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Ask a Thru-Hiker: Take a Long Hike Without Quitting Your Job

Have the thru-hike itch, but don't want to ditch your career? A short long trail may be just what you need.

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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,

I read your column about short long trails and decided I wanted to do one. Now, I need help with the how. What advice do you have for thru-hikers who actually have to work?

Making the Most of What I Got

Dear Making the Most of What I Got,

I’m stoked to hear you’ve found a thru-hike that will work with your life! Once you’ve picked your backpacking trip, here are a few tips to maximize the time off you do get:

Time your thru-hike to utilize a paid holiday like the 4 of July or Memorial Day. If permits are required for your hike, apply for those as soon as you can—often 6 months in advance. Be willing to be flexible with your dates if necessary. You may have to try several times to get a permit you want; don’t let the process discourage you.

Once you know your dates, give your boss and the folks at work lots of warning. Your office-mates will appreciate the heads up while they juggle the workload during your absence for a few weeks. It’s not uncommon for co-workers to be excited and want to help you: your best training buddy may be in the cube down the hall, or your breakroom pal may want to send you a care package of tasty trail food.

Get the most out of your two or three weeks on trail by getting physically and mentally fit for your thru-hike; fit hikers are less likely to be injured from falls or overuse injuries. Logistics are an easy target too: Have your itineraries, resupplies, maps, and gear sorted before your vacation starts. Have your itineraries, resupplies, maps, and gear sorted out before you start Vacation Day #1. Hiking can only be done on your days off, so best to save your PTO for time actually spent walking in the middle-of-nowhere instead of sorting maps on your living room floor.

Travel to and from trailheads can eat up a surprising amount of your limited vacation time as well. If you can fly or drive towards your trailhead after your last day of work before vacation, that will maximize your days off for just hiking. Sure, you may be tired the next morning, but you can always camp early on your first night on trail. If you’re lucky enough to live in a trail-rich region, picking one close to home is an obvious way to maximize your time off as well.

Lastly, to make the most of your trip, I advise employed hikers to completely disconnect from work. Getting email updates from the boss while you’re on a hike adds a level of stress you don’t need. When your mind is on work, it’s not on the trail—which could potentially put you in danger.

Snorkel