The Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail and the Appalachian Trail make up the “Triple Crown” of thru-hiking. As a first-time thru-hiker, it can be overwhelming to think about completing a 2,000-mile or 3,000-mile hike. How many miles should you hike each day?
The key to thru-hiking for beginners is to pace yourself. During the first days and weeks, plan to hike shorter distances, then work your way up as you gain experience — plan plenty of zero-mileage days in town for much-needed rest.
Check out our ultimate mileage cheat sheet for planning your AT, PCT or CDT thru-hike. We explain what conditions to expect at the start of each trail and how many miles per day to hike in the first few weeks of your journey.
The Appalachian Trail: What to Expect
More than 3,000 hikers attempt to thru-hike The Appalachian Trail each year. Daily encounters with hikers, multiple shelters and rustic privys make the Appalachian Trail a perfect thru-hike for a beginner.
- Northbound Start Point: Springer Mountain, Georgia
- Northbound End Point: Mount Katahdin, Maine
- Total Miles: About 2,200
- Starting Conditions: The steep approach trail to Springer Mountain adds eight miles to your first day’s mileage. If you’re starting in the spring, be prepared for any weather, including drops in temperature and thunderstorms.
- Mileage Goals: Start with averaging eight to 10 miles a day. In Georgia, take your time to avoid injury and give your body a chance to adjust. You can gradually increase to 15 to 20 miles per day when you enter North Carolina.
The Pacific Crest Trail: What to Expect
Designated as a National Scenic Trail in 1968, the Pacific Crest Trail has gained in popularity over the years, in part due to Cheryl Strayed’s memoir “Wild.” You’ll encounter diverse and beautiful landscapes, from the Mojave desert to the snow-capped Sierra Nevadas.
- Northbound Start Point: United States-Mexico border near Campo, California
- Northbound End Point: United States-Canada border near Manning Park, Washington
- Total Miles:2,653
- Starting Conditions: The start of the PCT is notorious — 700 miles of desert with rough elevation gains. You’ll spend the first few weeks trekking up and down desert peaks and valleys. The trail can stretch as far as 25 miles without a water source, so err on the side of carrying too much water (about two gallons).
- Mileage Goals: Try for eight miles a day for the first week or so. Unless you live in a desert climate, you’ll need to get used to the 100-degree Fahrenheit temperatures. Monitor your water supply and test how much water you can carry in your pack at one time. After a few weeks, you can increase your mileage to 15 to 20 miles per day.
The Continental Divide Trail: What to Expect
The CDT is known for being remote, wild and unfinished. It’s recommended for more experienced hikers, but with planning, maps and a hiking buddy or two, you can accomplish this feat regardless of skill level.
- Northbound Start Point: United States-Mexico border near Hachita, New Mexico
- Northbound End Point: United States-Canada border near Glacier National Park, Montana
- Total Miles:3,100
- Starting Conditions: Depending on when you begin, you’ll encounter moderately hot temperatures and intense New Mexico sunshine. The trail begins on easy, relatively flat land — perfect for getting your bearings.
- Mileage Goals: Aim for eight miles a day at the start. Keep an eye on your water supply and how many miles until the next water cache. Gradually increase your distance per day to 15 to 20 miles or more.
Gear Up for Your First Thru-Hike With DutchWare
When planning a thru-hike as a beginner, use this cheat sheet and bring high-quality gear and equipment that will last. At DutchWare, we carry superior hiking, camping and backpacking products with a minimalist, lightweight design. Browse our inventory of high-quality equipment to gear up for your first thru-hike.
Written & Reviewed By Dave Gantz