The key to a successful thru-hike is preparedness. I always start with these three essential preparations when planning my thru-hike.
1 - THE CORRECT BACKPACK
A backpack holds everything you need for a thru-hike. Too big, too small, or too heavy will not do. The correct pack size and weight will be beneficial for a thru-hike. A light backpack used for longer hikes, will not bog you down with its weight when you are climbing mountains every day for several weeks. It should fit your body frame just right. Think of it as an extension of your body, like a turtleshell, as you move along the trail. Not only do you need a backpack that fits your body the right way, but you need to know how to wear it the right way; the chest, waist, and shoulder straps need to be adjusted just right, so you can comfortably hike all day long.
When I thru-hiked theAppalachian Trail, I started with the right size pack, but what I put in it was a bit too excessive, making my backpack unnecessarily too heavy. That, along with incorrectly carrying my backpack was causing excruciating pain in my shoulder. However, once I lightened my backpack, and learned how to correctly use all the straps on my backpack, I was ready for a much more enjoyable thru-hike.
2 - THE CORRECT SHOES AND SOCKS
Needless to say, your feet are what will get you to your destination, so the correct shoes are significant for you to continue on a successful thru-hike. Whether it’s trail runners or boots, be sure to know the correct shoe size, boot cut, and style that will best keep your feet comfy, somewhat dry, and support your every stride.
We all know that new shoes make you run, and hike faster. It’s a fact proven by many children. However, I suggest that you break in a few pairs of shoes by hiking with them for several weeks before starting a thru-hike. It will mold them to your feet, which will help alleviate possible blisters from forming. I’d like to add, that the correct socks will help with the comfort of your shoes. I found that during my Continental Divide Trail thru-hike, the Farm to Feet socks that I wore were ideal for my many long hiking days; they were extremely durable, they stayed dry, and lasted for my entire thru-hike. They are my forever hiking socks.
3 - MENTAL PREPAREDNESS
When I first stepped on theAppalachian Trail for my thru-hike, I had zero hiking and camping experience, heck all things outdoors were foreign to me. With so much working against me, I needed something that would overcome my lack of experience and knowledge. My mental fortitude was my strongest asset when attempting my thru-hike. I knew I had to be fully invested mentally for this thru-hike to be successful.
Having all the necessary gear, and setting aside some time, is a start, but being committed mentally is the key. Knowing that being outside for 5-6 months, climbing mountains, and hiking in bad weather like rain, cold, and possibly snow will help prep your mind for a thru-hike.
There’s a saying in the thru-hiking community, “Embrace the suck.” Well, I personally don’t feel the need to embrace any kind of suckiness. Embracing it means you’re holding on to it. Nah, I'd rather acknowledge it, expect it, and then move on. I’d hate to hold on to something that will continue making my thru-hike sucky. Accept it,“yes”, hold on to it, “no”. Understand that your thru-hike will have its difficult moments. However, know that the good will be greater than the bad and the ugly.
A positive mindset, and finding ways to keep your head in the game (thru-hike) will add to an experience that will keep you wanting to continue. For example, I like to breakdown my thru-hike into individual milestones, the big and small ones. With each completed milestone, I get the satisfaction of accomplishment, while gradually, yet steadily reaching an ultimate goal, which is to complete my thru-hike. Each town, campsite, and summit can add to your success if you treat each one as a win. Imagine how much more you will enjoy your thru-hike, how many more memorable moments you will have, and how proud you will be knowing you approached this amazing, yet challenging endeavor with a fabulous, and reassuring attitude.
This adventure will change you one way or another. However, you need to immerse yourself, be aware, and keep it positive along the way. Yeah, there will be tough times, but remember that you are doing something extraordinary, and if stay mentally strong, you will create memories that will last a lifetime.
Preparation is the most vital part of a thru-hike, and if you start with these three important prep suggestions, then you could find yourself moving closer to something wondrous.