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Long Distance Hiking

Our primary experience is with the John Muir Trail, Camino de Santiago, and the Pacific Crest Trail. These tips apply to all long distance walking, Appalachian Trail and others included.

My definition is hiking trips that are three or more weeks.  The amount of preparation, and the mindset seems to change around that point.  We covered the Pacific Crest Trail, the John Muir Trail and the Camino de Santiago on other pages of this site. On this page we have the Appalachian Trail, the American Discovery Trail, the Tahoe Rim Trail, Hadrian's Wall Path, the Bruce Trail and the TransPanama Trail. PCT is on its own page.  Also some tips we have learned along the way.

Blisters, etc:

The best preventative I've found by far is breathable first aid tape.  Put it on hot spots before something more serious starts. Johnson&Johnson makes 1/2 in and 3/4 in cloth tape, but best product we found is Hartmann Omnifix in 2 inch by 10yd rolls - enough to wrap entire ball of foot. Google for hartmann omnifix for for multiple sources. Once you get a blister, Spenco 2nd Skin dressing works, but it is bulky to carry, hard to find, and you may need a lot. 2003 Update - on grueling 8 day trip, got blister with new boots, used Compeed to cover blister.  Worked well. The Johnson & Johnson product sold in US but licensed from Compeed is not the same as the original. Susan got hot spot on ankle, used Spyroflex Skinsaver - no more problems.  Better not to get blisters - use preventative measures, socks off every stop, soak in cold streams every chance, lots of tape.  There are many ideas on foot fixing - all in John Vonhof's Fixing Your Feet which we got before doing the Camino. John's new edition (4th) is out and you can order from Amazon

 However, a French pilgrim who had already walked hundreds of miles, told us about taping, when she saw Susan's feet, and it worked.

Elevation Gain conversion to miles:

Wilderness Press's rule of thumb is that a gain of 500 feet is equivalent to an additional mile of hiking, so if a ten mile trail has a gain of 2500 feet, it's equivalent to 15 miles on the flat.

My Blog entry on planning for long distance hiking

The important long distance forums:

I monitor the Yahoo BackpackingLight forum and John Muir Trail Yahoo forum, as well as the PCT-L, AT-L and CDT-L listservs.  JMT forum excellent for JMT. Backpacking Light is very useful - a lot of good comments.  PCT-L has frequent activity, but usually good info. AT-L has lots of activity, more than half of it off topic, so you have to sift thru a lot if you get the daily digest.  CDT-L low activity, usually on topic.  I recommend the BackpackingLight forum for all backpackers.  If you are planning to thru-hike or section hike one of the others, join the appropriate listserv. (CDT is Continental Divide Trail). is an excellent place to follow current thru-hiker journals on all the major trails. In addition it has a set of forums on the major trails with a lot of active members. This website can also be reached with another domain name: . also has a good journaling facility

Backpacker Magazine's website, click on community and there are a variety of good forums - the southwest destination forum would include the southern PCT.

Long Distance Trails: (in addition to John Muir, PCT and the Camino de Santiago)

Appalachian Trail This 2160 mile trail runs North South along the East coast of the United States, from Maine to Georgia. It was first visualized as a regional planning project in 1921.  The Appalachian Trail Conference came into being in 1925.  We don't have personal experience on this trail, though as part of her We're in the Mountains book, Susan interviewed several women who have done the trail. Anther good site is the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association. They publish the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers Companion.

In addition to the links above, there are a some others that are useful.  The Appalachian Home Trail Page has a lot of information that can be reached in one click from a useful home page. The Appalachian Trail Blog has a lot of information.. is is an excellent site dedicated to the AT, and has good planning info, including a list of shuttle services. It also has a hiker forum, and updates to the Appalachian Trail Handbook below. has an active AT forum and is a good place for ride sharing information.

AT Shelter Waypoints:

Tom Dunigan has an excellent site on AT links, and a shelter list including waypoints for each shelter: Tom Dunigan site

Appalachian Trail Profiles:

AT Online Resources

Kathryn Wilde has a concise guide to someone new to the AT and considering backpacking it: Appalachian Trail 101: The Complete Guide For Beginners

AT Parking Locations for section hikers

Very useful info:

Appalachian Trail Guidebooks for the thru hiker:

I've selected these by reading various books and reviews, so let me know if you have better candidates. 

Go here to see all 198 books on the Appalachian Trail sorted in popularity order. I've also pulled out the books below based on my own reading or comments I have picked up from the backpacking forums and other reviews.

From reading trail accounts, these seem essential: Thru-hikers Handbook and the Data Book, or possibly AWOL's guide instead:

The Thru-hiker's Handbook by Dan 'Wingfoot' Bruce, the owner of, the author of The Thru-hiker's Handbook. An Amazon reviewer, who completed the AT said that he used it daily, and 90% of the people he met were using it. There were four great reviews, and one that said he got lost using it. This seems to be the primary guide used in addition to the Data Book below. Order the current version from the author's website

Appalachian Trail Data Book by Daniel Chazin - a must - one line entries on all the critical information, water location, shelter location, mileage, stores, off trail facilities, etc.  Be sure to get the current edition.

The A. T. Guide by David Miller - a contender, possibly better than the above two.

Useful, possibly not mandatory:

Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies and Why by Laurence Gonzales This should be mandatory reading for anyone doing moderate risk activities, let alone thru-hikers, backpackers, mountain climbers, etc. It certainly made me rethink the things we do when backpacking. It makes fascinating reading, but to summarize what I got out of it: Be sure that what you are thinking of as many years of experience, is not really many years of being very lucky.

The Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers Companion by Appalachian Trail Long Distance Hikers Association This guide is prepared and updated annually by ATLDHA. You can get this thru either the Appalachian Trail Conference or ATLDHA sites above.  Again, be sure to get the current edition.  There is a pdf version available at the ATLDHA site.

Good reading but not mandatory:

In Beauty May She Walk, Hiking the Appalachian Trail at 60 by Leslie MossHard to put down. An excellent account of Leslie's 2001 hike of the AT, including being on the trail during 9/11. Will give anyone with age or gender reservations new hope.

Awol on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller This is an account of David's 2003 thru-hike, and is an excellent look into a thru-hiker's daily life. One quote: "too much work, too much pain, too much time away from my family ..." but he keeps on. Good reading, especially if you are planning on doing the AT.

Women & Thru-Hiking on the Appalachian Trail. by Beverly Hugo. She hiked the complete AT in 1995 at the age of 48.  I enjoyed reading this collection of stories that was done as part of a book project that Wingfoot was involved in. Some of the comments, particularly in the "after the trail" section were very insightful. This is a very helpful book and one of the few directed towards women backpackers

Walking Home: A Woman's Pilgrimage on the Appalachian Trail by Kelly Winters - a good story of walking the AT.

title here by William Schuette(Mountain Slayer) I just finished reading this day by day journal of Bill's 2000 AT thru-hike. I hated to put it down each night.  For the first time, I think I really understand what it's like to walk the Appalachian Trail.  In addition to the daily journal entries, trail tips are scattered throughout the book. Recommended reading several months before you do the AT.

Three Hundred Zeroes by Dennis Blanchard. A good account of the day to day on the AT. This book has given me a better feel for the hiker community and the impact of the shelters.

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson The best selling book on the AT, by quite a wide margin, due to the fact that many non hikers enjoy anything written by this prolific travel writer. He had just returned to the U.S. from England after a 20 year absence, and happened to settle almost right on the Appalachian Trail. The signs pointing to Maine North and Georgia South caught his interest and resulted in this tale of two out of shape hiking novices and their adventures on the AT.

Off Topic but of interest to long distance hikers:

Grand Obsession, Harvey Butchart and the Exploration of Grand Canyon by Elias Butler and Tom Myers.Butchart was the first person to thoroughly explore the Grand Canyon on foot, and the first person to walk the length of the park below the rim. His tips were what enabled Colin Fletcher to walk it in one season. Also a story of hiking obsession, a story known to all long distance hikers.

The Man Who Walked Through Time by Colin Fletcher The classic story of Fletcher's walk through the Grand Canyon.

Spark Your Dream by Candelaria & Herman Zapp Not an AT hiker story, or even a walker's story, but an incredible long distance adventure. Cande is from Argentina. They drove their 1928 Graham-Paige sedan from Argentina to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, having a child in the process. We met this couple and their car while they were selling their book outside of a local harvest festival in 2008. Still a young couple, they now have three children, are expecting their fourth, and are planning to drive their car across Asia.

Good Viewing on DVD or VHS:

Trek - A Journey on the Appalachian Trail DVD - a documentary of four young men attempting the Appalachian trail - an excellent representation of the real life on the trail.

2000 Miles to Maine - actually the background music on this DVD hooked me before I even got to know the hikers. Some similarity to the Walk DVD about the PCT in that Douglas Morse and Heide Estes are going in at various points on the AT filming and interviewing hikers. Some of them you continue to see as they progress from raw beginners to confident finishers. Jessie's eye roll on all the trees is one of my favorites. If you have walked any long distance trail you are going to like this DVD.

Southbounders I haven't seen this, but looks like a good DVD on an Appalachian Trail Southbound thruhike - more info on .

Appalachian Impressions - I haven't seen this one either, but watched the preview on their website . A very professional production, with beautiful filming. Appears to be directed towards a non hiker audience, telling them what it is like to hike the AT.

Pacific Crest Trail runs for 2650 miles from Mexico to 12 kilometers inside the Canadian border.  Go to our PCT page for lots more info. 

American Discovery Trail:

The concept for this trail was a proposal from the American Hiking Society and Backpacker magazine in 1989.  It goes from the San Francisco Bay area to Washington D.C., splitting in Denver into two routes, one going thru Chicago, and the other thru Kansas City, rejoining at Cincinnati.  Most people do it in segments, and walk some parts, bicycle others. for more info, check the American Discovery Trail website.

 We got interested in this trail when Susan interviewed Laurie Foot, who walked and bicycled it with her husband Bill. Some of Laurie's comments appear in We're in the Mountains - Not Over the Hill, but they are not specific to the ADT.  Laurie and Bill wrote the ADT Data Book which you can order through the ADT website above.

For a good account, checkout Ken and Marcia Powers 2005 journal in They were the first hikers to complete a continuous backpack of this trail.

American Discoveries:Scouting the First coast-to-coast Recreational Trail by Ellen Dudley and Eric Seaborg This got great reviews in Amazon as an adventure story.  It's on my list of things I have to read.

From the ADT website, you can also order American Discovery Trail — an Explorers Guide by Reese Lukei.

Tahoe Rim Trail:

This 165 mile trail circles Lake Tahoe in California's northern Sierras. A beautiful hike on its own, and a great way to check out your gear and get into condition for one of the major long distance trails. There is an active association at - They describe many day hikes and have a guided hike program where you can complete the trail over the course of the summer.

Tim Hauserman's The Tahoe Rim Trail. He clearly knows and loves the area; a good thing because The Tahoe Rim Trail is the only guide out on this trail completed in 2001. Both planning and take with you information are in the book. When you are ready to go, just cut out the trail descriptions to take with you. I would also buy a Tom Harrison Lake Tahoe Recreation Map. The book's maps are good, but not convenient for map and compass work.

Sierra Crest Route

This is an entirely off trail route envisioned by Leonard Daughenbaugh in his book Sierra Crest Route. I've described the book on our PCT and John Muir Trail pages.

Hadrian's Wall Path:

One of England and Wales National Trails, an 80+ mile trail running coast to coast East West between Scotland and England.  Read all about it in a book published by Jane Blanchard Check her website for more books and blog posts. Also check out Scotland's Great Trails.

Hadrian's Wall Path: Walking into History by Jane V. Blanchard.

Bruce Trail:

A 500-mile trail running from Niagara Falls to the tip of the Bruce peninsula in Ontario, Canada, along the Niagara Escarpment.  Read all about it in a book published by footprint press

An Adventure Along the Niagara Escarpment by Rich and Sue Freeman The Footprint Press book above.

TransPanama Trail

This is a trail in making. The first half opened in 2009, and now (2011) the first ever thruhike of the trail is in progress, mapping the second part of the trail as part of the thruhike. For more information look at the TranPanama Trail thru hike. In addition, follow thruhiker Rick Morale's blog. Scroll down the blog. It is not all in Spanish.

Extraordinary long distance trekkers:

The Winter Pilgrim

I've been following this amazing woman's pilgrimage trips for a number of years. Right now (2013) she is on foot, starting from Argentina, heading north through Peru to a pilgrimage destination in Mexico. Check out her blog:

Helgy Estby: An extraordinary long distance walker:

Bold Spirt by Linda Hunt about the extraordinary journey of Helga Estby who in June of 1896, went out her door in Boise, Idaho and walked across the continent with her daughter, arriving in New York City seven months later.

Brandon & Cheryl Wilson - Trekkers:

1000 km on foot across Tibet, 10,000 miles across Africa, twice across the Camino de Santiago are just some of this remarkable couple's accomplishments. More on their website:  I think I've read all of their books. They have outstanding reviews.

Dead Men Don't Leave Tips: Adventures X Africa by Brandon Wilson The story of their African trip.

Yak Butter Blues by Brandon Wilson The story of their trek across Tibet.

Along the Templar Trail by Brandon Wilson. Brandon has walked the Camino, but this book is about his walk from France To Jerusalem.

Peace Pilgrim;

Was the first woman to walk the Appalachian Trail in one season (1952). In 1953 she started walking for peace, and continued until her death in 1981. She stopped counting miles after reaching 25,000. A free book of her life and writings is available online or can be ordered.

To follow some of the current thru-hiker journals, click on

Other Links:

Magnetic Declination: 

For map and compass work, critical to know. This site will give declination for any latitude and longitude, and has tools for finding latitude and longitude:

For down gear, hammocks, self tensioning tent lines, tarps, etc. and a lightweight backpacking attitude:

An excellent but huge site dedicated to lightweight backpacking is, forums, archives, gear, the works.

Also, Joe's is an excellent non commercial site with an excellent writeup on Tyvek. - another non commercial ultralight site with good info and great photos that load fast.

Great Grand Canyon site for anyone thinking of hiking the Grand Canyon

For Pacific Northwest Trails, check out Ron Strickland's authoritative site

4500 mile trail in North America - the ECT - Eastern Continental Trail - Quebec to the Florida Keys - find more about it and the Alabama segment in

Ray and Jenny Jardine have a lot of interests beyond long distance hiking.  As of Oct 2005 they are closing down their business ventures: kits, books, etc., but check for comments on ultralight hiking, among other things. They run Adventure Lore Press, and you can might be able to get an autographed copy of Beyond Backpacking from


Emma Gatewood first hiked the entire 2160 mile Appalachian Trail at the age of 67.  She last hiked it at the age of 76.

Page Changed: February 1, 2020 16:20

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