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Backpacking versus Thru-hiking
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Backpacking versus Thru-hiking on 09/20/2011 15:57:51 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Backpacking versus Thru-hiking

Sean Staplin
(mtnrat) - MLife

Locale: Southern Cdn Rockies
Not having done a thru hike...yet on 09/20/2011 17:36:14 MDT Print View

Not having done a thru hike...yet, I have over the years backpacked with a minimalist attitude. The last two years have me at a 5-7lb base weight for all of my trips. Luckily I see food as simply something that fills what is empty and can eat darn near anything. THis article gives me some confidence in what I am doing, so I can complete a thru hike. There are always those nagging doubts. Even though i have done 100 milers in four days etc, the biggest for me is if I have the mental toughness to go day after day. Will I get homesick or will I grow to see the trail as my home. These for me are much bigger than the gear and technique issues. Listening to trail lore is a good tip. I have read many journals and try to imagine myself in their shoes. One day soon we will see.

Edited by mtnrat on 09/20/2011 17:52:13 MDT.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: Not having done a thru hike...yet on 09/20/2011 19:25:54 MDT Print View

Weekend backpacking can be a tough when a weekend warrior must return to work in time to close the Figby account but there's the mental aspect of 'the deadline', so UL has relevance for those who need to be back for glorious Monday morning (ugh). Maybe load the same pack/gear with gourmet food for weekends then UL rations for weeklong trips? My idea though the most I've been out backpacking is a week. Maybe 2 weeks is next before tackling 1 month or more.

My issue that it doesn't sit well is paying mortgage/rent while out for a month or 2, ... unless it's too hot at home.

Edited by hknewman on 09/21/2011 16:21:14 MDT.

Michael Ttrafton
(mtrafton) - MLife

Locale: North Carolina
Not a Thru-hiker yet, some day though. on 09/20/2011 21:35:32 MDT Print View

Great articel. It took me several years to learn what he said. I still do the weekend trip, but I find I would rather do a three week trip. I do not start to have fun until about day 10. I hope thease longer trips have given me that knowalage I need to do the Thru-Hike in 2014 when I retire.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Backpacking versus Thru-hiking on 09/20/2011 21:54:47 MDT Print View

Was this article written for the BPL audience? I ask because so much of the methodology described seems to be what we ULrs have been doing as standard operating procedures.

Edited by kthompson on 09/20/2011 22:15:57 MDT.

James Schipper
(monospot) - MLife
Re: Backpacking versus Thru-hiking on 09/20/2011 22:08:10 MDT Print View

Yeah, what Ken said.

Adam Kilpatrick
(oysters) - MLife

Locale: South Australia
Re: Re: Backpacking versus Thru-hiking on 09/20/2011 22:32:41 MDT Print View

+1 on the audience aspect, but I think these kind of articles are excellent, and should be "put out there" for those who need to read and hear it.

jennifer ross
(jenhifive) - F

Locale: Norcal
Noobs on 09/20/2011 22:39:27 MDT Print View

Some people that are new to backpacking and are non-ULers do bring a change of clothes for everyday since they're only out for 2-3 days. I saw people at trail camp near mount whitney with CHAIRS. I thought everyone used their bear can as a seat/dinnertable. Almost everyone we passed had brand new gear and kept the packaging the stuff came in (i.e. rei pad in the rei information sack).

I cringe to even admit this but when I was a dayhiker I kind of just hid my tp from my number ones in leaves. HORRID I know. Now that I "leave no trace behind" and I see all the tp from dayhikers and noob backpackers I get livid. I didn't start backpacking in places where the wilderness permit hander-outer gave you a 15 minute how to camp in the wilderness lecture so when I get the lecture and know everyone else got that same lecture and they choose not to abide is when I get mad.

Anywaay I think there is a huge difference from people who backpack a couple days in a row once a year and people who do it all the time and get into so much they read and post in forums. Articles like this show people different and better ways to hike.

Bradley Danyluk
(dasbin) - MLife
Attitude on 09/21/2011 03:22:57 MDT Print View

Are you sure the opinions expressed in this article are really always valid?

Why can't thru-hikers take a different pace if their style is not necessarily go-go-go!?

It's not like a thru-hike must be 6 months long or a certain number of miles to be considered so. We're not all in such a rush to log miles or finish a huge trail.

I'd strongly argue that one can thru-hike at the pace that one sets for oneself. If you want a day in camp during a rainstorm, just set a schedule beforehand which allows it.

I understand the whole "do the entirety of the Appalachian Trail before winter" mentality, but that does not a thru-hike make.

Edited by dasbin on 09/21/2011 03:24:31 MDT.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Audience/Attitude on 09/21/2011 05:23:26 MDT Print View

I like this kind of article. Did it tell me anything new? ... no, other than the tale of the $20 AT thru-hike. But I'm glad to see articles like this as part of the BPL publishing mix.

Was this article written for the BPL audience? I ask because so much of the methodology described seems to be what we ULrs have been doing as standard operating procedures.

True ... but preaching only to the choir does not grow the choir. Consider Doug Prosser's ultralight at Philmont articles ... I've shown them to countless scouters, didn't help some, few became ultralighters but many made very significant pack weight reductions (40%-50%).

It's not like a thru-hike must be 6 months long or a certain number of miles to be considered so.

Also true. But note that Francis opens with the info "About one in five prospective Appalachian Trail thru-hikers quit within the first week!" ... that would apply to any trail long enough to qualify as a "thru-hike" and closes with "a whopping 50 percent quit within the first six weeks of a thru-hike". ... not all of those are quitting in week 5 or 6, again could be applied to shorter long hikes.

Edited by jcolten on 09/21/2011 05:24:02 MDT.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Re: Re: Backpacking versus Thru-hiking on 09/21/2011 05:26:48 MDT Print View

While I also agree that much of the article simply describes a standard BPL'ers normal operating procedure, it would find a good home on a page dedicated to people who are very new to BPL and the concepts that make up our general philosophy toward backpacking. Sort of a free run-down of the BPL philosophy/FAQ page complete with articles such as this.

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
Thru-hiking on 09/21/2011 07:26:06 MDT Print View

What I find interesting is that many thru-hikers do not backpack if they are NOT thru-hiking (or participate in the outdoors at all).

Part of the reason I live where I do is that I need the outdoors part of my daily life, not just a trip every couple of years or so.

I loved my long trips (and I can't wait to get back out there again in about 2 yrs, but that's another story) but need the after work climbs, the long day hike, the hut trip or the long weekend backpack as well.

To only do something outdoors once every couple of years or so is not something I can wrap my brain around.

So, oddly enough, many thru-hikers do not backpack all that much comparatively speaking in the grand scheme of things. :)

FWIW, I've take the UL philosophy and applied it to my weekend trips. I might take some creature comforts depending on the trip (wine comes to mind. ;) ), but overall my gear does not change all that much, if at all in the case of solo trips, from the thru-hikes I've done.

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
Re: Thru-hiking on 09/21/2011 09:19:55 MDT Print View

>Part of the reason I live where I do is that I need the outdoors part of my daily life, not just a trip every couple of years or so.

Same here bro. Not everyone can constantly take 1, 2, 3 weeks away from work and family. Sometimes I think the "career outdoorspeople" start to forget that.

>I've take the UL philosophy and applied it to my weekend trips. I might take some creature comforts depending on the trip

Again, same here. I did a quick little overnighter last weekend in which I only hiked in 6 miles (gasp!). I enjoyed the misty sunset, sleeping under a 5.5'x8' tarp, a glorious sunrise, and a leisurely stroll back out. My sin: carrying a SnowPeak canister stove instead of a 0.00438 ounce alcohol stove.

I hope everyone can forgive me.

Melissa Spencer
(melissaspencer) - F

Locale: PNW
Agree with Jennifer, Mags, James on 09/21/2011 10:39:50 MDT Print View

Jennifer, you bring up a good point. This is another difference I noticed while thru-hiking. At least the year I hiked the PCT, I noticed very strict LNT principles such as carrying out TP, drinking the water used to clean a pot (and of course never draining food water on the ground), and never building a fire.

Paul, you are also right about thru-hikers not backpacking. I admit, I do much less backpacking now that I have completed long trails. It isn't the same. And I only day hike for exercise. I think thru-hiking ruined backpacking for me.

And James, you are right too. No one can take that kind of time off consistently. I had to quit a high-paying career to become a career backpacker. And now I work in retail during the months I am not thru-hiking. It isn't something that people can just do. They have to create it, and that takes way more sacrifice than most people are willing to make.

Edited by melissaspencer on 09/21/2011 10:44:30 MDT.

Michael Davis
(mad777) - F

Locale: South Florida
Re: Backpacking versus Thru-hiking on 09/21/2011 11:02:25 MDT Print View

Friends that know my passion for hiking often ask if I want to thru hike some day. I say "No" without any hesitation. Yet, I could live in the woods.

The unappealing part of a thru hike is having to follow a course and a time table. Must get to Katahdin before winter sets in.

That sounds just like my everyday work life - phooey!

I want to just wander aimlessly in nature with no particular place to go and no particular time to get there. Well, since I'm older now, I probably will get my wish soon enough as Alzheimer's set in. :-(

Inaki Diaz de Etura
(inaki) - MLife

Locale: Iberia highlands
Depends on each one's backpacking on 09/21/2011 11:04:59 MDT Print View

I was intrigued by the potential difference between thru-hiking and backpacking according to the article until I realised that for me it's the same thing :)

If anything, a thru-hike demands the mental strengh that usually comes with a determination to make it. Most of the hikers that left their thru-hikes that I saw were doing technically fine but couldn't handle it anymore.

And I know this is probably a very personal thing but for me backpacking and thru-hiking recall esentially the same feelings. Once I have to spend one night outside, it takes me to a certain level of consciousness that's way beyond the day-hike experience. Some of my most memorable thru-hikes were two day hikes :) Anyway, the mind adapts. If I'm out for a week my mind adapts to that and will feel like done when the week expires. It's worked the same for me when I've been out for several months in a row.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Backpacking versus Thru-hiking on 09/21/2011 11:42:18 MDT Print View

I think thru-hikes are a very different beastie than a shorter multi-day trip. It would be interesting to do thorough interviews of thru-hikers to see what their motivation was. I wonder how many start out because they are at some transition point in their life. Spending some time out alone may find some answers to what they are really about (or really need), with some 40 days and 40 nights biblical leanings and no guarantee that you will like the person you find out there. I imagine that some of the early drop-outs have never spent a light alone in the woods or found that backpacking is a lot of work. To paraphrase the old quip about combat, backpacking can be hours of drudgery punctuated by moments of awesomeness. My real take is that it is punctuated by many small delights walking through a forest garden spiced with an occasional mind-blowing view--- but not without the work. It is easy to buy a load of gear and put your feet on the trail with no experience whatsoever. 2500 feet of switchbacks is a very sobering reality! Losing hard-won elevation gains over and over again makes the legend of Sisyphus real.

I could see the adventure losing it's gloss after a few weeks of endless footsteps, roller coaster elevations, sweat, sore muscles, blisters, bugs, dirt, monotonous meals, heat, cold, wet, hard ground, stormy nights, varmints stealing your food and just plain exhaustion. And I can imagine that it can also be empowering and teach volumes on self-reliance and attaining goals. That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger--- indeed!

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
"Just not the same" on 09/21/2011 12:12:26 MDT Print View

I was an outdoors person before I was a thru-hiker. Just love being out there.

My thru-hikes tended to reflect that feel as I spent a lot of time by myself, enjoyed the social interaction but did not necessarily seek it out, same thing with the ongoing linear community, etc.

I love looking at maps, making my own route and having my own experience.

When I do a long hike again, I just may make my own route off the beaten path or no path at all. I, of course, reserve the right to go back on my own words. ;)

An example of hiking my own hike:
Seven Days Solo in the San Juans

The long trails (even the CDT) are too linear at times. Nature of the beast.

So, guess my weekend (or more) backpacks are about being outside much like my thru-hikes. I do love the journey and being out for weeks or months at a time admittedly.

Don't get me wrong I LOVED my thru-hikes. The AT was responsible for me moving out to Colorado and everything else that followed in my outdoor 'career'.

But, if all I did was hike the long trails, I'd miss out on the canyons of Utah off the Hayduke, never explore the Sangres, not see the sun set over the distant Rockies while at the Pawnee Buttes, being immersed in winter while gliding along on skis deep in the backcountry, feel what it is like to rope up and attain the summit of the mountain or climb the glacier.

I treasure those experiences too much. And doing just thru-hikes would not me experience all that.

Everything involves a sacrifice. Darn if I know the balance!

Anyway, works for me. If there was a best way for everyone, it would be a freakin' boring world! :)

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
not all who wander are lost on 09/21/2011 13:27:32 MDT Print View

Paul, great post. :)

Edited by spelt on 09/21/2011 13:28:14 MDT.

Graeme Finley
(gfinley001) - F

Locale: SF Bay Area
Attitude on 09/21/2011 13:29:33 MDT Print View

One aspect that was touched on that I found to be most critical was attitude, and specifically whether people enjoyed the lifestyle of thruhiking. For people who bought into the lifestyle everything else was secondary. When I did the PCT two people stood out - one hiker with a 60lb+ pack (solar charger, Marine Corps knife etc) who just trucked along without a complaint and ground out the miles, and another who graduated from college in FL with a bunch of mail-order REI equipment and who had never spent the night in a tent before that first night at Lake Morena. Neither finished, but both made it to OR and were just stopped by early winter snow.

What kept them (and me) going was that they loved doing it. I did view thru-hiking as a job - I worked 6 days a week, and each work day I'd get up at 6am, have breakfast, pack up 'the house' and go to work for 10-12 hours. On the seventh day I'd do chores (laundry, grocery shopping etc) and then start the work week again. The key thing is that I liked my 'job' and looked forward to going back to it each week. Thru-hiking is a profession in a way and thru-hikers become professional hikers for 5 months or so. If you like the job you'll probably finish and if you don't like the job you'll quit and find another one.

Chuck McCalment
(Chuck32) - MLife
Us & Them on 09/21/2011 14:58:06 MDT Print View

While older in experience (years) I am new to the BPL ethos and technics. Observation (of others out and about) and football knees got me here. This fraternity needs to remember the range of people and interest that show up at BPL. There are the Paul Magnanti individuals who are deeply driven to express themselves every day by interacting with nature. There are those here who work 60 hour weeks, every week, in concrete canyons. The only common thread I’ve noticed in 18 months of reading Backpackinglight is we are all seeking a better way to solve the same problem; how to maximize our outdoor hours by minimizing the detritus we drag out there with us.

Jim Colten’s observation is correct; preaching to the choir is just as valid as preaching to the church deacons and other sinners, you never know what will inspire or resonate another… we are all different, each one of us.

Thank you BPL and Francis for the article.

Alfred Lemire
(atkeys91) - F
Re: Re: Backpacking versus Thru-hiking on 09/21/2011 15:25:29 MDT Print View

Maybe not the BPL readership, but, as suggested, others can benefit. Print the article (it can be copied to a word processor, with a little work) and give it to anyone you know who might be considering an extended backpacking trip. I was on the AT for three months and noticed people shedding weight and gear, including me.

There's another reason to cut down on pack weight, regardless of trip length: it's kinder on the body. Less body strain cuts food need and lessens the tiredness that can lead to accidents and injuries. That's especially so on the AT in Maine, whose difficulty makes it the postgraduate school of backpacking. Someone who had done the PCT quit the trail in Monson, just before the "100-mile" wilderness and Katahdin, in a huff over the unexpected difficulty of clambering close to straight up and down steep mountains of less than 4,000 feet in height. She'd have been better off with less weight on her back, improving her balance and endurance, both desirable, perhaps essential, on the AT in Maine.

jennifer ross
(jenhifive) - F

Locale: Norcal
Addicting, right? on 09/21/2011 16:09:34 MDT Print View

Every long hike I've done I haven't wanted to come back and I try to think of ways I can change my life to backpack more. I go at least 4x a year and you can tell when it's been too long because I'm moody and stressed. I commend those that step out of their societal comfort zone and make careers out of it and prioritize it but for now I'll just continue to use every bit of time away from work to hit the trails.

Attitude and perserverance: I busted my right knee right before going up a pass on the jmt but the thought of getting up there and seeing that view was enough for me to climb up only using my left leg and keeping the busted leg completely straight. At first it was a matter of remembering "peg leg, peg leg, peg leg" but then another pass the next day and my left leg started cramping in three spots from the uphill and downhill. I may be slow and weak but I'm determined to see what there is to see.

I know I complained at the time and took a lot of sit breaks but all I remember are the views.

Nathan Ventura
(nathanrainer) - F

Locale: East Coast
thru-hiking ruined my life on 09/21/2011 17:00:13 MDT Print View

I say this with a touch of humor, but also with some sincere seriousness. Thru-hiking ruined my life...or at least in the eyes of some. Although unlikely, it may not be all that unreasonable to warn aspiring thru-hikers that it can be an extremely addictive thing. You are, for a period of 4-6 months, adopting a completely new lifestyle that is absolutely nothing like your other life, and afterwards it can very hard to find peace of mind in the old daily grind.

In 2010 I thru-hiked the AT with my girlfriend and we had the time of our lives. It was the most rewarding thing I'd ever done. Afterwards though adjusting back to the real world was difficult. It was unbelievably boring and full of stresses I found much more burdensome than waking up to rain. I managed to get my old job back and kept it for about two months before getting fed up, and quitting. I sort of ran away to New Mexico to work on a farm in the middle of the high desert along the Sawtooth Mountains. Doing this not only ended up costing me my relationship, but it was also a decision not to go back to school and finish up my degree. Being in New Mexico was rather exciting because it was all very new to me and I hiked about 3 days of the week, but after a while I knew what was going to happen...I was going to hike the PCT that spring.

I just finished on September 16th and I'm already missing it. It is safe to say that I'm a thru-hiking addict...or an epic adventure addict...I'm not 100 percent sure. I'm already planning next year's traverse across Iceland and the CDT the year after that. How I'm going to get myself to suck it up and make the money to afford these things I'm not quite sure, but I know I'll do it. But the chances of me keeping a job for a year or more, or finishing up school, that all seems rather jeopardized by my hiking. The parents aren't too pleased.

Anyway, thats my two cents on the risks of thru-hiking. Its not for everyone, but fore some there's nothing better.


the terminus

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: thru-hiking ruined my life on 09/21/2011 17:06:30 MDT Print View


Your parents just want you to get a haircut. :)

Congrats on finishing in what sounds like a difficult year!

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
thru-hiking on 09/21/2011 19:28:54 MDT Print View

I have noticed that folks that have thru hiked, continue to thru hike. I've ran into several on various trails along the CDT, most have done the PCT prior, many the AT AND most already were making plans for the next big one :)

I'm fortunate that I live in a hiking rich state and doubly fortunate that my employment allows me to hike on the job, so I get a fair amount of hiking in. Having said that, there is definitely a STRONG desire to do a thru hike. It's going to have to wait until retirement, but that's not that far out there anymore.

Thanks for the article.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: thru-hiking ruined my life on 09/21/2011 19:52:01 MDT Print View

I don't know how you can go back to town life after spending that many months in the woods. I've had some sort of shock just coming back from three weeks in Europe-- one day you are walking the same stones that Julius Caesar walked two thousand years before, and the next day you are back in the office with all the trivial stuff going on. EWWWWW!

Bert Nemcik
(bnemcik) - F
The Actual Difference is Time on 09/21/2011 20:30:23 MDT Print View

My notion is that backpacking isn't the same as thru-hiking based upon one element: time. The longer you go backpacking, the more you become one with the elements. Once the transition takes place, coming back out of the elements seems strange and surreal. I agree that not everyone who backpacks can thru-hike and a number of you have expressed the reasons rather eloquently. Perhaps the principle "hike your own hike" applies here. Some backpack for a day or two and that keeps their spirits charged. Others need a more concentrated dose of the joys of the trail and do a thru-hike. What makes our chosen sport, passion and journey so special is that the continuum extends from camping out in your own back yard with your teddy bear to hitting the trail and never coming home again.

Shadow AT02

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
These Paul Magnanti guys... on 09/21/2011 22:09:11 MDT Print View

>>There are the Paul Magnanti individuals

Short, bald, Mediterranean looking guys????


>>AND most already were making plans for the next big one :)

We are all making plans for the next big one. It is a burn that never goes away. At least for me.

After the trail...

I really need to update this document, though.

Three years later, I've had even more adventures, deepened my friendships, fell in love with and marrying someone next year....and still wonder when I can get out again. :)

Edited by PaulMags on 09/21/2011 22:24:24 MDT.

K ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Backpacking vs Thru-hiking on 09/21/2011 22:35:47 MDT Print View

I have never done a thru-hike and I would like to do that some day. Once you have children it becomes more difficult to get away for long periods of time; just making sure they have health insurance means working a full time job, at least for me.
The way I live makes it that I don't really need to get away from much; I just miss the mountains every so often......

Edited by Kat_P on 09/23/2011 22:25:46 MDT.

K ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Article on 09/21/2011 22:36:23 MDT Print View

Oh, and I did enjoy the article.

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Thru-hiking vs. the world on 09/21/2011 23:20:02 MDT Print View

I have to agree with Rainier, re-entry into regular society is the toughest aspect about thru-hiking. The fact is that thru-hiking is rather stress free compared to everyday living. There are fewer choices on the trail and the goal is always clear - move forward. "Regular" life the choices are seldom as clear-cut or result in as much satisfaction as a long hike to a beautiful vista.

I thru-hiked at age 38. Had I done one at 24, my life might be very different now, perhaps I would have become a part-time worker and thru-hiking junkie. I'd love to go again, but at this point in my life, there are other considerations including career, relationships, mortgage.

I often wonder if I could magically change my life and become mostly a thru-hiker and say, a part-time seasonal worker who saves enough money to go on a thru-hike every couple of years. Would that be enough? Would I hike down the trail with a light heart or a mind full of doubts and reservations? Everything is a choice, even the great thru-hiker Scott Williamson has addressed the trade-offs involved (retirement, medical coverage, some semblance of financial security.) Would it be still as meaningful if I knew I could go whenever I could scare up enough money to cover the trip? I recall how desire was a strong part of my PCT trip - I had this once chance, knew a lot of people sacrificed so I may have had this opportunity, and I wasn't going to quit unless it was due to a pretty serious injury.)

I'd encourage everyone to try a thru-hike, but would temper expectations. I am not a huge optimist, nor am I one of those people who see the good in everything. So consider my words with that in my mind. Thru-hiking is like life itself in one important regard: you have good days, great days, some ho-hum days and a few bad days. You hike for the long haul, relish in those sublime moments and when things aren't going your way, try to find solace in your trail friends, food bag and that tomorrow will be a new day. If you expect the trail to be completely captivating with every step, you are bound to be disappointed There are likely going to be stretches where you are bored, exhausted, frustrated, injured and dejected. The weather alone can make epic stretches of trail seem pedestrian and the most pedestrian of views seem epic.

But after it's all done, you will find yourself looking at old photos and trail journals and reveling in very sweet memories. You will share a strong bond with those you shared the trail, and you will wax nostalgic about the finest days and laugh at ridiculous tales from the trail. I miss it every day. I think about it every day. I would like to try it again, only to do it differently, with a lighter heart and pack, with greater confidence and with the knowledge that it really isn't the destination, but the journey that matters.

Edited by dirk9827 on 09/22/2011 01:56:55 MDT.

Matthew Zion
(mzion) - F

Locale: Boulder, CO
Re: Thru Hiking on 09/22/2011 10:45:08 MDT Print View

Love everyones comments. I agree with just about everything said. Thru hiking is a drug and anyone considering it should beware and go ahead and mark 4 or 5 years off your calendar.

Like Mags I try to take advantage of the outdoors here in CO but I find weekend hikes lackluster and prefer a trail run or bike ride. Without hitch hiking, getting lost, kindness of strangers, new friendships, and an end goal weekend trips typically leave me wanting for more. More often than not my weekend trips are more motivated by keeping my 'skills' honed, testing new equipment and making sure my legs are use to the up and downs. To each their own but I think the complete thru hiking experience is what keeps people coming back and I hope anyone on these forums that is interested in doing one quits their job and goes for it.

Warren Greer
(WarrenGreer) - F

Locale: SoCal
Wake up call on 09/25/2011 21:35:57 MDT Print View

That's a good way to look at this article. Many members here know most of this stuff. But, maybe they've not put it all together in the context of a thru-hike.

For me, thru's have always sounded romantic, but long day after long day, not so much. I like to hike a day or two in, then set up camp and day hike from there. Adventuring is what I really like.

In the end, it is best to know thy self. Then you can save yourself from some serious mistakes that look romantic but would be the worst job ever if you really attempted it.

BTW - Read some thru-hike blogs and you'll get some real perspective if that is the life for you, at least for six months or so.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Bringing in new readers on 09/27/2011 13:54:27 MDT Print View

I found this article from a link on Whiteblaze. So articles that don't preach to the choir are a great way to get more readers here.

Thru-hiking is a lot different from backpacking. It has been a harder lesson to learn AFTER my long distance hiking than before.

Not everyone you hike with after thru-hiking is going to want to push on for 20 mile days. Not everyone is going to want to eat a one-pot meal, fall asleep and get up really early itching for more. Adjusting to lower miles and less ambitious goals can be difficult. Plus nobody wants to hike with you anyway, thinking you're some kind of hiking god who they have to apologize to all the time for "holding you back."

I've had to get used to stopping for the day at 2 or 3pm again. I've had to get used to hiking trips where we didn't cover very much ground and possibly didn't cover much ground simply because we were there to cut brush or the trail was in such bad shape we couldn't just put our heads down and walk fast and far. It hasn't been a bad adjustment, but it has been one.

I've done a few section hikes on the PCT during thru-hiking season and been surprised how free I felt that I could take a detour and spend a few hours soaking in Deep Creek while the thru-hikers thought it was too much extra mileage out of their way (there was a detour this year). Or that I could look at a growing storm cloud and a snowy mountain ahead and feel really happy I got to go home and be warm and dry and not proceed into that mess.

I've even felt surprised how nice it is to toss in a few luxuries into my pack that I wouldn't have dreamed of carrying on my long distance hikes. The first luxury I brought was an insulated mug and some coffee. For crying out loud, that's not even a luxury to most people!

Distance hiking ruined me for almost 4 years. Now that I've gotten back into the swing of ordinary life, I sometimes feel bad that I would have to get used to sleeping on the ground without a pillow and being dirty again. At the same time, I'm grateful every single day that I look at my feet and see clean toenails. It took a long time to get used to just dayhiking again but I'm back to enjoying it like I used to. It took a long time to get used the the dry climate where I normally hike but I've started to see the beauty of it again. It was really hard getting back into work again but I did it and I can't believe it but I'm actually happy going to work each day. I don't know when I'll ever do another long distance trail. I would love to do another one but I don't know if I can do the whole reentry thing again. It was really hard.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Backpacking versus Thru-hiking on 09/27/2011 23:36:06 MDT Print View

I am not a thru-hiker and never will be! 5-7 mile days are about all I can do, even with a light pack (with the packs I used to carry, I now couldn't backpack at all!). My hiking style has been and will continue to be "admire the views, smell the flowers, sit under a tree or wander around a meadow and take in my surroundings." I have no desire to set a record getting from (to quote the late Harvey Manning) "Bug Bog to Blister Pass." Or to go from Mexico to Canada (at 5 miles per day, it would take me longer than I probably have to live).

On the other hand, I greatly admire thru-hikers for what they accomplish. In fact, I admire them so much that I'm going to be at Cascade Locks tomorrow at 8 am. to ferry "Balls" and "Sunshine" up to Wahtum Lake to hike the 14 miles they had to miss due to the Dollar Lake Fire's blowing up while they were at PCTA Trail Days.

Talk about will--that 11-year old girl has overcome so much! The horrendous snow conditions, blisters, loneliness when the rest of the pack got ahead or behind... She developed an infected blister in Oregon and had to leave the trail for a few days. The doctor insisted she quit, and she cried! Contrary to what the doctor predicted, she was back on the trail, her foot doing fine, a few days later! They reached Canada Saturday night and I'm really looking forward to meeting them tomorrow when they finally complete the entire trail!

And as for preaching to the choir: Considering how specialized this forum is, there are a surprising of newbies with 20-30 lb. base weights who come and post here asking for help! We definitely do need articles for beginners!

Edited by hikinggranny on 09/27/2011 23:38:24 MDT.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
re-entry on 09/28/2011 07:47:44 MDT Print View

Piper- thanks for that insight, it sounds like a very real possibility after a thru-hike. With that said, I think I'm still ready to give it a go :)

Mary- you and my wife would get along dreamily :) she has the exact same attitude, ours is a bit of a ying/yang relationship with hiking (probably beyond hiking too! :) ), but we make it work- she goes a little further than she probably would on her own, I go less- she feels proud of her accomplishments on the trail, I see a heck of a lot more than I would at my own pace

Darren Bagnall

Locale: El Portal, CA
mental fortitude on 01/15/2012 12:00:47 MST Print View

I have thought about this topic much since my PCT thru attempt in 2010 and I never once considered gear. New thru's - don't get side tracked by the gear discussion. The real insight is that walking 20 miles per day (almost) every day is a completely different sport than backpacking. You simply have no idea how your body will react to you asking it preform in this way. Like-wise you have no idea how much mental fortitude it takes to ask your body to do this day in and day out no matter what the weather and no matter how tired, hungry, or injured you are.

In my opinion, the major difference is the mental fortitude. Before your thru, spend time contemplating why are embarking
on this journey. Make sure you are highly committed, motived, and excited! Visualize your desired outcome. You will need every ounce of motivation.

Get in the best shape you can before the trail and spend the first two - three weeks hiking at YOUR pace (the pace your body wants to go). Then and only then start pushing.

The rest of the stuff you can figured out on the trail.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Backpacking versus Thru-hiking on 01/15/2012 14:46:11 MST Print View

The author states that there is a difference in the opening, and I agree.

I have never done a 'thru-hike' but have done two 6-month backpacking trips, and many shorter ones over the years. I have been tinkering with the idea of doing the PCT when I retire, but I am not sure I will be happy living away from the wife for that long.

Thinking back to my first lengthy trip in 1971, here are some of the differences in my mind:

The goal - for me was to hike for a period of time, which was not defined. I figured that when it was time to go home, I would know it. There was one limitation, I was not prepared or interested in staying the the Sierras in winter. So the trip would probably end in September or October. I started in April. For a thru-hiker, the goal is point A to point B. So you set yourself up for failure or success from day one. On my trip there was no destination.

Time - a thru hike requires a detailed plan on how to get from A to B. It must include logistics for food and weather (snow in the Sierras, as this year) that can be obstacles. For me, I needed food every couple hundred miles, sometimes longer because I had the luxury to fish for trout almost everyday. Also, time includes stress to get back to a job, school, or other commitments. For me, I had just gotten out of the military, had zero obligations and had a couple thousand dollars in the bank, which is probably over $10K in today's money.

Planning - a thru hike requires a lot of logistics to meet the time and food issue. For me, I just needed a map to show how close the next town was when food got low, and I had no idea where I might be in two weeks, a month, or even longer.

Social aspect - for many thru-hikers this is a big part of the adventure. Thus, we have "trail names, trail angels, and hiker havens." My goal was to avoid as many people as possible, to leave the human aspect behind as much as possible. To be honest, when I started, I really knew nothing about the John Muir Trail, other than it was marked on my forest service map. Once I got around the Whitney area, I decided to go to Yosemite via the JMT. Once I got near Yosemite, the crowds turned me off and I turned around and went back, although with many, many scenic detours. I never had any desire to return to Yosemite until around 2004, when my son wanted to visit. And it was worse than I expected, other than the overwhelming scenery.

Spontaneity - not a lot of leeway on the thru-hike. There are time tables to meet. For me, if I found a wonderful place, I might stay there for a few days or even a week.

So I finished the trip in mid-September, because it felt like time to go back. And the trip was successful, because the only goal was to enjoy whatever felt right each day. Highly recommended approach.

Joseph Regallis
(backpackandgear) - F
Backpacking versus Thru-hiking on 02/21/2012 07:21:57 MST Print View

Excellent article! My wife and I did an 8+ mile backpacking hike yesterday and it was tiring. We are both in our mid fifties so things are not as easy as when we were younger. My wife doesn't like to carry a backpack so I carry most of our food and drinks on my back. I use a smaller day pack and try to carry plenty of water and drinks (we once backpacked a mountain in northern VA and ran out of liquids, not good). We also brought our 2 small dogs who have lots of energy (5 years old) and who drank a lot of our water. I'm discovering as I get older and still want to do some great hikes that I may have to get my gear weight down more and more. Maybe get a water filtration system (if its lighter) and get a tarp instead of a tent. Thanks again for the article and keep up the good work!

Nigel Healy
(nigelhealy) - F

Locale: San Francisco bay area
Re: Re: thru-hiking ruined my life on 02/21/2012 10:06:06 MST Print View

LoL. Try doing a deskjob and concentrate on the work when your mind is thinking about needing to keep fitness, maintaining toughness of the human body and improving one's gear.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
American or Un-American? on 02/23/2012 17:45:18 MST Print View

Not sure what it is about us Americans... but it seems we have a greater tendency than most to categorize our activities and ourselves!

(1) Must '"everything' be either one or the other? Backpacker or thru hiker? Democrat or Republican? Liberal or conservative? And so on and so forth... Obviously, labels are also used by others as well... but we seem to have this anal requirement to put everyone and everything into some neat box or another! When will we finally realize that people are multi-faceted, generally inconsistent and downright ambiguous?

(2) As well, many seem to have a mindset that operates like this: we judge people outwardly -- by the things they own! What? You camp only with one pot? You're a thru hiker then! I might be "unfair" -- people usually judge on more than just one possession -- but you get the idea?!?

I am NOT a thru hiker -- although I might just give that crazy idea a go one of these days. However, I do carry:

o just one ultralight titanium pot
o no extra clothes
o light sleeping bag (sleep with your clothes if it's cold)
o small, lightweight backpack
o neither camp shoes nor chair
o no gadgets -- preferring nature's sounds or even just the sound of silence.

But I am not a thru hiker.

K ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Re: American or Un-American? on 02/23/2012 18:04:23 MST Print View

No Ben, no! This is giving me a headache. I need to file you into one of the two categories! I need things to be simple and you are complicating everything.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
My Take on 02/23/2012 18:23:12 MST Print View

I completely missed this thread, likely while I was in my post hike funk....

What is difficult to appreciate is the difference between normal hiking and thru hiking. Prior to my hike I read countless journals, non of which would prepare me for the true difference, it's the lifestyle. To be able to truly "go off grid" for months at a time allows you to get in tune with your environment in a way that week long trips fail to do. It is precisely this lifestyle that I failed to understand prior to my trip and it is this aspect that I miss the most. All the talk of gear etc in the article is frankly irrelevant.

I do wonder though, if thru-hiking ruined me. I have only done a couple of trips since my return and those were very low mile social trips which are in great contrast with my typical prehike trips. I have been able to partially integrate back into society but I also know that I have my gear packed and a set of halfmiles maps in the basement that could allow me to hike the PCT again at a moments notice. Will I? Hopefully not, but it helps my mental health knowing that I have the option.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: My Take on 02/23/2012 19:09:07 MST Print View


It is not necessary to "thru-hike" to go off the grid for months at a time. Actually you can get further away from the grid by wandering around for months at a time, with a little heavier load, which is more food and fewer re-supplies. If you do it right, you will also avoid most other hikers. But I think many thru-hikers actually enjoy the company of other thru-hikers. The social interaction is part of the allure, which for me would not be a positive. Nothing wrong with either. HYOH :)

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: My Take on 02/23/2012 20:12:29 MST Print View

What is difficult to appreciate is the difference between normal hiking and thru hiking... "

EXACTLY! Which goes back to my point questioning the wisdom (and even logic) of distinguishing the two activities based on the gear that people buy (or use)!

Edited by ben2world on 02/23/2012 20:13:37 MST.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: My Take on 02/23/2012 20:37:10 MST Print View


As mentioned, I've never done a thru-hike, but I "think" I can understand what you mean re. "lifestyle" and "getting in tune with [an altogether different] environment". I would appreciate your feedback to see if our perceptions have any commonality...

I went on a 7-month, solo RTW trip back in 2008. Prior to that, I have done many month-long trips. And initially, I figured the RTW would be a fairly similar experience -- just longer. But a completely unexpected discovery from my RTW trip was the sensation of being completely at ease with wherever I was at any moment or place -- my home (with all the feelings of belonging that one associates with one's home) -- was simply wherever I happen to be!! The "lifestyle" of changing hostels every 1-3 days, of quickly learning and getting comfortable with new locations and street names and cultures, etc. and then moving on and repeating again, etc. -- all became merely "the new normal"! This was much more than just feeling at ease. It was a "higher feeling" of actually belonging to a much bigger world (and also feeling I belong to whatever specific locality of the moment). It was both very macro and very micro at the same time.

I wonder if you felt the same when you wrote "lifestyle" and "environment" up above? That on a shorter trip, you might think about home or even doing post-trip scheduling... and then after a few months on a long trip, home is simply wherever you are at that moment -- until you feel so completely at ease that the entire new environment becomes your home! Towards the end of my trip, I was thinking to myself that if my shipping company had called to cancel my voyage home... I really wouldn't / couldn't care less! I was 100% ready to go home... and also 100% ready to continue on -- in other words, it made no difference at all where I was and where I would or should be heading to next -- it was all good.

Obviously a trip entailing trains, planes and ships is "different" from one where your only transportation is your own two legs. But then, do differences in transportation modes really affect one's psyche from a thru hike or thru trip? I would say "no" -- not much different than trips using different gear pieces!

Are your experience / feelings similar?

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Re: Re: My Take on 02/24/2012 09:13:39 MST Print View

You nailed it exactly. I actually suspect that your RTW trip is closer to the thru hike "feeling" than two weeks on say the JMT. Great summary of exactly what I was talking about!

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: My Take on 02/24/2012 09:27:10 MST Print View


Great to know! :)

Everett Vinzant
(wn7ant) - MLife

Locale: CDT
Re: Attitude on 05/17/2012 09:10:31 MDT Print View

I looked up the common definition of thru-hike:
Thru-hiking is the process of hiking a long-distance trail from end to end.

Appalachian Trail beginning to end 2184.2 miles
Average daily distance for 180 days 12.13 miles
Average daily distance for 90 days 24.26 miles

If the goal is to complete a trail beginning to end, in a time period (say six months), there is a minimum average distance that MUST be covered daily. Since distance = rate X time, if you slow the rate, you have to increase the time to cover the same distance. Since the article clearly stated it was about FINISHING a hike (beginning to end), I assume you have some technology available to you that allows you access to a 48 hour day to make up the distance? At least I hope... I have kids and could REALLY use such a thing.

The absurdity above was just to illustrate that the point of this particular article was to finish a trail beginning to end. I TOTALLY agree with the idea of being gone for 90 days, even if I only get ten miles out. Maybe I found some interesting fungi to write about. Perhaps there is a scene that just SCREAMS "sketch me." Maybe there is a stupid squirrel that shows up every morning to talk to you, and you really enjoy practicing communicating with politicians (though you could practice that with the fungi too).

As much fun as all this would be, I don't see that it would be conducive to getting from the beginning to the end of a 2184 mile trail.

I recommend a new term to cover this kind of hike. Mmmmmmm, how about, Zen hike? The point is being there in the moment, not even where you end up. And when you decide you're done, you stop.

Andy Jarman

Locale: Edge of the World
Preaching to the converted? on 11/14/2012 21:02:02 MST Print View

Lynne Wheldon's video's got me into this mess, and I'll be forever grateful to him for it. Anyone who hasn't seen his stuff, you should take a look, its getting a bit long in the tooth now, but the lessons are enduring. Anything can take a couch potatoe like me and get him out of bed at 5am every morning for a 5mile jog out of sheer shame at the waste he was making of his life has got to be good. This sort of article is spot on as far as I am concerned.

Erik Basil

Locale: Atzlan
Re: Backpacking versus Thru-hiking on 12/05/2012 09:30:50 MST Print View

This article is a fun read, albeit somewhat provocative regarding the habits and characteristics of "backpackers". We're out of shape, eat expensive freeze dried food and carry chairs? Really?!?

Well, come to think of it, that's all true in my case, so it's probably true for the rest of you that self-identify as backpackers. Ha ha!! I can look by some of that to appreciate the point about Through-Hiking being an entirely different animal, especially after Day 7 on the trail.

Chris Townsend
(Christownsend) - MLife

Locale: Cairngorms National Park
Backpacking versus Thru-hiking on 12/05/2012 14:01:11 MST Print View

I must admit I've never really considered there was any difference. For me a thru-hike - and I've done plenty - is just a long backpacking trip. I think what the article is really describing is different attitudes and I agree you need a different attitude for thru-hiking than a short backpacking trip where distance doesn't matter. As for weight, well, on my first thru-hikes I carried more weight than on short backpacking trips because I thought I needed both more actual gear and also more durable and heavier gear. I still completed and enjoyed the thru-hikes though. Now I carry much the same however long the trip.

david brown
thru hiking vs. b.packing on 04/24/2013 20:40:56 MDT Print View

thanks for the great article :] I've always enjoyed the woods/trails for the simple reason I get to do my own thing and I do appreciate advise from others. but if I want to use tp after taking a crap after eating a huge fancy meal after enjoying it from the comfort of my CHAIR then let me [really how does it affect you ?] Please try to remember why you go out there ....... to enjoy YOUR self so please do so .Throwing around criticism is littering as well. And its just as rude as leaving poopy tp on da trail. have fun , god bless , and don't worry b- happy

Carlos M Perez
(carlosmfd) - M

Locale: Lake Nelson, Wind Rivers
Re: backpacking vs thru-hiking on 11/12/2015 05:45:43 MST Print View

I think that the article should have been titled "Hiker vs Camper". I believe the real difference is not the gear, but the goals and mind-set.

I can appreciate and greatly respect the dedication, tenacity and heart required to undertake a through-hike, and recognize that many people enjoy both. However, the goals are very different. A through-hike, as a previous poster aptly described, is very linear, involves meticulous planning and adherence to a time-table. Fishing, exploring, nature-watching, etc, are rarely a consideration. It also has a very social aspect, with human connections made that enhance the experience.

Hiking, on the other hand, is simply a means to immerse oneself in nature. The only timetable involves arrival and departure. All the time in between is frequently subject to chance and whim, or to a very generalized timetable. I have done everything from day hikes to 2 week off-trail bush whacking (the Wind Rivers and all the awesome trout-filled lakes, for example). As my experience has increased, my pack weight has plummeted, and I use many of the ultralight techniques I have learned both here and elsewhere to increase my comfort and enjoyment, as well as to increase the time available for those, being able to crank out some serious miles is a rush in itself!

We should worry less about HOW we hike, and just get out and do it while we can! And if we happen to cross paths some day, I'll be sure to share my trout and chocolate ;)

Be safe! Carlos m. Pérez