FAQ For Future Thru Hikers

IMG_3088(Almost) Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Thru Hiking *but were afraid to ask

We’re no experts, but below are some things and resources we found useful in planning our last 2 long hikes. We hope you find this useful, and don’t hesitate to ask specific questions in the comments!

What should I do to prep?

  1. Hike.  Many people spend time chatting in forums on facebook when they could be in nature, testing systems and gaining confidence by doing, not talking.
  1. Read. Ultralight guide books by experts like this one by Mike McClelland are funny and helpful. Check out Ray Jardin’s book Trail Life and his website (which is a late 90’s throwback). Ray is the grandfather of lightweight backpacking.  These books are often written by obsessive compulsive people, but once you’re on trail carrying a bunch of shit you don’t need, you start to realize why they’re so nit-picky.
  1. I tremendously enjoy reading recent hiker blogs. They’re good fuel to keep you motivated and can help you envision the types of situations you might encounter. For example:

Carrot Quinn’s blog  – solo PCT northbound in 2013 and again in 2014, and CDT 2015
Just Two Hikers – a couple who did a PCT southbound 2014
Wild Times – my friend Susan Robb who northbounded 2014 solo

And of course… these blogs by outstanding wrongwaygang members:
Nourishing Journey – Bug’s Nutrition and Hiking Blog
A Calendar Year – Future Dad’s Blog for his PCT 2015, Te Araroa 2016, and AT 2016
Future Dad’s Youtube Channel – video summaries of Tyler’s hikes

You can find a slew of hiker blogs at Trail Journals. Some of these suck and are discouraging because you see how many people quit but also you see why they quit. It’s a good way to learn lessons without suffering through them yourself. It’s especially inspiring reading the ones by people who have completed their journeys.

Can I do this alone?

Although Groucho and I hike in a pair most of the time, we often hike hours, days and weeks with other hikers who started “alone” and become part of our trail family. Don’t be afraid to start alone!

Hiking the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail trail northbound in the traditional season, you will find yourself in one or many “bubbles” of people the whole trip. Last year on the PCT they started permitting to control the flow of people leaving the southern terminus. The cap per day was 50, and for most days in late March/April/early May it was full. There are folks out there on trail, and sometimes it’s hard to get a moment alone. This was true for us too, even going Southbound. NOBO or SOBO, you will run into folks on trail, in hostels, at campsites or in town. You can choose to hike with them a few hours or a few weeks if you like… having support for the tough sections if you want. I think it’s totally possible to find a great group, individual or couple, and hike with them for awhile (or for the whole hike), but starting alone means you get to choose how/when you interact or when you need your solitude/etc.

How much does it cost?

Of course this varies… but most hikers spend about $1000 per month. This includes food resupply, town food, hostels, hitches (always offer gas money!), postage (mailing things home or having things sent), gear and shoe replacement.

In advance – your costs will depend on whether you have gear or not. Groucho and I don’t skimp on gear. We also make a lot of our own gear tho, which is cheaper than buying it commercially. Overall we each spent less than $1000 on gear for the PCT. We’ve watched hikers buy whole new kits on trail because they didn’t start with what they really wanted – either they tried to go cheap, didn’t do their research, or let other people’s fear guide their decisions. We also have friends who had their systems dialed in before they thru hiked and barely spent any money. Gear choice is ultimately very personal and totally up to your habit and style…

What gear did you take?
Although Groucho and I thru hike “together,” we walk separately for much of each day, so we each carry our own kit.Visit our gear page for my overview of our systems, including what we share and what is in each of our individual packs. You can find our reviews for many of these items/systems by searching our “gear” category.

What do you eat?
We have tried different styles for our different hikes. We are vegan. It is awesome and totally possible. Check out:

AT overview – lots of mail resupplies and in-advance food prep
PCT overview – lots of in-town resupply at the grocery stores. Here is a spreadsheet we put together with our vegan friends Bug and Mud that reviews the PCT trail stops for their vegan-friendliness

Also check out an overview of various resupply strategies on the PCTA Resupply Tips page

What’s on your bookshelf? 

Here is literature that was influential developing our ultralight systems and trail styles:
Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips” by Mike Clelland
How to Hike the AT” by Michelle Ray
How to Hike A Fast Thru Hike” – Andy Skerka
Trail Life” by Ray Jardine
Eat & Run” by Scott Jurek
Nonviolent Communication” by Marshall B Rosenberg
Society of the Spectacle” – Guy Debord
T.A.Z.” – Hakim Bey

What is unique about hiking the PCT Southbound (SOBO)?

We hike SOBO, though we are the minority. About 90% of thru hikers on the US scenic trails hike Northbound.  We enjoy some great moments of solitude, but also encounter the flow of NOBOs for a time, which makes the trail feel crowded sometimes. There are individual challenges in planning since most resources are designed for NOBOS. The key differences for are SOBOs start date, where there’s snow, and which resources close seasonally and when. Overall, we couldn’t imagine hiking any other way…

Not a lot has been written about going SOBO until this year. Dormouse (2014) wrote a great blog post last year… and I see she has reposted her tips in the PCTA Southbound Thru Hike Guide. This excellent overview of a southbound journey includes tips on timing, snow travel, Sierra resupply and water conditions.

In addition to additional snow travel tips provided by the PCTA – we find this Harts Pass snotel link a great tool for SOBOS. It’s a real-time reading of the snow level at Hart’s Pass – 30 miles south of the Canadian Border. This is a link most SOBOS are glued to in late May/early June to determine their start date.  Our (personal) strategy was to wait until this snotel reached zero to begin our thru hike… we actually started about a week later… and we still had some snowy avalanche chutes to traverse in the North Cascades, but for us in a low snow year, it was cautiously doable in running shoes and with an ice axe.

What are the best sources for maps, water, campsites and waypoints?

Guthook  for excellent apps you can purchase for your phone showing resupply, waypoints, mileages, water, campsites on the AT, PCT, CDT and other trails.

HalfMile – a free app, HalfMile offers printable maps as well as downloadable waypoints for GPS, but has less of the off-trail, accessory information that makes Guthook so useful. We used both on our PCT hike.

AWOL – a recommended book for navigating water/campsites/elevation/towns/resupply on the AT

Have more questions – ask us in the comments!


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