filed under: health and social benefits

Investigating the Thru-hiker Experience: A Study on the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail

The phenomena of thru-hiking has been on a dramatic rise, spurring hikers to venture onto increasingly remote and challenging trails over extended periods of time. Despite the recent popularity of thru-hiking, the field remains relatively unstudied. In recreation, the expectations held beforehand have been linked to perceptions after an activity, but this has not been explored in thru-hiking.


This study addresses these gaps by investigating the thru-hiker experience of the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail (PNNST), a trail best known for its remoteness and rugged features. The study also examines what thru-hikers believe should be maintained or reconsidered in the face of the impending management plan. Multi-phase semistructured interviews were conducted with 42 of the 2017 PNNST thru-hikers before their hike, directly after completion, and two months after completion.

The research focused on how pre-hike expectations and previous experiences affect the experience of the thruhiker, how thru-hikers navigate adverse circumstances, how the social aspect impacts the thru-hiker experience, and how completion of a thru-hike affects the transition back to everyday life. The findings suggest that previous experience and expectations for the trail have an impact on how thru-hikers interpret their experience, with many describing how the PNNST met or did not meet their expectations going into the trail. Thru-hikers dealt with challenges utilizing both mental and physical strategies, which were unique depending upon their previous levels of experience.

Additionally, the research suggests that the thru-hiking experience will have an impact on the lives of the majority of thruhikers going forward. This study’s findings contribute to the theoretical understanding of thru-hiking and is useful to land managers, recreational planners, and community planners for extended trails and trail towns.

Published June 2018

More Articles in this Category

Improving Accessibility on Public Lands

Recommendations from American Trails

The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) is Making a Difference Across America

Use this interactive map to find where, when, and how these funds are being used.

Impact of Trails Hub

Everything you need to know about the positive impact of trails on health, environment, economics, and more.

Chattahoochee River NRA Water Trail

A 48-mile water trail along the Chattahoochee River in Georgia. The water trail is contained within the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (NRA).