Something that all people who decide to start a thru-hike should build a checklist to ensure they cover everything before, during and after they leave. This requires building a comprehensive list of all the equipment you will need, the management of employment, housing and services you have to your house and more.
The first step is in building your starting guide, or in this case, a Pre Thru-Hike checklist. This is to cover everything you must get under control before you would leave to start your thru-hike.
When you are in the first days of getting ready to attempt your thru-hike and you have purchased all your gear and you quit your job, gotten PTO, or approved vacation time. Does this mean that you can just leave and get yourself on that trail?
This is where you should stop and evaluate your plans using the pre-thru-hike checklist that you would like to ensure are complete before you head out.
Now what you put on this list will vary depending on the location and length of your thru-hike. Much more preparation must be done for the CDT, AT or PCT thru-hike then the Lone Star Hiking Trail since it is much shorter.
As I started thinking about this list for my 100-mile thru-hike for the LSHT. I figured creating a list could be tremendously helpful for others looking at their own thru-hike preparations.
Below is my overall guideline and at the end, I have a PDF version, which you can send to your Apple or Kindle device or print to check out and manage your preparations.
I will be continually updating this post up until my thru-hike and as I receive comments on any points I may have missed or I experience after my Lone Star Hiking Trail thru-hike. I feel this way this will become a living document which can help everyone for years to come.
Your Initial Steps
When you take the plunge and make the decision to commit to your thru-hike then you need to perform some specific steps. These range from picking your approximate start date, notifying family, talking through the plan with your boss and managing pets if you have any, especially if they aren’t travelling with you.
Pick Your Dates
This may be a little silly to list but you need to know when you plan on leaving and when you plan to return. While on a longer thru-hike this end date will probably be a little vague or fully unknown.
Many things can influence this date which could cause it to get pushed back. Though by the same thought you may actually be a speed demon and surprise yourself with a faster than expected finish. This estimate will help you with the next steps in the plan though as without the timeframe you won’t be able to properly form the plans necessary.
Notify Your Family
The next point after you choose your date you want to notify your family of your plans and the approximate timeline you have assembled. You should give them some check-in points or times along the way, making sure to explain you can run ahead or behind and that you may not be right on time.
Notify Your Employer Or Boss
If you are currently employed you will want to notify your employer of your plans. This will allow them to properly plan for your absence. This is incredibly vital if you are wanting to return back to employment there after you get back from your trail!
Make A Plan For Your Pets
Should you have pets at home and aren’t taking them with you, then you need to make arrangements for them to be cared for while you are gone. This early time is when you need to start looking at options.
Find a House Sitter, Sell House Or Get Out Of Rental
Since you will more than likely be absent for a period of time you will want to figure out your housing. If you are currently renting, figure out if someone can take over your rent or what it will take to get out of the lease period.
Also, you should consider saving money by also looking at moving extra items in storage.
If you own your house you have a few routes to move forward. First you can find a house sitter if you are just looking for a caretaker, or you can find a management company to assist in possibly renting out the house for the duration you are out making your home into money.
The final option depending on your status is to sell your house, which depending on where you live may take a bit to complete.
Start Building A Savings
To perform longer thru-hikes, you will need or want to start saving money as fast and soon as possible. Most people will need to start saving money to ensure they have enough free cash for at least $1000 a week for the duration of the hike.
You need to spend some time finding ways to cut all your expenses. You need to create a budget and hold yourself to it. The average cost for a thru-hike is about $2 per mile after all gear is purchased.
Start Assembling Your Gear
Since you are more than likely new to thru-hiking or long distance backpacking, in general, you more than likely don’t have all the gear necessary. To better manage the impact on your wallet it is best to elongate your gear purchases over a longer time.
Start working out the gear you will need and start purchasing it piece by piece. We have an awesome article on building a budget ultralight backpacking gear setup which should give you a good head start.
After You Assemble Your Gear
After you have purchased what you believe is all the gear required for you to accomplish your through hike you need to start testing your gear. These tests are on yourself and on the gear itself, you need to start teaching your body to hike while carrying the weight of your pack.
The gear tests are to ensure you can use them without any thought and to make sure nothing should fail you badly and/or break.
Perform Your Own Gear Shakedown
What is a gear shakedown you ask? It is the process of packing up all of your gear and taking it out on a shorter hike, one to five days, to put it through the paces.
Going through these gear shakedowns will help you find the gear you really need, the gear you thought you needed but can drop, and hopefully to catch gear shortfalls or failures in a controlled way.Josh
This could be a multi-trip shakedown where your first time exposes some flaws. Once you correct the flaws then you would want to perform the shakedown once again, each time looking for refinement of your items and process.
Three Months Prior
You are getting close now to the final goal, now is the time to start figuring out automation of what will continue after you leave on your trip.
Configure Any Bills For Autopay
If you aren’t able to fully cut all your bills out you will want to spend some time setting up an autopay. This will help ensure that you don’t need to think or worry about finding access to pay them while on the trail.
Your purpose for performing this action 3 months before is to ensure that everything works correctly and without issue. This also allows you to make sure there isn’t issues or problems that were unforeseen, possibly making sure you don’t miss a bill or payment.
Two Months Prior
Validate Expiration Date on Your Cards
If you are taking a bank card or credit card with you, make sure the card will not expire while you are on trail. If it has an expiration date for while you are on trail, go ahead and call the bank and request a new one with a later expiration date.
Treat Your Clothes With Permethrin
Permethrin is basically a full-on bug treatment for your external clothes, tent, and backpack. It helps to kill off bugs like ticks and mosquitoes and more. It shouldn’t come in contact with your skin and definitely shouldn’t be applied to your undergarments. Please note you will need to re-apply consistently while traveling with this spray version of permethrin.
If this process feels overwhelming or too complex I recommend using a treatment company.
Send Off Your Clothes to Be Treated
If you would like to have someone do this prep work and you have the time before you leave you can send your outerwear to InsectShield. They can then treat the clothes for you, which also, will last 70 washes which will basically be the entire thru-hike.
A Month Prior
This is when the rubber begins to really start hitting the road, you will be finishing up some of the processes from last month and maybe having clothes returned from insect prep. Now you start many of the final portions to enact your trip like putting in notice, finalizing plan details and more.
Validate Your Life Insurance Coverage
This one isn’t required for all people but you should be planning ahead and ensuring you have insurance with a beneficiary if you need it. To be honest, crap happens, no matter your age from the young to the old.
Examine your options and look into a term life insurance policy before heading out and make sure your beneficiary information is up to date and that you provide the beneficiary the information.
Fine Tune Your Plans
Lock down your anticipated length that you will be gone. Document which trail you are doing and whether north bound or south bound. Next make sure you have a solid plan as to how you will get there, car, plane, train or something else.
When you are planning for a longer trail then it will be more important to update your emergency contact frequently with your location and any changes to the plan. This is why you want to have this clear plan outlined and ready ahead to make sure you let them know how often you will be in contact.
If Quitting, Put In Your 2 Week Notice
You always want to provide your employer a 2-week notice as it gives them a chance to fill in the spot and gives you the ability to leave on a good note in case you should need employment options when you travel back. I would suggest you may want to make it a 3 or 4 week notice depending on the amount of last minute issues or pending items.
If you have a plan to hit the trail starting on March 15th, it is my suggestion that you tell your employer your last day at work is approximately March 1st-5th, not that you just quit on March 14th.Josh
Schedule All Utilities To Stop
If you are shutting down your housing space and not selling, storing or removing it. Then you will want to contact your utilities to tell them when they need to cut services to your house. This will ensure you aren’t paying for services you won’t need and will help you to save money over the next 4-6 months.
Notify Landlord (Rental, Etc)
This will depend on your rental or lease agreement but most places will require at minimum a 30-day notice. I would say that you should know this from your paperwork and extend it out about a few extra weeks just in case anything comes up that you need to cover to get out in the clear.
Finalizing Your Travel
Finish out all of your travel arrangements necessary to get you to the trail head. This means travel to the start point, possibly the hotel and then bus or other travel to the trail on your start day. Make sure to purchase your travel insurance if you are quitting your day job, you may need medical coverage, don’t miss this!
Two Weeks Prior
You are now getting down to crunch time, you are going to be busy validating everything is still in place but don’t forget these few key items as they can save you time and frustration on the trek!
Visit Your Dentist
You want to visit the dentist on purpose to get a full cleaning and checkup to ensure you don’t have any looming issues which could impact you on the trail. Nothing ends a trip faster than needing a root canal while traveling and having to manage the pain until you can find a dentist on the road.
Visit Your Doctor
You should make sure you have a scheduled doctor’s visit for a last physical and check-up. Spend some time to speak with them about any issues or concerns you may have.
Talk through and understand what you should do if you suspect that you contract Lyme disease while on trail. Many physicians may even prescribe you antibiotics that you can take with you to take immediately if you suspect infection while you are waiting to get to a doctor.
One Week Prior
Now is when you really need to buckle down and back up all useful electronic and paper information. You must make good plans for getting prescriptions and other details locked in and understood.
Purge Cell Phone Of Useless Video, Pictures and Apps
You want to maximize your cell phone viability for your thru-hike, to do this you want to remove everything extra that will be unnecessary to the trip.
Since your phone is an amazing end-all-be-all device I am pretty sure you are planning to use it for video, music, and photos.
Using your phone for all of these things is amazing cool but it will take up space and use data plans. Add on that many apps run in the background and will tend to burn through your battery even when not in use.
Due to this, I suggest taking the time to go through all those apps and delete the ones you will not need while on the trail.
Transfer over video and pictures
There are more than likely many pictures and movies that aren’t trash. Take the time to transfer them all, pictures and videos, from your phone onto your computer or somewhere like an external hard drive.
Safeguard Physical Pictures, Videos & Important Documents
Since you went through your digital items you should take the time to do the same with all your physical items. You want to grab all your pictures, videos, and important legal documents and put them someplace safe. I would suggest in some fireproof safe someplace where you know they should be safe until your home safe.
You should speak with your physician and pharmacy if you have any active prescriptions to see what you can do to manage them along the route. Whether your pharmacy can prescribe them early or you will need to get assistance forwarding them to a pharmacy along the way.
For people who rely on a prescription this step is incredibly helpful if done upfront and well understood by the doctor, pharmacy and yourself. Don’t get caught without your medications while out as you may not be in a town to get more for days!
Provide Your Contacts The Itinerary
You need to make sure at least your emergency contact has your complete itinerary for your thru-hike. It should include the date you are leaving, the trail you will be on, estimated date of return, how frequently you will contact them with updates, and how you will be getting to and from the trail.
Your itinerary needs to also include any useful or possibly pertinent personal information like your blood type, who to notify if something should happen, where your important documents are located, your current age, weight, hair color, eye color, and what you will be primarily wearing.
Cool tip for helping them out is to have a picture taken of you in your hiking setup with all the clothes you will be wearing and the pack on, this can be invaluable at a later time when no one can remember the color of the shirt you had on.Josh
You need to speak in depth with your emergency contact so that they understand your capabilities as a hiker. This will help them know if they should be worried when you don’t check in perfectly. No one wants to have search and rescue called on them because they are running a day behind and the emergency contact jumped the gun.
Let them know when you think they should start getting worried about you not checking in and when they shouldn’t be worried. Also, take the time to discuss the fact that there will be many places and possibly days where you WON’T have cellphone service as many will not understand that this can and frequently does occur on thru-hikes.
Final Gear Shakedown Or Verification
All your final tweaks should be done on your backpack and you should be locked down on what is going to travel. This makes it an opportune time to perform your final sweep on your gear and, if needed, make any changes and verify everything is there and nothing has been forgotten or misplaced.
Purchase Your Initial Trail Food
This should be for your initial days until you hit the first supply point or town. I would tell you not to drastically over-pack food, but history proves you more than likely will carry far more than needed and adjust.
Keep in mind the below average food in weight and average calories burned per day in hiking. This isn’t exactly on point for everyone but it should give you goalposts as to packing food.
4,800 calories / day = 2.5 lbs. of food / day
“Hiker hunger” can hit hard when you are eating less nutritious foods than you are used to which will have you eating like mad if you don’t get useful supplements in. To help limit your overall weight attributed to the food you are going to want to limit the overall water weight in your food while also targetting around 120 calories per ounce of food you carry.
This is where you will want to purchase the food you will eat while on the first leg of the trail. If interested then this is when you would want to prepare any resupply boxes you intend to ship out.
Download / Print Maps
Like I said before, I know you will be using your phone for many different purposes. Due to batteries being finicky I would suggest you download and print trail maps and keep them in your backpack in case of an emergency. If you are using your phone and an app like GutHooks, make sure that it is up to date and trail maps have been successfully downloaded.
2 Days Prior
Most of your list from the thru-hike checklist at this point should be completed and now you are just down to the excitement of leaving. Keep your wits about you so you don’t forget anything important while finishing pack and shipping!
Mail Out The Resupply Boxes You Built
This is when you want to go ahead and mail out the first set of resupply boxes for your trip. If you have someone who is going to send out after your gone then you need to give them to that person that will be mailing them out for you.
Pack Up Your Gear
You want to start and hopefully complete this today as you are going to be more stressed and busy in the last minute, it always happens. Go ahead and get your gear packed up and make sure your load is well balanced for you to hit the ground running.
Notify Bank Of Travel Status
This is when you want to take a minute to call the bank and notify them of your travel plans so that you don’t get “flagged”. If you are flagged or blocked when traveling it may be very hard to get access to those funds if the bank wants evidence of you being you, you aren’t with those bills and verification items.
If you skip this step you will typically be flagged and blocked since you will be making a series of charges in multiple places and states outside of where you normally live.
Store Your Stuff
Now is when, if you are planning to store your goods, you would want to get it put away. This could be at a storage company or at your families house possibly.
The Day Before You Leave
Drop Off Keys to Landlord / House Sitter
If renting or leasing this will be the day you will have planned on vacating from the rental. If you planned on having a house sitter then you will want to give them the keys and go over all the important details.
Drop Off Your Pets
My dog, Drax, is super important to me and if he isn’t with me then you can bet he is being taken care of by someone I trust beyond anything. If you can’t take them with you then now is the time when you would bring them to drop them off at their sitter’s place.
Please make sure to give them lots of love and attention as you will be gone for a good chunk of time. Then give them any food, toys, medical information, vet information or other details to help in your pets care.
It is time to leave for the hiking adventure of a lifetime! Once you start the hike make sure to remember and put the phone in airplane mode to conserve power. This will turn off the antennae, wireless and Bluetooth further extending your battery life.
Final Thought on the Thru Hikers Checklist
Your next four to six months are going to be amazing and exciting and maybe the coolest thing you ever do in your life. Soak it all in and enjoy the experience without feeling the need to rush, the journey for most through hikes, especially the big three, will come in around at least 2000 miles.
There is no rushing in the terms you are used to in your normal life, even if you are to hike 20 miles per day without breaks you are looking at 3 months. Use this time to reflect on life and where you want to go, take in the sounds of less civilization, get absorbed in looking at the stars.
Hopefully, this thru-hike checklist has provided you an amazing guideline to prepare successfully for your thru-hike, please let me know in the comments below or send me an email through the contact form.
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