Thoughts on Trail Life

What’s it like to do a “thru hike?” To spend months on end hiking for thousands of miles? Here is the first of six short articles I wrote to help you get an idea of what life for a long distance hiker is like.

Part 1: Planning before the hike  

I would break this up into two stages. The first one you might call “soft planning.” You get the idea, talk to some people who have either done it or at least researched it, maybe you  read some online info to get the basics, and then start thinking about how you could take on such an adventure. Then one day you lose your grip on the last remaining thread of sanity and actually make the decision to walk through 2600+ miles of wilderness with 40 pounds on your back. You decide which year you will do it and then the real work begins.

The second stage is where you get down to specifics and this can get overwhelming pretty quickly. There are a LOT of questions you need answers to, decisions you need to make, permits to get, and items to purchase. Are you going North or South? When will you start? How will you get to the terminus? Where and how will you get supplies along the way? What will you eat? What permits do you need? When do you need to get them?

And then there’s gear. There are going to be 60 to 80 items you will need and at least three quarters of them you will agonize over for hours or days. You’re trying to factor terrain, weather (guessing), weight, comfort, quality, necessity, cost, convenience, distances, and your own physical condition.

The good news is that there is a lot of information readily available online. The bad news is that there is a lot of information readily available online. There are seemingly endless blogs, forums, and social media pages dedicated to the subject. Opinions are all over the board on everything from what snacks to pack, to what kind of tent, to shoes, to how to deal with your own bodily waste. If you are like most hikers you’ll spend countless hours reading and watching videos trying to sort through all of it. I ended up with lists of food, gear, guides, resupply points, and a bunch of others. I even ended up creating a meta list to keep track of all the other lists.

Eventually though you wade through all the decisions, get all the permits, buy all the gear, and book your travel plans. Then the day finally comes. You hit the trail with excitement, nervousness, and a little trepidation.

Fortunately you’ve planned well though. All of that time you spent researching is going to pay off. Oh about that: You’re going to throw out at least half of those plans in the next few weeks. Oh well.


Up next: Surviving on the trail.