How to Entertain Yourself While Thru-Hiking: A Sensory Guide

Abby Evans

how to entertain yourself on trail while thru-hiking by Abby Evans

While a 2,000+ mile backpacking trip is certainly an adventure — it’s not fun all the time. Most of the time your body is full of sore muscles, the trail can become monotonous, and anyone can get tired of walking with a 25 pound (more or less) pack every day. I became creative with keeping myself entertained on my Appalachian Trail thru-hike and wanted to share my different methods with you all through the five senses.


The most obvious method of entertainment is music, audiobooks, and podcasts. I pre-downloaded all methods of auditory entertainment before I began thru-hiking — countless episodes of Backpacker Radio, spoken word poetry from Mary Oliver, as well as some Ologies episodes about amphibians and plants. Most of these podcasts enhanced my experience of thru-hiking instead of completely taking me out of it. I could compare the gear strategies of other hikers to my own while I listened to Backpacker Radio. I could admire the way sunlight fell through leaves on a misty morning while I listened to poetry about mushrooms. I could learn more about the red efts I knelt beside on the sides of the trail. My partner listened to several audio books on trail, including Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass and Gathering Moss, both educational books on being thankful to nature, understanding the science behind different ecosystems, and appreciating it.

The same went for my music. I curated different playlists for moods I would be in on trail — a happy/neutral playlist (for day to day), a pump up playlist (for when I needed to crank through the miles), an ethereal playlist (for when I was in a mood to really appreciate the nature around me) and a sad playlist (for when the trail family would break up.) Music motivated me to get through the miles, distracted me from the pain I was in, and comforted me when I felt lost (literally and metaphorically.) 

thru-hiking with friends

My favorite thing to listen to on trail was a good friend. Company makes the miles go by faster. I loved getting to know people’s life story, what brought them to the trail, and what some of their favorite sections were. Hiking with others on trail allowed me to practice my skills as an active listener and get to know each hiker I walked with personally. It made the people I met on trail seem more like a family — I knew most people ahead of me and behind me, and it was that much more special when we ran into each other again.

It was also fulfilling to take in the sounds of nature. You can hike to birdsongs early in the morning, appreciate the sound of water droplets on the tree leaves, listen to the summer breeze in the branches. These are sounds you won’t get to hear every day when you return to a life outside the woods, so it’s best to open your ears to them while you can.


frog in the mud on the Appalachian Trail

I love to take in the mountains, rivers, and scenery along the trail, but my favorite sections are in between the trees. If you’re into botany or zoology, you can look up the native flora and fauna to identify while you’re hiking along. It’s incredible to distinguish all the different forms of life around you — from the lichen bunching up on tree trunks to the moss lining the trail — there’s always something small and beautiful to appreciate during a walk in the woods. 

Even on rainy days, I’ve found plenty of toads and salamanders underfoot. When it was pouring, to make the miles pass by, I would pretend I was on a herping expedition and my only task for the day was to find as many salamanders as possible. In Maine, it was fun to search for the elusive moose. They can be so quiet that I almost ran into one during my thru-hike. 

On any day, you can camp near an awesome overlook to catch a sunrise or sunset. I’d usually start hiking early to catch the sunrise in the woods. It enabled me to cover more miles throughout the day, and the forest was beautiful in the golden light. This allowed me to appreciate my surroundings in a different light — literally.

sunrise on the Appalachian Trail

Photography can be another way to immerse yourself in the outdoor experience. It’s fun to think creatively about how to view nature through a camera lens. It allows you to share the beauty that you saw on your hike with whoever sees your photos later, or it allows you to remember the small details of your hike.

Micro-hiking is a smaller scale way to visually appreciate your surroundings. You imagine yourself to be as small as a caterpillar or ant, and imagine what it would be like to scale up the sides of some pebbles or crawl across a forest of lichen. It allows you to appreciate the little things — which is important on a 2,000 mile thru-hike.


I carried a fanny pack for the duration of the Appalachian trail, and it was full of snacks. Sometimes my boredom would result from being hungry. I usually tried to eat whenever I got bored. Most times it helped. You can’t be bored when you’re downing five packs of fruit snacks. You can even make your water more fun by throwing some flavored electrolyte mixes into it.

It’s also helpful to take notes of your cravings when in between towns. This simplifies the resupply process, and allows you to find food that you’ll actually eat on trail in the future. For example, I couldn’t stop thinking about beans for a stretch of twenty miles. So, in the next town, I packed out some bean burritos and was thrilled while I munched on them through the next few days. 


a hand holding a salamander and a butterfly on a hiker's head

There’s other things to feel on a thru-hike besides your wet socks. During my thru-hike, I found immense joy in occasionally petting moss or hugging a tree. There’s something grounding about touching nature. I also picked up many salamanders and toads as I was walking along. On some rainy days, I would convince myself that I was on a salamander and toad hunt instead of a thru-hike. It helped to get through the feeling of everything being perpetually wet. 

If there was a water source around, I would usually take a swim — or at least dunk my head in if it was hot outside. A dip in freezing cold water can snap you out of a spell of boredom quickly. 


field of goldenrod flowers on the Appalachian Trail

This one can be fun. I entertained myself by trying to tell if there was a day hiker around the corner of the trail by the perfumed smells in the air. About halfway through a long trail, you usually can’t even smell other thru-hikers anymore.

It can be fun to see how your body adjusts to being out in nature for so long. For example, there can be a certain smell to the mud when a water source is coming up. Or a road. I swear, I could smell a hamburger from a mile away. It can also be refreshing to rub your fingers on different parts of plants, such as pine needles or flower petals to enhance your natural experience. Just avoid smelling yourself at the end of the day.

two happy hikers in front of a sunset on the Appalachian Trail


No matter what, a thru-hike will stimulate your senses. Even overstimulate them at times. However, there are very few other points in your life where you’ll have the opportunity to immerse yourself in nature for as long — so you might as well embrace it with all of your five senses.



Abby Evans, or S.W. Fireball Queen of the Salamanders, enjoys thru-hiking, jumping in mud puddles and catching salamanders. When they're not doing these three things, they love to write about their on-foot adventures. They recently finished the Appalachian Trail, and they're looking forward to hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this year!

Trail talk

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published