The Truth About On-Trail “Miles Guilt”

It’s in every book. It’s mentioned in videos and in conversation. “Hike your own hike” — but what does that phrase even entail?

When it comes to ‘hiking your own hike,’ people don’t talk about the real issue so many thru-hikers fall victim to: comparison.

Comparing miles. Comparing pace. Comparing gear. Even the speediest among us feel some sort of twinge when they cut a day short or fall behind their pals. Likewise, too many miles can lead to burnout or FOMO (fear of missing out).

I don’t think we can talk about ‘hiking our own hike’ until we acknowledge how it feels when we’re met with setbacks and tough decisions that leave us questioning our hike.

In conversation with fellow thru-hikers, I’ve mentioned a term: Miles Guilt. Nearly every hiker understands the sinking feeling when you’re pushing hard, but it won’t be enough to get to where you were hoping to go. We all fall short, take days off, and feel exhausted. And my hope is that we can grow as individuals and as a community to where guilt has no place in our trek.

At a certain point in your hike, hitting 20 miles in one day, pushing your pace and other accomplishments start to feel commonplace. I feel this space is when we are most susceptible to Miles Guilt. We are in a flow and we know we can hike, but we wonder if what we’re capable of is enough.

It’s interesting to think about how even as we fight through the toughest journey of our lives — hiking the Appalachian freakin’ Trail — we still find ways to feel inadequate. Or, even more detrimental, we use our own expectations as a point of judgement for others walking beside us.

In previous articles, I’ve discussed the lack of consensus on what it truly means to be a thru-hiker and the imposter syndrome that comes with that gray area.

READ NEXT: Combating Pre-Trail Imposter Syndrome

For some, hiking hundreds of miles turns imposter syndrome into inadequacy and uncertainty that comparison inevitably brings. As it turns out, hiking the Appalachian Trail doesn’t make you immune to the same mental pitfalls you thought you left behind.

I can’t say I have the perfect solution to Miles Guilt. It’s rooted in the same struggle many of us feel off-trail. But maybe acknowledging the problem is the first step to finding a solution — for myself and for the community at-large.

When considering what it means to ‘hike your own hike,’ we ought to accept and celebrate the (likely imperfect) hike that manifests for ourselves and others.

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