Taking on a thru hike can be a daunting task, especially if you're new to distance hiking. Getting ready to head out for a few weeks or months can take a lot of planning, but doesn't have to be stressful. Check out my tips for planning your thru hike and keep the stress to a minimum!
Decide if You Want to Mail Resupply
Not every trail requires you to plan out and mail yourself a resupply. If you're looking at doing a trail that is fairly well-established, like the PCT or the AT, and don't require a special diet, you can definitely get away with resupplying in towns. If you are doing a lesser-known trail or have special dietary needs, you'll want to look more in depth into mailing yourself resupply boxes. Keep in mind when you're planning your resupply that you might like one meal quite a bit at the beginning of a hike, but after a month or so you might not be so excited to eat it again. Keep a variety of meals for your resupply and try not to eat the same meal more than once a week if you're going to mail out your own foods. After you've decided to mail your boxes or resupply on the trail, you can move on to the next step to plan out your drops.
Look at Your Daily Mileage
The first thing you'll need to do, once deciding on a trail, is checking out the terrain and your daily mileage. If you're new to backpacking you'll definitely want to keep your mileage below 10 miles per day for the first few days or even first two weeks. After you've looked at what your abilities will let you hike on the trail, you'll not only have a rough outline of your trip to leave with your friends and family, you'll be able to set up resupplies based on this plan. Keep in mind that mileage can vary dramatically depending on the season - you never know how many early spring snow storms you'll run into in high elevations! Keep a buffer zone in there.
Check Your Bank Account
While a lot of people who aren't yet distance hikers look at a thru hike as a cheap extended vacation, many of us who have been not only distance hikers but also worked in the hostel and hospitality industry can tell you that distance hiking can get expensive! If you're doing a section hike or traveling far from home for your trail, you'll need to set aside money for shuttles, hostels, hotels, and emergency services (like doctor's visits). Not only should you have more money set aside than you think you should, it also helps to carry cash and tip your drivers. Many people who work in the hiking industry are doing it while they're operating at a loss. Tipping your drivers and hostel owners is always good practice.
Make Your Reservations and Get Your Permits
Some places you're going to be hiking will require permits or camping reservations. Hopefully you've done your research before heading out and you know exactly what you need to do to get to your trailhead. Make sure you call ahead and check with campgrounds and hostels about availability and pricing. Pricing can vary during the hiking season and by calling ahead and getting a rate and reservation you'll guarantee your pricing. No one likes a surprise at the beginning or end of their trip. Some trails require you to get a campfire permit (which are usually free) even if you're using a camping stove, so make sure you've got this as well. Check and see if bear canister restrictions are in place and always carry the gear required. By avoiding fines and following trail rules you're helping keep hikers in good standing with rangers and park officials.
BREATHE and Relax
Know that not everything will always go according to your plan (which is why the emergency funds are so important!) If you've got a plane to catch you'll have to work harder to stick to a schedule, but it's always a good idea to build in a few buffer days into your trip just in case. Once you've got all your planning done and you've accepted things won't always go according to your plan, you can relax and count down the days to your trip.
Planning a thru hike can be a daunting task at the beginning, but once you've got the major details squared away all that's left is to relax and get excited about your trip. Do you have any tips for planning a major hike or vacation? Have you ever had a trip not go according to plan? I'd love to hear about it!