How to Do a Weekend Thru-Hike Like a Boss

©istockphoto/PeopleImagesWish you could quit your job, sell your belong­ings and thru-hike for months at a time? Yea. Me too. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the life of a trail sojourn­er just isn’t pos­si­ble for a lot of us. So, for the short-term adven­tur­er, there’s week­end thru-hik­ing. If you’re new to the game, or just haven’t picked up a back­pack in while, here are some tips to keep in mind.

Before You Go
Give your­self plen­ty of time for prepa­ra­tion. For a 1–2 nighter, get your act in gear a cou­ple of days ahead of time. To start, get your beta. Many thru-hik­ers are well estab­lished so find­ing the infor­ma­tion you need is usu­al­ly a mat­ter of a quick Inter­net search or talk­ing with a friend who’s recent­ly done it. Once you’ve learned about the hike, find a topo map to get a feel for the ter­rain. These are usu­al­ly easy to find at local your climb­ing shop or on the world-wide web.

Next, enlist a friend to help you shut­tle a car to your des­ti­na­tion and dri­ve you and your par­ty back to the trail­head. This step is option­al, but either way, you’ll need to coor­di­nate trans­porta­tion back home. After a cou­ple of nights on the trail, you prob­a­bly won’t be keen to wait on a ride, so hav­ing a car avail­able is a nice touch.

Lastly—pack. Again, give your­self time with this one. Scram­bling around the morn­ing of leaves more room for error and you may find your­self miss­ing a key piece of gear while on the trail. With your trail beta in mind and keep­ing an eye on the weath­er fore­cast, make informed deci­sions about what to bring and what to leave home. You’ll want to keep your pack as light pos­si­ble with­out for­get­ting any essen­tials.

Along the Trail
While doing your thru-hike, pay atten­tion to your body. Keep your­self hydrat­ed and your blood sug­ar lev­els sta­ble. When it comes to water, you’ll want 3–4 liters per day. Look out for water sources on the trail and near your camp­site to avoid car­ry­ing the extra weight. For trail snacks, shoot for a mix of quick­ly digestible carbs and longer-last­ing pro­teins.

Be sure to rest as you need, but stay aware of the time you’re devot­ing to breaks along the trail. Depend­ing on the length of your hike, pick a pre­de­ter­mined inter­val of time (1–2 hours) to walk before tak­ing breaks. Lim­it breaks to about 15 min­utes, with short­er breaks to grab some carbs. It’s easy to burn valu­able day­light by chill­ing on the trail, but you’ll thank your­self when you get to your camp­site with plen­ty of light and time to set up camp.

Make sure to also stay aware of your loca­tion by fre­quent­ly check­ing your map and stay­ing ori­ent­ed. Also, main­tain wildlife aware­ness. In bear coun­try espe­cial­ly, make lots of noise and keep your bear spray handy to avoid an unex­pect­ed encounter.

Back at the Park­ing Lot
You did it! Peel off your sweaty wool socks, tend to your blis­ters and bask in your suc­cess. Also, con­sid­er doing a trip debrief with your par­ty. Talk about what went right, what went wrong, and what you’ll improve on for next time.

Next, get back to civ­i­liza­tion and start unpack­ing. It’s hard to find the moti­va­tion when you’re tired but you’ll want to get your items aired out ASAP. Be sure to hang your tent and sleep­ing bag inside out to avoid a mildew prob­lem and throw your spork in the sink. OK—now you can get that burg­er and beer you’ve been think­ing about since mile 2.