The Art of the Zero: Why Rest Days Are Key to Thru-Hiking Success

Rest and recovery through zero days are vital on long hikes. Learn when to take zero days, town vs trail zeros, how often to rest, and how zeros improve your odds of thru-hike success.

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Josh Koop

I live with my wife and daughter in Katy, Texas and my local trail is the Lone Star Hiking Trail which is an amazing way to experience the Sam Houston National Park!

Trail town can be perfect places to take zeros and rest and resupply
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When you’re out on a long-distance hike, it’s important to plan for zero days, everyone eventually needs a break to get washed up, clean clothing, and refill food and fuel for the next leg of their hike.

Zero days are important for overall body recovery and recuperation from the work and beatings they have taken. For many, they will need more zeros, especially in the beginning as their bodies adjust to the ongoing work and effort.

So now that you get what they are in a very basic way let’s jump into why they are important for a thru-hike and what benefits they can provide you as you plan them.

Why We All Need Zero Days

Whether you are hiking a super long trail like the Appalachian Trail or something shorter like maybe the Lone Star Hiking Trail or Ouachita Trail, sometimes your body needs a break from the continual hard effort.

Zero days are a way to allow you to decompress and not think about the miles needed for a given day and provide you with a break from trail life itself.

Everyone needs to take a zero every once in a while, and sometimes, it is all you need to convince yourself to keep going.

Unfortunately, many on a thru-hike will get focused on the end completion and sometimes forget to enjoy the times in between, like taking that side trail for a view or having a pizza in town with the tramily.

The Perks of Town vs Trail Zero Days

While most will envision a zero-day in a trail town some of the best zeros can occur while actually out on the trail itself, finding one of those amazing views where you choose to engage in life itself over a bustling town can be life-inspiring!


Town is where you can zero in and enjoy the company of others, get some hot food that isn’t freeze-dried or right out of a package. You can also buy something like ice cream or that candy bar you have been dreaming about for days.

The cons of zeroing in town can be the expense as it is easy to spend money here and get pulled into the black hole of town staying longer than you need and burning through money.


A zero on the trail can feel like a luxury as there is no one around for miles, you might even see some wildlife if you are lucky. The beauty of zeroing on the trail means that it is also far less expensive to the wallet.

To zero on the trail, you can either do a full day hike or just stop for a couple of hours and take a nap in that perfect spot. Doing so will help you save money, keep your pack light, and make sure you are not eating too much of your food in town.

Whatever zero days you choose, it is important to remember that rest and recovery are key to a successful thru-hike, so be sure to zero as needed and enjoy the break from the trail!

The Vital Importance of Zero Days

You may wonder what you can do with that time you spend in the woods with the on-trail zero you really get a chance to rest but that’s it as the other benefits are once you reach civilization.

Rest and Relaxation

For many this will be a primary goal, getting off those legs for a long stretch of time and letting them recover from a week of hard work or more in many cases, breaks are key to a successful hike and zeros provide the best opportunity.

Explore the Local Town

There is always something unique to nearly any trail town and zero is the best time to explore it, maybe that is a local museum or historic site. Maybe it’s just checking out the local gear shop or getting a haircut, or other mentally opening activity.

Shower and Shave

Another great thing for nearly anyone covered in dirt and grime, just a shower alone can be a morale booster. Getting very clean may seem silly knowing you are heading right back out to get dirty but it can be very refreshing.

Some people who don’t want to go full hobo look may choose to shave every so often just to give them a hint of civilized, especially in town, this can be beneficial to someone’s mental state.


Normally you will carry enough food to get from town to town which means that once you reach town restocking food for the next leg of your trip is vital, going to the local grocery or supermarket will give you a chance to resupply and give you a chance to vary your food options.

Check and Repair Gear

One of the most important aspects of a zero will be checking and inspecting gear for wear and tear, this way if something is failing you may have the chance to replace it before it becomes a gear fail on the trail itself.

Washing Gear and Clothing

Your clothes will be pretty gross by the time you reach any town. Wearing the same thing day in and day out can cause clothing to fall apart faster than normal, and washing them is a great way to extend the life of your clothing.

Post Office

If you send yourself resupplies then your town visits will be planned to get you where you can pick them up, or if the temperature is warming you may be able to send back home some of your colder weather gear to help drop some weight.

Planning Optimal Zero Day Frequency

For most people averaging a zero a week may be a good idea, this gives your body a chance to rest and heal any blisters or other injuries that have developed over the week.

You may want to zero more often in the beginning as your body is getting used to the rigors of hiking all day every day, and you may want to zero less often as you get into better shape.

Many will take fewer zeros the further they get on a thru-hike, largely because their bodies are more in shape and able to push through which leads to more neros, basically hiking into town and resupplying and then leaving onto the trail again.

Final Thoughts on Zero Days

Zero days are essential for a successful hike, so plan them as needed and enjoy the time away from the trail. Whether that is catching up on sleep or exploring a new town, zero days offer valuable rest and recovery time for long-distance hikers.

Leave a comment below and let everyone know what you do when you zero, what is the one thing you look forward to when you get to take a break?

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