Which Thru-Hike Should You Do? Choosing a Short Thru-Hike instead of a Triple Crown Trail

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You’ve taken the deep plunge and are interested in hiking a thru-hike, but what one is the right option for you? Well the most common are the triple crown (AT, PCT, CDT) but this requires 5+ months which many people may not be able to manage.

Instead I would beg to differ that maybe the best hike for you right now is actually a more limited but still difficult thru-hike with an end to end distance of closer to 1-300 miles. St, which thru-hike should you do then?

The thru-hike you should do will be based on what time off you can get and available funds, a full long-distance thru-hike will cost $5-6000, whereas a shorter 1-200 mile thru-hike will be $500 or less with less planning. Many people believe the only thru-hikes are the big three of the triple crown, this is far from true.

Since much of you choice will vary based on the time you will have available and the money, we will jump in to look at the short thru hikes and why they may be a good fit along with their benefits and drawbacks.

Next we will leap over into the long distance thru-hiking which will examine what the issues and benefits may be to taking the time and break from your life to engage on a 6 month long hike.

Why Choose to Thru Hike a Shorter Distance Trail?

There is a great many reasons to decide that a shorter thru-hike is the best option for you due to life and circumstances. While it can be difficult or impossible to take 6 months off for one of the triple crown you can take a week or two off with just PTO to take on a 1-300 mile length thru-hike.

Additionally, if your ultimate goal is to thru-hike the triple crown trails taking the time before to learn how you will handle the time and isolation is invaluable to ensuring when you start a long distance hike that you can and will finish it.

Benefits to a Shorter Distance Thru Hike Trail

There are many fun reasons to just get out and away from the civilized world, sometimes it is just good for the soul along with these other benefits.

Don’t Need To Shutdown Life

When you start to plan for your thru-hike when they are a shorter distance you are able to focus more on finding the vacation time instead of shutting down your life. This means that you don’t have to spend as much time shutting down services, selling or leasing out your house and knowing you have a job when you get back.

Gear Shakedowns

A shorter duration and distance hike in the 100-300 mile range is a perfect opportunity to really fine tune your gear and find those things you definitely can drop and what you would choose to add if you were doing that length or longer trail.

Check Physical Performance

Your physical fitness is a huge question for most going into a thru-hike, yes even those buff body builders in the gym can fail out with physical issues and ailments. Doing a short 100-300 miles will give you insights into where you are weak and what you should work on more to last.

Drawbacks to a Shorter Distance Thru Hike Trail

With benefits come the inevitable downsides to a shorter thru-hike but I still feel the pros outweigh any cons here.

Less Time to Find Yourself

One of the big benefits of the 6 month AT thru-hike is the ability to have time away and to find yourself again.

Cutting through the haze of the normal civilized life and begin to pull back those memories that have been lost to time.

Easier to Decide to Quit

When you are on a shorter trail and experience a down day this could make it much easier to just call it and go home.

This would be more difficult on a longer trail since you would have rented, leased, or sold your house and quit your job. In this case nothing is stopping you from deciding to call it.

Example Shorter Distance Thru Hike Trails

Below are some examples of hike options in the US which are across the states and of varying lengths.

Look and see if any look like a match for you!

Why Choose a Long Distance Trail?

Maybe you are looking for a challenge, whether mental or physical, maybe you just are looking to reset your life and re-anchor to reality of a more simple life.

In either case a long distance trail is an amazing way to gain this freedom even if only for a limited duration, many people will say that thru-hiking changes them and makes them a better human in the end with more faith and belief in themselves.

Benefits to a Long Distance Thru Hike

There are many benefits people will extol over taking on the challenge of a long distance thru-hike some of the most interesting I feel are listed below.


Taking time out and away from the hustle and bustle of a normal life provides you time to look back at everything in your life, decisions made, and evaluate what you have done with your time.

Many people will talk about memories all the way back to childhood that come flooding back. Reliving past events with much more clarity than they had in years or decades.


Additionally to looking at what you have done in life to this moment you also get time to look at yourself, take a chance to look at how you live your life, how you operate with people, and much more.

A chance to look at how you handle your emotions and emotional reactions, think about your own mental makeup and really look to add structure and strength, lay a better foundation and rebuild.

Additionally, this long of a hike provides you plenty of time for a large look and self-examination, analyzing yourself, looking at your own personality and actions, and considering your own motivations.

Improved Overall Fitness

One of the large benefits of doing seriously hard work is that it will help you melt off body fat while building some serious muscle since you will be putting in hard exercise consistently for months.

Some people, like Second Chance Hiker, started their hikes at large weights and over the course of the hike dropped serious weight in pursuit of becoming healthy.

Drawbacks to a Long Distance Thru Hike

Choosing to go on a 6 month long journey has amazing benefits but it can lead to some cons that will impact your life much longer than the 6 months you are away for.

Shutting Down Your Normal Life

The biggest con or drawback to a long distance thru-hike is the need to almost entirely shut your life down. You need to look at bills, housing, employment and much more trying to remove all incidental costs.

This also means after you complete your hike most people come back to an empty life where they need to once again find a job, find housing and really jump start their normal life once again.

Good Long Distance Thru Hike Trails

Below are some examples of hike options in the US which are across the states and of varying lengths, look and see if any look like a match for you!

Standing image with person staring longingly at the mountains looking to hike - Which Thru-Hike Should You Do

Final Thoughts on Which Thru-Hike Should You Do

I am a large proponent of doing many types and lengths of thru-hikes, each has their own unique challenges and enjoyment, each has its own rewards and environment .

I personally feel that the completion rate would be much higher than 25% if people were more properly trained and practiced prior to their attempts to complete a long distance trail.

This isn’t to say you won’t make it on the trail yourself, but I can promise you everyone else who fails had that same thought on the day they showed up, untrained and more than likely under-prepared.

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