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Long-Distance Hiking Tips From Thru-hiking Pro Liz Thomas

Tracy Herbert - Grandmother with Type 1 Diabetes, who completed a solo 3,527-mile bicycle ride from San Francisco to New York!

Have you ever thought about going on a long-distance hiking adventure? Liz Thomas is one of the most experienced hikers in the U.S. and she’s here to share her experiences with you. Known for backpacking light, fast and solo, Liz has tons of tips on experiencing the best of thru-hiking. In fact, Liz broke the women's unsupported speed record on the Appalachian Trail by almost a week.

With over 20,000 miles of hiking under her belt, Liz is a treasure trove of hiking knowledge. “I love the independence,” Liz says, “Being out there, having time to think without distractions. I love meeting people along the way and knowing that everything I was doing was possible because of how I was treating my body and and what my body was capable of and what my mind was capable of.”

Meet People Along the Way

While you may think about connecting with a hiking partner beforehand, the best thru-hiking experiences come when you start out solo and meet people along the way. With this strategy, Liz has walked away with lifelong friendships.

“You’ve got your trail family,” Liz explains. “They’re the family you didn’t even know you had.” Liz recommends being open to meeting people and seeing who you connect with. If you don’t mesh well with them, don’t commit to hike with them.

Liz often sees people thinking that thru-hiking is just for young or retired people. In her 30s now, Liz enjoys the long distance community she’s found where people structure their entire professional lives around making long distance hiking a priority.

Mind Gear Reviews

Over many, many hikes, Liz has fine-tuned and whittled away at her gear. She admits to making many swaps as certain things didn’t work out or worse caused pain or time loss. Liz urges hikers to do the research when it comes to gear and not just look at the advertisements. She knows firsthand that things can get expensive and painful if you haven’t done your research.

Because many reviews are written for men by men, Liz created Treeline Review. “I wanted to take a long term approach to look at gear. I wanted to give people the sort of advice I would give a friend.” In an environment where media is focused on the newest gear, Liz turns her attention to what’s stood the test of time. Gear that’s been used by thru-hikers for decades is a good bet.

If you learn anything from Liz, remember to be careful as you choose your gear. Advertisements are attractive, but reviews from a like-minded community can be truly helpful.

Save Money to Meet Your Goals

Liz has funded hikes in many different ways, but always come back to the idea that you’ve got to set money aside to commit to your goal. Think that’s impossible? Liz knows plenty of baristas who don’t make a ton of money but make saving for a long distance hike a priority. Yes, it may take some tough conversations to help friends and family understand why you’re tightening your wallet, but it’s worth it when hiking is your passion.

On the trail, Liz tries to reduce her time in town to avoid the temptation of spending too much money. If she’s really hungry, she’ll try and go to a grocery store before ordering two entrees at a restaurant. Additionally, being able to tell the difference between hunger and dehydration is a huge help.

With her presence in the long distance hiking community, Liz knows that setting money aside for hiking is a tried and true method to making hiking dreams a reality.

Build Your Muscle Memory

With long distance hiking, the key is muscle memory. While Liz did a lot of training for her first Appalachian Trail hike, her body became used to backpacking as she took on more and more high mileage challenges.

Liz sees long distance hiking like riding a bike. It may hurt the next day but your body knows you’ve done it before. Liz relates, “I love totally freezing on a pass, wondering how I’m going to make it to town in order to eat and then a few hours later, being someplace warm eating. Like, how did we get this? This is magic.”

Take on Urban Hiking

Liz loves the idea of inspiring people to go out and explore right where they are with urban hiking. Having gone through 10 different cities on 100-250 mile routes, Liz is even known as the ‘Queen of Urban Hiking’.

While she originally thought the lack of nature in cities defeated the purpose of hiking, Liz ended up loving the experience as she hiked from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Despite a steep learning curve and the extra foot pain of pounding on pavement, Liz had discovered a new passion.

For people who don’t spend a lot of time outdoors, Liz says to start small and start local. There’s no need to be intimidated by gear and a lot of times you can use what you already have. For women looking to get out there more, Liz says, “Think about how you want to prioritize being outdoors in your life and see what you can readjust so that you have more time and more money to do it.”

If you’re getting more and more inspired to get into long distance hiking, listen to more of Liz’s story on the Tough Girl Podcast!


Listen Now!

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Social Media

Twitter - @EAThomas


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