How does one become a thru-hiker?

Forum Posting

A Membership is required to post in the forums. Login or become a member to post in the member forums!

Home Forums General Forums Philosophy & Technique How does one become a thru-hiker?

  • This topic is empty.
Viewing 25 posts - 1 through 25 (of 53 total)
  • Author
  • #1220883
    Jordan Hurder


    Locale: Southern California

    I sit around and dream about thru-hiking the PCT some day (or even one state's worth of it), but I can't conceptualize how in my life I'll ever have the time. If I can get two nights/3 days in, that's a good, long trip for me. Usually, I'm lucky to get an overnight. I've never been out longer than 3 days, and a week on the trail seems like forever. So, how do you guys/girls who have thru-hiked for month-or-more stretches fit it into your lives? Do you work as teachers, or are there really jobs out there that will give you a month or more of vacation at one time? Or did you have an epiphany like I feel like I'm going to have in a few years, when you say "Screw it" and quit your demanding job to focus on the outdoors. Plus all the training involved in transitioning from casual to serious long-distance hiker has to be factored in too. I'm 26, and my window of opportunity before I have serious obligations to think about is closing quickly. Although there are still people with wives/husbands/children who find the time to thru-hike… so, again… how do you do it?

    Ryan Faulkner


    thats a good question

    I have a similar one, im still in high school, but want to know of any jobs out there that allow time for such things, I plan on going on a PCT thru hike before college, and mabey an AT thru hike before as well or just after. but I dont plan on that being it for my thru hiking, also, I am very interested in the sport of adventure racing, any job I persue, would have to allow time for this, as well as frequent weekend backpacking trips. what do you AR guys out there do for a living, or are those racers sponsered by large companies paid enough to live on. Sorry to mabey hijack the thread, If it is a problem I will repost in another thread. but how dose one get involved in the sport, and/or be discovered by large companies like salomon, golite, timberland, ect.
    I really dont know much about it at all, but I love the idea of it, and am a vrey good distance runner, any info would be apereciated.

    Shawn Basil


    Locale: Southeast

    Jordan, if you dwell on it enough, you're in the state of mind to take the first step. Literally. You basically have to decide you're going to do it, and pick a rough time frame for it. Then you have to have the talk with others. "Can I have this much time off?" from work, significant others, family, etc. If the answer is "no" then you may have to quit a job, break off a relationship or upset family. If you're willing to do these things, you're ready to through-hike.

    I hiked the AT in 1999 at the age of 27, turning 28 out on the trail. I had just gotten out of the Marine Corps, had no debt, money in savings and had been planning the trip casually for about 3 years, and seriously in the last 3 months in service. I then returned to family in Kentucky, to take care of my grandmother after her back surgery. By mid March, I'd had the "talks" with family and girlfriend. I eventually broke up with the girlfriend, and dealt with my father who wanted to know if I thought it was really a good idea to hike for six months instead of getting a job. I told him my experiences in the Marine Corps showed me how uncertain living to retirement really is, and I was going to take some along the way. He accepted this.

    Nowadays, I through-hike shorter trails (200-500 miles) on summer vacation from teaching.

    Shawn Basil


    Locale: Southeast

    Ryan, I don't adventure race now, but did for about 3 years after I got out of the Marine Corps in 1999. Very few people adventure racing are professional racers. In fact even the professionals with heavy sponsors usually have other jobs. Most races are not Eco-Challenge or Raid Gaulloise length (7-10 days and 200-300 miles). The massive number are weekend races, ranging from 8-48 hours. The casual racer is teacher or lawyer, bartender or student, free spirit or disciplined athlete. Adventure, challenge, competition, fitness are all reasons racers I've known give for racing. Two of the racers I teamed with a couple of times competed in the 2002? Eco-challenge. They both had regular jobs. One was a personal trainer. The other was an engineer. They saved up their money for entry fees, and burned up 2 1/2 weeks of vacation time to race. And they were pretty typical of the great majority of racers who compete in such events.

    BPL Member



    Even though we can't plot out our lives 100% — you'd be surprised how much control you really have! At 26, your future is still fairly wide open. YOU get to decide what job to take (or not), when to get married (or not), and so on and so forth.

    Stating the obvious, pretty much every decision you make will have consequences — either getting you closer to your goal, or farther away. But you get to decide a lot of it.

    Ditto the above — it's mostly a matter of how you set your priorities — and your state of mind.

    Christopher Plesko


    Locale: Rocky Mountains

    Even when you get married, have kids etc you still have control. If you don't choose to have 3 car payments, a house more than you can afford and other things many people consider necessary financial flexibility can still be there. After the bills are paid you just have to have an understanding wife and family who let you live out you dreams and understand yourself that thru hiking may not happen every year and that it is a compromise between you and your loved ones. Jobs come and go and I don't intend to wait until retirement to live out some of my dreams.

    If something is truely important to you and your family and wife truely love you then you can find a way to make it happen. You just can't walk out the door one day and hit the trail like you were single but the support from a family can be amazing to experience as well.

    Just 0.02 from a married, home owning, student loaned, 24 year old planning on starting a family soon…

    Don Wilson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Koyukuk River, Alaska

    I've spent far too much time pondering this question, so I'll throw in my two cents based on my experience and meeting many others on the PCT over the past two summers.

    As others have said – it is simply a matter of orienting your priorities to make it happen. I am a firm believer that we have far more freedom than we allow ourselves. And we limit ourselves for reasons that we perceive to be important, but for many of us are not representative of our true desires.

    In my case, I am 46 with a good job, teenage kids and a lovely wife. But it was important to me, so my family was totally behind me doing a full thru-hike. I worked it all out, but in the end I decided I didn't want to spend that much time away from my family at this point in my life. So I've hiked in 6 week increments for the past two years. A great experience, but not a thru hike. In a few more years, I'll do it together with my wife.

    Some notes on PCT thru hikers. Most are either under 30 or over 50. Those between 30 and 50 frequently don't have kids. There are lots of couple on the trail, probably 25 percent of the hikers are in couples. But there are a few who manage to get out there despite all the hurdles we all face. Finally, thru hikers are wonderful folks. I'm not sure if it just becuase of the type of people who hike that far, or that people change on the trail, but I've formed some great bonds and had so many great days with thru hikers in my two summers on the trail.

    Make it happen – you will not regret it. If you give up, you will regret it.

    Lee Davis


    Locale: Southeast

    I'm 28 and I'm getting ready to try my hand at thru hiking the AT, and if I hold out physically and mentally some others as well.

    It has been a difficult strain mentally already as it basically required serious scrimping, letting go of my career for the time and severing a number of relationships.

    Will it work? I hope! I've found the fiscal aspect to be the most daunting, but now that the date is upcoming….like I said, we'll see. I'm hoping what it takes is just deciding that you want it and have what it takes.

    Brett .


    Locale: CA

    I can advise you on what NOT to do. Do not become a slave to your job; do not commmit to an incompatible relationship, and do not become "owned" by debt.

    I made all those mistakes in my past. I was a workaholic with no 'life'. My health was heading down hill, fast. I quit the job, sold the house, divorced the ex(no kids), and moved to a country I always wanted to live in. Now I control my life; and I can make time for hobbies and hiking, at least weekend trips. If I decide to take a month off; I could do it if I completed all my projects, which is entirely up to me. My career and finances are under my control. And now I have a compatible GF who enjoys the same interests I do. I made all the big mistakes, but recovered from them.

    So trust your instincts; if a job or relationship seems to be 'using' you, with minimal return on your investment; research the next move, then jump. If you are not sure what path is best; find a role model and emulate his/her career path. Maybe this post will identify someone who did a thru-hike while keeping a full time job..

    It might take some time to get to a point in your career when you can confidently tell your boss you are leaving for a week or month. Alternatively, develop a skill which allows you to be self employed.

    Lastly, do not become buried in 'stuff', material items, debt, or leeching acquaintances. Save your time for family, yourself, and friends; in that order. Consider the 'Pareto Principle'.

    Good luck.

    Sam Haraldson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Gallatin Range

    You're only 26, be careful with credit cards and always remember you are in control of your own destiny.

    Vick Hines


    Locale: Central Texas

    Ryan and Jordan,
    Brett has some good advice there. The other thing is, start a savings plan whenever you have a job. Use it to buy time off. Set a goal to have a great adventure every X years, and save for it.

    Like Brett says, don't let yourself be used by relationships, jobs, whatever. That means you have to be honest and very clear to people about what your goals are. And you have to make them believe you. Don't worry about that making job hunting or relationship hunting harder than it already is. You really don't want to be involved with folks who don't respect your choices.

    I have watched you for some months now, and think you are a very bright guy. Others will recognize that as well and that will give you an edge.

    Douglas Frick
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wyoming

    >Even when you get married, have kids etc you still have control. If you don't choose to…

    It is a bit tougher for those with families but it can be done. "Scraping Heaven"; Ross, Cindy; McGraw-Hill; 2003. It's the story of their family section-hiking the CDT over the course of a few years (young kids, too). I'd like to do something like this, but not quite yet.

    Jordan Hurder


    Locale: Southern California

    I'll be out of college debt in two years… then will be a good time to evaluate my future. My job now is stable enough that I make enough money to get myself out of debt, so I guess that's where I'll be staying for now. But I'm going to print this thread out and read it once I'm debt free, just to remind myself what that freedom actually offers me.

    Hopefully the hardest choice I will have to make is not whether to do a thru-hike, but rather whether I should hike the PCT, or mountain bike the CDT…

    Erin McKittrick
    BPL Member


    Locale: Seldovia, Alaska

    It seems like the general consensus is – just do it anyway. Transition times are good (between jobs, between schooling, etc…). Don't be tied down to a lot of stuff, and you can decide to make those transitions.

    I'm taking off on a 9-month expedition starting this June, timed to coincide with my husband finishing grad school. Will we have any jobs/income for that 9 months? Nope. But we'll figure it out, one way or another. As lifestyles go, hiking is pretty cheap.

    Careful, though. I took my first long (a little over 2 months) trek just after college. But then I got addicted, and have been forced to arrange my life to allow for long trips ever since.

    As for family – find some to go along with you. I've been lucky to find a husband I can drag pretty much anywhere…


    Laurie Ann March


    Locale: Ontario, Canada

    how does one become a thru-hiker? tenacity!

    First of all start a savings account and ask your bank to transfer a certain amount each month. This way you can easily save enough to cover your expenses when you are gone.

    If you rent you could always give up the apartment and put your things in storage until you return or even better perhaps family could store things for you. You can live pretty cheaply on the trail too. You can make your food several months ahead of time and store it in the freezer until you are ready to go. This way you are paying for things for your trip while you still have a paycheck coming in. Careful financial planning makes a big difference.

    I'm not sure of the rules in the US but in Canada you can take up to 1 year off for a personal leave of absence and if I am not mistaken the employer has to hold your job.

    Or you can do what I did – start your own company related to the outdoors. Now that I have an established track record, a team to help me write and such I will be able to take more time off. Plus I backpack and canoe for work on top of it. Once my son is old enough to thru-hike I will be working my butt off for 2/3 of the year and spending the rest on a smaller thru-hike and maybe a multi-week paddling trip.

    The only reason I can do this is because both my husband and son are into it and because it clicks with my day job.

    We only have one car (Bryan has a company car as well) and because I am only just learning to drive I rarely use our car anyway. The car was bought used (under $10 000). We have a small TV and we don't go out to the bars and such. We don't eat a lot of take out anymore and we don't buy things that we don't really need. Bryan's boss is also a backpacker so I am sure that will help.

    We also waited to buy a house (which is happening in 2007). Our rent is all-inclusive and ridiculously cheap (less than the taxes and utilities are on the house) and the flat beautiful. So we stayed an extra 5 years so we can go in with a substantial downpayment. We are buying a house that will cost us about the same as our rent each month even though we could afford and qualify for almost 3 times more. The money that would have gone for a bigger home is going to pay for all sorts of excursions including our dream thru-hike… the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal.

    By the way I am 38, married for 14 years and I have a 5 year old son. My son is in training for more serious backpacking and doesn't even know it… lol.

    We had to take a break from the serious backpacking when we adopted the little one last year but will be hiking more frequently as the little guy's stamina and skill increases. When it comes to having responsibilities you just have to refocus. For example, when Tobias was placed with us we had to gear our trips to suit him. A small sacrifice and delay – but he is worth every bit of that. The rewards of teaching him about the outdoors are far greater than having to delay long trips and thru-hikes for a year or two.

    5 years ago today we moved back into our apartment after a devastating house fire that summer (2001). We lost everything and almost our lives. We missed death by less than 3 minutes. That put everything in perspective. We decided to focus on being in the outdoors every moment we could. Life is too short. Start working towards your dreams today… don't put it off… and before you know it you will be there. If responsibility smacks you in the face then revise your goals slightly… but whatever you do don't give up on your dream hikes.

    Inaki Diaz de Etura
    BPL Member


    Locale: Iberia highlands

    Jordan, I can relate to how you feel. Just a couple of years back thru-hiking something like the PCT was just a dream, how could I find the time off, leave the family behind? Yet, I kind of knew I'd do it some day and when the time came I'd somehow know. I thru-hiked the PCT in 06 and I knew all the time it was the best decision I had made in my life.
    It just happened. There came a time when I felt I *had* to do it and when that time came everything looked so easy, all the barriers that seemed impassable just vanished, even in the socially conservative environment I live in. It may be different for everyone of us but in my case it came somehow naturally. What looked like it'd be a big breakthrough became a seamless transition.
    This year there were almost every kind of people on the trail as far as age and situation in life goes. I guess it's the same every year. Some people have to tell their parents they're going on a thru-hike, some have to tell their kids. Some hike together. Whatever the relationship, the loved ones will understand if they really love and know you. Don't feel the need to do it before whatever happens in your life. You can do it anytime. There may be better or worse times but the best time is when you feel the need to do it.
    It may even happen quite the same with your job if you have an understanding boss/company. You may be the most motivated worker when you come back after fullfilling your dreams.
    Wathever way works for you, go for it and follow your dream. You may regret it (most probably not but you never know…) but the biggest regret you may have is about not trying at all.

    Hiker 816
    BPL Member


    Locale: Denver

    Hey Jordan,

    Finding the time & money to thru-hike is easy if you can let go of being risk-averse and make it a priority. I planned a PCT thru-hike after graduating from college, during my student loan grace period. I managed 1800 miles that year before getting hurt. Then I went to law school, but planned a CDT thru-hike after graduation. The whole law school/lawyer thing follows a very prescribed track–you work during the summer between your second and third year of law school, take the bar exam immediately after graduating, and start working at the same firm you spent the previous summer at, the September following the bar exam. But screw that–I went hiking after graduating, again during my loan grace period (CDT trip fell through, so I finished the last 900 miles of PCT). Then I had to study for the bar exam during the winter. I had no income then, yet I had $1200 per month in student loans to start paying off, as my grace period ran out. No worries–I called the loan company and got an ecomonic hardship deferral for another six months. Financially wise? Probably not. But I got to hike. It might be worth calling your loan company–I've found they are fairly accomodating about reducing or deferring your payments on a temporary basis. Of course, it means more interest to pay off later. But it also means you get to hike.

    My wife understood that my thru-hiking addication came with the package. Hopefully you can convince your sig other likewise. The rest of the fam was originally against the hiking, but about a month into it they all were on board. It became an interesting thing for my parents to talk to their friends about, and I soon had a bunch of my parents co-workers following my online journal.

    I'll caution you, though. I know of very few people who thru-hike a trail other than the AT who are content at just one. If you do a thru-hike, doing another one will suddenly become your first priority, financial security be damned.

    Happy trails!

    Shawn Basil


    Locale: Southeast

    "I know of very few people who thru-hike a trail other than the AT who are content at just one."

    I did the AT and I still always feel the need to get back out there long term. I gave up a $50K+ a year supervisory job to go work for NOLS a year and a half after I got off the trail. After an extended odyssey of good and bad career choices, I've settled into teaching with 4 1/2 years of experience, just finished my master's degree in special ed (completely paid for by the state), and have stability and financial security with 2 months to hike every summer, as well as winter and spring breaks.

    And I have fantastic memories and a balance in life that really works for me.

    Thomas Baker
    BPL Member


    Locale: WY

    Here is an example of how unexpected events can actually help your thru-hiker dreams.

    I recently accepted a new position with my company. This new position requires relocation. I am relocating in March. When I get to my new town I am going to rent a house instead of owning as I do now. In two years I am looking at doing the CDT. When that time comes I will move my belongings into a storage unit and have my bills go to essentially zero. My company allows for leaves-of-absence for up to a year. So there you have it, next to no bills and time off with a job to go back to.

    The basic message to this is that there are many ways to accomplish this if you look for them. Sometimes the openings come from a direction you might not be looking.

    Joshua Burt


    Locale: The Smokies

    At 27, I'm in the same boat as you, Jordan. For a few years after college I did a heck of a lot of hiking and worked only seasonal, fun, jobs. Eventually, I looked at some of my friends with budding families and careers and freaked out. A friend loaned me a copy of "Your money or Your Life" and it presented a plan for beating the rat race that I could understand. Now I just watch my expenses. Even working seasonally doing things I love, I can still find the money to hike and save.

    Kirk Beiser


    Locale: Pic: Gun Lake, BWCA

    Well I'm 28 and I'm leaving the rat race for a little bit to hike the PCT this summer. I've chosen to relocate to the west (from MI to a TBD location – AZ, CO, WA, OR or CA ) and change industries that I work in (but same job description). In between these jobs I will have time to hike the PCT. It won't be an easy step to take, but since I've saved well and have $0 debt I feel secure in my decision. It will be interesting to see what I do when I am finished. Current plan is to find a full-time engineering position in the Seattle area and be able to dayhike/backpack frequently in the Cascades/Olympic areas. Who knows how the PCT will warp me, I mean change me?

    Vadim Fedorovsky


    i decided to bring this thread back from the dead

    im wondering did Jordan ever get out there for his dream hike?

    and i'm currently in the same boat he was so….do people have more advice/stories about their experiences?

    thanks BPL community

    Angela Zukowski


    Locale: New England

    I wonder if he made it out there, too. Having postponed my own hike… I know how easy it is to dream about it, but get sidetracked by unexpected issues.

    But now I've done it!

    I just gave my two weeks notice last week at my job. I think my decision to hike helped speed the end of the relationship I was in. I've accepted that. I'm thrilled to be leaving the rat race, too.

    I feel great about my decision even though I have a knee issue that could potentially leave me unable to complete my thru-hike.

    No point in living unless you are willing to take risks!

    Also, Laurie Ann's advice about a savings account – still valid! Definitely deposit money each month that you cannot touch. If you have a larger chunk of money, put it in a cd until it's time for you to hike. And keep in mind you can hike on a tight budget – I have a few friends who did it for around 2 grand. Just depends on what your needs are. And buy used gear! That really helps, too.

    There's always going to be reasons not to hike – at some point you just have to push past that, embrace the possibility of risk and failure, and just go.

    *edited to add words I forgot to type

    BPL Member


    Here's wishing you a long and exciting trip, Angela!

    I had a similar episode — quitting a job with a company I really disliked (after being with them for just 3 months). I then spent a month "backpacking" solo in India and Uzbekistan. I had a wonderful time — came back fully charged and positive again — and landed a great job within a month of interviewing.

    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern California


    When I was young, I chucked everything and went hiking for two years. I gave up a lot future-wise to do this. I won't go into the details, but I was on track to probably become a fighter pilot, and some other long-term career options. My decision would impact my future, and create some "hardships" for several years. Everyone in my life at the time tried to talk me out of it. Basically the thought I had gone insane, to the point they tried to get me to see a psychiatrist.

    Here's how I came to my decision. Would I regret leaving what I had, or would I regret not going for the adventure more. The adventure won out. That was nearly 40 years ago, and to this day, I am GLAD I went for it.

Viewing 25 posts - 1 through 25 (of 53 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
Forum Posting

A Membership is required to post in the forums. Login or become a member to post in the member forums!

Get the Newsletter

Get our free Handbook and Receive our weekly newsletter to see what's new at Backpacking Light!

Gear Research & Discovery Tools