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Jill Sanford | 05.10.2017

Thru-hiking, the term for hiking from one end of a long distance trail to the other, has experienced a boom in popularity over recent years. Books like Wild and A Walk In the Woods are widely read and have launched the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), the Appalachian Trail (AT), and other thru-hikes into the mainstream spotlight. 

Despite its rise in the public’s eye with stories about relative newbies to the outdoors tackling these trails, thru-hiking is not something to take lightly. It’s a grueling endurance slog that takes weeks or months of consistent physical and mental effort.

Before embarking on a thru-hike, be it a shorter three-week trek like the John Muir Trail (JMT) or a longer one such as the AT, which is usually completed in around 5 months, be sure you know what you are getting into. Here’s a list of valuable resources that hikers should scour for hours before setting foot on the trail.

Of course, one of the best ways to get prepared is to buy a trail book. Don’t underestimate the power of social media, either. Serious hikers can search for Facebook Groups like this one geared towards the PCT “trail family.”

Once you get an idea of what to expect, it’s time to decide which trail is the one for you.

The name “Triple Crown” refers to these three massive hikes. Only about 30 people have successfully done all three.

  • The Appalachian Trail runs 2,178 miles from Georgia to Maine and attracts thousands of people who attempt it each year. About one in four people make it.
  • The Pacific Crest Trail has about a 60 percent success rate, but only about 300 people attempt it each year. Most thru hikers begin at the border of Mexico and California and hike their way 2,650 miles north to Canada with the goal to be there by end of the summer. There’s been a recent trend, however, to hike it north to south and end in Mexico in the fall. Many summits on this route exceed 10,000 feet.
  • The Continental Divide Trail is the least traveled of these three major thru-hikes. A map and strong compass skills are essential on these 3,100 miles because the trail is a lot less established than the PCT and AT. Only a few dozen people make the attempt each year.

The rise of thru-hiking has also made these shorter (but still substantial) hikes popular adventures, as well. For more thru-hikes in general, read 6 Thru-Hikes Off the Beaten Trail


The link to the PCT is actually the PNWT
The triple crown is well past 30 people by now:
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