Thru-hiking is a form of hiking that involves completing a trail in its entirety. This end-to-end form of travel could be as short as a 50-mile trail, or as long as the mind can imagine. But some of the best-known thru-hikes are the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail, which collectively are referred to as The Triple Crown.
The way people approach thru-hiking is as varied as the characters you’ll meet on trail. Here we cover some of the different styles of thru-hiking, along with their pros and cons, in hopes you’ll find a style that’s right for you.
Northbound (NOBO) Hiking
Northbound (NOBO) hiking is the most popular style of thru-hiking. This strategy involves beginning at the southern terminus of a trail and hiking north. On the Appalachian Trail, many hikers choose to head in this direction because the terrain becomes progressively more difficult as you hike forward. Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail hikers commonly also hike in this direction in order to bypass the desert before the heat of the summer.
Southbound (SOBO) Hiking
Southbound (SOBO) hiking involves beginning a trail from the north, and hiking south. This style of thru-hiking is often ideal for those who prefer to escape large hordes of hikers. Late-season hikers also often head this direction since it may get them through the parts of the trail prone to receiving snow before the weather turns.
Flip-flopping is a style of thru-hiking that involves a significant change in direction. For example, a hiker may begin traveling north, only to skip up to the top of the trail and head south. Hikers might choose to travel this way to hit high snow areas or areas of drought at a lower-risk time. This might also be a good way to thru-hike if you prefer to see a mixture of thru-hiking culture, because you’ll encounter both SOBO and NOBO hikers along your journey.
Don’t have the time for a full thru-hike? ⬇️
Section hiking involves splitting a long-trail into parts in order to tackle the whole thing over the course of multiple trips. Some hikers might section hike in 8 to 10 mile increments. Others might take a week to complete a longer section of trail. This is a great option if you have limited time, or you live close to a long trail.
Lashing (long ass section hiking) is, as the name implies, a longer version of section hiking. You’re most likely to encounter Lashers on trails like the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail because of their sheer length. A Lasher might plan to hike 500 miles, which, in the context of a 2,000-mile trail, isn’t considered to be a thru-hike, but it’s still a very long section of that thru-hike. Lashers sometimes choose to hike this way because of deadlines or time restrictions.
A Word on Hiking Speeds and Mileage
Thru-hikes can be completed at a number of different speeds. A conventional thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, or the Continental Divide Trail may take anywhere between 4 to 6 months for the standard hiker (this strategy usually involves hiking 15-25 miles per day).
And then there’s a subset of hikers that love to travel quickly. Competitive hikers may attempt to set a Fastest Known Time (FKT) by hiking or running a trail faster than the previous record setter. This hiking method often involves jogging sections of trail, or hiking for 15-20 hours per day.
What’s your favorite style of thru-hiking? Why? Do you have another style to share that we missed? Leave a comment below!