11 Key Tips for Female Thru-Hikers

Thinking about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, or other long-haul route? Don't miss these tips for lady backpackers from a Colorado Trail thru-hiker.

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1. Cut your hair really short.

tips for female thru-hikers: cut your hair

Short hair = cute on day 15. (Photo by Willow Belden)

It won't look as cruddy when it's not washed for a week, and it won't get in your eyes when it's windy. Plus, you never need a hair brush.

2. Bring a “pee rag.”

tips for female thru-hikers: Bring a “pee rag.”

Now you know what that bandanna women always have on their packs is for. (Photo by Willow Belden)

It’s exactly what it sounds like: a bandana or other lightweight cloth to use in lieu of toilet paper after peeing. I know, sounds gross. But it won’t smell, and if you tie it to the outside of your pack, it’ll be dry by the next time nature calls.

3. Use a menstrual cup, such as the Diva or Lunette cup.

tips for female thru-hikers: use a menstrual cup

You'll get used to it, we swear.

That way, you won’t have to schlep along a full supply of tampons, or pack out icky used hygiene products. Dig a cat hole to empty your menstrual cup, wipe the cup with toilet paper, and rinse it off. Be sure to try out your cup for a few cycles before you hit the trail, as not all models work equally well for everyone.

4. Hike commando!

tips for female thru-hikers: Hike commando!

Skip these. (Photo by Ben Fullerton)

You won’t get wedgies, and you won’t have to wash out your underwear every day. Plus, it’s less to carry.

5. Bring twice as much chocolate as you think you'll need.

tips for female thru-hikers: chocolate

Om nom nom. (Photo by Peter Pearson / Flickr)

Chocolate is key for getting through discouraging situations, and when you’re thru-hiking, you can eat sweets all day long and still lose weight.

6. Embrace your feminine side.

tips for female thru-hikers: embrace your feminine side

Femininity conquering all. (Photo by Brianna Graves)

Wear earrings, or hike in a skirt. Some nice lotion and maybe even a razor in a few of your resupply boxes, so you can pamper yourself during town stops (beware of stubble, though).

7. When hitch-hiking into towns to resupply, do it safely.

tips for female thru-hikers: hitchhike safely

Bonus: This part is usually easier for women!

Try to get a ride with day hikers who are heading home from the same trailhead, rather than sticking out your thumb for random passers by. If you have cell phone service, call or text a friend before you get in the car and let them know where you are. And keep your phone handy, even if your pack is in the trunk.

8. Cry.

tips for female thru-hikers: cry

It's good for you.

You’re not expected to enjoy every moment of your hike. There will be days of pure torture, when relentless climbs, excruciating blisters, swarms of mosquitoes, or incessant rain make you question why you ever thought hiking a long trail was a good idea. When that happens, cry. It will make you feel better, and there probably won’t be anyone around to hear you.

9. Don't let people talk you out of backpacking alone, if that’s what you want to do.

tips for female thru-hikers: go solo if you want

Hiking selfies allowed. (Photo by Willow Belden)

Solo thru-hiking is a wonderful, exhilarating, even life-changing experience, and you can do it. Sure, there’s risk, but everything has risks, and the dangers inherent to backpacking aren’t specific to women. Bears, lightning, hypothermia, and giardia don't care about gender. And sexual creeps are unlikely to hike deep into the wilderness to look for someone to rape.

10. Even if you choose to hike solo, make friends.

tips for female thru-hikers: make friends

Party time! (Photo by Ilya Katsnelson / Flickr)

Be prudent, but not wary; most thru-hikers are dynamic, caring people. Camp with them when you crave companionship; commiserate with them when the going gets tough; and go out for dinner or a beer with them when you stop in towns.

11. Most importantly, hike your own hike, and relax.

tips for female thru-hikers: hike your own hike

This is supposed to be fun. (Photo by Brianna Graves)

Just because other people are covering more miles each day than you, doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. Take time to savor the solitude, and let the trail envelop you in its vast beauty.