Why I Hate/Love Thru-Hikers

I am distracted every March.  As I work under the fluorescents I look outside and imagine what Springer is like.  I am a frustrated section-hiker because I dream of being a thru-hiker.  But, circumstances don’t allow that dream to become reality right now.  So, I go back to work.  I hate thru-hikers.  I love thru-hikers.

I primarily hate thru-hikers because they are doing what I want to do.  I work in an office, and my ability to breathe fresh air is limited.  As I sit at a desk, which everyone tells me is killing me, thru-hikers are walking in green forests breathing all the fresh air they want, and soaking in everything the trail gives them.

I love thru-hikers because I admire them.  They put aside worldly concerns and the daily mundane issues, packed a pack, and set off afoot to fulfill their dreams.  That decision takes some serious intestinal fortitude.  They have figured out how to deal with loved ones, bills, employment issues and obligations the rest of us worry about every single day of every single week of every single month.

I hate thru-hikers because so many of them look down upon day hikers and section hikers like me.  Many of them believe that all other hikers should bend to their will.  Shelters were primarily built for them, and we should step aside as they approach.  The rest of us don’t talk their language.  Our packs are heavier and our gear is less tested.  We are neophytes in the wilderness when compared to their knowledge and experience database.

I love thru-hikers because they are are hiking Gods.  Their stories are better and born from experiences I have yet to have.  Their muscles are taut, and they hike faster and stronger than I ever have.  They handle their camp chores with efficiency and know their equipment better than I know mine.  I admire them because I know they hike better than I do.

I hate thru-hikers because they are in peak physical condition.  I am a section hiker, which means that I am sore after every hike.  I never get my “hiking legs” because I am not out long enough to get them.  A week doesn’t allow me to get in the “groove”.  Every time I go out my hike starts with at least some agony.  The first night or two requires searching the depths of my past experiences to remember the skills I need to make the hike a good one.

I love thru-hikers because when I set up my trail magic station, which I do every year, the thru-hikers are the most gracious people I have ever met.  They share their stories, thank me profusely, and make me feel like I did something positive.  Though I know what a good trail magic stop needs to have, I would never collect trail magic myself during a section hike.  I don’t feel worthy enough to accept it.  I’ll be back home in a few days where food and other treats are plentiful.  They are walking another hundred miles before the next town.

I will continue to hate and love those thru-hikers.  It is what I do, until I become one of them.  I look forward to being hated and loved by other hikers.


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Comments 5

  • Shawn Hudson : May 4th

    Great article. As a former thru-hiker and current section or day hiker, I’ve seen both sides. I think that for a lot of thru-hikers, they feel like gods (and in some hiking-related ways, probably are), but it’s important to remember that thru-hikers a percentage of a percent – an absolutely minuscule subsection of a subsection of people who enjoy and support the AT. Perspective taking is harder psychologically for the young, especially when they’re doing something that feels so monumental. Hopefully by the end, they’ve earned a degree of humility and compassion to go with those svelte legs and crazy stories.

  • Wade : May 4th

    Great article, I work in an office and I just did my first section hike in March and I can relate to everything you’ve written in your article. So much so I’m questioning myself on going back to the AT or not. My son and I did the Approach to Neel gap in 4 days, he was fine and i was in agony because I’m out of shape. We encountered some really down to earth thru hikers but we also got some of the elitist ones too which I thought was interesting since it was so early for them. I think I built it up to myself over 4 or 5 years of dreaming, planning and reading online journals that it wasn’t the experience that I believed it would be. I’ll be back, in better shape and with my expectations leveled off and see how that works for me.
    Thanks again for your article!!

  • Kristen : May 6th

    I am a section hiker who does long sections and I have to say I often feel the same way. I love thru hikers because they’ve made the best trail friends, most are awesome and some of the best people I’ve ever met. I admire what they’re doing, and wish that I could also.

    But I hate the rudeness that some display to anyone not going to Maine that year. I had just finished a 400 mile section down south and met up with a thru hiker friend when he reached PA. Another thru hiker asked me how far I was hiking the next day and when I said 20 miles she replied “oh well if you can do it and you’re only a section hiker I can definitely do it.” I also resent the implication that I shouldn’t take trail magic or have spots in shelters when I’m hiking days just as long, in weather just as bad and I won’t get to town for a while either.

    I would thru hike if I could but like most other section hikers, I can’t, and I hate being looked down on for something outside my control. Good post.

  • DJP : May 6th

    I made it a point to seek out and befriend section hikers on my thru. They brought sensibility to an arduous (if that is a strong enough word) journey. Not only that, countless day and section hikers fed, shuttled, and housed me. A section hiker even let me follow them for the last 250 miles of VA so I didn’t have to think about pace and could enjoy my hike.

    Thru hikers that look down upon day/section hikers are not thru hikers, they are “attempting” a thru hike and are supremely insecure and vulnerable. Successful thru hikers are too wise for that nonsense and believe me, are ecstatic about day and section hiking after their thru hike.

    Hike your own hike and tell everyone else to shove it.

  • Toofar : May 25th

    Good points. It’s sad to see so many posts by Thru hikers belittling day and section hikers. At the core we’re a small community of people who love the outdoors. It’s a shame many TH take such an us vs them attitude.


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