Thru-hiking is an everyday individual challenge of your psyche, physical stamina and emotional wellbeing. That being said, you are constantly surrounded by like-minded, just-as-crazy-as-you-are hiker trash. Because of the adversity you face together on trail, these like-minded dirtbags very quickly become family, your trail family.
Tramily members can take any and every role you may need; they can be your confidants, your therapists, your best friends, your mentors and your professional standup comics, ready with a joke or roast after a hard day of battling your mind, your body and the wilderness’ unforgiving terrain.
The average trail family is 3-5 people and that is pretty significant considering the average thru-hiker starts the trail alone or with one other companion. But what if your tramily is HUUUGE? What are the benefits? What are the limitations?
Much like a large family, there are a lot of personalities, opinions and varying levels of life experiences. Imagine 10-15 people from all different backgrounds and parts of the country, with different levels of backpacking experience and different strategies for a thru-hike, joining together to tackle a truly epic challenge — all of them chiming in on where to camp, how to hike, what the terrain is like, etc. It can be exhausting and overwhelming, but there is beauty and magic in the chaos, trust me.
Here is my list of the pros and cons of hiking with a big trail family, in no particular order:
Pro - You can develop so many intimate and close relations with people who you may not have interacted with other than on the trail. The trail is full of incredibly different and special people; having a large number of tramily members just means you get a few more of those incomparable friendships.
Con - You lose a bit of autonomy and choice in what your days may look like. When you are in a big hiking group, there are varying hiking speeds and strength levels. Some may be more zealous than others in regards to mileage, or in how many days they want to take to get to the next town.
For example, I am personally comfortable averaging about 22-25 miles per day. Some in my group are absolute hiking machines (side note: how is thru-hiking not an Olympic sport), and can hike 30-50 miles in a single day, and then still function and stand up straight afterward. This means that striking a balance that works for everyone can be difficult.
Pro - You can have family dinners every night — crazy, loud, boisterous family dinners, complete with laughs and maybe someone singing a song or roasting you about something silly like your pack weight, or your inability to swallow a pill … (self roast). Being able to sit at camp and discuss the day while you eat your ramen bomb with the tram is one of the best parts of the trail.
Con - Finding a campsite large enough for your tramily can sometimes be a nightmare, even with Guthook's guide notes and tentsite descriptions. Luckily, my tramily enjoys cowboy camping, and that is how we have remedied our limited space options. We just cram together like a bunch of sardines and hope no one had chili mac or something spicy for dinner!
Pro - You can trade stuff — food, gear, advice! Hikers get sick of food and often want to upgrade gear; in the process, you can score some major finds. One of my tramily members was about to surrender an REI fanny pack to a hiker box, and I simply asked for it. Just like that I was 8 levels cooler with a few more inches of storage space.
As in real life, if you need advice on trail, you reach out to your family, or at least, I do. My tramily members have turned into my best friends and confidants. I wouldn't have made it through the desert, let alone 1,300 miles and counting on the Pacific Crest Trail, without their patience and counsel.
Also, if you forget to grab something in town — something like, I dunno, let’s just say for example, TOILET PAPER! — one of your tramily members may give you some of their supply. Trust me, in this instance you really want a big tramily, so they can each give you some of their TP rations. LOL.
Con - You have to walk reeeeally far and announce it to the entire campsite to have a poo in private. When hiking in a big group, you have to be selective with your privy options and usually yell for everyone to hear where and when you are going to have your poop. But hey, it's not that bad, after all, we are all hiker trash and everyone has to dig catholes at some point. I usually just flash my trowel and literally say, “I'm going to poop, wish me luck.” No one bats an eye. Sometimes I even get the occasional “goodluck!”
Pro - You can have a variety of hiking buddies. Sometimes music, podcasts and audiobooks, or the sounds of birds chirping, don't cut it and you just want to talk to a friend. Well, if you have a big tramily, you can have a different hiking buddy for each day of the week.
Thru-hiking is a daunting task but in my experience having a huge tramily by your side makes it a more fulfilling and enriching experience. So yes, I am extremely biased!
S/O my tramily, aptly nicknamed “The Horde.” I love each and every one of you chaotic dirtbags!
Cartwheel aka Carti V aka “V” in the real world is a California born and raised twenty something latinx hiker trash who enjoys long walks, singing cringey karaoke songs and extreme dreaming. She is currently on the Pacific Crest Trail trying to fulfill her dream in becoming a thru-hiker.