Hiking Guides

What Is Thru-Hiking? 


Thru-Hiking is a hiking expedition from beginning to end, on a long-distance trail– and all completed in a single trip!

Without extensive preparation, such a trip might be uncomfortable or result in injury. Therefore it is essential to plan ahead.

This article is a guide to help you get started by:

  • Introducing the thru-hiking lifestyle
  • Outlining essential gear and equipment
  • Mentioning some thru-hiking tips
  • Discussing common thru-hiking mistakes

Let’s get started!

What Is Thru-Hiking? 

In essence, thru-hiking involves walking a long distance route from beginning to end without interruption. 

It often means going through many areas, and sometimes even traversing different countries. It’s a popular modern activity that attracts those looking to better themselves through a physically-challenging yet rewarding endeavor. 

If you’ve been searching the term, you may have encountered the romantic aspects of thru-hiking: 

The views of the uninhabited backcountry, the thru-hiker community that watches out for one another, the encouraging trail angels who work their trail magic, the straightforward lifestyle, and the notion that the trail provides for hikers in need.

To enjoy a successful thru-hike, you must be eager to take on challenges, go beyond your comfort zone, and crave the thrill of new experiences.

Section hiking is on the opposite end of the scale. You’ll still be tackling long-distance hiking trails, but as the name suggests, you’ll split the trail up into manageable sections do complete as and when you’re ready.

Popular Thru-Hiking Trails

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) near the USA-Mexican Border

Over many many years, particular thru-hiking trails have garnered great reputations with people from all over the world clambering to challenge themselves on specific routes.

Here are a few of the world’s most popular thru-hikes;

  1. Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) – This trail stretches 2,653 miles from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon, and Washington. It is popular due to its scenic beauty, including stunning views of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges.
  2. Appalachian Trail (AT) – The AT is a 2,198.4 mile trail that runs from Georgia to Maine through 14 states. It is popular due to its accessibility and well-established infrastructure, including shelters and campsites along the route.
  3. Continental Divide Trail (CDT) – The CDT is a 3,028 mile trail that runs from Mexico to Canada along the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains. It is popular for its challenging terrain and rugged beauty.
  4. Te Araroa Trail – The Te Araroa is a 1,864-mile trail that runs the length of New Zealand, from Cape Reinga in the North Island to Bluff in the South Island. It is popular for its diverse landscapes, including beaches, forests, and mountains.
  5. Camino de Santiago – This trail is a network of routes that lead to the city of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, where the remains of St. James are said to be buried. It is popular for its cultural and spiritual significance, as well as its scenic beauty.

These trails are popular among thru-hikers for a variety of reasons, including their stunning scenery, unique challenges, and opportunities for personal growth and self-discovery. Many of them also offer a chance to disconnect from modern life and connect with nature, while forging lifelong friendships with fellow hikers along the way.

Essential Thru-Hiking Gear and Equipment


The majority of thru-hikers pack a tent,  while others may carry a hammock. Which one you use depends on your preferences.

However, no matter which one you go with, durability and weight are the most important considerations.

It’s important not to place too much reliance on shelters along the trail as they are likely to be unreliable, given they are first come, first serve (if they even exist!).

If the shelter is already full you’ll have to continue hiking to the next shelter, which could take many more hours of walking– or you may have to ask for space, which is unpredictable and provides no promises.

Clothes and Accessories 

Aspiring thru-hikers frequently go overboard in this category. 

Hikers often need only minimal and robust clothing that will be suitable for the variety of weather conditions they will experience while thru-hiking. Here are some of the most important:

Lightweight Hat

A merino wool beanie is the most versatile hat for thru-hikers, and a sunhat should also not be underestimated.


Keeping warm in cold and damp weather is good for morale. Therefore, make sure to take comfortable, light, and warm gloves that retain their insulation when wet.

Hiking Pants

Which hiking pants are best for you depend on personal preference and the climate you’ll be hiking in. Whatever you choose, take durability and breathability into account.  

Hiking Boots

Hiking boots are better suited for heavy-load weights, providing improved ankle stability and rock protection.

Trail Running Shoes

Trail runners allow hikers to cover more ground quickly because they dry out faster, often resulting in fewer blisters. Additionally, they weigh much less than their hiking boot counterparts.

Hiking Spikes

Microspikes work well on reasonably flat hiking terrain with packed snow or ice. 

On a lengthy trip, however, wearing microspikes adds an extra pound to your feet, which will inevitably tire you out more quickly. 

Trekking Poles

Trekking poles can help with climbs by enhancing balance, as well as improving knee comfort on descents. They are also helpful for erecting tents.

First Aid Kit

First aid kits are another place where many hikers overpack. Simple first-aid kits should just contain the necessities.

Things to include in a first aid kit are:

  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Bandages
  • Duct tape
  • Gauze pads
  • Ibuprofen
  • Antibiotic cream
  • Hand sanitizer
  • A sewing needle
  • Sunscreen
  • A fire starter
  • Antihistamine and anti-diarrheal medications.

Food and Water

While trekking, you’ll become dehydrated very easily, and will need constant replenishment as a result. Therefore, 250ml of water should be consumed every 30–45 minutes, and you should carry at least 1 liter with you at all times.

On average, 1.5–2 pounds of food per day should be enough, so long as it is high in calories. 

However, rugged terrain, cold weather, or a lot of elevation on a trail will require you to eat more.  

Many thru-hikers suggest you avoid beans and bread, and instead recommend foods that are high in fat and protein, such as:

  • Tortillas
  • Nuts
  • Pasta
  • Avocados
  • Energy bars
  • Tuna
  • Beef jerky


Bring biodegradable soap or hand sanitizer so you can wash your hands at least once daily, as well as a mini toothbrush and toothpaste, toilet paper, floss, and vaseline for basic hygiene maintenance. 

Here’s a gear list with further information to help you while packing for your trip!

Tips for Thru-Hiking

Research and Plan

Make a list of the issues you believe will be most crucial to the success of your thru-hike when planning.

Here are a few key areas to consider:

  • Trail length and location
  • Trail navigation
  • Transport to and from your trail
  • Essential equipment
  • Weather
  • Resupplying water, food, and gear 
  • The financial burden and home bills.

Practice for the Big Hike

Experienced hikers recommend taking as many short hikes of two to three days as possible prior to any thru-hiking attempt, as this is excellent preparation.  

It’s a fantastic method to test your physical preparedness, comfort levels, equipment, and nutrition. 

Doing so will give you a safe opportunity to make mistakes, go home to correct them, go back out to test them, and to eliminate unnecessary gear and lower your pack weight.

Make Sure to Stretch

Hikers frequently forget to stretch before, during, and after a trek. Doing light static stretches will help your muscles recuperate, minimizing the risk of painful injuries.

It’s vital to stretch all areas of your body, including your quadriceps, hips, hamstrings, calves, chest, back, and shoulders.

Do Not Over or Underpack

It’s important to not overpack or underpack for a thru-hike for several reasons.

If you overpack, you will be carrying more weight than necessary, which can cause fatigue, muscle strain, and joint pain. This can make the hike much more difficult and increase the risk of injury.

In addition, overpacking can limit your mobility and make it harder to navigate through rough terrain. It can also make it more difficult to find and carry water, which is essential for staying hydrated on a long hike.

On the other hand, if you underpack, you may not have enough essential items to keep you safe and comfortable on the hike. For example, you may not have enough warm clothing for cold nights or enough food to keep your energy levels up. This can make the hike more dangerous and uncomfortable.

Therefore, it’s important to find a balance between packing enough gear to be safe and comfortable, but not so much that it becomes burdensome and difficult to carry. This can take some trial and error to find the right balance for each individual hiker and their specific needs on the trail.

Common Thru-Hiking Mistakes

Using the Wrong Gear

Ensure your gear is waterproof, your sleeping bag is warm, and your boots fit perfectly. The wrong equipment could have a harmful or even dangerous outcome.

In nature, anything can happen, so being prepared means carrying the right equipment.

Inadequate Planning

If you have the incorrect map, don’t consume enough food and water, or don’t check the forecast and ignore storm signs, you are putting yourself in significant danger. 

It’s therefore vital to research and plan for all contingencies before starting your thru-hike.

Poor Physical Fitness

Take it slow when you first start thru-hiking, as it’s easy to underestimate how difficult it can be. 

If you overextend yourself, you put yourself in a dangerous situation– making it much less enjoyable. 

It is better to do shorter hikes and slowly build up your fitness before trying harder and longer trails. 

Neglecting Hygiene

Thru-hiking can be dirty and sweaty, but neglecting hygiene can lead to skin infections and other health problems.

Hikers should practice good hygiene by washing their hands regularly, bathing or wiping down with wet wipes, and changing into clean clothes when possible. Hikers should also pack hand sanitizer and other personal hygiene items to maintain cleanliness on the trail.

Key Takeaways

When going on a thru-hike, it is crucial to plan, research, and test the equipment that works for you and slowly build up your hiking skills until you are ready to take such an extensive trip. 

Talk to seasoned thru-hikers, learn from their triumphs and mistakes, and become part of this supportive community. 

If you succeed, thru-hiking could prove to be one of your highest levels of personal achievement. It’s sure to result in some of your best and most cherished experiences!

Mitch Taylor
With over 20 years experience with camping and hiking, I've taken it upon myself to share my insights. From common camping and hiking questions to gear recommendations, your adventure starts here.

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