How to Prepare Your Mind, Body for Thru-Hikes

While preparing for a thru-hike, be prepared to be offered a lot of advice by those who have and have not actually hiked the trail. A first time thru-hiker often feels like being a first-time parent, as no amount of preparation will help you to understand how to conquer the trail, end to end. Although there is not just one how-to guide for thru-hikes, there are many things that can make it easier on yourself so you can focus on the simple pleasures, like documenting the whole thing with your newly treasured XShot Sport you got yourself for the occasion, or the feather-like XShot Selfie stick that Samuel Martin embarked with him last year on the solo John Muir trail hike.

samuel martin on JMT

Samuel Martin on the John Muir Trail

Equipment Essentials

You can become a little overwhelmed while conducting research about what equipment to bring along on your hike. Every person, blog and website will say something different. There are a few items that no thru-hiker should be without, including but not limited to a:

In our experience, it’s best to talk with those who have completed thru-hikes to pick their brain on what was most helpful and what they brought along that they never took from their pack. Remember, you can always have items shipped to you at your drop off points, so don’t get too caught up in much more than the basic equipment. To access a comprehensive list to get you started, check out the Appalachian Trail gear list from Backpacker Magazine

Mental Preparation

In the moments on the trail when you are wet, hungry, tired, or potentially lost, it’s best to remember you’re only capable of taking one step at a time — and it’s not an option to just lay down and quit. Luckily, preparing your gear list can be a lot like a working meditation. As you hold your individual pieces of gear that will aid in your comfort and safety, you can begin to picture yourself on the trail and the experiences you will soon achieve. It’s easy to think about all of the beautiful things you will see and the wonderful people you will meet, but make sure your focus is on the trail. Nearly every thru-hiker can attest to the mental challenge it is to stay committed to the trail that batters and bruises you. Being prepared by doing sufficient research before embarking on your journey will help you feel at ease going into the hike.


Physical Preparation

When preparing your body for a thru-hike, it’s best to simulate the terrain in which you will be hiking. If you live at sea level but are looking to hike the Continental Divide trail, you will want to take a few trips to higher elevations to see how your body will acclimate. Try to hike up hills in neighborhoods if you don’t have access to mountains, and attempt to take at least one long hike per week leading up to your thru-hike. Start out wearing a day pack if you are a beginner and slowly add more weight until you are comfortably hiking with your anticipated load. Cross-training, with activities like swimming and yoga, will help to strengthen your back muscles that you aren’t used to using on a day-to-day basis but that you will rely on to hold up the weight of your pack.

In the case of thru-hikes, the saying is true that “the more you know, the further you’ll go!”

Join the conversation