How Do People Take Time Off To Thru-Hike Long Distance Trails?

Taking time off to thru-hike is a very interesting topic to cover as there are many different possibilities that can occur, find the best fit for yourself.
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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In researching my plan for my personal Appalachian Trail hike the question of "how do you take the time off to thru-hike" kept coming up over and over. I will be honest I have most definitely thought about this myself as I am working on my plan as it is a long amount of time without dedicated income in most cases. This can lead to a lot of stress and worry, don't think that it is you only as most people should have some concerns around this kind of travel.

To support the time off required for thru-hiking requires a few steps in advance. You have to start saving money each paycheck into a fund for the hike, the average is $4000. This amount is the bare minimum to allow you to attempt your thru-hike. The next important point is speaking with your employer to get the time off or build your plan on quitting.

Let's discuss some of the most common methods used by thru-hikers to allow them the time and funds to hike for months. This way maybe you can pull information from specific points that will fit in with your lifestyle and help you effectively plan. This is one reason for most thru-hikes being planned a year in advance, if not longer.

The Most Common Ways People Take Time Off To Thru-Hike

Taking time off to thru-hike is a very interesting topic to cover as there are many different possibilities that can occur, find the best fit for yourself. This can be easy or it can be at a difficult time which way your choice goes will rely heavily on lifestyle and timelines.

Transitional Period

Many will aim to start their thru-hike when they hit a life transition, like graduation, or other life altering events. These provide the ability to not have past or future plans and to take the plunge before looking for a job or evaluating what life will hold next for them.

For many this can help them figure out what they want life to be, so many people run from school, to school, to career and then into marriage and families that they miss the chance for the freedom from outside stress. Sometimes the best path forward is to have a serious amount of time, like a thru-hike, to make sure you are thinking like a human and not like a consumer.

Time Off To Thru-Hike - Choose Seasonal Work
Time Off To Thru-Hike - Choosing Seasonal Work

Choose Seasonal Work

Another way to be able to have the time and opportunity to thru-hike is to choose work which is seasonally based. Since your work only will occur within a specific time this provides you the freedom to explore and take longer trips without worrying about your job being a limiting factor.

Make sure that you find your seasonal job in something you can enjoy, maybe you can choose to work for the parks. Take some time to think about which kind of seasonal work would fit you and then go after it.

Leave of Absence

If you are full time employed at a place you enjoy working that you don't want to quit you can always ask your boss and the company for an extended leave of absence. This would help ensure your spot is reserved and available when you get back and gives you the time to go outside and explore the world without worrying about employment.

Time Off To Thru-Hike - Working From The Trail
Time Off To Thru-Hike - Working From The Trail

If you are a valuable employee within your company the odds are in your favor that they may help you by providing you the Leave of Absence for all the time after you use your paid time off, maybe they won't require you to use the PTO and just let you have the time to come back better able to help the company.

Working From The Trail

This method would mean finding a town along the way and picking up some temporary employment to help fill the wallet on occasion. While this seems odd, many enjoy a second or two to break from the grind but be wary as this can lead to weeks, then months real fast.

Definitely if you find yourself low on funds while hiking you can always inquire as to short term employment at many places in towns, especially along the big 3 there will be opportunities if you need them.

Working Extra To Save

One method most of the thru-hikers will use in the year leading up to their thru-hike will be to add on overtime or possibly a second job. This extra work allows you to save money faster without losing out on your normal income.

This one is a favorite especially when you have a low paying job where saving would be pennies on the dollar. The extra jobs full income in many cases will be put directly into savings for the trip.

Time Off To Thru-Hike - Enjoying the Outdoors
Time Off To Thru-Hike - Enjoying the Outdoors

Downsizing Possessions/Housing

Downsizing is a big thing within the thru-hiking community as nothing makes you realize you need less stuff then hiking with only a backpack for months. This doesn't mean that you need to get rid of all of your worldly possessions but you will find out what you require versus want.

A big step for many people will be to downsize their home and look for a less expensive payment or attempt to eliminate the payment overall. This helps you maintain expenses on the trail and not have to worry about whats happening to your house and possessions.

Thru-hiking With Kids

For families beginning a thru-hike can be a large challenge as you now add in an additional level of savings required and gear costs go up. Normally you need to save around $6000 for a thru-hike to cover all the costs related to the travel, replacements, lodging and other unprepared costs.

With kids this now raises to approximately $4000 more per person as you can share rooms and some equipment which can help lead to less weight overall per person.

Section Hiking

For those who can't get the time off or don't want to lose their employment with their current employer this will be the best way. Using the section hike method means using your paid time off from work and managing a long thru-hike in manageable portions.

Most long hikes are made up of hundreds of shorter sections which allows for fairly simple planning. Accomplishing a thru-hike in this manner will require you much more time, sometimes years, to complete.

Bottom Line

What you never want to do is to begin making excuses for why you will wait until later to do what your heart is set on. A thru-hike should only be your full concern when it is well known to YOU that you complete the long distance hike.

Many people will quit in the first section and up to the first 30 days due to the fact that they don't weight all these things prior to starting. Know your plan, plan your trip intelligently and with the understanding of everyone it will impact.

It will more than likely be the most fun you've ever had in your lifetime along with including the most unknown stress in your lifetime, real loneliness and isolation.

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