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Happy Trails: Your Guide to Thru-Hiking

Thru-hiking can be a transformative experience. Long days in the wilderness and a heavy load on your back tend to work their magic. Admittedly, most of the time, you want to quit walking, question your sanity, or curse your shoes. You hit the lowest lows and the highest highs, but as many hikers point out, you end up discovering what’s really important in life.

Following a narrow trail meandering through forests, across deserts and up mountain peaks makes you feel like a pioneer, but American hiking has a great heritage. From Yosemite’s John Muir in the 19th century, through the beat generation in the fifties and, most recently, “Wild”, hiking is a culture.

Every year, countless rookies set off on the trails inspired by Kerouac’s “Dharma Bums”, or Cheryl Strayed’s memoir from walking the Pacific Crest Trail. Knowing your references definitely adds to the experience, but a little more practical know-how will make your life much easier.

You can throw yourself in at the deep end, quit your job and attempt the full length of an iconic route like the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, or the PCT. Yet there’s much more to choose from: there are over 75,000 miles of long distance trails in the US alone. Some of the most scenic routes, like the Continental Divide Loop in Colorado, can be completed in under a week.

The first rule of hiking is packing light. Experienced walkers know how to cut down on gear but at first it’s useful to weigh every single piece of your equipment, add it all up and decide what can be ditched. You can even break your toothbrush in half! The internet offers plenty of useful advice and the best tends to be found on personal hiker blogs like here and here.

The most important piece of gear is your shoes. Before choosing your perfect pair according to the season and the terrain, try on as many pairs as possible and don’t make the Cheryl Strayed mistake of buying too small! Remember to break them in before you set off. When you have to keep walking, blisters are no fun.

To ensure that your trip is as pleasant as possible and, most importantly, safe, thorough planning is very important. Just remember that no amount of preparation can actually make you ready for your first experience of long distance thru-hiking. You will make mistakes. You will probably get lost. You will definitely get exhausted. Most likely, you will have the time of your life.

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