Post Trail Depression And The Thru-Hiker Experience After Finish

Post Trail Depression or PTD is an issue for most thru-hikers where they experience deep sadness at completion of the long trek experience.
Written By: Josh Koop
Grew up in Washington state with a love of the outdoors and camping. Learned a lot lately while planning Thru-Hikes and want to show that love and appreciation back out to the community!

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If you haven't been in the hiking community very long then odds are you haven't ever heard of Post Trail Depression, I know this because prior to me starting to work on a plan for either the AT or PCT, I hadn't. Now I am starting to work on a plan to re-invest myself back into society once I finish my first long distance hike, hopefully to ensure I don't get hit or am hit to a lesser extent.

This is the experience many thru-hikers have once they finish the trail. Many will begin to miss the camaraderie which comes with people on a like-minded journey to learn more about themselves and once done enter a deep depression sometimes leading to suicidal thoughts.

Lets go ahead and learn in more detail what is PTD and how you can diagnose if it is impacting you. If it is we also cover some ways you can implement some management of the symptoms and start your recovery process.

What Is Post Trail Depression?

PTD, or Post Trail Depression, is tied to a malaise or deep anxiety which builds up after you return from a thru-hike or similar long distance hike. Many times people report anxiety when being in town or around large amounts of people and cars, like they are getting issues from the overall noise pollution in society.

After a thru-hike you can feel a bit lost, this, in the hiking world is called Post Trail Depression. Everybody deals with it in certain ways from minimizing belongings to yoga...

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How Can You Tell If You Have PTD?

When you return from your long distance hike and you aren't sure of your path, that can be PTD. What will let you know is when you aren't sure of where you fit anymore within the life you left behind months ago.

Many things like selling off your belongings and minimizing your life on return are big signs of post trail depression. Other issues like hard malaise and inability to get out of the house and to progress may be signs of PTD also.

Someone sitting with their head in their hands as they are deep in thought. This can happen when faced with post trail depression.

What Are Some Common Causes?

There are quite a few causes to having post trail depression hit you when you come back to the civilized world. These can come in the form of finances and moving back into responsibilities to your family and friends and things which have changed while you were out on the trail.

Financial Factors & Responsibilities

This will impact most thru-hikers as a large number will leave their jobs and be coming back to only a prepared nest egg at most. This leads to a high amount of anxiety over finding a place to live, finding employment with a large gap in the recent history and then having to start handling bills.

When you get back you may have to jump right back into helping your dependents or figure out education and coordination. Living on the trail wasn't simple or easy but you had limited worries outside of today.

You would focus instead on things like getting to your next resupply or what your miles plan was for hiking during your day. These will seem exceeding simple in hindsight compared to the incredibly complex obligations of the “real world.”

Physical Interaction

You have turned your body into a temple over the past 5-6 months, you are more than likely, the strongest you have ever been. You have also been endorphin filled for the entire trek, absorbing vitamin D in amazing amounts humans in cities rarely get anymore.

When you come back to society, you are excited to relax and to recover. Then, all of a sudden, you experience a supreme lowering in overall endorphin levels. This can lead into a depression, even without all the other things that are currently impacting you.

One way to help mitigate this drastic change is to get outside and hike around you, find a day to week long hike to get out and move. Go make sure to not abruptly end the living outside as it is a part of you and you need to embrace it and support it.

Diet Conversion

On the thru-hike you may have been eating anywhere from 5-6000 calories each day to maintain strength and endurance. Your body has adjusted to that level of activity and now that you have slowed more and moved back into a normal pace you may have to combat your bodies urge to eat.

Friendship & Family Transition

When you come back from your thru-hike the odds are you will not be the same person who left 4-5 months prior. This may shock many of your friends and family, unfortunately it may take people in your life a long time to change their thoughts on you.

Some of them may never change or they may fade from your life, hopefully they will come back in again. Don't be surprised if this should happen, just know that it isn't your fault. Part of living is change, especially with a large life experience like a thru-hike, some people just aren't ready to accept this change.

Personal Factors

It may just be inside your head and maybe the loss of the freedom you experienced while out on the trail. Not having things looming over you other than food and sleep was liberating and possibly your mind is just rebelling at being forced into a container.

Ways To Manage Post Trail Depression

Make Time For You

When you start back into civilian life you will find it hectic, stressful, and probably exhausting. This can lead to feeling overwhelmed and without the tight knit tramily you built on the trail to speak with may lead to additional stress.

Look to add an hour of time for you to separate out from everything occurring around you. Do it 15 minutes at a time if that is the easiest way to start adding in this time, it will do you wonders in your mental defense.

Find a New Obsession

Sometimes the best way to move forward and to allow your head to repair is to find another similar obsession that can be done in your local area. While not always the most healthy way to go about it there are many benefits to finding something that can replace that large gap you get when you come home.

Local Hiking And Backpacking

Take some time to head out by yourself into local wilderness and just allow yourself some personal quiet time out in nature. Taking this time away from the hustle and bustle may just be what your brain is aching for once it is re-introduced to normal civilization.

Finding local hikes and parks to explore may also give you a chance to relax and help manage post trail depression symptoms

Not each trip has to be for months at a time, sometimes the best trips are for an overnight break. Maybe you may want to give yourself a week ling trip into a National Forest in your area, don't limit your hikes to only long distance thru-hikes.

Help In Providing Trail Magic

If you live on the big three this is much more straight forward as you know and can provide to the trail and the hikers around you. Provide that help which got you over bad days, be that sunshine for someone else!

If you don't live near those trails then find local national trails or other longer trails that maybe you trail magic in the middle of and can clean up at the end of the day or instead volunteer and clean them up and experience the life outside of the city and maybe you'll find your own home bliss.

Rock Climbing

This is an awesome obsession that is still able to be done outdoors in many areas. The other part that helps is that there are options with climbing gyms through out most countries where you can get away and just focus on climbing and interacting with people from alternate walks of life.

Rock Climbing may help aid your issues with post trail depression by getting you out with people

Rock climbing, much like hiking, has a single person focus where you can be in your own head working through your climb. Also it can provide the chance to work together to plot out climbs and give you that tramily style feeling that can be missing from normal life.

Boxing

It may sound silly but it could be the amount of physical work done while hiking that you long and miss. Boxing may be the fix for you if this is the case as it is heavily thought and strength driven and can be a hard workout within a short period of time.

Boxing and its physical output may help you manage post trail depression

Gym

This can be weights or cardio and just getting some effort expended by your body. Very similar to boxing above this may be a good output for you if your issues are more around physical expression, sometimes nothing can help your brain like a good workout as it helps promote dopamine.

If it is just the hiking legs that are grinding on you and fidgeting and causing you to become irritated with sitting still then maybe a good course of action is to find a gym where you can go trail walk on their treadmills or similar.

YouTube Experiences With PDT

Bottom Line

Post trail depression is a real issue for many people when they come home from a thru-hike. It needs to be handled in a way that helps recovery and it should always be taken seriously.

Don't feel that you have to deal with it on your own and reach out with any questions or issues you are experiencing. It isn't weakness to need help, honestly if anything it shows you have strength in yourself to know it is needed.

Coming Soon, If you have any you would like answered please leave a comment below!

Please Reach Out For Help

If you just feel absolutely helpless, remember that you're not alone.

Don't be afraid to seek help from a professional. If it's urgent, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

One comment on “Post Trail Depression And The Thru-Hiker Experience After Finish”

  1. I Kinda get really down everytime we don't have travel plans, and I am always looking for more travel ideas and planning our next adventure so I really get how you could easily suffer from Post Trail Depression - Love your ideas of hiking in your area and/or rock climbing. Exercise is so good for the brain as well as the body.

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