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Thru Hikers

Liz “Snorkel” Thomas Is Our Hiking Icon

Thomas has thru-hiked more than 20 long trails, including the Pacific Crest, Continental Divide and Appalachian Trails (the Triple Crown). On top of that, she set a fastest known time on the AT for an unsupported woman and has completed dozens of urban thru-hikes as well. Now, she's joining Backpacker as a contributing editor. Here’s some of Thomas’s best advice and insight fed by more than 20,000 trail miles.

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Dayhike on a long trail. I started dayhiking in southern California, then one day happened upon the PCT. To see a sign that basically says hike this way and you’ll reach Canada in 2,000 miles was enlightening. That my feet had touched such a pathway opened a world of possibilities in my mind. What if I actually did it? Could I? This was the spark that took me from dayhiker to thru-hiker. Even if you’re out for only half a mile, on a long trail, you’re part of a bigger idea.

Get out more than last year. That’s my goal every year, but especially this one. Covid changed the way I hike, but I found ways to do so while  following best practices. I did several 3- to 5-day loops in the Sierra, often off-trail. I’d go car-to-car without resupply, not interact with any communities, and go days without seeing anyone. 

Going solo opens up possibilities. Not needing to coordinate with partners has actually enabled me to hike more. Start small on a trail you know and have your skills dialed. 

Distribute hiking impact. There is more interest in hiking than ever. What we should aim to do at Backpacker is disperse the hiking community to varied destinations, places beyond Yosemite and Grand Canyon. This improves hikers’ experiences and can influence conservation efforts, too.

Snacks? Oh, I never get tired of cheese. I’m always looking for new food, but, yeah, cheese endures as my favorite. 

Hiking isn’t an elite thing. Even thru-hiking is just walking, and any hike can be profound. People from all walks of life hike and have grand experiences. If people are receptive to what backpacking can teach, it changes their world. 

Trails deliver the ultimate Marie Kondo experience. It’ll teach you to reconsider your relationship with stuff and to value people and experiences more. Many of my thru-hiker friends have returned from trips and drastically reprioritized their lives around simplicity and outdoor access. 

I have high hopes for 2021. But also know that any time outside is a good time.   

Want to hear Shannon and Liz’s full discussion? Listen below.