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Thru-hiking, or through-hiking, is to hike an established end-to-end hiking trail or long-distance trail with continuous footsteps in one direction. Thru-hiking is sometimes called "end-to-end hiking" or "end-to-ending" on some trails, like Vermont's Long Trail and New York's Long Path and Northville–Placid Trail.


In the United States, the term is most commonly associated with the Appalachian Trail (AT), the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), but may also refer to other end-to-end hikes. Other examples of thru-hikes include the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand, the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the Via Francigena in France and Italy, the Lycian Way in Turkey, the Israel National Trail, and the Great Divide Trail (GDT) in Canada.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy defines a through-hike as one completed within a twelve-month period; this definition is used by many groups within the United States.[ citation needed ]

Section hiking, on the other hand, refers to hiking a trail one section at a time, without continuity and not necessarily in sequence with the other sections or within one hiking season.


Thru-hiking's origins date back many years, when long-distance foot travel as a means of transportation began to merge with hiking for its own enjoyment and as a means of seeing the world.

One famous thru-hike involves the story of Lillian Alling, a young 27-year-old Russian immigrant living in New York City. She became homesick and decided to return to her family in Russia. Lacking funds, but armed with a strong will, she chose to walk the 12,000 miles (19,000 km) to Russia, traversing Canada and into Alaska. [1] She was last seen preparing to cross by boat at the Bering Strait to Siberia. [1]

A thru-hiker named George W. Outerbridge completed the first section hike of the newly completed Appalachian Trail in 1939; trail promoter Myron Avery had previously section-hiked while trail blazing.

Earl Shaffer became the first to have publicly thru-hiked the AT in 1948. [2] A 1994 report claimed that a group of boy scouts had done so twelve years earlier, but these claims have never been adequately documented. Therefore, they are considered highly suspect in most hiking circles (see Appalachian Trail).

A number of thru-hikers have achieved a measure of celebrity in backpacking culture. Perhaps the most famous was Emma "Grandma" Gatewood, who first thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1955 at age 67. She completed the hike with what, even at that time, was considered extremely inadequate gear, including sneakers rather than boots and a blanket rather than a sleeping bag; [3] she later completed a second thru-hike and a full section hike and is recognized today as a pioneer of ultralight backpacking.


A hiker who has just completed the Appalachian Trail Northterm.jpg
A hiker who has just completed the Appalachian Trail

Thru-hiking a trail is a long and difficult journey: an AT thru-hike, for example, takes five months on average, covering 2,189.2 miles (3,523.2 km). A PCT or CDT thru-hike also entails several months of planning in order to prepare gear and re-supply points. These two trails also take 4–6 months to complete. Thru-hikers can organize supplies for the journey far in advance, and have friends and family mail packages to predetermined stops along the way, to be picked up as general delivery. These caches-via-mail are usually referred to as "supply boxes". The most popular method, however, is to resupply roughly every three to five days at a village or town that is close to the trail. This cuts down on unnecessary planning and offers a greater degree of flexibility.

The Continental Divide Trail does not have one official route. As of 2013, about 76% of the trail has been completed according to the CDT Coalition.

Many people choose to forego thru-hiking, due to time constraints or lack of desire, and instead section-hike a trail, completing it piece by piece, often over many years.

With the rise of backpacking in the United States, thru-hiking has become a minor industry. Thousands of hikers attempt to thru-hike the AT and other National Scenic Trails every year, although by some estimates fewer than 20% complete the trail. Roughly 150 end-to-end the (much shorter) Long Trail, and about 180 thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail each year. Some dedicated thru-hikers complete a trail more than once; about 30 have reported hiking the AT at least three times. Lee Barry became the oldest to thru-hike the AT when he completed a thru-hike (his second) in 2004 at age 81. [4]

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has reported completion rates around 25% in recent years, after several years under 20%. [5] They attribute this to slightly lower numbers of hikers, better gear, and, thanks to the internet, information about gear, causing fewer hikers to start with 60 to 80 pounds (27.2–36.3 kg) packs and drop out a few miles in. [5] Those long-distance hikers who have completed all three of the nation's longest National Scenic Trails: The Appalachian Trail, The Pacific Crest Trail and The Continental Divide Trail are known as Triple Crowners. [6] Base pack weight in this group of hikers is in the range of 10 to 15 pounds (4.5–6.8 kg).[ citation needed ]

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Related Research Articles

Appalachian Trail 2,160-mile hiking trail going through fourteen US states

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, generally known as the Appalachian Trail or simply the A.T., is a marked hiking trail in the Eastern United States extending between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine. The trail is about 2,200 miles (3,500 km) long, though the exact length changes over time as parts are rerouted or modified. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy describes the Appalachian Trail as the longest hiking-only trail in the world. More than 2 million people are said to take a hike on part of the trail at least once each year.

Hiking Walking as a hobby, sport, or leisure activity

Hiking is a long, vigorous walk, usually on trails or footpaths in the countryside. "Hiking" is the preferred term in Canada and the United States; the term "walking" is used in these regions for shorter, particularly urban walks. In the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, the word "walking" describes all forms of walking, whether it is a walk in the park or backpacking in the Alps. The word hiking is also often used in the UK, along with rambling, hillwalking, and fell walking. The term bushwalking is endemic to Australia, having been adopted by the Sydney Bush Walkers club in 1927. In New Zealand a long, vigorous walk or hike is called tramping. It is a popular activity with numerous hiking organizations worldwide, and studies suggest that all forms of walking have health benefits.

Tuscarora Trail

The 252-mile (406 km) Tuscarora Trail is a long distance trail in the Ridge and Valley Appalachians that passes through the US states of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. In the south, the Tuscarora begins at a junction with the Appalachian Trail (AT) near Mathews Arm Campground, 0.4-mile (0.64 km) south of the AT's crossing of Skyline Drive at MP 21.1 in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. In the north, it rejoins the Appalachian Trail at the top of Blue Mountain just west of the Susquehanna River and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, creating a 435 mi (700.1 km) circuit known as the Tuscalachian Loop. The Tuscarora Trail was built as an alternative parallel route for the Appalachian Trail. It was built farther west, in a more wild corridor, because it was feared that development would force closure of the AT, before passage of the National Scenic Trails Act of 1968.

Pacific Crest Trail Long-distance hiking and equestrian trail in the USA

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), officially designated as the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, is a long-distance hiking and equestrian trail closely aligned with the highest portion of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, which lie 100 to 150 miles east of the U.S. Pacific coast. The trail's southern terminus is just south of Campo, California by the U.S. border with Mexico, and its northern terminus is on the Canada–US border on the edge of Manning Park in British Columbia; it passes through the states of California, Oregon, and Washington.

Continental Divide Trail Long-distance scenic trail in the western United States

The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail is a United States National Scenic Trail running 3,100 miles (5,000 km) between Chihuahua and Alberta. It follows the Continental Divide of the Americas along the Rocky Mountains and traverses five U.S. states — Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. In Montana it crosses Triple Divide Pass The trail is a combination of dedicated trails and small roads and considered 70% complete. Portions designated as uncompleted must be traveled by roadwalking on dirt or paved roads. This trail can be continued north into Alberta and B.C., to Kawkawa Lake, B.C., north of Jasper National Park by the Great Divide Trail.

John Muir Trail Trail in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California, United States of America

The John Muir Trail (JMT) is a long-distance trail in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California, passing through Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. From the northern terminus at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley and the southern terminus located on the summit of Mount Whitney, the Trail's length is 213.7 miles (343.9 km), with an elevation change of approximately 47,000 feet (14,000 m). For almost all of its length, the trail is in the High Sierra backcountry and wilderness areas. For about 160 miles (260 km), the trail follows the same footpath as the longer Pacific Crest Trail. It is named after John Muir, a naturalist.

National Trails System

The National Trails System was created by the National Trails System Act, codified at 16 U.S.C. § 1241et seq.

Grandma Gatewood American walker

Emma Rowena Gatewood, known as Grandma Gatewood,, was an extreme hiker and ultra-light hiking pioneer who was the first woman to hike the 2,168-mile (3,489 km) Appalachian Trail solo and in one season, in 1955. After this feat, she continued to forge new fronts in the hiking world and became the first person to hike the A.T. three times, with her last venture completed in 1963 at age 75.

Ultralight backpacking Style of hiking

Ultralight backpacking is a style of backpacking that emphasizes carrying the lightest and simplest gear safely possible for a given trip. Base weight is reduced as much as safely possible, though reduction of the weight of consumables is also applied.

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail spans fourteen U.S. states during its roughly 2,200 miles (3,500 km)-long journey: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. The southern end is at Springer Mountain, Georgia, and it follows the ridgeline of the Appalachian Mountains, crossing many of its highest peaks and running almost continuously through wilderness before reaching the northern end at Mount Katahdin, Maine.

Brian Robinson (hiker) American hiker

Brian Robinson is a competitive distance hiker and long-distance runner, holding multiple world-firsts and ultramarathon world records. Robinson was the first person to hike the Triple Crown of Hiking in one year, a total distance of over 7,000 miles.

Scott Williamson is an American thru-hiker, most noted for being the first person to complete a continuous one-season round trip of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). He is also noted for his speed records for hiking the PCT.

Long-distance trails in the United States List of multi-use recreational trails in the United States

This is a list of long-distance trails in the United States:

Triple Crown of Hiking

The Triple Crown of Hiking informally refers to the three major U.S. long-distance hiking trails:

Jennifer Pharr Davis is a long distance hiker from the United States of America. She is also an author, speaker, National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, and Ambassador for the American Hiking Society. She has hiked over 14,000 miles on six different continents, including thru-hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, the Colorado Trail, the Long Trail in Vermont, the Bibbulmun Track in Australia, and numerous trails in Europe and South America (e.g., the Tour du Mont Blanc, West Highland Way, Laugavegur, GR 11, GR 20, and the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Cotahuasi Canyon and the Inca Trail.

Appalachian Trail Museum Museum in the United States

The Appalachian Trail Museum is located in Pine Grove Furnace State Park near Gardners, Pennsylvania, United States, and commemorates pioneer Appalachian Trail builders and hikers including those in the Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame. Artifacts include a 1959 trail shelter from Peters Mountain and vintage hiking and trail building equipment.

Francis Tapon American writer

Francis Tapon is an author, global nomad, and public speaker. He has walked across the United States four times via its three major mountain ranges. He also walked across Spain twice. He was the first person to do a round-trip backpacking the Continental Divide Trail. In addition, he thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail southbound. He has traveled to over 100 countries of the world. Lastly, he is the author of the self-help travelogue Hike Your Own Hike and the travel narrative The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us. He traveled to all 54 African countries from 2013 to 2018 and climbed to the highest point of 50 of those countries. In 2019, he was inducted into the California Outdoors Hall of Fame.

The Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association or ALDHA-East is a non-profit organization founded in 1983 to support and promote the interests of Appalachian Trail long-distance hikers. It "was the first organization of long-distance hikers in the United States".

Tahoe–Yosemite Trail

The Tahoe–Yosemite Trail (TYT) is a long-distance trail in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California. The trail courses 186 miles (299 km) from Meeks Bay at Lake Tahoe to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. The trail is a foot and equestrian path that passes through the Desolation, Mokelumne, Carson-Iceberg, Emigrant, and Yosemite Wilderness Areas and the Meiss Country (Dardanelles) Roadless Area.

Elizabeth "Liz" Thomas is a thru-hiking champion and former women's unassisted speed record holder for the 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail. She holds the hiking “Triple Crown," having completed the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. She is the pioneer of the Chinook Trail in Washington and the Wasatch Range in Utah. She is Vice President of the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West, an ambassador for the American Hiking Society, and an outdoors writer for Wirecutter, a New York Times publication. She is also Editor-in-Chief of Treeline Review, a hiking gear publication. As of 2018, she completed 20 long-distance wilderness hikes.


  1. 1 2 Calvin Rutstrum (2000), The New Way of the Wilderness: The Classic Guide to Survival in the Wild, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, ISBN   0-8166-3683-4
  2. Earl V. Shaffer (2004), Walking With Spring, Harpers Ferry, W. Va.: Appalachian Trail Conference, ISBN   0-917953-84-3
  3. Freeling, Elisa (November–December 2002), "When Grandma Gatewood hiked the Appalachian Trail", Sierra
  4. About the Trail – Noteworthy 2,000-Milers, Appalachian Trail Conservancy
  5. 1 2 About the Trail – 2,000-Milers in Recent Years, Appalachian Trail Conservancy