Tips, tricks and things to expect before, during and after your hike. Maybe you’ve recently watched the movie or read the book “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed and her experiences hiking…
Tips, tricks and things to expect before, during and after your hike.
Maybe you’ve recently watched the movie or read the book “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed and her experiences hiking alone on the Pacific Coast Trail. If you have then you might be inspired to do a through hike. A through hike is were you hike through a long distance trail system end to end in one season and it can be a life changing experience.
Just imagine hiking through the wilderness, sleeping under the stars, listening to the coyotes, having some tough times but overcoming them. Along the way you’d meet some of the most awesome people, see things that people only dream about and at the end you emerge transformed, stronger, at peace, having dealt with your inner demons, your life and perspective changed forever.
Cheryl Strayed is certainly one gutsy lady and we applaud her efforts but we have to recommend a little more preparation if you plan to complete a hike through.
Below are some things that you may want to consider while planning this ultimate ShredBetty adventure. But first, we have to ask…
Why are you doing this?
What is your motivation? We guarantee that you will ask yourself this same question many times throughout your journey and you’d better have a good answer. An answer that will help to keep you going, to motivate you when you feel like quitting (because you will feel like quitting) but you won’t because of this answer, this reason why. So think about it, get to the heart of it. Maybe it’s because you want to be a better mother, friend, spouse, person. Maybe you’ve got some deep rooted issues or suffered an incredible loss that you need to deal with and getting away and doing something like this is the only way to cope right now. Or maybe you just love hiking and you’re planning this adventure with a special friend. The key here is to know your reason because it will help to get you through.
How long will it take?
The honest answer is, it depends. There are a lot of variables, like weather, fitness, time of year, how prepared you are and the length of trail that you select. When you consider all of these variables, your through hike could take anywhere from 1 week for the shorter trails and up to 6 months or longer for some of the long ones. But don’t worry, with a little preparation and some practice, you’ve got this.
Am I in good enough shape to do it? The answer here is you probably are. How do you feel about walking 10 to 15 or more miles a day is the real question? Think about it, even if you can only walk 2 miles per hour, which is a pretty leisurely pace, you’d only have to walk for 5 hours over a 24 hour period to go 10 miles. That won’t be easy by any means for everyone but if you have a strategy and break that time up it’s doable. But on the other hand, if you feel like you might not be able to handle the mileage or if you have any medical conditions, you should check with your doctor first.
If you get the green light from your doctor but are still concerned about your fitness then there is only one way to fix that. You’ve got to get in shape. By far, the best way to train for hiking is by hiking. So take it slow and work your way up. The key here is consistency. If you hike or walk just a few miles a day and slowly increase your mileage, you’ll be trail-fit in no time.
Selecting the proper gear
Probably the most important piece of gear that you own. Taking care of your feet is probably the best thing you can do in your through hike. Afterall you will be putting in over 2,000 miles on them so making sure you have proper footwear is of the utmost importance.
So how do you go about getting a good pair of quality hiking boots?
Whatever you do, don’t just buy whatever is on sale. Going into this decision with no information about fit or function and just going by price is a recipe for disaster.
Go to a specialty outdoor store like REI, explain to them what you’re planning and get fit properly for a good high quality hiking boot. One thing that an informed and experienced sales person will know about is the fact that your feet will swell throughout the day during your hike. This swelling could take a boot that fits like a dream in the shoe store showroom and turn it into a torture device on the trail. So go for quality here, you won’t regret it. Also, keep in mind, depending on the hike through that you select, you could be hiking thousands of miles. So you may need several pair of boots to get through the whole hike.
The next priority item on your list should be your pack.
Selecting the right size pack and making sure it fits properly is also extremely important to a good experience on the trail. Just like with your boots REI is a great choice for this purchase as well. However, the good thing about being a human is that most of our bodies are pretty similar. So you might be able to save a bit of money by watching a few online guides on fitting a backpack and buying something either used or on sale. Keep in mind that there really is no replacement for being fit for your pack by an expert.
I don’t mean to sound like an REI commercial here but imagine this scenario. You go to REI to purchase your boots and pack. You go to the boot department to try on and select a pair of quality hiking boots. Then you head over to the pack department and get fit for a pack while wearing the actual boots that you’ll be wearing on the trail. They fit you for a pack and then they load it up with weight to simulate the load and weight distribution of your gear on the trail. You walk around the store and low and behold, your feet begin to swell and you notice a little hot spot in your boot. You head back over to the boot department and explain what is happening. They refit you for a different boot that feels much better. You can now leave the store with the peace of mind that you purchased the right gear.
What other gear should I bring?
Well you’ve already got your boots and pack so you’re off to a good start. Here is a list of other essential items that you’ll want to consider. This is not an exhaustive list, there are plenty of other items that you may need or want to bring but this will give you a good start.
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Water filtration/purification system
- Water bottles
- A stove and cooking system
- Fire starter/matches
- A guide book and map/s
- First aid kit
- Food. You can re-stock along the way but plan out how much you’ll need in-between re-stocking points so you have enough or not too much.
- A layered clothing system. You could go from below freezing temps to very hot so be prepared.
- A tarp
Staying safe on the trail
Nothing beats the feeling of being out on the trail but honestly, doing a hike through can be dangerous, even life threatening if things go wrong. Running out of water, getting lost or getting injured are all very real possibilities when attempting a hike through. So play it safe, play it very safe and follow the tips below to increase your enjoyment and reduce risk on the trail.
- Tell people when and where you are going and check in with them along the way. This is probably the simplest thing that you can do to daty safe on the trail. If nobody knows where you are then nobody will know when you are past due or possibly missing. This is actually great advice whenever going out into the wilderness.
- Familiarize yourself with the area either physically or with a map and learn how to use a map and compass. This skill could help you get out alive when the batteries on your GPS die. Also, talking with people who’ve done the hike is very helpful to get familiar with the area.
- Pack the proper clothing and be prepared for extreme weather. Having the proper clothing can mean the difference between staying warm and dry and getting hypothermia. Also expect different weather conditions at different points in the trail. Plan for this and ship the appropriate clothing to the specific locations where you will need them.
- Leave local plants and animals alone. Wild animals are just that, wild, so let them be. They are in a constant state of survival so don’t do anything to startle or cause an animal to respond in fear. Local plants can make you sick or worse if you don’t know what you’re dealing with. So if you don’t know what it is, leave it alone.
- Know how to start a fire and practice doing it a lot. This could literally be the difference between life a death. Practice, practice practice and know how to start a fire using different methods.
- Stay on the trail and pay attention to natural landmarks. Make sure to turn around every once in a while so you can get a view of the trail in the opposite direction. This will help you keep your bearings. If you do end up off the trail, backtrack until you are in a familiar setting and use your map and natural landmarks to regain your bearings.
- Bring a first aid kit. Sounds pretty trivial but a minor cut, scrape or burn could spell big trouble if it gets infected.
- Don’t over do it. Pretty basic advice but we’re all guilty of getting caught up in the moment sometimes and end up over our head in trouble. So take your time and don’t push outside of your comfort zone. Push it too much and you could end up injured, lost or dehydrated miles away from water.
At the end of the trail…
If you plan, have a reason why, make an effort to get in decent shape prior, get the proper gear, learn how to use it and are careful then we’re sure that your dream to complete a hike through will become a reality and will be the experience you’ll never forget.
Popular hike throughs
Completing a hike through on the Pacific Crest Trail like Cheryl Strayed is certainly an amazing accomplishment and the draw to this trail system is understandable but there are many other trail systems out there that are just as challenging and beautiful. Some are longer, some are shorter, all are worth it. Below is a short list that we’ve put together of trails that you might want to consider for your hike through. If this is your first hike through, consider one of the shorter ones to prepare for one of the longer efforts. Good luck!
Pacific Crest Trail – California, Oregon, Washington – 2,659 miles
Appalachian Trail – 14 states from Georgia to Maine – 2,200 miles
Pacific Northwest Trail – Montana to Washington – 1,200 miles
The Colorado Trail – Colorado – 486 miles
Oregon Coast Trail – Oregon – 425 miles
Superior Hiking Trail – Minnesota to Canadian Border – 310 miles
The Long Trail – Vermont – 273 miles
Quachita Trail – Arkansas and Oklahoma 223 miles
Tahoe Rim Trail – California and Nevada – 165 miles
Loyalsock Trail – Pennsylvania – 59 miles