How to Hike Long Distance with Long Hair

Planning to thru-hike and wondering what to do about your long hair?  You could cut it all off. Maybe give yourself a mohawk and then shear it all off or maybe a spiky pixie cut is more your style.  Cutting your hair is Backpackers first tip of 11 Key Tips for Female Thru-Hikers and others make the chop and cutting it is often seen as the easy way. If you think your hair is a hassle off trail in your daily life than you might want to cut it before starting out because it’s not going to become any less work while hiking. But you don’t have to cut it if you don’t want too. I kept mine long for all of my long distance hiking and I can offer up a few tips if you want to keep yours long.

Before Hiking

  • Train your Hair to be Less Greasy
    • Shampoo strips your hair of it’s natural oils causing your scalp to produce more oils
    • If you wash your hair every day switch to every other and every third if you wash it every other and so on
    • Your hair should get used to longer periods between washes
    • Using a boar bristle brush will help distribute your hair’s natural oils
  • Learn to French Braid
    • Watch some Youtube tutorials or look at step by step pictures
    • If you’re getting confused about where each lock of hair goes try foregoing the mirror
    • Braiding smaller section of hair tightly will take longer than pulling larger sections but will keep your hair in place better
  • Get a Trim
    • Split ends cause hair to tangle more and more tangles means it takes longer to brush out
    • Split ends will cause hair to tangle as you braid

During Your Hike

  • 1.3 oz for a brush, two hair ties, and two clips and no spares.

    1.3 oz for a brush, two hair ties, and two clips and no spares.

    Touch it Less

    • When’s the last time you washed your hands?  Fingers are filthy and you don’t want to transfer that dirt to your hair
    • Your fingers produce oils that will come off on your hair
    • Oil and dirt build up leads to an itchy scalp
  • Don’t Scratch
    • Don’t scratch your itchy scalp, your bug bites, your poision ivy…easier said than done, I know, but scratching does you no favors
  • Don’t Condition Your Roots
    • You may have noticed that the roots of your hair get enough oil while you’re on trail that you don’t need to slather on extra in the shower
    • IF there is conditioner available when you shower only apply it from the nap of your neck to the ends.

Styling Tips

Twin braids kept my hair in check, but were time consuming in the morning. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Stylos

Twin braids kept my hair in check, but were time consuming in the morning. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Stylos

  • Hiking with a partner or group?  Unless you’re hiking with a posse of long haired hikers you can expect brushing out and braiding long hair to make your tardy
  • French braided pigtails when done with small tight sections will keep you hair contained the best, but take a long time
    • To save time:  sleep with your hair braided and in the morning unbraid the lower section of hair, keeping track of the three locks of hair, brush it out, and rebraid.  Repeat for two or three days
  • Any hairstyle can work:  ponytails, a bun, leave it loose, clip it back and braid the rest–one of my go-to’s 
  • A quick basic braid unravels by lunch time. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Stylos

    A quick basic braid unravels by lunch time. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Stylos

    On the AT wet hair will dry about as good as any of gear you carry which is to say not well. The PCT and CDT are less humid so your hair and the rest of your gear will dry reasonably well

  • It’s just hair, you can alway cut it later if you want

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Comments 5

  • KT : Sep 4th

    my hair is pretty thin and I find I can normally hike/sleep with just normal pigtail brainds for ~3 days before I take them out to brush, just a shout out to the other thin-hair hiking ladies!

    (Plus I’m terribly at french braiding)

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  • Mateusz : Apr 25th

    Very useful article also for man 😉 Part of your methods, I used before, but still I found some interesting things 😉

  • Charlotte : Dec 11th

    Great article and tips! Thank you!

  • Brian Bassett : Dec 11th

    One growing issue in not combing your hair daily while on the trail is ticks. And that nasty little issue isn’t going to get better for at least a few decades, by that time… it won’t matter.


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