The Impractical Practical Guide to Thru-Hike Preparations

Your ten-pound base gear is packed, abs are ripped, and your bank account balance is your best friend. Even if the stars aligned and all these fantasies were reality, the truth is that you will never be ready for your thru-hike.   You can read all the books you want, but no amount of pages can prepare you physically, mentally, and emotionally for the journey you’re about to embark on.   Sure, it’s important to have a general understanding of what you’re getting yourself into, but it isn’t necessary to exert yourself in all aspects, especially when not all aspects are attainable to others.

Not everyone has the time, money, or accessibility to prepare for a thru-hike

Think about it. How do you practice hanging a bear bag if you live in a large city?  How can you do a shakedown hike if you work a nine-to-five job, seven days a week?  If you’re on a tight budget, do you rely mainly on blogs or forums and forget the popular books?  Many hikers can’t afford the luxury of a flexible job with a heavy wallet, and are forced to rely on trial and error while on the trail.  So if all the odds are stacked against you, what can you do?

The beauty is truly in the small things. You may think I’m saying that just to say it, but isn’t that what thru-hiking is all about? Making the most with the least you have? It’s time to apply that before the trail, in your mundane day-to-day activities.

Probably a fire hazard.

Slowly begin to integrate the trail into your life; don’t quit reality cold turkey and run into culture shock

Move your bed closer to a window and on your days off work, wake up to the sun.  Sleep on your sleeping pad one night, try it with and without your pillow.  Wash your laundry in your bathtub/shower, find out how long they take to dry.  Cold soak a meal.  Cook dinner on your Pocket Rocket one night; make some recipes.  Buy grits and oatmeal instead of cereal for a week.  Set your tent up in your room. Create a thru-hike playlist, fill it with songs you want to listen to on the trail or songs that get you excited. Follow hikers who have earlier start dates and watch for trail conditions.

Don’t be afraid of looking silly; you’re about to hike possibly thousands of miles, there’s nothing – yet everything – silly about it

I’ve slowly begun to strip certain luxuries out of my life in place for things that I expect of the trail. I’m always going to be learning, and nothing can perfectly prepare me, but it’s comforting to know that when I don’t have the time or money to prepare the way the pros do, I’m at least doing something.

Besides, it’s better to fail looking stupid, than to never try at all

My thru-hiking partner and I decided to split the cost of a pack of macaroni and cheese from Mountain House in order to test out our stove.  We had the unfortunate experience of adding four cups of water, rather than two, and ending up with a Cheese Soup Ft. Macaroni (worst mistake ever. 0/10 would recommend).  The mistake was embraced with warm arms and cringing faces as we clinked pots, toasted to norovirus, and drank the cheesy water.  It was an important trial and error moment pretrail that taught us how to use our stove, to cook our meals correctly, and what to expect of meals on the trail.

Our cheese soup mess.


Don’t give up because your conditions aren’t favorable to preparing; it’s unfair to compare your situation to other hikers

Hiking is supposed to be about relief, so why are we stressing so much about ultralight pack weight and this year’s best-rated tent model?  In the grand scheme of things, it isn’t important. Remember that this is your journey and if you want to do for 12 months with 60 pounds, that’s completely fine. No one else is carrying your pack or experiencing this hike for you, so why be concerned with what they think? There is no right or wrong way to prepare for your hike. As long as you’re excited, you’re doing the right thing.  It’s called hike your own hike for a reason.

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Comments 7

  • Tim Andrew : Jan 26th

    Good luck, Jacob… did 1000 miles 2018, going back 2019 to finish… had bad bleeding blisters… did it for make a wish, raised 6400.00 so far….

  • Steve Fopeano : Jan 26th

    Good thoughts well written.

  • Scott A Brotherton : Jan 26th

    Well Said Jacob ! GL ! Lots of people often lose sight of many things you have mentioned…

  • LeoYermo : Jan 27th

    Great article. Good thoughts. Actually learned a lot of great ways to prep for hikes.
    Yes, I am subscribing.
    Thank you

  • LeoYermo : Jan 27th

    Enjoyed your post. Subscribed. You have another vicarious hiker follower.

  • Mike S : Jan 28th

    You actually have an excellent idea. But, your not done. Remember in 7th grade English, you had to write a paper. There was the outline and all of the other stuff that went into it. For the hike, you break every event into it’s smallest components.

    Breakfast might go like this. (The event)
    Get water. Filter or treat water. Start the fire. Open food. Cook. Eat. Bus your cook ware. Review your plan for the day. Pack up. Move out. (The components)
    And each act will have several steps, but after a few tries, you’l have it.

    A long hike has several different “modes”. Walking. Using your equipment. Walking. Negotiating unexpected circumstances. Boring walking. Fine tuning your equipment list and it’s use. Dealing with how boring you are, when left to your own company. Walking. Arguing with yourself, if you are argumentative.

    If you have ever had to teach people something, you know you get better at it, after a while. Your style and delivery get smoother. Here, you’re teaching yourself.

    • Jacob Woods : Jan 28th

      Practice truly makes perfect! Stripping yourself to just the bare necessities allows people to find out who they really are. Some things in life are impossible to prepare for, but that makes it all the more fun! Loved the input!


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