Considering a Long Hike? Watch a Typical Day for a Thru-hiker (video)

Many of us have asked, could I be a thru-hiker?  Could I hike most days, all day long, from spring to fall?  Would I have the physical endurance to climb endless mountains? Would I have the mental toughness to go on even when my heart tells me to stop?

The only true way to answer these questions is to attempt a thru-hike. 

Planning an epic hike begins with the collection of trail information.  There is plenty of advice out there.  Joe Brewer, a triple crown hiker, provides some insight into what a typical day of thru-hiking looks like.

Joe Brewer completed his hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2012, the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014, and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) in 2015.  His video below shows his final full day on the CDT.  We can see the typical beginning of a thru-hiker’s day, the difficulty of finding some sections of the trail, a windy lunchbreak, the big sky of the afternoon’s hike, and dinner at the end of the day.

Follow me from dusk to dawn and experience a full day of hiking on the CDT! Subscribe and follow me on social media for more updates like this. Or, support me on Patreon and get access to even more content! Website: Patreon: Facebook: Twitter: Instagram:

All long distance trails are different. A hike changes each day.  Yet, many of the day’s activities remain the same.  A hiker must eat, filter water, take breaks, and set up camp.

If you enjoyed watching Joe’s video, you’ll find more videos on the Joe Brewer Youtube channel.  Joe’s blog, Backcountry Banter, provides more information and insights about backpacking long distance trails.

What online resources have you found to be useful when planning your long distance hike?

Little Evidence for the Wild Effect

In recent blog posts, we’ve been investigating the Wild Effect and how we might be able to test whether such a phenomenon exists.  We’ve identified books and movies related to the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, and the Camino de Santiago.

Now that the Wild Effect has been defined, and the investigation has been structured, let’s see if the numbers of hikers support the existence of the Wild Effect on long distance trails.

Image by Clark Edwards

Image by Clark Edwards

Wild Effect

There is some difficulty gathering the number of thru-hikers who have completed the PCT each year.  Before 2013, the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) counted the number of permits issued. A single permit could list anywhere between 1 and 8 hikers.  Unfortunately, the number of permits prior to 2013 provides an inaccurate gauge.

The PCTA admits that no one really knows how many hikers finish the PCT each year.  The measures available from the PCTA rely on self-reporting.  Our findings are dependent on the honor system.

The graph of self-reported PCT completions shows fewer hikers in 2013, a year after The Wild (book) was published.  There was a strong increase from 2013 to 2014.  Maybe readers took some time to ponder and plan a trip scheduled for two years after the book was published.  The strongest increase in numbers can be seen from 2011 to 2012, in the time leading up to the book’s publication.

The Wild (movie) was released in 2014.  As you can see in the graph above, there is an increase in PCT completions from 2014 to 2015.  However, the increase from 2013 to 2014 is greater.  Please also note, growth in PCT completions from 2015 to 2016 is relatively flat.

If the graph were shifted a bit, and the bump shown in 2012 were seen in 2013, I would declare, “There it is.  There is the Wild Effect.”

Bryson Bump

Like the PCTA, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) relies on self-reported trail completions.  The ATC’s website provides numbers of completed AT hikes for the years 2008 to 2015.  Unfortunately, this date range does not address either potential Bryson Bump (i.e., book publication in 1998 or movie release in 2015).  We’ll have to return to this investigation after the ATC releases the 2016 AT completion numbers.

If you are interested, here are the number of AT completions by year from 2008 to 2015.  The number of section hikes completed each year has been removed to better align these numbers with the number of PCT completions listed above.

Source of Numbers:

Source of Numbers:

The Way

Hiker completion numbers for the Camino de Santiago are available for the years 1985 to 2015.  The movie, The Way, was released in 2010, so we are interested in looking at the trail completions following 2010.

Unfortunately, the only hiker completion numbers available are from  There may be some metrics available in Spanish language online resources, but I didn’t find any.

The number of hikers finishing the Camino de Santiago since 1985 has been ever-increasing.  It is a steady march.  There is not a significant increase in the number of hikers following the release of the movie. 

Holy years, or Jubilee years, are declared in years when St. James’s Day (July 25) falls on a Sunday.  The numbers of hikers in Holy years far outpace the numbers in other years.


In this end, during a review of the number of long distance trail completions, I could not see effects or bumps based on related books or movies.  The increases in PCT completions did not really align with the release of the book or movie.  Unfortunately, the Bryson Bump, while interesting, could not be assessed because the numbers of hikers for relevant years were not available.  Finally, the release of the movie, The Way, did not seem to have an effect on the number of hikers completing the Camino de Santiago.

However, let’s remember how we selected our measurements.  While we could have evaluated a few metrics, we chose to review the number of completed hikes.  There is no way to tell how many people visited the trail, hiked on it for a week or a day or a minute, based on their reading of a book or seeing a movie.  These numbers are not collected, so they cannot be assessed.  The number of completions seem to be the one thing that trail authorities do collect.

Do you agree with this conclusion?  Has a key component been left out of this investigation?  Would you have approached this study differently?


How Would we Detect the Wild Effect?

There are many ways that we might be able to detect the Wild Effect.  One way would be to see if the number of inquiries about a trail increases after the release of a story. We could measure web traffic about a trail before and after the release of a story.  Let's simplify the literature search.  Can we see the Wild Effect in the number of thru-hikers who complete a trail?

Image by Cindy Edwards

Image by Cindy Edwards

Unfortunately, that’s about all we can say about our investigation.  We cannot comment on the number of thru-hikers who read the book or saw the movie, and were inspired to hit the trail.  That information is simply not available.  Some, perhaps most, thru-hikers take trails on for other reasons.  We really cannot connect the number of thru-hikers to their motivations.

The information about numbers of thru-hikers tends to range from the implicit to the explicit.  That is, some sources make high-level statements, without providing much support.  Other sources declare specific numbers of thru-hikers.

The Wild Effect and Bryson Bump are phenomena listed on several outdoor-related blogs.  Many of these sources imply that the books and movies will cause or have caused an increase in hiking on these long distance trails.  The blogs list little support for such hypotheses or conclusions.  A reader almost feels that the authors want these increases to happen.

Outside magazine published Wild’ Movie Boosts Number of PCT Hikers on January 20, 2015.  In this article, the editors state a) the number of thru-hiker permits was up 300%, and b) the number of hikers was 30% higher. A reader could reconcile these two numbers.  Perhaps 3 times the number of hikers registered, but only 30% more showed up.  In a related article, Behind the Scenes of 'Wild', the author notes that the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is estimating a hiker increase of 30%. 

The PCTA reports on anecdotal observations.  The PCTA reports that there seems to be more hikers on the trail after Cheryl Strayed’s book was published, and again when the movie was released.  Also, there seem to be more people on the trail for day hikes or weekend backpacking trips.  It makes sense that an inspiring story in a movie or book could move people to tackle long distance trails.

In the next blogpost, we’ll look at the numbers of thru-hikers readily available and see if we can see the Wild Effect or the Bryson Bump.

How Would the Wild Effect be Defined?

Do best-selling books and successful movies inspire people to action?  How about when the stage is backpacking?

Image by Jeff Edwards

Image by Jeff Edwards

The Wild Effect is the phenomenon that the movie Wild would increase the number of hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in years following the release of the film.  It is the belief that the story of Wild would inspire others to hike the PCT.  The Bryson Bump is a similar idea for the Appalachian Trail (AT).  Bill Bryson wrote A Walk in the Woods in 1998.  This generated interest in the Appalachian Trail should have translated into a greater number of visitors to the AT.  The Way, a film about walking the 500-mile Camino de Santiago trail in Spain, was produced in 2010.  Did wild, the walk, and the way inspire people to visit these trails?  Can we see it in the numbers available?

This is more than just a curiosity.  The Appalachian Trail Conservancy considered how to protect the AT after the movie, A Walk in the Woods, was shown in theaters in 2015.  The conversancy’s solution was to devise a mechanism for AT thru-hikers to register and communicate their hiking plans.  No hiker would be turned away, but it would give the conservancy an idea as to where the hikers would be when.  A hiker could see the plans of others and make adjustments if, say, a high number of registered thru-hikers were planning to start in the 2nd week of March.

Perhaps some of Trailiac’s readers have been inspired by these books or movies.  My first backpacking trip along the AT was during 1999, one year after Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods came out.  I hadn’t read the book, but I traveled with one who had.  The book inspired a friend, a western backpacker, to give the AT a try.

What inspired you to try backpacking?  A book or movie? A friend?

Trailiac describes the PCT and the AT.  Trailiac will describe the Camino de Santiago in the future.