10 Ways Thru-Hiking Changes your Mind and Body

Ever considered a thru-hike? Camping & Hiking expert Hannah K. shares ten ways that thru-hiking can change your life.

A line of backpackers hike in a valley between snowtopped peaks.

Photo by Ted Bryan Yu

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My first thru-hike experience was an intense two days where I learned a lot and failed a lot and saw the largest rattlesnake I had yet to be in the presence of. I was also continuously picking ticks off me and trying to ignore the blisters forming on my toes. Overall, it was a fun time. A future goal of mine is to thru-hike a long trail, preferably the Pacific Crest Trail. Although I don’t know when I will start this hike, I am always looking to learn more about long-distance hiking and how one changes after completing a trail. To fulfill my quest for knowledge, I reached out to some friends and colleagues with a simple question: “How did your thru-hike change you?” Here is a sampling of responses I got and what I walked away with.

  1. You become far more adaptable than you thought you could be. You become more fluid in your decision-making and don’t let hurdles completely shut you down. Instead, you adapt to them and the many more that will arise throughout your hiking day.
  2. You stop being so picky about your appearance and what you eat. After wearing the same shorts or socks for months on end, clothes seem less important. Similarly, after months of peanut butter, freeze-dried mashed potatoes, and trail mix, all food is good food.
  3. You stop caring about how others perceive you and are less bound by societal norms. Social norms don’t include quitting your job and living in the wild for 4-5 months at a time. But we do it anyway and it feels great.
  4. Subsequently, you gain a lot more confidence. If you can hike 2,000 miles in 4 months, up peaks and through rivers, you can do anything. You learn to be confident in both your mentality and your physicality for successfully achieving an ambitious goal that most of the population wouldn’t dream of.
  5. You learn to create communities on the road and trust people. Hiking with strangers that inevitably become family (read: tramily= trail+family) is a frequent occurrence on long-distance thru-hikes like the Pacific Crest Trail or Appalachian Trail. These communities of strangers from different cultures and parts of the world can lead to lifelong friendships.
  6. You understand what it means to be completely honest with yourself about your needs. Are you a slower hiker? Are you feeling positive today? You become very in tune with how you are feeling and how you want to live the rest of your life.
  7. You learn to be kinder and more patient with yourself. Learning to listen to your body and your mind on a long trail is crucial, not only for safety reasons, as I always say, but also to help you enjoy the experience as much as possible. Hiking on a sore ankle is not fun but resting for the day and letting it heal so you can continue hiking will create a far more positive experience.
  8. You become grateful for the simple comforts and start to focus on what you have, instead of what you don’t have. Following the idea that less is more, you really come to appreciate a mattress and air conditioning or a toothbrush that isn’t cut in half to save weight. And there’s nothing like the pure joy of instant heating with a microwave. Simple pleasures!
  9. You gain a different perspective about setting goals and understanding your ambition. If you can survive in the wild for months on end and travel across the country on foot, you can do anything.
  10. Finally, you stop settling with just being okay. Mediocrity seems horrid after you live with the beautiful trees, fresh wildflowers, and epic views.
A backpacker stands on a ridge overlooking a lake below and jagged peaks ahead.

Photo by Danka and Peter

How have you changed since your long-distance thru-hike? What did you learn and how do you live life differently now? How else are you challenging yourself and societal norms? Hit me up through my profile and let’s chat about all things outdoors.

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Written By
Hannah K
Hannah K
Camping & Hiking Expert
Although I've been hiking for most of my life, I didn't start backpacking and camping until college when I joined the University Outdoors Club at my school. My first backpacking trip was ambitious, the Batona Trail in the Pinelands in New Jersey done in two days. To do that, we had to walk a maratho...
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