Not sure what the difference is between thru-hiking and backpacking?
While hiking from one campsite to another, backpackers carry everything they need for survival on their backs.
Thru-hiking is a type of backpacking that involves following a long-distance trail from beginning to end. The unique aspect of thru-hiking is that the goal is to complete all or a portion of the trail you choose.
There is often confusion between thru-hiking and backpacking since both describe similar activities. It is important for hikers to understand the differences between both types of adventures.
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We will discuss some of these differences in this article to ensure you are up-to-date on the latest hiking terminology.
Differences Between Thru-Hiking and Backpacking
There is a lot of similarity between thru-hiking and backpacking at first glance. There is a slight difference between these two activities, and all hikers should be aware of this.
When you backpack, you carry everything you need on your back on a tent-based camping trip in remote areas. Backpacking involves hiking to a new campsite during the day and setting up your tent there.
The next day, you will hike to your next campsite and set up camp. The process continues until the final trailhead is reached.
Depending on your skill level and interests, you can backpack on-trail or off-trail. Backpacking trails can include out-and-back treks, loop hikes, or even point-to-point trails.
The other type of backpacking is thru-hiking, which involves trekking on long-distance trails.
There is no universal definition of what constitutes a “long-distance trail,” but most are at least 30 miles (50 kilometers) long.
Appalachian Trail (AT) and Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) are two examples of long-distance trails. The Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier is a loop trail, but most long-distance trails are point-to-point pathways.
There isn’t much difference between thru-hiking and backpacking in terms of their actual activities (they both involve hiking to a new campsite every night), but the difference really comes down to why people go on these trips.
A thru-hiker typically aims to hike the entire or part of a long-distance trail. Some thru-hikers choose to hike sections of trails instead of hiking the whole trail in one go.
Usually, backpacking trips aren’t about “completing” a particular trail. It is more common for backpackers to plan their trip itineraries with the goal of reaching a particular location, such as a beautiful alpine lake or a notable peak.
The goal of some backpackers isn’t even to reach a specific destination; they are more interested in enjoying nature with friends or by themselves.
What is Considered a Thru-Hike?
A thru-hike does not have a universal definition. The majority of hikers define a thru-hike as a point-to-point trek on a long-distance trail that aims to cover the entire trail or part of it.
The AT and PCT are some of the most famous long-distance routes most people associate with thru-hiking.
It doesn’t have to be a 1,000-plus mile (1,600 km) journey that takes half a year to complete to be considered a thru-hike.
There are many shorter thru-hikes that can be completed within a month. There are several shorter thru-hikes that are quite popular, such as the Long Trail in Vermont and the John Muir Trail in California.
A general rule of thumb is to enjoy thru-hiking on well-marked and well-maintained trails, such as the GR-20 in Corsica and the Alta Via in the Italian Dolomites.
Due to the increasing number of thru-hikers pushing the limits of what’s possible, we are seeing experienced thru-hikers take on incredibly challenging treks on poorly marked or nonexistent trails.
There are unmarked sections on some really famous long-distance trails, such as the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), and they are only suitable for experienced thru-hikers.
How Fast Do Thru-Hikers Walk?
In general, thru-hikers walk between 3 and 4 miles per hour (4.8 to 6.4 km per hour) along the trail. Obviously, this depends on the individual since some thru-hikers walk faster or slower than others.
A thru-hiker who is more experienced tends to cover at least 20 miles (32 km) per day by trekking fast.
The average pace of a thru-hiker is usually faster than that of a backpacker, who usually walks between two and three miles per hour (3.2 to 4.8 kilometers per hour).
To complete their trek on schedule, thru-hikers must maintain a certain pace during the day. It can also be easier for thru-hikers to walk faster on the trail if they choose to pack ultralight gear.
Additionally, thru-hikers tend to get stronger and faster as their mileage increases. Toward the middle and end of their trek, they can hike much faster than they did at the beginning.
Thus, you don’t have to maintain a minimum speed while hiking.
Every hiker hikes at their own pace, and that’s fine. You might be able to do fewer miles in a day moving at a slower pace, but that just means you have to adjust your itinerary.
Thru-Hiking vs Backpacking: Similar But Different
There are many similarities between backpacking and thru-hiking, but they aren’t exactly the same. The main difference between the two is that thru-hiking is a type of backpacking that involves completing long-distance trails.
Despite these fluid definitions, it’s often up to the trekker to decide how they wish to define their adventure.