How to Support a Thru-Hiker

Do you have a seasoned thru-hiker in your life, or do you know someone who is about to embark on their first hiking trip? Take it from a thru-hiker; any little gesture of support, from a phone call on the summit to picking up our smelly selves after weeks on the trail, can mean the world after any hiking trip. If you’re struggling with things you can do to support your thru-hiker on these wild and crazy adventures, maybe you can take some advice from two of my biggest supporters, my parents! Here are six things that I’ve realized my parents do, or don’t do, to help support me on my adventures.

A family photograph


1.Help Your Hiker with the Logistics 

The month leading up to the AT is a logistical nightmare for your hiker. I had to move out of my apartment and prepare said apartment for subletters, complete the taxes for my small business, hire and organize my replacements for two additional jobs I hold, prepare six months of practice material for my private lesson students, buy, pack, test, and repack my gear, and pack resupply boxes, all while saying goodbye to everyone I know and love. There was absolutely no chance that I would have a plan of how to get to Georgia if it wasn’t for my mother’s offer to drive me months ago.

My mom planned the whole trip: she chose our route, researched dog-friendly hotels, and nailed the never-ending task of feeding me and my father. I’m so thankful that she crossed such a major item off my to-do list; once my mom realized I didn’t have a plan to get to Georgia, she took the road trip planning in stride. Aside from taking the mental stress off my plate, avoiding the cost of a plane ticket was a huge financial plus as the next six months could easily be the most expensive six months of my life. I’ll never forget the cute little road trip with my parents, cuddling in the backseat with our whining dog, and a quick visit to the emergency room. 

2.Don’t Question Your Hiker’s Decision

My family never questioned my choice to hike the AT, but if they had, their doubt would have festered in my brain for the whole walk. Maybe it just makes sense to my family that I would hop from one physical and mental challenge to next, or maybe they really do think that I can walk 2,200 miles, but their confidence in me makes all the difference. They definitely questioned the time of year I started, my choice to quit my amazing job, and how I would survive without daily iced coffees, but they never questioned my abilities. 


3.Visit Your Hiker!

I am two weeks into my long walk and my parents will be back to see me in a few days! Their cover story is that they want to see Fontana Dam, but I think they want to see me before I start the Smokies. Not only have they booked a hotel room for me and my friends (see item 1), but they’re also getting there early to slack-pack us for six miles. The icing on the already very sweet and supportive cake is that my dad will likely hike with us, making him an extra “cool dad.” I’m sure my family and I will have a blast for the 16 or so hours we’ll be together. My parents are also driving from UPSTATE NEW YORK! That’s a 14 hour drive, one way, to visit me. That’s parental goals right there. 


Erin, her parents, and her dog at the trailhead for another hike.


4.Cheer Your Hiker on from Afar

As much as my parents love me, they would not love it if I quit this hike early and had to live in their basement for five months, which is a great reason to not quit! I’ve also initiated a three day rule with my closest friends and family; if I want to quit the trail, they have to leave me in the woods for three days before coming to get me. I wish this was an original idea, but on Springer Mountain on the very first night of my hike, I met a guy who quit the trail last year simply because his friend offered to come get him. I don’t see myself wanting to quit, but their tough love, and the time to really think over the decision, could be appreciated. 


5.Let Your Hiker Hike Their Own Hike

Although my parents have spent their whole adult lives camping, they have never offered me advice unless I directly asked. This policy goes for all major life things: finances, relationships, anything. If I was to ask my mom for advice about hiking the AT, my mom would insist that she raised me to be capable of making my own choices. Again, her confidence in me dissuades any anxieties when it comes to decision making. Both of my parents raised me to make the right decisions, especially in the woods.


6.Take Your Hiker’s Christmas Requests Seriously 

My family still makes Christmas lists every year, and for the past five years, mine has been full of specific backpacking items. Not only do I love thinking about how I got Permethrin for Christmas while my friends all asked for Airpods or makeup, but I also love actually using the gifts I’m given. A common topic of conversation on the AT has been the silly items full of good intentions that we were given before leaving. Among the most ridiculous items were: a glass hip flask, a metal collapsible three foot shovel, and a bear mace holster. My family have always taken my Christmas lists seriously, which has led to many moments of appreciation on the trail. 

Overall, I have the world’s most supportive family, they seriously knock it out of the park. If you have a thru-hiker in your life, hopefully you can learn from my parents, who are now seasoned veterans in having their baby running around the woods alone. They’ve found the perfect balance in caring deeply about my success, without being overbearing parents. If you are part of a support team for a thru-hiker, know that you don’t have to hit all of the points on this list; give what you can, when you can, and your hiker will greatly appreciate any amount of love and support you show them.  

A family photograph.


Erin Eberhardt is a NOBO hiker in the AT class of 2023. Read her first post, an introduction of herself, here.


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