One of the most interesting topics in long distance hiking is the lasting effects of these trips. Walking hundreds of miles, traveling in all kinds of weather, and sleeping on rocks can change a person’s perspective. We often hear about how thru-hiking can change one’s life. Shorter trips can also alter a hiker’s perspective. Changes in hikers’ perspectives are scattered among books, videos, online newspapers, and websites.
At the end of her book, A Season on the Appalachian Trail, author Lynn Setzer addresses hikers’ perspectives after their thru-hikes. She noted changes in values, personalities, and interests.
- Establish a simpler lifestyle. The trail taught them that very little is needed to have a satisfying life. Some downsized their houses and found less demanding jobs. These hikers found that stuff was no longer important. Family, friends, and experiences are important.
- Greater appreciation for simple things (e.g., clean water)
- More aware of the environment. There was greater interest in recycling materials and conserving water
- Some hikers were more confident, optimistic, patient, and trusting of others
- Hikers believed that they are more mentally tough than they were prior to the hike
- Others, like close friends and spouses, could see the changes in these hikers
- No longer enjoy spending a lot of time inside
- Most are involved in outdoor or environmental causes
- Some have started working with kids (e.g., leading hikes)
Will Wood, trail name Red Beard, also comments on his return to civilization. Red Beard completed his walk of the Appalachian Trail in 2014, and walked much of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2015. His video, Post Thru Hike – Emotions, describes the difficulties of his return and what he misses about the trail.
A trail can change a hiker long before it’s end. In a Washington Post article, Allie Ghaman reported on her transformation. She described her experiences on the trail, and commented that she was “… a new person. A stronger person. In so many ways, a better person.”
Like many, my values have changed since I began backpacking. A common thread is to constantly strive to simplify. My suitcase, when packed for a trip, is much lighter these days. I own only 7 dress shirts, down from 18. Reducing what I carry through life, based on backpacking, has greatly simplified my life.
How has backpacking changed you? Can you relate to any of the observations above?