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Backpacking versus Thru-hiking
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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. PĂ©rez