Thru-hiking is a challenging and rewarding experience that tests your mettle in many different ways. It requires extensive preparation, planning, and commitment in order to participate in a successful thru-hike, and completing your first long distance thru-hike is well worth the effort. Whether you’re headed out into the wild for a week or several months, thru-hiking will challenge you in ways that you never expected.
But learning how to properly thru-hike does much more for you than the intrinsic value you gain. The skills required for long-distance hiking can directly translate to a survival situation in many ways. With a focus of self-sufficiency, thru-hiking is one of the best ways to prepare yourself for when the SHTF.
One of the main priorities of long-distance hiking is the concept of minimalism. The less kit that you carry with you, the further you can go in a single day and the less equipment you have to maintain. This translates to a shorter, more efficient trip with far less to manage in the day-to-day operations.
Thru-hikers are obsessed with efficiency and minimalism, as every single gram of weight that they don’t have to carry means that every calorie burned is done so with efficient purpose. This focus on minimalism often spills over into their living situations, allowing them to declutter their homes and rid themselves of any unnecessary items that take up valuable space. Practicing minimalism both on the trails and in your everyday life can provide you with a considerable edge if you ever find yourself in a wide-spread survival situation.
Practicing minimalism teaches you to cut all possible waste from your life, keeping only the most important and essential items for your survival. This allows you to make important decisions in stressful situations, evaluating what you truly cannot live without, and acting on that decision quickly. In a true survival situation, time is not on your side, and the ability to quickly pare down what you actually need will give you a head start and reduce the overall stress on you as you travel to a safe location.
Thru-hiking requires that you maintain intimate knowledge of the area that you are hiking through. Not only does this preserve the ecosystem you’ve inserted yourself into, but it offers a measure of protection for yourself as well. Understanding the difference between edible and inedible wild mushrooms is all well and good, but ecological knowledge can help you to figure where certain foods might flourish in a particular environment.
For the truly committed prepper, taking courses in environmental education can help to build their survival repertoire, ensuring that they will thrive during a survival situation and be able to make the best out of what is left when the bulk of the danger has passed. A wealth of knowledge about how all parts of an ecosystem work together in order to function can expose areas that can be manipulated and capitalized. Identifying how you can sustainably become a part of an ecosystem instead of just existing within it can increase the likelihood that you’ll be able to survive longer and more comfortably.
Ecological intelligence can provide a serious edge in survival situations because when you understand the wilderness or any other ecosystem, you have a better idea of what to expect in any given situation. It will help you to decide what crops do well in different areas, when to do crop rotation, and maximize the productivity of any plant you grow. In order to be truly self-sufficient, you must understand how to be a good steward of the land around you.
Conditioning for the Worst Case Scenario
One thing that a thru-hike will prepare you for above all else is strenuous, long-distance trekking. This may seem redundant, but until you participate in a thru-hike, you won’t understand the difference between hiking for 10 hours, and hiking those same 10 hours when you know that you have to do it again the next day, and the day after that, and soon. There are plenty of survival scenarios wherein public or personal transportation will no longer be a viable option for travel, and one of the most plausible would be the detonation of an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, which destroys all electronics within it’s range. In the event of an EMP detonation, you will more likely than not find yourself walking out of wherever you are as most modern vehicles will be completely fried by the pulse. If the EMP does not affect your vehicle directly, it will certainly affect the gas distribution systems that allow you to refuel, meaning that most modes of locomotion are operating on borrowed time.
Some cities are built to be far more walkable than others, with easily identifiable and accessible pedestrian walkways that lead to any part of a city, and exceptional public transportation. However, in a survival situation, the likelihood that you’ll be riding public transportation any time soon dwindles down to nil, and there are no guarantees that regularly used walking paths are still safe to travel on. Thru-hiking often relies on traditional map and compass navigation as portable GPS units can have spotty reception. This knowledge can help you with ingress and egress of a city safely, allowing you to plot and navigate your own route.
Whether your goal is surviving within a city, or striking out into the wilderness until whatever dire situation that has occurred blows over, thru-hiking is an excellent way to prepare your mind and body for the experience. Thru-hiking helps you to act better under pressure, make smarter decisions in a shorter amount of time, prepare for the long-term more easily through the practice of minimalism, and help you to survive through an understanding of whatever environment you find yourself in. It also doesn’t hurt that many of America’s most famous thru-hiking trails contain some of the most powerfully beautiful landscapes in the entire world.
Ross Cowan is a freelance writer who lives in Idaho. He enjoys white-water rafting, long camping trips with his partner and dog, and is an avid hiker. Follow Ross on his Twitter @RossCowanWrites.