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Pre-Trip Planning

Ask a Thru-Hiker: I Want to Hike a Long Trail, But I Have a Family

Going on a long hike is complicated under the best of circumstances—but kids and a partner open up a whole new world of challenges.

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This is Ask a Thru-Hiker, where record-setting long-distance hiker Liz “Snorkel” Thomas answers your questions about life on the trail. 

Dear Snorkel,

After a friend was recently diagnosed with a serious illness, I realized I need to go on a thru-hike before it is too late. The problem: I’m married and have kids. How do I tell my family that I want to leave them for six months to go on a thru-hike?

Married With Children

Dear Married With Children,

Every family relationship is different, but ultimately, you want your partner and kids to be excited for you and support your adventure as much as possible. Your responsibility in this process is to understand your family’s concerns about your long absence and figure out how to provide them as much support as possible from afar.

Many hikers find that the best way to initially “break the news” to their family is very slowly with lots of lead time (think years). Perhaps you can start by casually mentioning an interest in watching a movie together about a long trail, or by reading books about the AT or Pacific Crest.

If, after all the books and movies, you are still want to put rubber to rock, you can have a family discussion. They’ll likely have a hunch with what is up given your recent media habits. Be open to their concerns—financial, relationship, and otherwise. Emphasize that while you may not have all the answers now, you are willing to figure them out together.

Part of the solution may be to accept that right this minute isn’t the best time to hit the trail. Would this make more sense in two years after a kid is done with college? Would you be better off breaking a long trail into chunks across several years so you don’t have to quit your job? Maybe your family will want to follow with you in an RV, or a child will join. Be open to crazy alternatives. The more flexible everyone can be with making this dream happen, the more likely it will serve everyone in your family.

One main concern families have is what happens if you get injured or die. You can help assuage this worry by being as safe, responsible, and prepared when you hit the trail as possible. Take classes, read books, and practice, practice, practice. You may even want to do these with other family members to show them that you’re on top of planning. If your family is interested, share prep responsibilities like dehydrating meals, getting together maps, or researching gear.

Keep in mind that not every family is going to be supportive of a member leaving for a long hike. But with lots of lead time and flexibility on your part, your family can grow together from your adventure.

Snorkel