The definition of Thru Hiking can easily become a highly debated topic. I’m going to start by saying there can be many definitions. This may not be a very satisfying answer, but hang with me, I’m going to outline below what I consider the range of what a Thru Hike could be defined as.
- A Thru Hike could be 1 mile, it could be 3,100 miles.
- A Thru Hike could take you a day, or it could take you 6 months.
- A Thru Hike Typically involves you starting at one point and finishing at another. (Though this may not always be the case, there are some very long loop hikes out there)
- A Thru Hike may or may not include resupplies.
What makes a Thru Hike different than a backpacking trip? Usually a Thru Hike will involve a bit more logistics, such as:
- Travel to and from end points of a trail
- Organizing food resupplies
- Hitch Hiking to towns
- A significant time commitment
What many would consider a typical Thru Hike to be could more or less look like the following:
At a given date you are dropped off at a trailhead or trail terminus. You then proceed to hike in the direction of the other end of the given trail (whether that be north, south, east west, or even a loop). Usually you’d hike all day for several days before coming to a resupply location. This could look like a road in which you may have to hitch a ride into town, it could be walking into a town itself, it could be meeting a friend or family member who has brought you more food. At the resupply location you may spend the night, shower, and eat a hot meal. You would then return to the trail where you left off and continue hiking. You may repeat this process many times over the course of many weeks. As you go you are accumulating lots of miles hiked, and eventually you will have reached your end destination.
There are inevitably endless versions and varieties of Thru Hikes. No two Thru Hikes look the same, nobodys experiences on a Thru Hike will be the same, and everyone should most definitely “Hike their own Hike”.
The Triple Crown of Thru Hiking:
In the U.S. the triple crown of long distance thru hiking includes:
- The Appalachian Trail (2,200 miles): Located on the east coast, goes from Georgia to Maine, traverses the Appalachian Mountains and passes through the following states (Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.)
- The Pacific Crest Trail (2,653 miles): Located on the West Coast, this trail goes from the Mexico/California border to the Washington/Canada border. It includes the southern California desert, the sierra Nevada mountains, and the Cascade Range. This trail passes through the following states (California, Oregon, Washington)
- The Continental Divide Trail (3,100 miles): Like the name suggests this trail roughly follows the geographic divide of the North American Continent in the U.S. The trail runs from the Mexico/New Mexico border to the Montana/Canada border and includes the Rocky Mountains. It goes through the following states (New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana).
These are just the famous “Big 3” and by no means the only trails out there to Thru Hike, there are dozens of others that range from as little as 96 miles to over 900. For a comprehensive list of trails click here.