The 3-step process to planning a CDT Thru-Hike

In about 4 months, I’ll retire from the Air Force and embark on my thru-hike of the CDT.  Here is my 3-step process for planning my thru-hike.  Only 3 steps because most of my life is pretty automated already and won’t change whether I’m on the trail or back at home.

Get a mentor

Do you want to spend hours digging through thousands of Reddit posts, blogs, and YouTube videos to decide the optimal start date, resupply plan, and sleep system?  A mentor is the easiest way to avoid this type of time suck.  Anointing someone as my thru-hike guru freed up a ton of time and gave me the easy button on CDT decision-making.  Finding a mentor was as simple as posting on Reddit describing what I was looking for and dozens of people contacted me saying they’d love to help.  Some of the feedback I got was that a single mentor wouldn’t offer the widest range of opinions, but I was willing to sacrifice the perfect answer for the ease of having one person to turn to for advice and guidance about planning my hike.  I know I will get a singular opinion, but often, that’s all I need to make a pretty good decision.  I’d compare it to shopping at Aldi.  I just need a bottle of ketchup, not 71 different kinds of ketchup.  My mentor and I have only had one conversation so far, but he’s given me about 80% of what I need to have a successful thru-hike.  We went over everything from gear selection, to resupply planning to pre-trip planning.  That one conversation gave me a lot more confidence in making decisions about my trip than hours of reading through reviews and comments on Reddit.  

Embrace the Unknown

How do I find the right tent?  Should I go with Alta’s or Hoka’s?  Will I need crampons and an ice axe?  In my planning, I’ve accepted these as the known unknowns.  YouTube often gives me an unfair expectations in terms of the level of information required to make a good decision.  I’m not a YouTuber who will get dozens of different gears options to sample, so I need to settle on what I’m going to use with the understanding there may be a better option.  

I can change my mind

Maybe I want a different sleeping pad.  Or I want to wear Alta’s instead of Hoka’s.  Or take an alternate because it’s shorter.  I get to choose.  This might sound dumb, but 24 years of Air Force institutionalization has often left me with some limiting thoughts.  I won’t say it’s a mantra, but my transition coach has reminded me that I’m in control. 


You’re probably wondering where all the tip planning details are; from traveling to Lordsburg, to resupply planning.  I have some of that and will try and write them up as we get closer to the thru-hike start day.  But part of this voyage is about letting go of overplanning and going back to my youth where a week of vacation and $500 dollars was all I needed to take a trip.  I want to embrace the minimalistic parts of backpacking and enjoy the ride.  It won’t be easy.  I am a military logistician and regimented schedules are what I’ve done for years.  

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Comments 2

  • DWm Vitt : Jan 24th

    You will be walking by White Sands Missile Range, Sandia Labs and Los Alamos Labs here in NM; have your family visit because for a retired AF Officer there are plenty of jobs. Send out resumes and ask for “Walk-in Interviews”! P.S. Hiking the whole CDT really is a waste of time. Do NM then start you new career here and finish the rest in sections; include your kids & wife. Or get a Jeep and take them along by doing the CDT on the BDR routes or on he Tour Divide Route gravel bike route. If your writing Posts about not getting divorced … and your doing a huge adventure without your family when with some adjustments they could be there … then you are technically divorced and when you get home she’ll have 1/2 your pension, child support and be off to a very nice life with at least a four month head start. Foolish!

    • Jonathan Carter : Jan 24th

      You could argue that walking any part of the CDT is a waste of time.


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