Ask a Thru-Hiker: How to Start a Long Trail

Thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, or another long path? Make the most of your time before you blast off.
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Thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, or another long path? Make the most of your time before you blast off.

Dear Snorkel,

I’m leaving for my first thru-hike tomorrow and am freaking out. Any last-minute tips for a first time thru-hiker?

Ticking Clock


Dear Ticking Clock,

You’ve got a great adventure ahead of you—but it’s normal to be nervous. After months of planning and anticipation, you are finally making your dream happen. Here’s how to maximize your last 24 hours in civilization and hit the trail emotionally and physically prepared.

Spend your day hydrating and resting. 

Check the weather. If it looks ugly, you may consider waiting out a storm. Start your trip prepared for the conditions—especially if your maps show your route travels into exposed areas.

Look carefully at your maps. Make sure you have all the route information you need. Know where water and shelter can be found on your first day of hiking. Top off water bottles to last you until your first creek or spring. Learn how far you must walk to your first shelter or campsite. If you haven’t done so already, chart out where you want to camp each night until your next resupply to make sure you have enough food to last all those nights.

Unpack your pack and go through your gear. Check it against a gear list tailored to the weather and conditions you expect to encounter. If there’s anything missing, do an eleventh-hour shopping spree. Stop by the ATM so you can carry some emergency cash in case you need to bribe a stranger to bail you out or get to a remote camp that doesn’t take plastic.

Send home any unneeded gear, including the clothes you wore on the plane and stuff you’ve decided you don’t need.

Call your loved ones. Send them your itinerary and approximate camping locations for the next few days of your trip. Let them know when they can expect to hear from you next and what to do if they don’t.

Charge electronics. Start the trail with your phone, headlamp, and GPS sporting full or new batteries.

Get a good night’s rest. You’re excited, I know. But resist partying or drinking the day before. Eat a healthy breakfast. Hydrate in the morning.

Shower. Trust me. It may be your last chance for a while.

Make sure you have enough beverages and snacks to get you through the drive to the trailhead. There’s no need to start digging into your reserves before you’ve set foot to trail.

Take lots of start photos at the trailhead. If there is a register or log-in book, sign it.

Begin slowly and resist the temptation to push yourself too early in your hike. Each day is an adventure, and you should make time to appreciate that. The memories you make here will last you the rest of your life.

Snorkel