knew what was happening, the day hikers left and one thru-hiker happily said, “Yes! I finally got rid of the day hikers!”

This is never OK. Thru-hiking does not make us any better than any other type of hiker on the trail. In fact, a good majority of them would give anything to be doing what we are.

This also goes for Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts. So many hikers complain about groups like this on the trail, and I get it. They can take up space in shelters, they can be loud… but they’re just excited. If you love nature enough to hike 2,200 miles then we should love these organizations that are teaching younger generations to cherish and respect our beloved trail.

Be kind. Chat with them like you would a thru-hiker.

3. Don’t Be Judgmental

This should be a no-brainer, but it comes up in conversation a lot. Some hikers get ridiculed by others based on things like doing small miles compared to others or even for having started the trail a lot earlier and “only” being so far along.

People do this at so many different paces. Some take their time to explore and soak things in. Others try to do it fast to push their bodies to see what they can really do.

Both are OK.

Some people can only handle 15 miles a day. Some people enjoy spending time in these quaint trail towns. Some people are just downright slow and are proud of it.

At the end, everyone is doing the same miles. Everyone is experiencing the same journey. We should be lifting each other up, not putting each other down.

Let’s Not Make Thru-Hiking a Negative Thing

It breaks my heart to see so many people having negative opinions about thru-hikers due to the actions of a few.

Present and future thru-hikers: We need to do better. We have to do better. This trail was built as a way for people to immerse themselves in nature and to find release.

If we keep up these negative actions, we’re going to ruin the trail for future generations.  We need to preserve more than just the physical trail. We need to preserve the community it was built around.

Hasta luego friends,


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Comments 15

  • Rhody : Jul 17th

    Good post. Another way of thinking about it is bad and rude behavior definitely leaves a trace and a bad taste in people’s minds. The trail was here long before you and hopefully it’ll be here long after you are gone. So while you feel like you own it right now…in fact you are just passing through.

  • Allen Weigand : Jul 17th

    Eiryn, living close to the trail makes it easy to hike weekly. The vast majority of thru hikers I meet are wonderful people. Some do carry a chip on their shoulders, however I have concluded that is the way they go through life. Great post! You are certainly an ambassador for the AT. Happy Trails!

  • Maria : Jul 17th

    I definitely agree with you on pretty much all of these points. My boyfriend and I just finished hiking from Springer to Harper’s Ferry (originally planning to go all the way, but know hopefully finishing another year), and although most people on the trail are absolutely awesome, the negative vibes really ruin the experience. Part of the reason we got off trail was due to the “macho” mentality of a lot of hikers who would shame us for starting so early, etc. We weren’t slow hikers, but we did stop and enjoy the scenery and towns which made our pace slower than some. It really bothered me that people expected us to be “competing” with them, when we never signed up for a race.

  • Austin Thompson : Jul 17th

    Shelters are for thru hikers only! Unless the group reserved the shelter, thru hikers should get priority.

    • Shane : Jul 17th

      Shelterrs are first come first serve period. If your hiking the entire Trail and counting on using a shelter every night you haven’t done your research properly. plan on bringing a small tarp or tent and being prepared. I mean this article was about the arrogance of thru-hikers and how they think that they have more rights and here you are proven his point that thru-hikers are douchebags

    • Pathfinder Blue : Jul 17th

      I’m with Shane… Thru-hikers have no more rights than any other hiker on the trail. I mean, come on… most of us were day hikers/sections hikers once before we had the opportunity to hike the whole thing.

    • Scott : Jun 22nd

      Shane is an idiot. Don’t be like Shane! Where on earth did you hear shelters are for thru hikers only! YOU are the problem with thru hikers! You represent sooo many that think this way! You have no right to complain about full shelters or even Boy Scout Girl Scout Troops or even overnite hikers being loud etc. they are out there on the trail to have fun for a day or 2!! Your hiker midnite of 5 or 6 pm means jack squat!!! Thru hikers need to deal with others rather than others dealing with thru hikers!! Most folks don’t even know what a thru hiker is nor should they!!! They shouldn’t have to accommodate a thru hiker! Thru hikers should be at the bottom of the totem pole out there!! I say this as a potential thru hiker one day!

  • Jamie P : Jul 18th

    You made some good points with this article but I have to disagree with one. Most hikers have no interest in doing a thru-hike and are quite content with what they are doing now. To even suggest that a hiker would automatically switch places with a thru-hiker reeks of arrogance and is one of the problems and why I like to avoid thru-hikers. You know, most thru-hikers never set foot on a trail before their thru-hike and will never set foot on a trail afterwards. They are what I call the sixth month wonders. Most hikers though have been hiking most of their lives and will continue to do so until the day they die. As for me, I backpack on the AT A LOT. It is my go to trail because it is so close to my home. I have been doing that for years and will continue to so for years to come. However, I have zero interest in ever doing a thru-hike or even a long section hike.

    • Tyler D : Jul 18th

      I don’t believe she “reeks of arrogance” by simply saying that a hiker would switch places with a thru-hiker.

  • Pony : Jul 18th

    Well done, Eiryn (I like that spelling, btw).

    When I hiked the AT in ’16 and the CT in ’15, I honestly saw a total of only four instances of bad behavior among hikers. So I think — I hope — this is a problem caused by a very few people, at the expense of everyone else.

    Courtesy first and always is a rule that well serves anyone, on trail or off.

    Thanks for a succinct and cogent piece.

  • Michael : Jul 18th

    This also brings to mind the whole idea of “hike your own hike.” Unfortunately, some thru hikers believe that this means “I can act like an ass because I am hiking my own hike.” I have sent a considerable amount of time in NY on the AT and I have seen those that believe that they are superior to day hikers. I tend to ignore them and as other comments have indicated, they are more than likely like this when they aren’t on the trail. Fortunately this is the minority and not the majority. Most of the thru hikers I have encountered have been friendly and answered the questions I know they have been asked many, many times. However, as with everything else in life, you are correct in saying it is that small number that will ruin it for everyone else. To me it is just common sense to act in a civil manner wherever you go!

  • Mark Stanavage : Jul 18th

    Pretty accurate. I have generally only met good hikers, be they thru, LASH, section, or day. Others I have met say thru hikers are arrogant and snobbish. I have not had that experience. LNT only goes so far. It is everyone’s task to be an ambassador of good will. We all face the same trail, mountains, rocks, mud, bugs, weather. With so much in common, hiking isn’t so much exercise as a common communion. We are in different pews of the same church.

  • Cosmo Catalano : Jul 22nd

    Like all “tribes”, generalizing the actions of a few do not accurately describe those of the vast majority. As a volunteer regularly on the Trail I get to see and engage the full spectrum. The Trail is open to everyone (thankfully); and people being people, some (a very, very few) can be assholes–whatever the particular flavor of their hike.

    As we visit the Trail, respect those who will visit it after us. You know, that Golden Rule thing.

  • Jeff : Jul 23rd

    This is a thoughtful and well constructed article on perhaps the most important issue of our time for backpackers. The root of the problem – along with 90 percent of all problems we face on this planet – is too many people. I frequently drive by parking areas for trailheads leading to the AT near where I live. Cars are parked for miles along the roadways. Many of the popular hikes are anthills during summer.

    I see two possible approaches to minimize the impact of too many people on the trails: One is to respond in the ways Eiryn suggests – show respect to the trail and all who support it, and sometimes speak up to those who don’t.

    A second option is to promote alternative trails. Last summer I section-hiked the Cohos Trail from Crawford Notch to the Canadian border. I had so much time to myself that it changed my perceptions of how I live my life and what I believe. It was incredibly beautiful, isolated, and virtually untouched by hikers. There are many other alternative hikes out there to avoid the crowds.

    Whatever we do, we need to do something. Because the next tier of alternatives may not be good. The readers of this blog are out there a lot, and we all see ominous signs. Lets act now before unfortunate regulations come at us and we can’t turn back.

  • Josh Johnson : Jul 30th

    Great post! Love your Instagram 👣❤️


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