Choosing the long-distance trail for you is sometimes a daunting task.
While preparing for a thru-hike or section hike, it’s a good idea to consider some key points before diving in and going for it! Today we have a special guest blogger to break things down for you – Adam Salinger or “Dreamer” as he’s known on trail. Adam is an experienced long-distance hiker and is also the founder of Alpine Adventure Coaching. In his coaching program, Adam helps clients pick the right long-distance trail for them based on their specific needs. Here, Adam describes the process he takes them through when choosing a trail to set their sights on. We hope this helps you find your next adventure too!:
Where To Start
Deciding you want to thru-hike a long trail is step one in your journey. The second is choosing the specific trail you want to hike, centered around the type of adventure you want to have. Hikers should start by asking themselves a series of questions. Some may be easier to answer than others, but every question is important to ask and important to answer. Writing down your questions and answers helps to process your thoughts as well as reflect on those thoughts over the coming weeks and months – so if changes are required, you have a linear history of your thought process.
We suggest a hiker’s first set of questions be centered around time. To help, ask yourself these key questions:
- How much time do you have available for your adventure?
- Is your time limited? When do you need to return home?
- What is your time frame in terms of the number of days you can be away from home?
- What is the maximum number of days you are willing to hike?
Once you have a time frame, you can now ask yourself questions about the type of environment and landscapes you are interested in:
- Are you craving mountains, high peaks, forests, deserts, lakes, or coasts near the sea or ocean?
- What type of climate and what seasons are you interested in hiking?
- Are you interested in being isolated from the world or not too far from villages and towns?
Physical & Mental Experience
Now that you have narrowed down your time constraints and also the environments and landscapes that interest you most, it is time to explore the physical and mental experience you are looking for:
- Are you physically and mentally fit to walk for entire days at a time over a week, a month, or more?
- What level of difficulty are you able to overcome?
- Are you looking for experiences that offer extreme challenges in terms of terrain, weather, or isolation?
- Or are you looking for less extreme challenges?
Once you’ve made your way through those questions, it is time to start thinking about the specific trails that most fit your interests:
- Do the answers to the questions you’ve pondered lead you to one of The Grand Trails? Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Colorado Trail, Pacific Northwest Trail
- Do the answers to the questions you’ve pondered lead you to one of the Shorter Trails? Wonderland, Tahoe Rim, Long Trail, Lost Coast Trail, High Sierra Trail, Centennial Trail, Lone Star Trail, Cohos Trail, Allegheny Front Trail, Baker Trail, Bartram Trail
- Do you need to do some extra research on all of the long distance trails in the US?
Finally, there are additional items to add to your “ponder list” as you make your way through the questions above:
- Remember it is important you find a shorter trail, or a section of a longer trail to begin your training – before committing to your chosen hike. Nearly every state has options. A smaller commitment allows you to see if you truly enjoy long-distance backpacking, fine tune gear and food, train, learn to deal with different weather, and build overall confidence, experience and wisdom.
- Take the time to consider what kind of social experience you’re looking for. Some trails offer more opportunities for socialization and some less. Remember also your chosen direction of travel greatly affects the number of people you will be hiking with on a daily basis.
Trail Wisdom & Closing Thoughts
In the pursuit of your thru-hike dreams, you have done some soul-searching, determined how long you can be away from home, and pinpointed the kind of environment and challenge that meets your needs and desires. Now, as you zero in on choosing your perfect trail, remember it is not just about the terrain; it is about your own personal growth journey. The wisdom you have gathered goes beyond planning – it is about all the lessons you will learn along the way.
Before you commit to a long journey, consider starting with shorter trails to test the waters, fine-tune your gear, and build up your confidence. Think about what kind of company you want on your adventure – some trails are more social than others. And don’t forget: How you decide to hike can powerfully impact your experience.
As you set forth on your hiking adventure, let these insights guide your way. Your trail experience is not just about the miles; it’s about the life lessons you will collect with each step. So, lace up your shoes and embrace both the adventure and the hardships to come.
Connect with @dreamer in our private member area or sign in and comment below if you have any questions! You can also connect with him and learn more about his programs over at Alpine Adventure Coaching