I’ve been a little nervous about how it’s all going to turn out. There’s other free material on the Internet. Was my little course going to actually be able to show it all up?
Now that I’ve seen the first class, I am absolutely BLOWN away by AWESOME it turned out! Like seriously–I felt like *I* learned a bunch of new stuff—and I wrote most of it! How well it turned out FAR exceeded expectations–and I had pretty high expectations of what this would look like. I’m impressed and really honored to have worked on such a project.
Backpacker Magazine did such a great job of integrating my content with that of experts in topics I don’t know so much about (like, say, all the financial planners they talked to about saving $ for a hike). And the photos and quizzes just made everything *pop* and engage in a way I don’t see in any sort of not-in person resource on thru-hiking.
At this point, I feel like I should be tired of looking at the content for the class, but Week’s 1 class was organized so well and flows so well it was actually really fun to take–even for me. Everything seemed broken down into really digestably chunks–somehow they turned all my lengthy 17 page monologues into exactly what I wanted to say, except way clearer (thanks, editors!).
I also love how well they integrated my content with that of so many other hikers who helped me. One of the most important facets of teaching this class for me was that it never comes across as pedantic. I believe that other than not being a d-bag and practicing LNT, thru-hiking has no rules. In the words of my friend Shane, “I may know thru-hiking well, but you know you well.” This course was designed to give tools to prospective hikers to make decisions best suited for them and I’m so thankful to all the other hikers who helped share their perspectives so that students of the trail can figure out what works best for them (even if it isn’t what works best for me!)
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started” Mark Twain
Maps. Gear. Food. Planning for a thru-hike can involve so much stuff and data, it can seem downright daunting.
Before I started my first thru-hike, I obsessed the Pacific Crest Trail, but was scared to actually take the first step to make a thru-hike happen. Friends knew of my dream and would urge me to pursue it, but I kept letting fear and the amount of work involved keep me from doing anything about it. I found excuses to avoid even starting to plan. I didn’t even know if I could find the time and money, so why waste that time dreaming?
Then, in January of 2008, I took the plunge and went in head first. I didn’t know what I was doing, but all I can say is that that decision is among the best things I’ve ever done.
Planning and prep for a thru-hike will look different from person to person. We have different goals, different dreams, different timelines. And no matter how much prep we do, Mother Nature always throws something unexpected at us. But the truth is, regardless of who we are or how we want to hike, our experience in the outdoors is safer and more enjoyable when we take initiative and do some old fashioned planning.
Here are some tips to beat inertia and indecision and to hop on the planning train.
Commit to hike, even if you aren’t 100% sure you can make it happen I can tell there’s a difference between the trails that I’ve planned a year out vs. hikes I cobbled together 2 weeks in advance. The further out I can commit to a trail (even if it’s a slow start), the better off I am physically and mentally when I do hit the trail. Committing to my hike early also allows gives me the time to address my demands at home (work, my stuff, bills, etc.) and to make sure years in advance that the family vacation won’t be scheduled in the middle of my hike.
If you’re not sure you can actually hike (find time and money), research how others have made it happen. People from all walks of life have thru-hiked. All ages, all backgrounds, all sorts of professions. Finding the time and money to do a trip sometimes requires some creativity, but if you want it enough, it can be done! Work with a financial planner and talk to other hikers who are similar positions of you to get ideas and inspiration.
Decide to start planning early….say, now. If you’ve ever thought about thru-hiking, the more time you give yourself to mentally be in the “I’m going on a thru-hike space” the better prepared you will be when that day actually happens. If you’re planning on hiking this summer, in 2017, or after you retire in 5 years, setting your goal now and moving on it is a great way to make sure it happens.
Stop worrying that prep and planning will take away from the adventure. No matter how much prep and planning you do, the outdoors is always giving us surprises, always giving us gifts, and promises to keep us on our toes. On a long hike in remote country, you’ve got a smaller margin of error than you do at home. Planning and prep isn’t about forming expectations. It’s about being willing to take whatever Mother Nature gives us and have the knowledge and skills to know what to do with it.
Don’t buy your gear yet. The temptation to go out and buy the first great deal that you see at the outfitter is great. “Who cares how it works? I’ll figure it out after I take it home!” I’ve declared far too often. But for many hikers, gear is the biggest expense of a thru-hike, so it’s worth doing some research—a lot of research—before handing over your hard earned cash.
Find a mentor. First-time thru-hikers who learn from thru-hiking mentors not only get the information to hike, but also get personal support that a book or listserve doesn’t offer. A good mentor will live by the motto “there are no stupid questions.” Avoid online forums, listserves, and facebook groups with trolls that prey on newbies. Instead, look for mentors who are willing to take the time to “tailor” answers specifically to you and who are willing to invest the time to learn about you to help you come to decisions that fit your goals and values.
Know How to Choose the Information You Use. There is a lot of info on mountaineering, survivalism, and “the right thing to do in the outdoors” out there. But just like if you’re planning to bake a cake, a cooking class will only be so useful, if you’re planning to thru-hike, a survivalism book will also be of limited use. A lot of hikers I meet get caught up in learning skills and strategies that tend to not be useful for most 3-season thru-hikers, like learning to kill and skin squirrels or build ice caves. These people would have better spent their time learning to develop a lighter gear system or plan out their resupplies—skills better suited to long distance backpackers.
Carve out time each week to plan for your trip. Even if it’s only an hour each week, this is your time to re-commit to your goal, familiarize yourself with your trail, and prepare yourself for the challenges of a hike. Whether this time is spent taking a class, watching a hiking movie, reading a book, or going over your dream gear list, regularly making trip planning a part of your habitual routine will make sure your dream can’t slip away.
Break planning into chunks. Planning, research, and prep can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to do everything all at once. For example, a friend of mine committed to spend one month just on finding the best sleeping bag for his trip and saving up for it. You can do something similar by spending one week (or one month if your trip is a few years out) just researching something as silly as salty snack foods. The more time you have before your trip, the more easily you can break up your research and prepping needs and make the process fun. Plus, staying engaged throughout the planning process can help you get even more psyched about your trip.
If you have always dreamed of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, John Muir Trail, Camino de Santiago, or any other trail, on January 12th, I will be launching (with BACKPACKER Magazine) a 6-week online course called Thru-Hiking 101 with videos, worksheets, interviews, webinars, gearlists, physical fitness training calendars, and community. It’s an easy to digest, unintimidating guide to help you plan for your first thru-hike and make your dream of outdoor adventure come true. Sign up today
If you or a friend has ever wanted to go on a long backpacking trip, but weren’t sure where to start, Thru-Hiking 101 with Backpacker Magazine is easily accessible, approachable, and unintimidating the holiday present you need to set yourself up for success.
This Fall, I was approached by Backpacker Magazine to develop their first ever online course, a 6-week course called Thru-Hiking 101 starting January 12th. I’ve been teaching one-on-one and small group clinics on long distance backpacking for years, but have always felt like unless a prospective hiker can make it out to an in-person session, that the resources to get started have been limited, inaccessible, not approachable, or boring. While the best way to learn thru-hiking is just to get out and hike, many people (myself included) learn best from a class—especially if there is an instructor who can help answer my questions along the way.
So why should you take this course or recommend it to a friend?
Everything You’d Find in An In-Person Session, Except Online: The Rucks (Beginner Thru-Hiker Courses) that I put on with the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West have been a great intro course for beginner backpackers—but if you live thousands of miles away from Portland, OR, Coeur d’Alene, ID or Golden, CO, your best resource is the Internet. With this Thru-Hiking 101 Online class, you can get in-person attention (in fact, it goes into more detail than the Rucks), from the comforts of your home. Much cheaper than a plane ticket across the country.
Well Portioned Classes: I’m exhausted after teaching a one-day beginner backpacking course, and I know that for beginner backpackers, learning everything you need to know about a thru-hike in 8 hours is like drinking from a fire hose. Thru-hiking 101 is a 6 week course with activities, webinars, and question sessions built into it, so that you have enough time to process the material.
Perfect Timing for Training and Prep: The class launches January 12th, which means even if you are leaving to start the Appalachian Trail on March 1st, (assuming you follow our timeline) you’ll be able to put together an itinerary, resupply plan, fitness training, gear plan, etc. all before you leave for your trip. It’s designed as a crash course for those leaving for their trip soon, or for long term planning for those with several years before their hike.
Wealth of Experience and Perspectives: The course is designed around what I’ve learned from 16 thru-hikes, and also includes the voices and perspectives of about a dozen other accomplished thru-hikers from different backgrounds, ages, and fitness levels.
I have total control over the content: within the hiking community, there has been a full range of passionate emotions about BP. One condition I had for putting together this course is veto power on everything.
Well Designed and Presented: The process of putting together the class has been me spitting out info and editors at Backpacker making it sound prettier, snappier, and hipper and adding photos that weren’t taken with my phone.
No gear ads/weird product placement: All the products in the video are things I actually use. The business model is 100% tuition based—so you’re not going to see an oddly out of place 7 pound pack and 10 pound tent anywhere in this class.
Approachable: Let’s just say they chose the promo photo of me with a double chin for a reason 😉 There are a lot of accomplished people in the hiking world, but I’d like to believe that there is a reason why they chose me. I didn’t start doing outdoorsy stuff until I was an adult, so I can articulate the process of starting from scratch well because it wasn’t that long ago that I started from zero. The class also includes the perspectives of hikers of all ages, backgrounds, speeds, goals, and physical abilities. So even if I seem intimidating (which is hard for me to imagine ;)), the course includes the entire spectrum of thru-hikers, from people who have done one short thru-hike to Triple Crowners.
Personal Attention: Over the 6 weeks of the course, you’ll be able to ask me questions on the material, as well as get personal fitness attention from our personal trainer, and get live-time questions answered in Webinars. Essentially, you’re going to get a personal coach for 6 weeks to guide you through, step-by-step, the process of planning and prepping for a hike.