What Is Thru-Hiking?

I’m going to be honest… before I started working here at FarOut, I had no idea what thru-hiking was. I love to hike, but for some reason (probably having to do with me being in a college bubble in this small town of Flagstaff for the past five years), I had never heard of thru-hiking. So I googled it… and this is what I found:

The Ten Hiking Essentials

Thru-Hiking Lingo

Good ol’ Wikipedia: Thru-hiking, or through-hiking, is hiking a long-distance trail end-to-end within one hiking season. In the United States, the term is most commonly associated with the Appalachian Trail (AT), the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), but also refers to other end-to-end hikes.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy defines a thru-hike as: “a hike of the entire A.T. in 12 months or less.”

I have been completely immersed in the thru-hiking culture and the community that surrounds it. Yet, I still can’t explain what thru-hiking means to me because I have never done one. Yes, it’s possible that I may do one sometime in the future. But right now I’ve just developed my ideas off of the countless articles I’ve read and all of the stories I hear. I also follow a lot of hikers on Instagram.

I wanted to capture the perspective of people who have been out on the trail and experienced thru-hiking themselves. So that’s what I did and this is what they had to say:

“What does thru-hiking mean to you?”

A woman posing on a summit of Mt. Whitney while thru-hiking the PCT
Trail name: Portabella, PCT 2017
Photo by Isabel Reeb

“Thru hiking means the home and a family I never knew I was missing. It means the experiences I never knew I needed, It means the confidence I never knew I had, It means the pain I never knew I could handle, It means the love I will never forget, It means all the emotions I cannot put into words. Thru hiking means everything to me.” – Portabella, PCT 2017

“Solace.” – Nikki Hughes

Trail name: BarefootHiker, AT 2017
Photo by BarefootHiker

“Intoxicating. Fresh air, nice and uplifting people, more of the best people Earth has to offer, all for one crazy destination. You’re left filled and emptied all at once. You’re left craving more. It’s such a powerful feeling.” – BarefootHiker, AT 2017

Hiker with the trail name Barefoothiker posing with mountains in the background while thru-hiking the AT.

“Start to finish.” – @bfdtcb

Hiker posing on a mountain summit while thru-hiking.
Trail name: Freeball, AT 2015, CT 2016
Photo by Zoë

“Thru hiking means so many things. I’m Freeball and my first thru was the AT in 2015. I consequently caught the trail-bug and hiked the CT in 2016 and did 1000 miles on the PCT this past summer. For me, thru hiking means finding yourself one trail at a time when stripping your life to the minimal. It means being free and being in motion.” – Freeball, AT 2015, CT 2016

“#endlesssummer” – Grouchy, CDT 2018

Trail name: Relish, PCT 2018
Photo by Relish

“I wanted to live simply, to find space, and to see upon reflection, what it taught about how to live, I wanted to live far away, unfettered by the clutter modern life, I wanted to find rest in the quiet ways of nature, to be present there from sunrise to sunset to star filled night, I wanted to find healing for an over busied life, and relish in the soothing touch of a life outdoors, I wanted to see for myself if life couldn’t be improved by reducing it to only the most fundamental of things, I wanted to learn the lands of the American West, not by way of academia but by my feet, I wanted to witness the full display of grandeur nature had to offer, from the smallest spec of sand to the most majestic mountain pass, I wanted to experience hardship, hunger, pain and loneliness and discover what lessons these had to offer. I hoped to live boldly. To test the human spirit and attempt a truly awesome feat, I wanted to be a model, to myself my friends, family and strangers alike, to live a life daring enough to attempt a great dream.”- Relish, PCT 2018

Relish posing at the southern PCT terminus, marking the start of his thru-hiking adventure.

“Fueled by gummy candy. Lots of it.” – Flip, AT 2017

A view of the ridgeline and the hiker Earthcake has he is thru hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
Trail name: Earthcake, PCT 2016
Photo by Earthcake

“Being part of a community.” – Earthcake, PCT 2016

Trail name: Thumbs, PNT 2017
Photo by Thumbs

“It means everything… freedom, peace, strength, resilience, overcoming all obstacles. It means so much to my mental health, physical health, and is always at the forefront of my mind. It’s the place you can just be and only have to worry about walking from resupply to resupply.” -Thumbs, PNT 2017

A selfie of hiker Thumbs while thru hiking the PNT.
Trail name: DeadPoet87
Photo by DeadPoet87

“Utopia!” – DeadPoet87

Trail name: White Cheddar, AT 2017
Photo by Ginger

“Freedom.” – White Cheddar

Hiker White Cheddar posing for a picture on the Appalachian Trail while thru-hiking
Sprout posing on a dirt road as she is thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail
Trail name: Sprout, AT 2018
Photo by Sprout

“Hmmm… FRITOS!!” – Sprout, AT 2018