Prep For the Long Game
You don’t have to be a planner to start a thru-hike, but you’ll turn into one if you want to finish. Such is the wisdom of Amanda “Zuul” Jameson, who has thru-hiked the Pacific Crest, Continental Divide, and Grand Enchantment Trails and now helps fellow trekkers dial in their gear.
1) FIGURE OUT FOOD.
Thru-hikers have three resupply options: the buy-as-you-go method, stopping to resupply in trail towns as needed; the USPS method, mailing prepackaged boxes of supplies to towns along the way; or a combination. Jameson recommends the latter technique, as it allows you to adapt to cravings (subject to availability) and also ensures you’ll always have critical supplies.
2) DON’T GET AHEAD OF YOURSELF.
“On the trail, I generally only plan for the day that’s ahead of me,” Jameson says. It’s nearly impossible to accurately estimate your hiking speed, terrain, weather, and other factors well enough to plan campsites and hiking distances out too far in advance. She recommends being f lexible: Have a few campsite options, but be open to changing course as you go.
3) SCALE YOUR MENU.
You’re likely to get hungrier as you go. Jameson plans for a roughly 500-calorie breakfast, heavy snacks throughout the day (like peanut butter or salami), and a 1,000calorie dinner at the start of a hike. Dinners balloon to 1,500 calories toward the end.
4) DON’T EXPECT PERFECTION.
“You’re never going to walk into town eating your last Snickers bar,” Jameson says. Packing the exact right amount of food is more luck than skill, and hiking 20-plus miles a day is hard enough even when you’re not hungry. Her advice: Have a few extra calories with you just in case.
5) BOUNCE IT.
Use a “bounce box” as a moving cache, mailing it from town to town so you don’t have to carry items you don’t need all the time, or that are for restocking supplies. Send it far enough ahead that you won’t beat it to town. Plans change? Most post offices will hold your boxes up to two weeks or forward them on request.
6) EMBRACE THE ZERO.
How many days should you go without taking a rest day? “You’ll know when it’s time,” Jameson says. Or one will present itself: You can’t get the hitch you needed, the weather gets bad, or you show up at a post office too late to pick up the package you needed to keep hiking. As a general rule, plan for one every 10 to 14 days.
7) BE PATIENT.
As wildfires grow larger and more common in the West, trail reroutes are more likely. It might take some time for land managers to set up an official detour, but Jameson recommends waiting for guidance to ensure safety and avoid getting lost.
8) HAVE IT YOUR WAY.
Out on the trail, you’ll often hear the phrase “hike your own hike.” There’s no right way to plan or travel, of course, and even advice like this is just a guide.