By Christopher Pregony, BS, CSCS
Thru-hiking, or through-hiking, refers to hiking a long trail from start to finish. For example, the Appalachian Trail starts in Georgia and ends in Maine, a distance that is roughly 2,200 miles. Many people have attempted to make it from start to finish, but most fall short. If you are contemplating on participating in such an endeavor, the No. 1 thing you must have is TIME. It takes most people about six months to finish the AT. Here in Florida we also have the Florida National Scenic Trail, which at about 1,300 miles takes people about three months’ time to finish.
Aside from time, one must prepare. This includes choosing the appropriate gear, mapping out where you will replenish your supplies along the way, and squaring away your life so that you can take six or so months off. For many, a thru-hike is a journey of self discovery. There are not many who have completed such a hike that did not want to quit at some point during the journey.
There is no true way to physically prepare for hiking every day for six months straight. However, there are some things you can do to get your body primed for the trip. It would be smart to begin your training a minimum of three months before your actual hike.
Get out and walk!
Most people complain about their shoulders from the pack, so prepare your body by putting your pack on with what you think will be close to the weight that you will be carrying and walking around. Most beginners start out with too much weight. A general rule is to carry around 20 percent of your body weight. For example a 150-pound person would carry around 30 pounds. Practice on a couple of local trails, or even walk across town. Most hikers will start off with around 10 miles a day, and as they adapt they can push it to over 20.
There are a few exercises that can help set your body up for the long haul, including lunges, squats, deadlifts, farmer carries and shrugs.
Practice the climbs!
This involves putting the pack on once again and simulating climbing up an incline. In Gainesville, the stadium is the best place to go. Walk the bleachers with your pack on. Start with one to five trips per workout, working your way to over 20 as your body adapts.
Most people lose weight while embarking on a thru hike. For someone with a slighter build, it may be a good idea to pack a few pounds on before the hike to counteract the weight loss.
Practice with a couple of overnight hikes
Get all the gear that you will use and go on some local hikes to help prepare. This will help you get used to your gear and, more importantly, make sure that it all works!
Thru-hikes are not for the faint of heart. It is an accomplishment that very few can do. In 2013 the Appalachian Trail Conservancy reported that only about one in four people that attempted to hike the AT actually complete the trail. Most people quit with in the first couple of weeks, so if you can get through the first part you have a good chance of going all the way!