A multi-thousand-mile trek may seem impossibly daunting. However, if you’re an experienced backpacker you likely already have the tools for success. And, if you aren’t, you can learn the basics easily…and hone them over several months of walking!
The thing to keep in mind for perspective is this: you will go into town at least once a week, usually more often. That means that you really are tackling a string of back to back 4-7 day long backpacking trips. In town you can shower, sleep in a bed, eat lots of food, buy anything you need, and regroup. So, if you can handle a 4-day backpacking trip, you can handle a thru-hike!
There are a lot of resources out there to get you started, but the best piece of advice I can give is to practice with your gear on local trails (or even your backyard) as you gain skills. Keep notes of things you used and didn’t use on each trip so that you can whittle away unnecessary items, or learn what can do double duty in your pack. Lots of things are nice to have when you’re camping, but thru-hiking is more about the hiking than the camping. The weight of what you carry will matter more than the comforts in camp.
When it comes to gear there is a wide range of items, styles, and types. The important thing is to find the pieces that work for you. There is no one size fits all! Comfort of your feet and your backpack are of utmost concern when thru-hiking. You can deal with a jacket that fits a little off, or whatnot, but if your back, shoulders, hips, and feet hurt you will be miserable. A good backpack will fit you comfortably, not rub sores into your shoulders or back, and carries your load well. Always start with fit, then find what’s the appropriate volume and style for the gear you’ll be carrying and the hike you’ll be doing.
The same process goes for your feet. I’ve used a lot of combinations over the years and finally settled on Altra trail running shoes paired with Point6 light or extra light socks. For my foot shape and the style of hiking I do, I needed wide forefoot shoes that were light and flexible. I needed socks that were durable and thermoregulating. This combo has suited me well in everything from the Appalachians to the Oregon Desert and Continental Divide. Try plenty of combinations and always anticipate foot swelling (up to an entire size!) when on a thru-hike. Don’t purchase shoes that are snug, always size up. I even buy my socks a size larger for this reason.
The other major consideration is food. You will be eating a lot. Like more than you ever thought possible. You may have an idea that you’ll eat healthy trail mix and dried fruit, but trust me, the call of M&M’s and soda will be loud. I recommend doing a mix of resupply boxes and buying along the way to ensure the base of your diet is nutritious and sustaining for the massive physical endeavor, but with room to eat indulgences and satisfy cravings. If you have a dietary restriction, boxes are even more crucial since many resupply towns along the way are small and lack much variety. There are numerous guides and online strategies out there. The best resources I’ve found are Yogi’s Guides to the PCT and CDT, Guthook/Atlas Guides (for a wide range of trails), and the Awol Guide for the Appalachian Trail.
A note on physical preparedness: if you are not currently active or haven’t done much backpacking be sure to start building a physical fitness base before hitting the trail. It is of course not necessary, many people simply hike into shape, however, this method greatly increases your risk of injury as your body adapts to the strain of hiking day after day. If you’re looking for additional guidance in this realm, you may want to check out the Adventure Ready Movement Module course I created for Katie Gerber: https://bit.ly/2GX3OQy
My Gear List for a September 5-Day Backpacking Trip:
- Altra Timp shoes
- Point6 Mini-crew socks (2 pr)
- Purple Rain hiking dress
- Appalachian Gear Co Alpaca Hoodie
- Montbell Windshirt
- Cuddleduds fleece baselayers (for sleeping)
Montbell Down Hugger Sleeping Bag
- Gossamer Gear Night Lite Pad
- Gossamer Gear stuff sacks (one for food, one for clothes)
- Gossamer Gear G4-20 Backpack
- Sawyer All-in-One water filter and two 1-liter bladders (also a Miir water bottle not shown in the picture)
- Montbell Wickron mask
- Sea to Summit Waterproof stuff sack for my sleeping bag
- Gossamer Gear LT-5 Trekking poles
- Appalachian Gear Co Alpaca beanie hat
- Trucker Cap
- Wool gloves
- Asoto Windmaster Stove and Aluminum pot from Gossamer Gear
- Ditties (sunscreen, bug spray, toothbrush and paste, Rawlogy therapy ball, bandages, Neosporin, Pepto, etc)
*Not shown is the Gossamer Gear Two tent (with polycryo groundsheet and stakes) and the fuel for the stove, all of which my husband carries.
National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, Heather Anderson—known as Anish on trails—became the second female to complete the “Double Triple Crown of Backpacking” in 2017. This entails completing the Appalachian, Pacific Crest and Continental Divide National Scenic Trails each twice. In 2018 she simultaneously became the first female Triple Triple Crowner and the first female Calendar Year Triple Crowner when she hiked all three of those trails in one March-November season.