Many of you have reached out for some helpful tips for first-time thru-hikers to have success while on the trail. I assembled a huge and hopefully comprehensive list of the most helpful pieces of information and advice I found online to give you some quality assistance and education.
We have assembled a large list of 22 tips which should help you achieve a higher chance of success for your thru-hike. I'm interested to hear more tips below in my comments if you have any different from what I have listed as I would love to make this as comprehensive a resource as possible for everyone who visits!
This may seem very simple and straight forward but many runs to the wire to start their thru-hike, to make sure weather doesn't become impactful and to ensure completion you want to start earlier rather than later.
Aim to provide yourself at least a week prior to your start date. By starting a bit earlier this leaves some room to handle the inevitable injuries and emergencies to ensure you have time to complete the trail.
Many think that it will be inexpensive on the trail, and while it will cost you less than normal you must understand the costs. The average cost on a thru-hike is approximately $1000 per month, this is without any income coming in during this process from a job.
You must start now and save as much as you can while still being able to handle your normal daily routines. Figure out how much time it will take you to get to around $6000 in savings for the thru-hike and at least $2-3000 available after you are done and come back as this gives you time to heal and find employment.
Note that like in war a plan is only good until you take your first step, don't try to detail out everything as you won't know until you are there. Also, this can lead to decision-making challenges where you get stuck in "analysis paralysis" and this takes away from the fun and excitement of a trip of this caliber.
I know you hope to hit "this landmark" or "this one" by some specific timeframe, but if this is your first time thru-hiking then you more than likely really can't plan out to this level of detail without letting yourself down. You are going to go through stretches where you are physically beat and will travel slower, also days where you are on top of the world and will hit your stride.
You will want to plan out your foods for resupply box setup. What you need to think about is how often you vary your food now, if you like to eat something different each day then it would be a flaw to plan your hiking menu to be only one set of foods.
Remember that what you like to eat right now won't match a week from today. This means you can plan only what is in recent vision, but honestly think about how much money you are wasting sending food to yourself when it will more than likely be available in the store in town already.
This is a hard one for most hikers to follow as they have a grand plan and will try to exert everything they can to maintain it. The issue here is that there are a lot of outside things which will impact your travel outside of just you. Between the weather, injury, and other factors you will have to adapt.
Having a hard or fixed date in your head will cause you to possibly lose motivation when you realize that you won't be able to hit it. You don't want to quit because you killed your own motivation for completion!!
You must listen for your body and signs it will provide you as to how it is feeling. Being in tune with your body can save you a tremendous amount of downtime, sometimes that one zero is better than pushing it to get to a week of zeros instead.
Over the course of 6 months, you will add a cumulative laundry list of scrapes, bumps, bruises and more which will need some level of TLC. If you skip this TLC you could end up seriously injured and leaving the trail, maybe even permanently!
Your feet are your connection to the ground and are REQUIRED to ensure a successful thru-hike. Unfortunately many do not provide them the care they should get so they stay strong and blister or wound free for the duration of the hike. For comfortable hiking, I suggest Altra's like these which will help take care of your feet and toes!
What you want to make sure you do is to provide your feet with fresh air as often as possible to let them get back to normal. This also includes giving them some downtime too where you should elevate your feet, maybe at the end of the day of camping retire a little early to get some tootsie downtime.
Every day isn't going to be rosy and many will be rainy and gross and will test your willpower unlike much you have ever tried before. When these times suck you need to embrace it and know that better days will come again.
During your preparation phase, you need to go get all your gear and you need to start hiking. You need to add the miles and see what sits odd or where you may encounter issues even before you leave so you can properly prepare.
This will also help you evaluate your gear choices and find out what is really necessary and what you may be able to leave at home. Skipping these pre hikes could leave you high and dry and injured leading to losing days or possibly the whole hike itself!
The thru-hikers worst first-day issue is realizing they have packed far too much gear and food for their hike. Many will just end up dropping tens of pounds of gear that was purchased but will never be used.
What you need to do to prevent this is to do enough gear shakedowns and preparatory hikes to get a feel for the right amount of gears and food which can get you from resupply point to the next. While this sounds like it would take a lot of time and need a lot of food in most cases this distance is at most 3-7 days.
HYOH if you aren't aware stands for hike your own hike. This is a sort of mantra within the thru-hiking community which means you do the hike you need for your goals. This may mean taking way more zeros or neros, maybe it is going 5 miles a day.
Really, in the end, it means you make your experience on the trail. No one else needs to dictate this to you and you shouldn't allow anyone to tell you what you have to do to do the trail right.
Before you take your leave to go thru-hike a trail, whether it is a 100 miles or 2000 miles you need to research, read something detailed like this guidebook on the AT, and know everything you can to allow yourself to be a success. This process starts long before the hike and should be over a year of learning every little odd and end you can about the trail.
Take time to know all the things you may encounter from plants to animals, from long forest stretches where you will need more food to shorter sections where you can possibly carry less and give your body a break.
You want to have a goal which is challenging, I get it. On the flip side, you need to ensure the goal is also one that you can reach without hurting yourself. Goals like, make it to this point, are ok but you want to ensure you stay flexible and not make them a hard and fast expectation.
There are some long-distance thru-hikes where you will hit areas which just can't be traversed fast, this harkens back to proper research. With each goal or expectation, you hit to make a new one to strive for, remember they can be goals like making friends or learning some hobby, not just distance related.
Between friends you want to keep in constant contact on the thru-hike to your tramily, you find along the path. You want to build a social circle to keep consistent contact with which will help keep you mentally connected to people you want to have close.
The cool thing about these is they can help when you leave the trail also, giving you people to reach out to if you should have any issues with post-trail depression or other needs or problems. Build a tramily and share your experiences, listen and learn from their experiences, aim to expand your horizons as this group will be one of the most diverse you will ever be a part of.
I know it sounds cool to prepare all these boxes to send things to yourself, I wouldn't spend the time managing this except for specific needs. For example, on the PCT, you will go from the desert to mountains which may need a swap of gear. Other things like when a trail requires a bear canister instead of a bear bag, that isn't something you will want to carry the entire time!
Maybe you think it would be good to bring along a spouse or close friend for a long-distance friendship building expedition. The issue is over 6 months you are going to spend almost every minute with these people and sometimes even the strongest relationships can use a little distance.
Now I am not saying you can't bring people with you on a thru-hike, I'm just saying you will want to take this into consideration. You may want to plan out some endpoints and each takes some time to hike individually then spend time in the evening, this will depend on each person's friendship and/or relationship.
Don't start out the day or after a long break on a hard, fast pace. You want to make sure your body is prepared and that your muscles are warmed up, ready to work for you.
This will be especially needed the further you go while hiking as you are keeping the muscles tensed and in extended use. You also want to get warmed up after you wake from a rest as your body will more than likely be achy and more locked up.
Many thru-hikers hit the trail and try to crank out major league miles from the very start. What you need to do is start slow and let your body start to develop some better strength to maintain the hike from start to finish.
As you travel and build strength and endurance you will be able to go longer, further, and faster than the start of the hike. This is important as you are essentially laying the foundation to become the ultimate thru-hiking bad a#$.
Over the length of a thru-hike, you will be taxed mentally as you are having to take care of all of these variables you don't have to in normal life. This constant thinking strain about the weather, where to camp, is that a bear, a snake, all will become incredibly exhausting.
Take your time to keep a level head when you're tired, wet, cold, sore, bored, and hungry is really the name of the game. Look at adding in mentally stimulating exercises like podcasts, photography and more.
While out on the trail take in the little things like the sounds and smells as it is unique and one of a kind. While out wake up early to catch a sunrise and enjoy the early morning sunshine, stay up late to enjoy the sunset to see the last hints of daylight over the horizon.
Take time litterally to smell the roses, no not the real ones, necessarily. Enjoy the time away from engines and smog and civilation, soak it all in.
For many of you, this may be the only trip of this length you will ever make and because of this, you need to enjoy it and not try to speed it up, take in all the glory and absorb the views of nature at its finest!
In finding these helpful tips for first time thru-hikers I actually found a lot to help out myself and not just a first-timer, I hope that everyone gathers something from the above to make their thru-hikes more enjoyable!