Wish 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.