Going back to our roots, the first thru hike. What have we learned? What have we seen? What has changed?
Below we will describe 5 common mistakes that many first time thru hikers make (us included) and ways to go about avoiding them and the knowledge needed to do so.
1. GOING TOO FAST TOO QUICKLY
This one is easy to avoid, but we have seen many make this mistake and the consequences of this mistake. Hey, it is your first thru hike, enjoy it! If the way you go about enjoying it is, pushing high miles and long days do that as well, but also understand your body has never experienced, all these factors at once. You have a pack on all day, you hike through various terrain all day, your calories and food choices are drastically changed, your feet are going to take a pounding, and you have to wake up the next morning and do it all over again. So, while having trained or being in shape for your thru hike, by doing 5-10 mile runs or something similar there is no direct translation for this day after day grind. Your body is going to keep the toll. We have seen extremely tough people, extremely fit athletes, and mentally strong people attack the trail the first few days. This usually results in stress fractures, mental exhaustion, and a whole body-load of injuries (yes body-load is the right term, because it is FULL body hiking). Remember depending on the trail length you are going to be at this day after day for multiple months. Let your body acclimate, the miles will come, but first your body needs to catch up to your energy. Relax, enjoy, catch your breath, take in that viewpoint, and put one foot in front of the other, it is your first thru hike, take in the sights!
WATCH FOR THE SPEED LIMIT SIGNS, IF GOING 5 IN A 2 HEAVY FINES ENFORCED
2. Going Too Slow Too Much
This ties directly into the first item on the list, going too fast too quickly. While it is important to let your pace be found naturally and let the miles come to you, there is still work to be done. You do still have to set reasonable mileage markers for many reasons. You need to make your food last, weather windows, water sources, permits, a lot goes into each section on a thru hike. So, while you should not run out the gate trying to attack the trail, you should also set a reasonable goal of miles each day. This can fluctuate a lot with what you are comfortable with. We have heard of hikers that have started trails in February, when the normal start season might be March or April, to build in extra time for those smaller mile days and to let their body catch up. Yet, ultimately no matter how early you start there is going to be a weather cut-off for when it is safe to still be in some of these areas. Especially if you are doing a south to north trail. Take the Big 3 trails for example. On the CDT, Montana gets hammered by snow later in the season, on the PCT Washington gets hammered by snow and rain, and the AT while not as extreme, Mt.Katahdin actually closes down mid-October for the public's general safety. No matter what trail you are on there will be weather windows that need to be hit. Enjoy the miles, enjoy an extra Nero or Zero day, but also remember there might be 2,000+ more miles to be done, and remember the seasons.
TORTUGA IS HAPPY, BECAUSE THEY FOUND THEIR SLOW BUT STEADY PACE
3. Packing Your Fears
If you are not familiar with this phrase, in a nutshell it means that when going out on a backpacking trip what tends to be extra weight or unnecessary gear is due to what each individual deems to be essential because of their "fears". This can take shape in many different ways. An example from our personal experience was the fear of being too cold. This led us to pack out multiple layers and multiple jackets, when the right layering system, of a jacket, a thermal, and a base layer would have been sufficient. No you do not need (2) stoves in-case one breaks, no you do not need 8 Double AA batteries for back-ups for your headlamp, and no you certainly do not need that machete for overgrowth on the trail. While thru-hiking can be a multiple month long journey, you are not in the wilderness that entirety of the trip. You have to stop into towns to resupply on food, and you will have access to other necessities, in case something does break, or in case more batteries are needed. What it comes down to it, look ahead to the next section. If you are leaving town and only have 50-60 miles until the next town, depending on your miles you can get there within 3-4 days and make the appropriate adjustments if needed. If you have a 200+ mile section where there is absolutely no outs or bail points, you might want those extra batteries! Don't worry though those stretches are very few and far between. A lighter pack means less worries, and more enjoyment. So be practical about what is ahead of you, but do not worry too much about having everything finely tuned 100%. You will learn along the way and you will adjust as you learn.
PACK LESS, DON'T SCARE OUR SQUIRREL FRIENDS LIKE NUTTY, WITH GIANT PACKS
4. Hiking with Others / Alone
Find what works for you. If you love hiking with others, you will find like minded people out there that enjoy the same. If you love hiking alone, this is also possible as well. Starting off on a thru hike, the most popular two long distance trails right now are the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) and the AT (Appalachian Trail). These are both great trails to experience the hike that you wish to experience. With hiking continuing to grow in popularity, you can guarantee that almost everyday you will run into other thru hikers along these trails, if starting in the peak season. If you find a trail crew (or trail family) that you mesh with great! Yet, also be aware not to get stuck within a group that does not mesh well with what you want out of the journey. This can be different opinions in miles, town stops, hiking styles, or just difference of opinions in general. Remember this is your journey, to get what you truly want out of this experience, do not be afraid to continue on, even if that means leaving a trail family. Most likely there will be other friends and trail families you will meet along the way, and if they are doing the same type of hiking style as you are, most likely you will meet up with them eventually. You are not going out into the wilderness all alone (unless that is your goal, there are hikes for this as well) so do not worry too much about finding like minded hiking buddies! Also, if you love hiking alone, even on these more popular trails, it is your hike, you can always find solitude in each mile. It is a long trail so while you might run into others, you can still choose to hike the hike you wish. I would recommend if this is your preferred style though, to either choose a smaller trail to begin, or begin these more popular trails earlier or later than the peak season. Go out there open to new experiences, learn about yourself, learn the way you like to hike, and find your happiness!
YOU CAN SEE BY THE LOOK ON THEIR FACES THEY ENJOY HIKING TOGETHER!
5. CHEAP VS. "EXPENSIVE" GEAR
Lastly, but certainly not least, one of the most important mistakes to avoid is opting for the generic or cheaper version of gear. When planning to go out on a multiple month long journey, budgets tend to be tight. You need to have enough to travel to and from the trail, resupply in towns, stay in a few towns, and any other expenses that arise along the way. The general rule out there is it costs about $1,000 a month to be out on trail. This is not a set number however, some months might force you to stay in town more to avoid dangerous weather, gear might malfunction, and you might want that extra hamburger or two on more than one occasion. So, when planning for the hike spending more than you have to on gear can hurt your wallet and your mind initially. Yet, ultimately it will end up hurting more in the long run when you are on trail if opting for the cheaper gear. Cheap gear is cheap for a reason. It is built to break. That sentence does not sound right but that is in fact what will happen, it will break. When it breaks you will be forced to deal with it on trail in the middle of the wilderness which can be quite uncomfortable and depending on what piece of gear malfunctioned, unsafe. Then once you get into your next town to resupply a new world of stress arises by having to find a replacement. The town might not have an outdoor store or if it does it might also not have what you need to replace. This might force you to order that piece of gear to the next trail town. This will affect your hiking style and pace because now you have to time your days to not arrive there too soon and be forced to spend multiple days in town waiting on a piece of gear. You also now get to experience the next section of trail without a piece of gear that was essential to your hiking kit, very uncomfortable. Many of these towns on trail can be small and do not carry specified gear for long-distance hiking. If you do end up finding that piece of gear though in town, more likely than not, it will be more expensive than what you could have ordered to begin the hike. That is why I put the word expensive in quotations for this title head, because while up front it can be expensive, in the long run it is cheaper not only on your wallet but on your mind!
PINKY WILL THANK YOU, BECAUSE YOU WILL SAVE TIME, STRESS & MONEY!!!!
Tell us what else you think about when planning for a thru hike! What are your worries? What are your concerns? What do you need help with? We hope to be able to cover these topics, to help you find the most enjoyment on your next adventure! Let us know below!