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Thru-hiking FAQ Answered by the Community

Kenna Sarae Kuhn             12/10/2020
Kenna Sarae Kuhn
12/10/2020

We talked to some of our favorite thru-hikers about their experiences and advice for newer hikers. Here is what we learned.

What’s one piece of advice that you have for new thru-hikers?

TWERK “Make sure there is nowhere else in the world that you want to be. If you plan on completing a thru-hike, this will get you through.”

LIZ “It gets easier. Take it day by day.”

JOHN “Cliche but it’s true: Never quit on a bad day.”

KATELIN “Don’t overthink it, just hike. Things will work out in ways you could never imagine.”

SARAHTrain your mind. You’re going to be uncomfortable and have to deal with the unexpected. Prepare your mind to see it out and know it won’t last.”

TAHLIABe kind to yourself. The beginning is often the hardest, so be patient with your body as it learns. Everything will get easier, you just have to give it time.”

DAHN “It’s easy to get caught up in the how, where, what, when of a hike… But the most important question to consider is the why? All the other questions have a way of sorting themselves out.”

COTEZI “Make an effort to condition yourself physically as much as you can prior to the hike! Your feet will thank you and you’ll have that much more fun with it.”

What is a piece of luxury gear or food that you never hike without?

TWERK “Camera.”

LIZ “Vegetables and fruits (dried and not) may not be the highest calories per ounce, but they’re worth it.”

JOHN “My inflatable sleeping pad/pillow. A good nights sleep is crucial!”

SARAHGreen tobasco sauce. If you wanna be real ultralight you get a travel shampoo bottle from the store and transfer the precious liquid so you’re not carrying around glass weight.”

AMITHTHAN “Coconut milk powder, but don’t use it as a dairy substitute in your coffee though.”

DAHN “I don’t really consider anything I carry as luxury, even if other people don’t use it or if I could make do with it, I find every piece to be necessary for a successful and enjoyable trip!”

COTEZI “FRESH AVOS!”

How do you prepare for a long hike?

KATELIN “I like to stay active and research the trail. It’s important to me that I respect the areas I’m visiting by learning as much as I can.”

AMITHTHAN “If I am being practical, save up for essential pieces of gear; but more realistically, these days I just try to eat all the things I know I won’t find, even in the most luxe trail town.”

TAHLIA “I’m a Type A nerd, so when it comes to preparation I create lots and lots of spreadsheets – Namely (1) What gear I need (2) My predicted timeline (3) Budgeting and (4) my resupply options.”

DAHN “Get absolutely stoked about what I am about to do, while trying not to ruin any of the surprises/highlights by doing too much research. I find the planning to be just as exciting as the doing.”

COTEZI “Start hiking with a pack on ASAP. Get familiar with the overall trail and towns. Start saving up money.”

What is something you crave incessantly while hiking (food, activities, anything)?

TWERK “I missed cooking in a kitchen!”

JOHNWe all crave the food we can’t have. I miss riding horses while I hike but when home I miss hiking.”

AMITHTHAN “I wish I can have steaming plate of hot white rice and a thick, spicy chicken done up Sri Lankan style in rich, fresh coconut milk and lots of the most perfectly buttery of potatoes — on trail pretty much all the time. Sometimes I wish that the trail is routed around natural hot spring once very 300 miles.”

TAHLIA “A steaming hot shower.”

DAHN “The next view, whatever is around the next bend.”

COTEZI “Pasta and warm bread with butter.”

Cold-soak or stove?

TWERK “Stove.”

LIZ “Stove. I cold soaked for almost the entire Triple Crown. I’m over it.”

KATELIN “I’ve always brought a stove, but for the PCT I’m planning to start without one.”

AMITHTHAN “Cold soak is fine and there’s nothing wrong with taking this route. A stove has benefits that cannot be measured in grams.”

SARAH “Stove forever!! Knowing I can have a hot meal anytime I want is gold.”

TAHLIA “Cold soaking is for aliens.”

DAHN “Neither! Cold soaking is gross, stoves are cumbersome and finicky. I opt for real food.”

COTEZI ” Recently switched to cold-soak. Might not go back!”

Two hikers make dinner on a stove at sunset
Photo provided by Kenna Sarae Kuhn

If you were to re-hike your first long-distance trail, what would you do differently?

TWERK “I would take less zero days in town and more in beautiful places on trail (39 zeroes on my thru in 2018).”\

LIZ “I’ve been lucky to rehike almost all of my first thruhikes. There’s a lot of things I’ve done differently, but I think the most important thing is I’ve finally learned to stop giving into peer pressure and to hike my own hike–stop and take breaks when I want and go the speed I want and to separate what I want from any guilt or meaning associated with that decision.”

KATELIN “I wouldn’t change a thing! I have learned so much from every little moment, the good the bad and the ugly.”

AMITHTHAN “Nothing. AT took me as long as I needed to get to where I wanted to get to in every sense of that word.”

TAHLIA “I wouldn’t put so much pressure on myself to keep up with everyone else. I think learning how to actually “hike your own hike” is very important.”

COTEZI “I’d train my feet better.”

What is something another hiker, friend, or family member has done to support you in your hiking endeavours?

TWERK “My Mom and Dad drove from California to Hart’s Pass to pick me up when I finished. I bawled my eyes out when I saw them. I’ll never forget that day.”

JOHN “Just being supportive and kind. One friend sent me a goody box once that meant a lot to me. The best was a stranger reached out and sent me a care package and a massage while I was on the Te Araroa which was amazing!”

KATELIN “t’s not exactly a specific thing, but making friends with other thru hikers on trail can be such a morale boost. They have gone through the same challenges and can relate on another level. Trail fam will do anything for you.”

AMITHTHAN “Understand[ing] that they don’t quite understand what it is that I am trying to understand or do out there, and encourag[ing] me to find that out on my own terms.”

TAHLIA “My Dad is my biggest supporter. Last week he called in sick so that he could drive me 3.5 hours to Taumarunui (where I had gotten off trail) – all so I wouldn’t have to hitchhike in a storm. He then had to drive all the way back straight after dropping me off. I was really moved that he did this for me.”

DAHN “My family was incredibly supportive of my plan to hike for two years straight, and I feel so fortunate to have a nuclear family that accepted such an outlandish and non-orthodox long term life goal.”

How have you adapted in 2020 to remain safe while still hiking and exploring?

TWERK “I go where I know there won’t be a lot of people.”

LIZ “I’m conscious that some people look to me as an example of what to do in these times. Living in LA county, which has/had some of the highest numbers of cases, I’m extraordinarily cautious about my choices, especially about travel. I didn’t thru hike this year for the first time since 2006. It hurt, but I felt better knowing knowing that I made a choice that felt morally right to me. My hikes were local to the Sierra and all loop hikes that were short enough to do without resupply. They were mostly off trail. And I realized that I got to see all sorts of cool things and places that are in my backyard that I had forgone to hike places farther afield. This year made me explore new things and appreciate what I have–and for that, I’m super grateful.”

AMITHTHAN ” I actually hiked the GDT in 2020 but cancelled the CDT. The decision to hike and not to hike revolved around my responsibility to myself, my loved ones and the hiking community without which thru hiking is simply not possible.  Unlike the CDT hike that would have been extremely challenging to avoid too much interaction in vulnerable communities, putting myself and others at risk, I opted for the GDT that was in my own province with bailout options pre-arranged. Thru hiking is selfish but I strongly felt that my selfishness shouldn’t cost somebody else their life or livelihood.”

SARAH “Staying close to home, finding less-populated local trails. Practicing social distancing and wearing a mask.”

TAHLIA “I’m very lucky to live in NZ where we have effectively gotten rid of COVID-19. However I am aware that this can change at any moment so (1) I carry a face mask with me at all times, (2) I keep up with the news so that I’m alerted if anything changes and (3) I check in with NZ’s COVID tracer app everywhere I go so that if there is another outbreak there can be effective contact tracing.”

DAHN “Staying more local, avoiding needless contact with others, respecting ordinances, always having a mask and hand sanitizer on hand, limiting town time.”

What is a funny trail memory that is burned into your mind forever?

LIZ “So many! On the PNT, I ordered a burger called the Mountain Man. The server looked at me like “no way this little lady can eat this!” And tried to talk me out of it. So of course, I ordered it. Ate it. Ate my hiking partner’s extra fries. Downed two beers. All while making sure they saw everything I ate. When I left the Dirty Shame saloon, I was too full to move and my stomach hurt so much, I passed out on the grass across the street. We couldn’t hike out of town and had to get a cabin because I ate too much!”

KATELIN “A bunch of hikers- friends and strangers, packed into a shelter like sardines after a cold, tough rainy day, giggling until we fell asleep. It was the last night on trail and maybe the best.”

AMITHTHAN “I’ll never forget running into a boy scout troupe of about 20 boys going the other way on Naked Hike day somewhere in Virginia; my bubble at the time had three women and three men; one had on a few leaves, another a turtle shell for a “coin purse” and horsehair woven into the his mohawk. None of us had clothing that left much to the imagination.  I’ll never forget the dropped jaws on those boys. I’d like to think we inspired some future thru hikers that day.”

SARAH “Just outside of Agua Dulce on the PCT in ‘15 I said goodnight to a few other hikers and zipped up my tent. Another hiker stopped me to ask me if I’d been sleeping in my tent that way since I started the trail.. I was confused and told him yes. Come to find out, I’d been sleeping with my head at the foot-end. We all start somewhere.”

DAHN “Early on, while hiking Te Araroa, in NZ, a couple of friends and I started playing the, put a rock in someone’s pack without them noticing game. One of my fellow hikers managed to sneak in a massive stone into the top of my pack as we left town with a HUGE resupply. The hike out of town was absolutely Sisyphean. When we finally took a break to eat a couple of hours later and I opened up my pack, we all had belly laughs until our abs hurt.”

COTEZI “Crying like a baby in the pit toilet of harts pass after hiking 30 mi back from Canada at the end of my PCT because nobody was there to give me a ride to town. It was like 20 degrees and I had no dry clothes or food left.”


Learn more about these hikers:

Cotezi

@cotezi

Amiththan

@timeplacedrift

Katelin

@katethewild

Read more!

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A lake reflects a nearby wildflower meadow and trees.
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

Kenna Sarae Kuhn

Kenna grew up in Northern California visiting her grandmother’s cabins along the PCT, which helped catalyze her love for the outdoors and interest in backpacking. She is particularly passionate about the intersection between sustainability and outdoor recreation, connecting with womxn and communities that have been historically underrepresented in outdoor spaces, and pesto pasta. You’re likely to find her having an impromptu dance party with her pup, whether it’s while backpacking, climbing, mountain biking, or just on the side of the road.