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8 Things You Should Do to Prepare for a Thru-hike

Preparing for a thru-hike or long-distance backpacking trip can be overwhelming if you don't have a plan. Here are 8 steps to get you started on your incredible journey. Yes, it will be more complicated than just following these steps, but this is a good start.

Paul Bodnar       Educational       01/28/2021
Paul Bodnar
Educational
1/28/2021
A hiker on the Colorado Trail.

1. Research the different trails and best times to hike.

Each trail provides a different experience and hiking in different months of the year can also change the experience. For example hiking the John Muir Trail in May or June is a completely different experience than hiking in July and August. Some trails are more traveled and others can be very isolated. Check out our guides to find the best trail for you. 

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Backpacking gear

2. Research the gear you will need.

Different trails will require different gear. For example you might need an ice-axe and microspikes if you are thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. These requirements can also change depending on time of the hike and winter snow conditions. But there is a lot of common backpacking equipment you need.

10 Affordable Lightweight Gear Options
6 resupply boxes with food

3. Research your resupply strategy.

Some trails are easy to buy food along the trail and other trails require you to mail food ahead. Most hikers do a combination of the two. You can estimate food weight for a specific hike here.  

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trail sign

4. Research the permits you will need.

Some trails require permits and some don’t. We created a permit list for all of the trails we have guides for to make it easier to see.

View Our Permit List
A green tent overlooking a lake and mountains

5. Go on short overnight test hikes

I recommend going on some short overnight hikes before your thru-hike to dial in your gear. In just one night of hiking you will have the time to test out almost all the gear you will be using on your thru-hike. It is almost guaranteed that you will find things you can improve or will want to change. 

A man and woman hiking on a big grassy field

6. Make sure to train beforehand

The best way to get into physical shape is to practice hiking with your pack on. Select hikes with elevation changes similar to the trail you are hiking. I would recommend starting out with hiking just a mile or two on more level terrain. Then gradually increasing the miles and slope until you can easily hike the lower end of your daily mileage of your long-distance hike.

Steepest Climbs on the AT, CDT, & PCT
A savings glass jar with coins in it and next to it

7. Start saving

Make sure you have enough money for your specific thru-hike. The cost of your hike can vary a lot depending on the length of the hike and your town spending. Check out our thru-hiking cost calculator here:  

Try Our Calculator
A mom and her son and dog outside on a hike

8. Make it fun

Preparing should be fun. Researching, buying new equipment, and learning about your hike should be fun. If you feel overwhelmed it is okay to take a couple of days off and relax. 


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Photo courtesy of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association
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Showers Lake Vista, Tahoe Rim Trail
Photo courtesy of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association

Trail guides that get you to places you’ve dreamed of.

As the makers of Guthook Guides, Bikepacking Guides, and Cyclewayz, we help you navigate the most popular trails around the world on your smartphone. Our hiking guides and biking guides work completely offline. Let Guthook guide your next adventure!

Download our popular hiking and biking guides!
About the Author
A man wearing an Arizona Trail baseball cap stands in a field in front of a mountain.

Paul Bodnar

Paul has always liked hiking and thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 1997 after college. After years of working in chemistry, he wanted to create a career involving the outdoors, so he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail again in 2010 to do research for his guide book Pocket PCT. He realized that creating a smartphone app for navigating the outdoors would make it easier to keep the data current and provide a better way to navigate. While hiking with Ryan (aka Guthook) in 2010, they decided to work together to create the first comprehensive smartphone guide for the Pacific Crest Trail. Now with the help of a team of great people they have created over 50 guides for trails around the world.