Thru-hiking has seen an explosion in popularity over the last few years. Books are being written and published. Blockbuster movies such as Walk In The Woods, Wild and Mile... Mile And A Half are inspiring thousands of hiking enthusiasts. More people are getting outside and recreating. With thru-hiking season a couple of weeks away for many aspiring AT hikers, and currently underway for some, here are 8 reasons why you may want to consider getting out on the trail for a long distance hike of your own.
1. It Could Change Your Life
Hiking day in and day out for months (or weeks) can force you to adapt to changes. It also gives you a lot of time to think. A constant forward progress. With the time spent out on a thru-hike, you can apply all the experiences you've had to multiple events that may occur in your life back home. Good decision making, resourcefulness, boosts in creativity, stress management and ultimately a sense of humility in all things.
2. It Will Give You A Deeper Connection To Nature
Spend a lot of time outdoors and you're bound to have a wildlife sighting at some point on your hike. Especially if you're solo. Bears, moose, deer, birds, snakes and thousands more inhabit these areas we pass through. On my long distance hikes, I find that this is just one of the multiple rewards I get to enjoy. It also connects me on a deeper level to all things outside. During this time I am able to learn more about the connection between the wild spaces and surrounding urban areas, have a greater understanding in local preservation like when I am assessing water to possibly drink from a nearby source and spark a bigger interest in flora and landscape than I thought was possible as I take a break and reflect.
3. It Provides A Sense Of Community
Trail magic. Trail angels. Trail towns. Fellow hikers. The outdoor community is an incredible one. It is also one of the great aspects of thru-hiking and the trail itself. We can be guilty of building what feels like a bubble around ourselves at times due to the daily grind. There are days on a thru-hike where you may still feel that way. When you're out walking hundreds of miles, eventually that bubble will start to burst. You meet a lot of inspiring and fascinating people on the trail and in town. It could be from hiking 100 miles in Virginia with a fellow hiker, or sharing information and stories of the relentless mosquitoes that tortured your every minute on a humid night in Vermont, to enjoying a pancake breakfast from some wonderful caretakers at Upper Goose Pond cabin. The people you'll meet could be some that you probably wouldn't have even befriended in your regular life. You develop a different kind of family and ultimately a sense of community.
4. It Allows You To See The World In A Rare Way
It's no doubt, that going on a thru-hike can be the chance of a lifetime. This is one thing I think of when I am considering a trip. Thru-hiking will bring you to places many people will never get to see. It can also bring you by some places you may pass on a day-to-day basis, but fail to truly see for what it is. Every day will be different too, as you'll be waking up in a different place and experiencing different things from the previous day. It's a unique and unparalleled way to travel.
5. You Can Experience A Simpler Life
There's something humbling about carrying your life for a few months on your back. 40 to 50 items. All that you need and nothing more than that. There's also a romance and allure to roughing it for multiple months (or weeks). No car keys, no luxury items, no decisions on what to wear each day. Thru-hiking allows you to enjoy the simpler things in life, realize how little we truly need and to appreciate all that we have back home. You don't take anything for granted.
6. It Presents Challenges
Thru-hiking can and most likely will present many challenges, both physical and mental during your hike. You may get rained on for what feels like days on end. You may become physically exhausted on multiple occasions as you push on to climb a peak and make it to camp before sunset. You may get a blister that makes each step more painful than the previous. You may miss family, friends or loved ones back home. Someone in your new trail family may unexpectedly drop off the trail. Not every moment on the trail will be a positive one, but its in those moments that you are taught about what you're capable of. Overcoming the negative. In my opinion, the greatest piece of gear we have while out on the trail, is what lies between our ears. Realizing you have the potential to push through the challenges and continue your hike can be a powerful and rewarding feeling.
7. It Can Make You Healthier
The general fact is most hikers will burn between 2,500 to 6,000 calories a day during their thru-hike. There are multiple factors involved with this of course, but you're staying active frequently. It's hard not to be in the best shape of your life when you're hiking 20+ miles most days with a loaded pack on your back.
8. It Can Give You A Deeper Connection To Yourself
This is one of three things I look to achieve with any of my long distance hiking ambitions. Despite the ups and downs of the trail life, I always find I am ultimately happy. It opens you to your true self. There's an unmeasurable sense of self value and accomplishment you can get after completing a thru-hike. The feeling of freedom during your journey can help hit the reset button. It can lead to a refreshingly new perspective and a life fulfilled.
Looking to tackle a trail like the Big 3 (AT, PCT or CDT) but prefer a shorter distance? Try one of these five New England gems:
Long Trail (272 mi, VT) (Average Time: 3 - 4 weeks) Hike the spine of the Green Mountain State from the Massachusetts border to Canada on the oldest footpath in America. The LT also shares 105.5 miles of the same path with the AT. To reach this iconic trail you'll need to hike an around an additional 3.5 mi of the AT or from the Pine Cobble Trail to the AT before you reach the border of VT and its southern terminus. SOBOs will need to hike additional mileage to reach the northern terminus too.
New England National Scenic Trail (215 mi, CT & MA) (Average Time: 2 weeks) The NET runs along central CT and MA from Long Island Sound in Guilford, CT all the way to the MA/NH border. You can then continue 18.7 miles to the top of Mount Monadnock on the Metacomet/Monadnock trail if you'd like. This trail passes through diverse microclimate ecosystems, rich history and beautiful woodlands.
Cohos Trail (170 mi, NH) (Average Time: 2 weeks) Hike the Cohos in northern New Hampshire to the Canadian border on this trail that is sure to offer a fair amount of solitude. Beginning on the Davis Path below Mt Crawford, you'll feel like you have undiscovered wilderness and ridge lines all to yourself.
Bay Circuit Trail (232 mi, MA) (Average Time: 2 weeks) The BCT is relatively new and still contains a few stretches that are nearing completion. It can still be hiked entirely and a fair amount of camping opportunities are starting to present themselves. Terrain is fairly easy with a little moderation and some sections of pavement.
Mid-State Trail (94 mi, MA) (Average Time: 1 week) This mostly easy and enjoyable trail passes through Massachusetts running parallel to the east of the New England Trail. It begins at the border of RI and the NST's northern terminus, continuing north to the NH border near the summit of Mt Watatic.
North-South Trail (78 mi, RI) (Average Time: 1 week) There's backpacking in Rhode Island? I thought the same thing and it piqued my interest a few years ago. After scouring anything I could for information, and geeking out with maps and planning I thru-hiked this unique trail. Chances are you'll barely see anyone on this trail and if you're SOBO you get to finish with a refreshing swim in the Atlantic Ocean. The NST begins with a 2 mile approach to the MA/RI border and continues south along the RI/CT border to Charlestown, RI. Terrain is easy to moderate with some road walking including a 14 mile stretch at one point.