The Long Trail: 3 Tips for Thru Hike Preparation

Thru hike preparation is very similar to preparing for any other backpacking trip, but on a MUCH larger scale.

My name is Noel Nelson, and I am currently backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail. This 2,650 mile long trail runs from the Mexican to Canadian Border through the States of California, Oregon and Washington. So far I have backpacked over 1,300 miles and want to share the knowledge I’ve learned about how to successfully prepare to embark on such an endeavor. 

Preparation can make or break a hike like this, so by taking the time now, you will be able to get the most out of your time on trail. 

So here are the three most important tips and tricks I’ve learned that anyone can apply to their trek. 

Hiker on peak of PCT in California

1. Go All Out on Your  “Big Three”

For those that don’t know, your “big three” are your tent, sleeping bag and backpack. These are the areas you can cut the most weight from your pack, which makes a world of difference. By having a lighter pack, you not only reduce your risk of injury but are also able to do bigger mile days more easily. 

On my PCT setup, my big three weigh less than 5 lbs all together! This low weight came at a cost, about $1,300, but I would easily spend the money again. While on a thru-hike these items are you home, bed, and carry all of your belongings. So no matter what, make sure they’re good. 

I have seen numerous people on trail, realize that the didn’t buy good enough gear and have to go through the struggle of acquiring new gear while on trail. So spend the money up front, and you will save yourself headaches down the road. But most importantly, you will put yourself in a position to get the most out of the hike.

Wild camping on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)

2. Prepare Yourself Mentally

Going into a thru hike with the right mindset is as, if not more, important than having the right gear. By preparing your mind, you will be able to handle yourself when things get rough and keep yourself motivated as well as excited for the hike.

When preparing for my pct hike, I read trail journals from past hikers. This allowed me to get into the minds of thru-hikers and their struggles. By knowing what they were dealing with, and what I would inevitably deal with, I was not shocked when these tough times came. From falling in frozen rivers to running out of water in dry sections in the desert, have been able to keep my head when others around me freak out. This has proven very valuable and the time I put in researching has paid itself back ten fold. 

In addition to reading trail journals, I read a book called “Pacific Crest Trials”. I cannot suggest this book enough. Written by thru-hikers from the PCT and AT, you learn how to deal with the bad mindsets that ruin hikes and how to enjoy your hike when things become difficult.

It has been said that distance races are more mental than physical. This is even more true for thru-hikes. So by preparing your mind, you will increase your chances of not only reaching your end destination but enjoying the journey there.

Sunset during thru hike of PCT in California

3. Budget for Success

Everyone’s thru-hike is different and so everyone will spend a different amount of money. There is no magic number that will get you from point A to B. That being said, thru-hiking is a very cheap way to get to travel and explore the natural world. But no matter what type of hike you plan to take, budget more money than you think you will need.

I originally planned on leaving the PCT with $3,500, but after talking with experienced hikers, I decided to save up an additional $1,000. This has proved to be extremely valuable. 

Because of record snow levels throughout the entire west coast, I have had to take more days off in town, and even “flip” around dangerous sections of trail. All of this would have been very difficult to do if I had not budgeted more money than I thought I would need.

You never know what will happen. Gear breaks, people get injured and even the weather can trap you in towns. So always bring more than you think you will need because, odds are, you will need it.

Thru Hike Preparation for the long trail - PCT

My Thru Hike Preparation

I have spent countless hours researching thru hike preparation material. Some information proved valuable while some was useless. Since starting my thru hike, though, these three tips have served me well. They have enabled me to stay on pace, be prepared, and most importantly enjoy every day of this great adventure. If you follow these, they will have the same effect for you.

To learn more about my current journey you can follow my blog at noelnelson.com. To learn about some of my upcoming thru hike possibilities, check out the Peaks of the Balkans and the Via Dinarica.

Happy Trails!

3 tips for those preparing for a thru hike

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