How to Support a Thru-Hiker: What Do They Need?

Dear family and friends:

I know you have a million questions for the thru-hiker in your life. You’re probably thinking: What about bears? What about going to the bathroom? Will they be safe? Are they really going to live in the woods for five-seven months? What if it rains for a week straight?

Trust me, I get it. The thru-hiker close to you gets it. They have thought about these things over, and over, and over again. They have spent sleepless nights tossing and turning, thinking about bears and money and food and weather.

If someone you care about is out on trail, or planning to be on trail soon, this article is for you.

Do You Have Everything You Need?

Now that I’m closer to departure, this is the most common question I hear. I have realized that sometimes this is the question people ask because they don’t know what else to say. I started to think about things from their perspective. If I was someone who didn’t know anything about thru-hiking, what would I think I needed? Then, I thought about what people at home who wanted to be supportive could offer to a thru-hiker without really knowing anything about backpacking or the trail.

A thru-hiker might be confident enough to ask for what they really need from friends and family. But, knowing that most people have a hard time asking for help I will give you a idea of how you can support them.

Emotionally

Build me up, buttercup!! No. , really. A thru-hiker is probably already agonizing over leaving their friends, family, and home. What they don’t need to hear is things that might make this separation more difficult. Try to stay clear if statements like, “I’m really going to miss you” even though that is most likely true.

Be supportive by reminding them how proud you are that they are embarking on this adventure. Remind them you are just a phone call away. Ask if you can send them cards or pictures from home.

Your thru-hiker may be torn between wanting to go on this hike for themselves and meeting their family’s expectations. They don’t need to be reminded that they are leaving something behind. They need to be sure that there is support, ready and waiting, when they need it.

Mentally

Curious minds want to know details. The trouble with this is that we often ask about the things that scare us or make us uncomfortable. Think about how many times a thru-hiker has gotten the question: “What about bears?” from family and friends. If they are prepared and have done their research, they have already been worried about this themselves and could still feel a lot of stress about this.

A large part of a long hike is the mental game. Convincing your body to keep moving when you’re in pain or uncomfortable can be really hard. The thru-hiker in your life probably doesn’t want to dwell on the things they’re worried about.

Please don’t make your first question to them something like, “Aren’t you scared?” or “By yourself!?” The answer to both of these questions is probably yes. If you’re stressed about something, the last thing you want is someone reminding you about that thing over and over.

A great question to ask that can boost mental preparation is, “What are you most looking forward to?” You might also ask what they feel really prepared for or what their favorite piece of gear is. A thru-hiker can really benefit from a boost in mental confidence at any time before, during, and after their hike.

Physically

If you live near the hiker in your life, offer to go outside with them. Maybe they need support to do some training hikes or a buddy to come along on a practice camping trip. A friend to workout with is almost always welcome!

If you can’t physically support them by exercising with them, there are plenty of other things they might need. You could volunteer to send them a resupply box full of their favorite foods or surprise foods. You can send special homemade treats (which will probably make them the most popular person out there). If you live near the trail, you might consider opening your home to them for a hot shower or a ride to the store.

Monetarily

If you are willing and able, a thru-hiker might need help financially. Before they leave, you might want to offer to pay for a specific piece of gear for them. Sending a little money to give them a nice night off in a hostel or motel would undoubtably be appreciated. A little spending money to treat them to a nice dinner at a restaurant while in town could be a very welcome gift.

Some hikers also set up charity pages to raise money through their journey. There are a LOT of different charities hikers may wish to support and they are as diverse as the hikers themselves. Most likely, if your hiker has a charity page set up you can find on their social media outlets. When donating this way, you can usually choose to donate a sum or sponsor your thru-hiker for each mile.

P.S.

Your thru-hiker loves you. They will appreciate any interest you show in their journey on a long trail. No matter how you are able to support them, they will be endlessly appreciative.

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