Ok, so, you have your lightweight gear picked out. You’ve decided whether you’re going to hike southbound or northbound or maybe even flip flop the trail. And, of course, you’ve selected your long trail of choice—perhaps the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, or the Continental Divide Trail. The next item on your prep list: trail hacks for beginner thru-hikers.

Trail hacks for beginner thru-hikers are the backpacking tips and tricks that can help you:

  • Add a little more comfort to your journey
  • Reduce your overall weight
  • Learn multiple uses for your gear
  • Make you feel like the confident badass you are who will most definitely make it to Katahdin

If you’re looking to dive into some hiking hacks for beginners, you’ve come to the right place! Below, we’ll cover where to learn about good backpacking hacks, the different categories of thru-hiker trail hacks, and five beginner thru-hiker trail hacks to get you started.

How to Learn Trail Hacks for Beginner Thru-Hikers

There are multiple ways you can pick up beginner trail hacks for your first thru-hike. The first is obviously doing a little online research. So, kudos to you for finding your way here! In addition to this article, you can find all sorts of trail stories, tips, and tricks from hikers who have been there on Gossamer Gear’s Light Feet blog.

But there are also other resources to consider, including:

  • Online Communities: There are many Facebook groups, Reddit threads, and other online forums where beginner and seasoned thru-hikers share their knowledge.
  • Reading Materials: Check out some books about the trail you’ll be hiking, whether memoirs or trail guides. You’re likely to find some trail hacks woven throughout.
  • Personal Connections: Have a friend who has been on a thru-hike before? What about a friend of a friend? Make personal connections with former thru-hikers and ask them what trail hacks they wish they’d known starting out.
  • On-Trail Experience: Nothing quite beats learning as you go. You’ll be amazed by how much you pick up while on trail. This is also why it’s a good idea to get some backpacking experience under your belt before heading out for a full thru-hike.

Types of Beginner Thru-Hiker Trail Hacks

Talking about “beginner thru-hiker trail hacks” is a bit vague. It can be helpful to wrap your head around what they are and why you’ll want to use them by understanding the different categories of thru-hiker hacks.

Beginner thru-hiker trail hacks can include the following types:

  • Homemade Backpacking Hacks: These thru-hiker trail hacks are for the DIY backpackers out there. Whether cooking up your own dehydrated meals or sewing your own poncho, these trail hacks help you prepare from scratch!
  • Ultralight Hacks and Mods: These thru-hiker trail hacks are for lightening your load. They offer ways to cut weight through special tips or slight modifications to your gear.
  • Trail Comfort Hacks: The coziest of beginner thru-hiker hacks, this category aims to make an inherently uncomfortable journey a little easier on your body and mind.

5 Beginner Trail Hacks to Prepare for Your First Thru-Hike

Now that you know a few places to look for thru-hiking trail hacks and the type of tips you can find, here are five to get you started.

1. Never underestimate the power of a buff.

Having a buff or two along for your thru-hike can offer a variety of uses. You can use a buff for doing an initial filter of particularly murky water sources. You can use it for sun protection on your neck or head. When it’s hot, you can dunk it in water and use it to help keep cool. Got a runny nose? Dab it with a buff. Lost your favorite pee rag? Replace it with a buff.

In general, it’s good to think about the multiple ways you can use your gear. Buffs happen to be one of those unsung heroes on the trail that can fill many roles while taking up little space and weight.

2. Reuse an old water bottle to save weight.

We all have our favorite Nalgene or steel water bottle covered in stickers that we use off trail. But these are often heavier than what we want to be carrying on a thru-hike. Instead of taking your typical water bottle, swap it out for an old Smartwater bottle or empty plastic soda bottle. 

This is a great way to reuse these otherwise single-use plastics while also cutting your weight. You can even thread a Sawyer water filter directly to your bottle for an easy, lightweight water filtration system.

3. Store duct tape on your trekking poles or water bottle.

Duct tape is one of those must-have trail friends. Got a tear in your puffy? Slap some duct tape on it. Hole in your tent floor? Duct tape it. Hot spot on your foot? Duct tape it.

But you don’t need to carry a whole roll of duct tape with you. Instead, wrap some around your trekking poles or water bottle. This helps reduce weight, save space in your pack, and ensure you’re ready for any duct-tape-able moments ahead.

4. Consider cold soaking your food.

Not much of a backcountry chef? Hate doing dishes? Too tired to cook when you get to camp? Want to save weight on a stove? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might want to consider cold soaking your food. 

You can add water to your dehydrated meal before you hit the trail in the morning and strap it to the outside of your pack to rehydrate and warm up in the sun. Or, hey, you could even cook it in your pants!

5. Sleep with your gear when it’s chilly.

Especially at higher elevations, you’re likely to encounter some cold nights while thru-hiking. Sleeping with key gear in your sleeping bag serves two purposes.

First, it makes for a slightly easier morning. If you have your morning’s clothes with you in your sleeping bag, they’ll be warmer to put on. Similarly, if you’re looking to hydrate first thing in the morning, having your water bottle in your sleeping bag with you avoids taking a really chilly sip you might not be ready for.

Second, sleeping with your gear when it’s cold can actually save your gear. Water filters can lose their effectiveness if they freeze. Your phone and other battery-reliant items will also drain faster when they’re cold.

So long as the gear you’re sleeping with doesn’t have scents that can attract bears and other wildlife, it can be a good idea to keep it warm, cozy, and close through the night.

Learn Trail Hacks for Beginner Thru-Hikers to Prepare for Your First Long Trail

A lot of preparation goes into embarking on your first thru-hike. Practicing a few beginner trail hacks upfront can set you up for success. But remember—you’ll pick up a lot along the way too, so enjoy the journey!

Want to learn more to prepare for your first thru-hike? Check out some of our other resources, including:

Have your own trail hack to share with beginner thru-hikers? Spread the love with us by tagging Gossamer Gear on social media (@gossamergear) and using the hashtag #takelessdomore.
February 24, 2022 — Korrin Bishop