How do I prepare for a thru-hike?

You’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so…get on your way!

– Dr. Seuss

Everyone has different approaches to thru-hiking prep and the internet is flooded with opinions around what you should and shouldn’t do. Some start preparing two years out, while others (like me!) start prep 6 months prior to hitting the trail. It is important to consider what YOU will need to accomplish prior to leaving in order for YOU to feel as comfortable as possible on the trail. This will depend on your level of experience living outdoors, hiking, general survival skills, circumstances you need to take care of at home, etc.. Some people are extreme planners – planning every little aspect of their hike prior to leaving. Some people are comfortable not planning much at all and seeing how the hike unfolds. I fall somewhere in the middle.

Here I’ll share what has been most important in my preparation prior to leaving. I have emphasized the mental preparation more than the physical preparation for a reason! Surprisingly, most unsuccessful thru-hikes are due to mental fatigue rather than physical. A popular motto on the trail is “hike your own hike,” so I am advocating to “prep your own prep” (if that even makes sense).

I have been getting mentally prepared by:

  • Getting clear on why I am hiking the trail. On the roughest days, reminding myself why I wanted to do this is in the first place will be a huge motivator. It might be easy to lose sight of the why after being in the cold and rain for three days straight or when the mosquitoes start driving me crazy, so I am taking my list of reasons with me on my phone as a constant reminder. My friend Tess, who successfully thru-hiked, told me to never quit on the first day I feel the urge to. Give it a few days. Things will get better and I will be glad I didn’t get off the trail.
I’ll be using the AT Guide on the trail as a resource for daily mileage, elevation, water sources, shelters, etc.
  • Having a comprehensive understanding of the trail from a geographical and climatic standpoint. This may seem obvious, but for me having a clear understanding of the terrain, elevation change, weather, towns I will be passing through, etc. is very important to feeling prepared. Weather is also a huge factor in determining what type of gear I need.
Odyssa (Jennifer’s trail name) hikes the AT after graduating college, while she figures out what she wants to do after. I found this book more relatable than A Walk in the Woods or Wild.
  • Reading about other peoples’ thru-hiking journeys. Though everyone has their own experience, it has been very eye-opening for me to read about authentic thru-hiking stories that explain the trials, tribulations and highlights. It is important to not fantasize about the trail or have unrealistic expectations that I will have an epiphany or life-altering experience. I am going to walk in the woods and live outside for six months. There will be awesome days and there will be crappy days and what I gain from the experience is yet to come. Here are two of my favorite reads:
    • Becoming Odyssa
    • A Walk in the Woods
Homemade Wanderlust was one of my favorite Youtubers to watch and learn about thru-hiking. She has tons of awesome tips I never would have thought of!
  • Researching, researching, and more researching! This isn’t important to everyone, but I will feel more comfortable on the trail knowing I have done as much research as possible. This involves everything from how to hang my bear bag, to using my water filter, to hitch-hiking into town, to planning my mileage strategy. These are some great books and sites:
  • Preparing some resupply boxes. My approach to resupply boxes has significantly changed from a few months ago. Initially I was planning to send myself resupply boxes about 2-3 times a month, but because I feel that will limit my trail schedule and force me to get off the trail when I don’t always need to, I am now planning only about 6-8 boxes in total. Though some people use zero resupply boxes, having some will help me feel more comfortable because they will include: prescription refills, home-cooked meals I dehydrated ahead of time, gear that needs to be replaced, and anything else I may need but won’t be able to find in towns.
  • Testing my gear. Pretty self explanatory. It’s easier to make mistakes or replace gear now than on the trail. I will also feel more confident on the trail when I already know how to pitch my tent, organize my pack, work my stove, etc. I have a hunch that these little tidbits of knowledge will be hugely important confidence boosters in an environment where I am constantly learning and adapting day in and day out. I found a ton of great gear deals on this site:
  • Making a ROUGH itinerary.  I am by no means making a strict schedule because so many unknowns on the trail will make this frustrating and almost impossible to stick to. That said, for the sake of coordinating logistics for anyone visiting me on the trail, a general itinerary with average mileage and general location has been helpful. This is also helpful for mapping out possible post offices to send resupply boxes.
  • Making Spotify playlists. Not much to say here. I want to have to music, will not have phone service at certain points, and don’t want to drain my battery streaming. I shared playlists on the last post, “I’m singin’ in the woods.”

I have been getting physically prepared by:


LighterPack.com is an awesome resource I used to help with gear planning and pack weight breakdown!
  • Hiking with my full pack weight and poles twice a week. My base pack weight (minus food, water, and what I am wearing) is 20.67 lbs (it comes down to the ounces, people!) and I will have anywhere from 8 to 14 pounds of food and water at a time, hopefully maxing at 35 lbs total. I have been stuffing my pack with sweatshirts and weights to avoid taking all my gear on practice hikes. Other hikers have given me some funny looks when I have my full pack on day hikes. I promise I’m not this excessive! It’s all in the name of thru-hiking!
I’m starting off with Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX. These will hopefully last me around 800 miles before I’ll need a new pair (or switch to another boot or trail runner).
  • Wearing my boots as much as possible at first. Boots are arguably the most important gear item – you want to be sure your boots work for you. Breaking in my boots was necessary because I went from at first hating them to really loving them! I chose to get high ankle boots, which I haven’t hiked in for a while, so my ankles weren’t used to the pressure points. After the first time wearing them I was convinced I needed a different pair, but I gave them a couple more tries, broke them in a bit, and now I am very excited to use them on the trail! There are different ways to tie boots depending on what is comfortable, so I am glad I figured this out ahead of time!
I’ve been using the MIR adjustable weighted vest. Fashionable, I know!
  • Using a weighted vest at the gym. Yes, I look like a huge dork. Yes, people think I’m an extreme try-hard. Yes, I make a fool of myself taking it on and off. All in the name of thru-hiking!! It’s not always feasible to get an actual hike in, so my weighted vest has been a good alternative to use on the treadmill (10-15 degree incline) at the gym. I have been doing this 2-3 times a week for about 3 months and definitely saw the benefit the first time I hiked with my fully weighted pack! The only way to truly get in thru-hiking shape is to do it, but I’m hoping my body won’t be totally shocked when I start carrying this weight every day. Added benefit: I put the weights from the vest in my pack for my practice hikes.
  • Sleeping in the backyard in my tent and sleeping bag.  You can laugh. Hey, if it makes the adjustment to sleeping conditions on the trail any easier, I’m giving it a whirl! I suggest letting your neighbors know ahead of time why there’s someone sleeping in a tent in your backyard.
  • Making myself a little uncomfortable in daily situations. My friend Andy suggested this to me a few months ago and I think it’s an awesome tip. He suggested I become more conscious of times I feel a bit uncomfortable, acknowledge it, and put up with the discomfort, rather than making myself more comfortable. I have been doing this in simple ways, including wearing lighter jackets when I go outside, cutting coffee out of my diet, always taking the stairs, walking places whenever possible, etc.. These decisions seem trivial now, but that’s the challenge of thru-hiking: constantly facing minor and major discomforts and learning to deal with them.
  • Stretching on a daily basis.  I will need to stretch multiple times a day on the trail, so I plan to have a simple routine I can do at camp or even on the trail with my pack on. IT band and knee flare ups will be the most probable issues.
  • Other recommended precautions. The gear I got does not require this, but it is recommended to waterproof certain boots with a product such as Nikwax and to waterproof certain tents with seam sealant. I will be treating my clothes with Permethrin a few times throughout the trail to keep the bugs away.

Hope this was helpful for anyone considering a thru-hike or similar adventure! I enjoyed recapping 🙂 Below are instructions for how to follow this blog if you do not have a WordPress account:

3 thoughts on “How do I prepare for a thru-hike?

  1. This looks like great prep! I’m prepping for the PCT this year and am doing a lot of the same things you are. I love your weighted vest at the gym- I have actually been wearing my pack there and get LOTS of weird looks but curiosity generally gets the best of people and it starts a fun conversation. Good luck out there and have fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks and best of luck on the PCT! Good for you for wearing your pack at the gym 🙂 The vest weight distribution doesn’t totally replicate what pack weight distribution is like, so sounds like a good strategy!

      Like

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