How to Tell Your Loved Ones You’re Planning to Thru-Hike

So, you’re planning to thru-hike a long trail. You’ve done some research, started laying plans, and maybe even have a tentative start date in mind. But you haven’t told your loved ones yet, and you’re not sure how to go about it.

The notion that you’re planning to peace out to the forest for a good chunk of the year sometimes meets with mixed reviews from friends, family, and partners. Fessing up to such an audacious goal isn’t easy, I get it. But for your sake and theirs, you really should tell them.

Here’s how to go about it.

1. Tell them early.

Once you decide you’re serious about thru-hiking, start telling everyone in sight. Pictured: sunrise on Max Patch, NC in May 2019.

Don’t leave this conversation to the last minute. As soon as you know you want to thru-hike, start telling everyone in sight.

For one thing, this will help keep you accountable. We often keep big goals and dreams to ourselves to avoid the shame of not living up to other peoples’ expectations if we fail. Yet by doing so, failure can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you’re truly committed to thru-hiking, demonstrate that resolve by owning up to it. Your loved ones will help keep you on track. Their investment in your success will motivate you when you’re struggling.

Also, they may want to help you train, budget, and plan for the hike. The earlier you loop people in, the more they can potentially contribute to your prep.

Besides, they deserve to know.

Particularly if you’re married or in a committed relationship, you can’t just spring this on them as a unilateral decision. You being out of work and out of the house for four to six months will dramatically impact their life, too. As soon as you start seriously considering a thru-hike, you should ask, rather than tell, your partner about your plans. They may not be on board right away. Give them time to think it over.

Assuming they say yes, you’ll be able to go through the whole journey of getting ready for the trail together and won’t have to sneak around laying plans without your partner’s sign-off.

2. Share your love of the trail with them.

Invite your friends and family to join you on a hiking trip. It’s a great way to show them why you love it so much.

Before the AT, I had a roommate who had never been hiking before and couldn’t fathom why I would want to walk from Georgia to Maine while sleeping in the dirt every night. One weekend, I took him for a long day hike in Shenandoah National Park and he was instantly hooked on hiking. He even tossed around the idea of doing the AT himself one day.

Moral of the story? Thru-hiking does not have universal appeal. People often just plain don’t understand why someone would want to spend months roughing it in the backcountry. So help them learn.

Share some of the books, movies, websites (wink wink), etc. that got you excited about thru-hiking originally. Encourage them to join online forums where they’ll have an opportunity to connect with other thru-hikers and their families. (Safety is often a primary concern for family members. Reading up on thru-hiking culture and talking to other hikers can help them to understand that most long trails are actually fairly safe places.)

Consider inviting them to join you on a shakedown trip or part of the actual thru-hike. Perhaps some of your excitement and enthusiasm will rub off on them as it did for my friend. Giving them the tools to learn more about thru-hiking, especially your specific trail, will help ease their fears.

If you’ve read Appalachian Trials, you probably have or are working on developing your “why”–a list of reasons you want to thru-hike. This mental exercise will help you to stay strong and push through the hard days on trail. Showing the list to your loved ones will a) drive home how serious you are about this hike, and b) help them to understand why it’s so important to you.

3. Involve them.

My family was hugely supportive during my AT thru. My parents and brother met me several times along the way, and the morale boost of seeing them was a game-changer every time.

I know I’ve been harping a bit on the ways people can react negatively to your plans. In truth, many people will immediately find the idea of your thru-hike exciting and inspiring. Maybe they love the idea of you hiking but have trepidations about your safety or about you growing distant from them. Thru-hiking is a unique, life-changing journey. For those who aren’t coming along and can’t necessarily relate to your love for the trail, it’s natural to worry about being left behind.

Luckily, even if they don’t physically thru-hike with you, there are plenty of ways they can get involved. Including your loved ones in your plans is a great way to nudge them into looking favorably upon your journey. They’ll root for you that much harder if they have a stake in your success.

Invite them to accompany you on shakedown hikes or meet up with you during the thru-hike. Ask them if they would mind managing your resupply boxes while you’re gone. (Depending on how many boxes you have, this could potentially be a big ask, so make sure it’s someone who really cares about you). Ask for their opinion when you’re planning your itinerary or trying to figure out how the heck to maintain your healthcare coverage while you’re gone. Find ways to involve them, no matter how big or small.

Bonus: Including your friends and family might make them more lenient when you can’t stop chattering nonstop about the trail.

4. Be honest about your needs!

Managing mail drops from the home front is a huge help for many thru-hikers. If someone offers to help you, be honest about what you need.

When they hear that you’re thru-hiking, people may approach you wanting to know how they can help. Don’t turn them down. It will make them happy to contribute to your journey in some way. See above: they just want to find a way to relate to and support you in your new endeavor.

Thru-hiking is an exercise in self-reliance, but accepting freely-given help is not a crime. If you’re honest about your needs, their assistance could be genuinely useful. Including someone in your journey means actually including them, not just humoring them.

Think about things you actually need that friends and family could provide. Maybe you need someone to watch your cat while you’re gone. Maybe you just want someone to talk you off the ledge on hard days. Or your needs could be more tangible (gear, care packages, donations if you’re hiking for a cause, etc.).

Assuming one of your needs is to not spend $10K on fancy backpacking gear, I have two words for you: wish list. I’m just saying, gear is expensive and the holidays are coming around. Anyone who knows you’re thru-hiking is probably going to give you backpacking-related gifts anyway. Rather than staying silent and being gifted a hunting knife or a very high-quality, expensive, five-pound car camping lantern, why not put together a list of specific items you actually want and need at a variety of price points?

5. Stay in touch so they can follow along.

The Garmin inReach Mini supports two-way texting AND lets you check the local forecast.

Many hikers carry GPS beacons, like the Spot X or Garmin inReach Mini, partially for their own (but mostly for their moms’) peace of mind. Even without cell service, you can reliably use a GPS device to track your progress along the trail. You can also use it to send messages to friends and family telling them your location and that you haven’t been eaten by bears.

For people back home, having a way to track your progress—and knowing that you can hit SOS in an emergency—is immensely reassuring.

READ NEXT – Garmin inReach Mini Review

Besides, GPS beacons are legitimately useful. Beyond the all-important SOS button and basic tracking functions, more advanced models like the Garmin inReach support advanced navigation features, two-way text communication, and allow you to check the weather without cell service.

Note for loved ones thinking of gifting their hiker a GPS beacon: This is a great idea, but it’s probably best to chat with your hiker first rather than surprise them. Beacons can vary widely in weight, price point, and features, so check with the person who’s actually going to use it to make sure it fits their needs. Also, be aware that these devices require paid monthly subscriptions. In some cases, the subscription fees can far outstrip the cost of the device itself.

Beyond just carrying a GPS, consider creating a blog, vlog, Instagram account, Google Drive, or private Facebook page where you can share photos and updates about your progress.

Trust me—everyone’s going to ask you for status updates, pictures, and stories from the trail on a regular basis. Having a dedicated space to share content with all of your loved ones simultaneously will be a huge time-saver for you and a valuable resource for them. It will also give you a record of your adventure to look back on later.

6. Be firm about your intentions.

If you respect yourself enough to think you have a shot at completing a thru-hike, then respect yourself enough to create firm boundaries.

When you tell your loved ones you want to thru-hike, they might initially react negatively because they think it sounds dangerous, far-fetched, and kind of pointless.

I was fortunate to have a phenomenally positive and supportive response from my family and friends. However, I know many hikers whose loved ones called them crazy or didn’t take them seriously when they announced their intentions.

Obviously, we all want the support of the ones we love when we’re striking out into the unknown. I’ve included a number of suggestions in this list to ease your friends’ and families’ nerves and convince them to get on board. However, at the end of the day, some people just won’t get it, and that’s OK.

Getting ready for a thru-hike is hard work. You should only devote so much time and energy to managing other peoples’ feelings about your journey. Unless they’re your spouse (see #1), you don’t need their approval or their permission. When you tell someone you’re going to thru-hike, be firm. Make sure they know that this matters to you and that you are going through with it no matter what. Set your boundaries and stick to them. Do not leave room for people to berate you or try to “talk you out of it.”

If you respect yourself enough to think you have a shot at successfully thru-hiking, then you should demand the same level of respect from friends and family.

Admitting to your loved ones that you’re planning to thru-hike can be nerve-wracking, but it’s best to rip the Bandaid off early and be honest about your intentions.  If they’re nervous about you being out there on your own, find ways to involve them in your journey and give them the resources they need to educate and reassure themselves.

Chances are, your family and friends will be excited for you and want to help any way they can. But at the end of the day, remember: the only person you truly need to convince is yourself.

Featured image: Graphic design by Chris Helm (@chris.helm).

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Comments 1

  • Jerry Floro : Oct 30th

    Parent whose daughter told him about her hike early on here! I know that my wife and I felt pride at our daughter’s resolve and goals, but also lots of trepidation about the perceived dangers, especially with regard to predators (mostly of the two-legged variety). As ol’ Ibex’s hike progressed, though, we were greatly comforted by learning just how much the through-hiker community looks out for one another, and how the local communities support the through-hikers. That was something of a revelation. It also helped us to keep an updated map showing her progress along the trail, and where I work, posting that map on my door was a point of pride (brag, brag, brag!) and of numerous hallway conversations.
    Finally, the GPS was both blessing and curse. If the message did not come thru when expected, our imaginations starting doing their very best worst. But when it finally did come through, happy days! On balance, it’s definitely a good thing to have from our perspective. If it’s financially possible for you parents, support the subscription fee for your child — alongside your emotional and logistic support, this is a great way to help them, and help yourself.


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