What Is Thru-Hiking? Definition & A Beginner’s Guide

What Is Thru-Hiking Definition & A Beginner's Guide

First, what is thru-hiking?

Thru-hiking, also known as through-hiking, is the act of walking continuously along a well-established long-distance trail or end-to-end trail.

The Appalachian Trail (AT), the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) are the three end-to-end hikes with which the term is most frequently associated in the United States, though other end-to-end hikes may also be included. Other thru-hikes include Te Araroa in New Zealand, the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the Via Francigena in France and Italy, the Lycian Way in Turkey, the Israel National Trail, and the Great Divide Trail (GDT) in Canada.

Please continue reading so I can give you more specific information about what thru-hiking entails.

What Is Thru-hiking?

What characteristics define a “thru-hike”? A thru-hike is essentially an all-encompassing backpacking trip along a long-distance trail like the Appalachian Trail. or the More than 2,100 miles in length, the PCT runs from Unlike the PCT, which spans more than 2,600 miles from Mexico to Canada, Georgia to Maine is not connected to it.

The Continental Divide Trail (CDT), which travels for more than 3,100 miles along the crest of the Rocky Mountains, is the newest trail in this category. For first-time thru-hikers, it is not advised due to its ruggedness, remoteness, and lengthy stretches without a trail. Read our article on the CDT for more information.

History Of Thru-hiking

Long-distance foot travel as a mode of transportation merged with hiking for personal enjoyment and as a way to see the world many years ago, giving rise to thru-hiking, which has roots that go back a long way.

Through-hiker George W. Outerbridge, who had previously section hiked while trail blazing, finished the first hike of the newly finished Appalachian Trail in 1939.

In 1948, Earl Shaffer became the first person to have completed the AT in public.[2] However, these claims have never been sufficiently supported. A 1994 report claimed that a group of Boy Scouts had carried out this action twelve years earlier. In most hiking communities, they are therefore viewed with great suspicion (see Appalachian Trail).

In the world of backpacking, a few thru-hikers have attained a certain level of notoriety. The most well-known was possibly Emma “Grandma” Gatewood, who at the age of 67 completed her first Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 1955. She finished the trail using what was, even at the time, regarded as incredibly inadequate equipment, such as sneakers rather than boots and a blanket rather than a sleeping bag. She later finished a second thru-hike and a full section hike, and she is now known as a pioneer of ultralight backpacking.

Variations Of Classic Thru-hiking

Alternatives have developed as these trails’ popularity has soared. Many people simply cannot dedicate more than five months to a thru-hike. Purists might argue that the options presented here aren’t true “thru-hikes,” but the definition of the term is far from rigid. Ultimately, thru-hiking is about pushing yourself: You get to decide how you want to define that challenge.

Pick a shorter trail: A trail like the Superior Hiking Trail meanders more than 300 miles along Minnesota’s Lake Superior shoreline. You must dedicate a little less than a month of your time. Numerous trails of a similar length can be found all over the nation.

When section hiking, think about the following: Some hikers only complete one section of an established thru trail. As an illustration, the PCT’s 211-mile John Muir Trail is a breathtaking section. Another method for completing a trail, such as the PCT, in its entirety over several hiking seasons is to hike in sections.

“Flip flop to complete a traditional thru-hike in a nontraditional manner. Starting somewhere in the middle, you’ll hike the entire trail in irregular sections. (A true flip flop also includes at least one section that is hiked the other way.) An advantage of this strategy is that it keeps you away from the hordes of hikers who stick to the traditional end-to-end route. You can flip flop deliberately to avoid bad weather. Your trail and transportation itineraries will be more difficult if you flip flop.

Read about: What Is Hiking

Thru-hiking Challenges

A thru-hike will put your resolve to overcome obstacles to overcome them many times and in many different ways.

Mental Challenges

Typically, thru-hikers hike alone. You need to feel comfortable in your own company even though A.T. and PCT hikers frequently encounter and camp with other hikers. The Zen of solitude can at some point deteriorate into blatant loneliness.

It’s also possible that after traveling a few hundred miles, you’ll start to wonder why you originally wanted to do this. You might even consider giving up.


  • Remind yourself that any significant challenge includes times of introspection. Realize that days when you contemplate quitting are a natural and inevitable part of the journey. Never give up on a bad day, remember that.
  • Make a few solo trips in advance: It takes time for the fear of being completely alone to give way to the joy of being completely free.
  • Grab the chance to have fun: In trailside communities, having fun and unexpected adventures can be just as beneficial as taking a day to relax.
  • Consider intermediate objectives. It might be a mountain peak, a well-known national park, or even a state border. The journey is divided up into manageable milestones as you cross these off along the way, which fuels your sense of accomplishment.

Physical Challenges

The picture is clear just from looking at the PCT’s numbers: A total elevation gain of just under 500,000 feet over more than 2,650 miles of hiking. Similar stats will apply to the A.T.

Other physical difficulties range from altitude sickness to Lyme disease, major injuries to blisters. You must be ready to deal with each of these, and you will undoubtedly have to do so in some cases.


  • Train for your adventure ahead of time. Before your thru-hike, take numerous backpacking trips to supplement your training. Nothing can truly prepare your feet for the weight they will carry, but you can toughen them up by carrying the same amount of weight on your shakedown hikes as you intend to carry on your thru-hike.
  • Take a first-aid course and double-check the contents of your first-aid kit.

Financial Challenges

To begin with, you will miss six months of work and won’t receive a paycheck. Budgeting for the trip can be difficult even though you won’t be spending much on gas or lodging. The cost of a thru-hike can range from as little as $1 per mile to $8,000 for a strict budget, with gear and food being the two biggest costs.

What Is Thru-Hiking Definition & A Beginner's Guide
What Is Thru-Hiking? Definition & A Beginner’s Guide

Ways To Do Thru-hiking

Completely covering the trail in one go is the norm for thru-hikers. Many of the well-known routes, however, take a long time to complete; for instance, the Pacific Crest Trail typically requires most hikers five months to complete. Many people choose to walk thru-hikes in shorter segments because taking this kind of time off may be impossible if you have a young family, a job, or other commitments. To avoid crowds, take advantage of the best weather, or make the most of seasons (such as the colors of the trees in the fall), some people will also “flip flop” their walking routes by completing them in an unexpected order. While thru-hiking in shorter segments takes away the feeling of prolonged immersion, you still get to experience the route, and for some people, because it’s less physically and mentally demanding, it may be much more enjoyable.

Should I Embark On A Thru-hiking?

A thru-hike may be for you if you’ve ever reached the end of a hike and, rather than being fixated on taking a shower and watching Netflix, thought, “I just want to keep going.”

Although there are many examples of thru-hikers who just dive right in, it’s probably best to build up your experience and fitness first. Since solo thru-hiking is definitely not for everyone, it’s also worthwhile to try it out for a while.

Although the majority of thru-hikes are fairly well waymarked, it can still be simple to veer off the path under certain conditions and circumstances, so it’s highly advised that you are able to read a map and use a compass.

How To Train A Thru-hiking

The best way to prepare for a thru-hike is to start accruing hours and miles on other trails, and to try to hike the kinds of trails you will be doing on your trip. After all, walking ten miles on a level trail at sea level is very different from climbing and descending four thousand feet. In order to get used to the feeling of carrying everything you’ll need on the trip, Kit Parks, a devoted hiker and the host of the podcast Active Travel Adventures, advises beginners to begin their training with a pack on.

Similar to training for a marathon, you should build up to the number of miles you anticipate traveling each day before setting out. “A good starting point is 15 miles per day on average, advises Lisa Pulsifer, an experienced hiker and member of the ALDHA-West executive board. “A hiker with more experience or one who has been on the trail for months will be able to cover 20 to 30 miles per day on average.” Make a training schedule that will help you achieve these levels gradually.

Gear & Nutrition

For day hikes, it’s important to pack a few necessities, some water, and possibly a protein bar or a packed lunch. Hikes lasting more than one day necessitate carrying everything you’ll need on your back and being responsible for your own survival. The hiking experts at REI are available for one-on-one online or phone consultations where you can discuss the specifics of your trip and receive product recommendations. These Virtual Outfitting consultations are free.

When choosing your gear, be sure to consider the size and fit, advises Elbert. “”Think small and light,” he advises. “Additionally, make sure the pack fits you properly; similar to hiking boots, backpacks require some breaking in.”

If you’re planning your meals, keep in mind that you’ll need to consume more calories than usual when you’re out walking all day, which is what most thru-hikers do. Plan three meals a day, and stock up on wholesome, nourishing snacks. While many thru-hikers need 3,000–4,000 calories per day, that can be a lot of weight to carry. Choose calorie-dense, light foods from brands like Mountain House, Good To-Go, Patagonia Provisions, and Laird Superfoods.


The post focused on what is thru-hiking. Check out our most recent posts for more information if you need it.

A trail must be hiked all the way through in a single trip for a thru-hike to be completed. It can take days, weeks, or even months to complete a thru-hike. On lengthy trails, thru-hikers may sporadically detour from the trail to rest in towns, resupply with food and supplies, or take in the sights they pass by. The hiking trail stretches out of order, such as, starting at the halfway point of The Appalachian Trail still counts as long as you complete it in a single trip, even if you hike to the northern terminus before flying back to the middle and hiking the southern half.

I would like to thank you once more for reading.