5 Tips for Preparing to Thru-Hike the Continental Divide Trail

The following is a guest post courtesy of Felecia Moran, aka Dora the Explorer.  Get her full bio at the bottom of this post.

The first time I had ever heard of the Continental Divide Trail I was already 1,000 miles into my thru hike of the Pacific Crest Trail.

The other hikers spoke of a trail that was seldom traveled, super exposed, difficult to navigate, and most of all, it was mysterious!

Since only 70% of the CDT is actually completed, cross country travel and having to choose from a slew of multiple route options are a necessary task when attempting to thru hike the Divide.

In a community where (most) people want to know what lies ahead of them for the entirety on the trail, the Continental Divide Trail was deemed to be for the truly crazy ones: The hikers who were ready to spread their wings and make a trail their own, not necessarily being binded to the constraints of following white blazes on the AT or a beautifully graded equestrian trail like you find on the PCT.

No, the CDT is a completely different animal. With all that being said, you can hike it, too!

And here’s how…


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With hiking the Divide comes responsibility. Responsibility to keep yourself found! Although there are many great apps to help you on your CDT journey, first and foremost familiarize yourself with reading topographic maps and utilizing a compass. There are tons of affordable courses offered by outfitters across the country, as well as orienteering books and free online videos to help you become confident in your navigation skills!

Once you know how to read a map and compass, start researching which CDT map set you prefer. The most widely used maps are Johnathan Leys free map set and Bear Creek Surveys. Also look into the Delorme series!

2. Be flexible.

dora the explorer

Photo: facebook.com/hikewithdora/

Planning a thru hike is daunting whichever trail you choose. When there’s many unknowns we tend to try and lock down a plan or solidify an itinerary before we begin our hikes.

With the CDT you must accept that the itinerary and routes you chose at home are not necessarily the same ones you will hike when you’re out actually out there.

Bad weather, fires, wildlife activity, mis-calculated milage (the current set of maps and data all have conflicting milage on many occasions..) etc. can ALL effect your routes.

Be content in knowing that your plan will change and roll with it 🙂

3. Communicate with the community!

Continental Divide Trail

My biggest fear going into planning the CDT was that I would be ALONE for 5 months. Don’t believe the hype, there actually are other people out there on the trail.

The Facebook CDT class page is a great place to connect with other aspiring hikers. Chances are that if you have a question or concern about the trail, they have the same! Talk to each other ! 🙂

4. Don’t skimp on gear.

Thru hikers love to boast about how they traverse the country on foot in torn up shoes and clothes that are held together only by a thread. Although it makes for comical pictures, don’t cheap out on your CDT gear.

It’s windy up there. It snows. Temperatures can reach above 100 degrees in the desert. Know what gear works for you and won’t fail on you when you really need it!

5. Don’t give into the fear mongering.

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I thought the CDT was going to be impossible to hike but the more I read about it the more I realized half of what I had heard was plain fear mongering.

Is it difficult? Yes. Is it going to push you to your limits? Yes. But isn’t that part of why we go out there?

Use your head, do your homework pre-trail and you’ll be fine. The CDT is not the impossible monster people make it out to be. Go get out there and enjoy all its beauty!

dora the explorerFelecia Moran, aka Dora the Explorer, thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2013, Colorado Trail in 2015, and is taking on the Continental Divide Trail in 2016.  Follow her journey on Facebook and Instagram.

featured image via

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