We see a lot of blogs and articles about the joys of thru-hiking. That’s hiking a very long trail end-to-end without stopping. People in the U.S. often thru-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. It usually takes months of walking and camping to complete.
Usually, when it comes to getting outdoors, we are all for it! But, recently, a friend who was retiring told someone on our team that their plan was to thru-hike the Continental Divide Trail, and our team member replied, “Are you crazy?”
Lots of people dream of hiking the trails. It’s become a romanticized bucket list ambition that many novels and memoirs have been written about. But the reality is different.
No matter how much you plan, nothing can prepare you to walk thousands of miles and sleep outdoors for months on end. The Appalachian trail takes five to six months. You won’t have clean clothes, fresh food or be able to shower often. Every once in a while, you’ll venture into a town to get cleaned up and resupply, but you don’t go home for the night!
Even if you train for a hike, it hurts to walk day after day after day. You don’t get more used to it. Your knees and back will hurt. It’s compounded by camping! We are big proponents of day hikes and camping trips, but months-long journeys take a massive toll on the body. Added to that, you have to carry everything you need at all times. On any hike, you have to carry your gear. On a hike that takes six months, you have a lot more gear!
Thru-hiking can also be expensive. Experienced hikers claim a whole trail can be completed for $1,500 in four to six months. But, in general, it’s usually around $1,000 a month as you stop in at towns and spring for hotels and other luxuries. As you can’t work while hiking or are retired and are doing this for fun, that money might not be within your means.
It can be incredibly lonely to thru-hike. It’s almost impossible to find someone who wants to hike for months on end. You will most likely take the journey alone. That’s not just draining for the spirit; it can be dangerous. If you get hurt, and you’re by yourself, you could have difficulty getting the help you need. Also, if you take medications, it can be hard to get refills or store them properly when hiking for thousands of miles.
Because the journey will take months, you must beat the seasons to your destination. You can’t have a dangerous winter hit before you get to your finish line. That means you hike past a lot of beautiful sights and might pause to snap a photo, but you won’t be able to sit quietly and enjoy the view for an hour. You have to keep going to make sure you hit the weather’s deadline.
There are an awful lot of reasons why thru-hiking is appealing. But there are also many reasons why people quit. Many people are looking to learn something about themselves or find a larger meaning in their lives when they start a thru-hike. But it almost certainly won’t take 2,000 miles to have that revelation. We enthusiastically support getting out onto the trails. But we think thru-hiking is best left to the animals!