Prepping for a Thru-Hike

There’s a lot that goes into preparing for your first thru-hike. For some people, it may be as simple as grabbing a tent and hopping on the trail, but if you’re a planner, like me, it involves countless hours of gear research, trips to REI, and listening to obscene amounts of Backpacker Radio. Of course, the amount of prep varies greatly based on what trail you are embarking on. My fiancé, Keanan, and I are preparing for a 77-mile hike of the Foothills Trail in South Carolina, but if we were hopping on a long-distance trail like the AT, I am sure our days would be filled with even more research, REI runs, and Backpacker Radio.

No matter what trail you are starting, there are a few important ways you can be preparing yourself for a thru-hike.

Gear Prep

As Keanan and I don’t know many other thru-hikers, all of our gear was found by reading approximately one thousand two hundred and ninety-nine articles, watching hours of YouTube videos, and listening to podcasts.

Equally important to finding your gear is testing it. A few weeks ago, Keanan and I went out to a local overlook to practice setting up our tent, hanging our bear bag, and blowing up our sleeping pads while we were both crammed in the tent. We got to work out some unexpected kinks and are certainly glad we had a chance to test everything out ahead of time.

To see what we are bringing on our Foothills hike, check out our gear list here:

It may be a little redundant to say you need to prep gear for a thru-hike, because obviously, this is an important first step. However, many people make the mistake of assuming gear prep is the only prep they need to be doing.

Physical Prep

In addition to making sure you have the right gear, it is important to make sure you are physically in shape for a thru-hike. You don’t have to be an Olympian to start hiking; in fact, people of all shapes and sizes enjoy hitting the trail. However, it is important to be aware of your body so that you can properly take care of yourself on the trail. If you have a knee problem, make sure you pack a knee brace. If you get blisters whenever you hike, look into some better socks or shoes.

Now I’d love to say that to prep my body for this trail I was walking and strength training every day, but that is simply not the case. I’d also love to say I have been eating healthy, but yesterday my meals consisted of pizza and ice cream. We have made sure to do a few longer hikes with heavy pack weight, but other than that I’d be lying if I said my physical prep for this trip is where I want it to be. In fact, leading up to the trip, I often find myself saying “I am about to walk 77 miles, why the heck should I do sit-ups tonight!?” While I know I’ll come to regret this, it has made for a very relaxing week.

Mental Prep

One of the most important ways to prep for a thru-hike is by being prepared mentally. Are you expecting the hike to be perfect? Are you prepared for things to go wrong? Are you ready to face the possibility that it could rain every day?

Keanan and I have had a lot of conversations about being prepared not to let the little things get to us. If we can’t find a great spot to camp, or our boots are soaked through, we aren’t going to let that bring us down. Sure, these things may bug us, but ultimately, they won’t ruin our trip. In fact, we are expecting things to go wrong. If we anticipate the bad moments as much as we anticipate the good, we won’t be as disappointed when they happen.

The best piece we received so far is “Never quit on a bad day.” While the Foothills trail is a bit too short to worry about dropping out, we plan to take this advice on any trail we go on.

Preparing for a thru-hike is not simple, but it is fun. If gear research, nights outside, and testing your limits both physically and mentally sounds fun to you, it may be time to start preparing for your first trip.

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