Tips for Successfully Completing A Thru Hike

On average, 25% or fewer of thru hikers on America’s Big 3 Trails succeed. There are a myriad of reasons why so many drop out. High among them, injury, boredom, running out of money, family emergencies, and simply reaching a point where their body, mind, and spirit shout in unison, “Enough!”

So what makes for a successful thru hike?

In the opening of “Becoming Odyessa,” author/hiker Jennifer Pharr Davis offers 13 snippets of wisdom for completing a thru hike. (She was walking and writing about the Appalachian Trail, so I’ll generalize and summarize them):

  • Thru hiking isn’t recreation. It’s “an education and a job.”
  • Thru hiking is not “going on a hike.” It’s a challenging task with deep ramifications you must be willing to accept.
  • Don’t fight the trail, flow with it. Don’t be competitive or combative with it.
  • The trail is not sensitive to your comfort. Avoiding discomfort makes you more uncomfortable. “Fear is weight.”
  • “Time, distance, terrain, weather, and the Trail itself cannot be changed. You have to change.” And, “Remember, you will be a guest in someone else’s house the entire journey.”
  • Don’t expect favors from the trail. It’s not prejudice. It doesn’t discriminate. “It is inherently hard — there is no easy. Everything has to be earned.”
  • Forget material comforts and concentrate on your physical and spiritual needs.
  • “Basic needs — food, clothing, shelter? Keep it light, simple, and frugal.
  • Leave your emotional issues at home. Be authentically you. “Be always optimistic — things could always be worse; don’t become mired in the swamp of sorrow.”
  • If your goal is to walk the entire trail, then do it. Don’t take shortcuts. They undermine your journey.
  • Expect the worst. “If after one week you can honestly say that it is easier than you expected, then you will probably finish…”
  • If your temperament, levels of comfort, and threshold of pain are congruent with what the Trail requires, you should succeed.
  • “It’s far better, and less painful, to learn to be a smart hiker rather than a strong hiker.”

Think I’ll print these out and bring them with us on the trail!

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