Over the next couple of weeks, thousands of people will set out to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, with hundreds heading to Southern California to start the Pacific Crest Trail. In accordance with the yearly averages, 7 out of 10 of these hikers will ultimately fall short of their goal.
Two books have recently been published that might help you remain in the 30% of successful thru-hikers who make it all the way to the border. Although these books are a must read for anyone planning a thru-hike, I found them extremely useful for anyone who wants to become a better backpacker in general.
Andrew Skurka can be described as the ultimate hiker. He has backpacked, skied, and packrafted 30,000+ miles through many of the world’s backcountry and wilderness areas. In his new book, The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide, Andrew shares the gear, supplies, and skills that will allow you to enjoy your hike, while still remaining safe and comfortable while camping.
The guide is extremely useful for everyone from the novice hiker to the seasoned backpacker with thousands of miles under their belt. Andrew lays out the pros and cons of the various options to help you make better choices on everything from clothing and shelter, to cooking and even campsite selection.
Throughout the book, he drops in little tips such as a suggestion to ditch the heavy high top boots and frame packs, along with his favorite water purification method. All of these little insights are gems you will only get from someone who has put themselves and their gear through the rigors of trail life time and time again.
If you are a seasoned backpacker, you will discover tips for fine turning your gear and technique in order to become more efficient and enjoy yourself more on the trail. For the novice, the book will provide a complete education on what gear you need, how to plan for a trip, and what issues you will most likely encounter. Andrew has even put together sample gear kits, including weights, for certain types of hiking trips say to the Rockies or through the forests of the East Coast.
Although having the right gear is extremely important, you can not ignore the whole psychological and emotional side to being a successful long distance hiker. For both the AT and PCT, around half of hikers throw in the towel because of psychological or emotional reasons. Zach Davis hits on the true reality of completing a thru-hike in his book Appalachian Trials.
Through his own personal and often humorous account of going from backpacking newbie to completing a successful thru-hike, Zach sets out to prepare you for the mental ups and downs of hiking the Appalachian Trail. He begins with taking you through some important mental exercises to help you figure out your true purpose for thru-hiking the AT, something he believes is the key to your success.
Having ridden the emotional roller coaster himself, Zach tells you what you can expect mentally from each section of the trail. He has a pretty good idea of where you will hit the low points on your attempt and how to get through them. By better knowing what to expect mentally, Zach hopes you will not only successfully complete your thru-hike, but actually enjoy your time out on the trail as well.
Although you definitely can get in shape on the trail, and many people do, I believe there is something to be said for the mental preparedness that comes from pre-trail physical training, something glossed over a bit in Zach's book. As with many endurance sports, a huge component of training is to simply get your mind accustomed to the repetitive and often monotonous task of putting one foot in front of the other for hours and days on end.
A huge take away from Zach's book for me, one that I hope to apply to everyday life, is that you need to "hike your own hike". How often does being part of group either make you speed up or slow down your efforts, or change the way you do things simply to accommodate everyone else? Each adventure is your own personal experience, so don't compare yourself to others and don't try to match your own physical and mental state to that of everyone else. Hike your own hike.