Backpacking through remote regions of the country, going up and down hills, burning more calories than you could ever possibly consume–these aren’t obstacles for the faint of heart. A lot of people would never even consider something as physically and mentally demanding as a thru-hike because they think they aren’t fit enough for normal hiking, much less something that could take weeks or months to finish–if it can be finished at all.
Here’s the good news: thru-hiking usually isn’t about physical hurdles so much as psychological barriers. The attitude you need is probably different from the one you have. “Yes I can” is what you need to be telling yourself. If you can get off the couch to walk around the block, then you’re probably healthy enough for a thru-hike. If not, a quick visit to the doctor is the fastest way to get an answer.
Obviously this is a general statement. Not everyone can safely undergo that kind of physical exertion. If you’re older and overweight, there are steps you need to take before you even think of doing this. But believe it or not, it’s the combination of factors that should stop you. Simply being a senior citizen shouldn’t get you down. Being overweight shouldn’t get you down.
You know those people who’ve spent their entire lives eating whatever they want without gaining a single pound? Yeah, those guys. They’re the ones who are going to have the most trouble.
Don’t believe it? Reason it out: when you go thru-hiking, you need to consume as many calories as possible because your body’s metabolism is going to speed up and burn them off like crazy.
A few extra pounds is a good thing, because it means you’ll be able to push further and faster than the skinny people who already had fast metabolisms to begin with–if you don’t have an ounce of fat to burn, then you’re going to have to carry more food weight. And that means you’re going to slow down.
There’s no real way to prepare for a thru-hike. Sure, try to exercise. Gain some endurance, increase your stamina, do whatever makes you comfortable. But your body is going to take a beating no matter how you prepare, and the only way to get fit for a thru-hike is to thru-hike. If you’re not sure about your capabilities, then simply start with a shorter trail. Enjoy a three-day weekend trip along a segment of a nearby trail, and see what you can do!