How a Record-Holding Long-Distance Hiker Plans Her Trips

The warming weather and lengthening days are luring hikers to long trails—some to very long trails. The first of the few hundred hikers who attempt to complete the Pacific Crest Trail each summer have headed to the Mexican border to start their 2,663-mile journey to Canada.

The Pacific Crest Trail or PCT has two parallel siblings: The well-known 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail (AT) in the east, and the lesser-known, much rougher 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail (CDT) which traverses the peaks of the Rocky Mountains.

According to the American Long Distance Hiking Association, 196 people have hiked all three trails, which is known in the hiking world as the “Triple Crown.” Only about 40 of those people are women, one of whom is the adventure athlete Liz Thomas.

In 2011 Liz broke the women’s unsupported speed record on the Appalachian Trail, hiking it in 80 days, 13.5 hours. “Unsupported” means that she carried all her own gear, and bought food by hiking into towns along the way—she didn’t even mail herself packages or gear like some thru-hikers do, picking up their shipments at post offices.

Embarking upon a long-distance thru-hike is not the same as the typical out-and-backs in a nearby park—it requires not only months of planning but a different kind of mental training as well. Thomas walks us through several of the most important lessons learned on long-distance hikes—and how you can plan your own adventure.

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