When most people think of thru-hiking, they imagine a long and arduous journey through the wilderness. And while there is no doubt that hiking for weeks or even months at a time can be challenging, there are also plenty of unexpected benefits that make the experience well worth it.
Here are twenty things that often surprise thru-hikers about the journey, regardless of walking the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, or another long-distance hiking trail.
Sleep Quality Improvements
One thing many develop is the ability to get hard quality sleep, long gone are the diversions and the distractions of modern life.
You are exerting energy for sometimes twelve to fifteen hours each day, so when you do sleep, it is deep and restful.
Much of this translates very well to life after the trail, with fewer people choosing to leave the TV on or working on their laptops in bed all night.
You might find that you sleep better at home even after you complete your thru-hike!
Unlimited Food Ain’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be
While many are excited about the chance to eat anything they want on the trail, it is not all it is cracked up to be for most.
On a thru-hike, you will quickly crave things you usually would not even think about eating. Many switch to much more salty and fatty foods as the hike progresses as the body works to combat fatigue.
Many hikers find that after a few weeks of eating whatever they want, they’re ready for some healthy and more nutritious foods again, with many getting large salads and veggie platters in town!
Belief In Humanity
For many of us in the “civilized” world, our faith in humans has dramatically declined as we constantly see the worst of people in the news.
But on a thru-hike, you will be surprised at how good most people are. You will meet incredible people from all walks of life with different backgrounds and stories, but almost everyone is kind, helpful, and hospitable.
It is easy to see the best in people when surrounded by nature and away from all the negative influences in your day-to-day lives.
From choosing to hike a marathon for a milkshake or losing a toenail, you will hear some of the most unbelievable stories on the trail.
You will likely have plenty of your own stories by the end of your hike, and these are often the ones that are most remembered and retold.
Thru-hiking is full of highs and lows, both figuratively and literally, and the stories that come from these experiences are often hard to forget.
Living for months on end with everything you need on your back helps you learn what you truly need in life and what you can live without.
You will find that many of the material possessions you once thought were essential are no longer needed and are just extra weight.
This valuable lesson can be applied to your life off the trail, helping you live a simpler and more minimalist lifestyle.
Provides New Relationships
You find many new people on the trail and build quality relationships with them. These people usually come into your life for a short period but the memories and bonds made are everlasting.
You might not see these people for years, or maybe never again, but the relationships you build are often more robust than any other type of relationship.
This is because you share such an intense experience and rely on each other for emotional and physical support.
Learning to listen to your body and its signals is one of the most important things you can take away from a thru-hike.
There are no doctors or hospitals on the trail, so if you get sick or injured, it is up to you to figure out how to fix the problem.
This often requires trial and error and intuition, but by the end of the hike, most hikers have a much better understanding of how their bodies work.
This newfound knowledge is incredibly valuable and can be applied to everyday life off the trail.
Being out away from the noise of a city allows your brain to process memories you may think long past their expiration date.
You will often find that you think more clearly on the trail and can work through personal issues more effectively.
This is one of the most underrated benefits of thru-hiking and is often not realized until after the hike is over.
A thru-hike is a very intense experience that requires physical, mental, and emotional strength.
You will be pushed to your limits daily, and this will help you grow as a person in ways you never thought possible.
It is not uncommon for hikers to come back from their hikes as entirely different people than when they started.
If you are looking for a way to challenge yourself and grow, then thru-hiking is worth it.
Interaction Outside Your Normal Societal Circles
Many people never deviate outside their perceived social circles and lose out on unique insights that others can provide.
On a thru-hike, you will meet people from all walks of life with different backgrounds, educational levels, and life stories.
This is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the world and its people.
You will also have the chance to share your own stories and experiences, which is a great way to connect with others.
Weather Makes For Memorable Experiences (Good & Bad)
While you may think good weather makes for unforgettable memories, and it can, living through crazy weather can provide just as memorable, if not more so, experiences.
There is nothing like huddling in a tent during a thunderstorm or summiting a mountain in a torrential downpour or maybe even snow.
These are the types of experiences that make for great stories and will be remembered long after the hike is over.
Build a Better Version Of You
For many hikers, you begin as one person and end as another. In many ways, this will be a better version of you, being more independent, confident, and resilient.
You will have also developed new skills such as map reading and navigation, first aid, and leave no trace principles.
These skills are precious and can be applied to everyday life.
Impressive On Resume
While you may think that a six-month gap on your resume could be a game breaker for many, it instead showcases many things people who apply don’t have skills in:
If you are looking for a job in the outdoor industry, your resume will stand out among the rest.
Thru-hiking is an excellent way to gain skills and experience that will help you in your personal and professional life.
Living in the Present
Thru-hiking helps you to learn to live in the day, which helps to reduce stress and anxiety.
You can’t plan for what will happen tomorrow, so you might as well enjoy today, like taking that side trail to a fantastic view instead of just grinding the miles.
This is a valuable skill that can be applied to everyday life off the trail.
You Are Stronger Than You Believe
The decision alone to thru-hike leads many to find that inner strength they never knew they had.
Hikers often have one of the biggest realizations while on the trail.
You will find that you are capable of much more than you ever thought possible, both mentally and physically.
A skill that can’t be taught in classrooms, self-reliance is an essential life skill that is developed while thru-hiking.
You will have to rely on yourself for everything from decision-making to personal hygiene to cooking.
This valuable skill can be applied to many different aspects of life.
A thru-hike will humble you no matter who you are or what you have accomplished in your life.
You will be pushed to your limits mentally and physically, and there will be times when you feel like giving up.
Through these challenging times, you will learn what you are truly made of and become stronger on the other side.
Appreciation for Life’s Little Things
After spending months on the trail, often in bad weather and with little creature comforts, you will come to appreciate the little things in life that you took for granted before.
After living on the trail for a while, a hot shower, a soft bed, and a home-cooked meal will all seem like luxuries.
This is one of the best things about thru-hiking; it makes you appreciate the simple things in life that we often take for granted.
It Gives You A Greater Appreciation For Nature
It is easy to take nature for granted when you see it every day but being in the wilderness for weeks or months at a time provides a whole new appreciation for the world around you.
You will begin to notice things you never noticed before and see the world in a new light.
A thru-hike is an excellent way to connect with nature and learn more about our world.
Puts Things Into Perspective
You will start seeing things differently when you are out on the trail for months at a time.
The day-to-day stresses of life will seem less important, and you will start to appreciate the little things more.
This is one of the most valuable lessons you can take away from a thru-hike, and it can be applied to your everyday life.
Final Thoughts on Whether Thru-Hiking Is Worth It
There are many reasons why someone might choose to thru-hike, but ultimately it is up to the individual to decide if it is worth it.
Thru-hiking has many benefits, including personal growth, weather experiences, and building self-reliance skills.
However, it is essential to remember that a thru-hike is a challenging undertaking that requires dedication and preparation. If you are considering a thru-hike, do your research and plan accordingly.
But a thru-hike is worth it if you are looking for an adventure that will push you to your limits and change your life forever.