Regarding life in general, most of us struggle to find time to do the things we truly enjoy. Hikers of all ranges commonly wish for more trail time. And for the many of those hikers, the big trails such as the Appalachian Trail (2,180 miles), Pacific Crest Trail (2,654 miles), and the American Discovery Trail (6,800 miles), are the granddaddies of hikes too long to tackle on a single attempt. Only a tiny percentage of those who hike the big trails do so via thru-hiking the entire length.
|At roughly 2,180 miles, the Appalachian Trail stretches from Georgia to Maine. Photo via appalachiantrail.org
Hiking a section of trail at a time, hence the name "section hiking," is the only option for most hikers to complete the total trail, and even more so, to experience any of the trail.
Preparing physically, planning supply drops and other logistics, and creating space on the calendar for a thru-hike are daunting tasks. This doesn't mean that planning and performing a section hike can be done so without attention to detail. An advantage of section hiking a major trail is the quality of the hike over quantity.
A common challenge for thru-hikers is keeping physically able to complete the trek. True, the body adapts to the daily stress of steady foot travel, but overuse injuries can plague a thru-hike and even end it prematurely. A disadvantage of section hiking is that the body must be kept in top trail condition prior to each section attempt, opposed to a thru-hiker who prepares once.
Section hiking allows a hiker to choose the season that is a highlight of the area the trail passes through. Some of the best hiking is had during autumn, when the daytime temperatures are cooler and the deciduous tree foliage is peaking with a bright orange and flaming red display.
Seasonal weather patterns are more predictable and planning accordingly is a luxury for section hikes — go during the drier, cooler times of the year. Hiking off-season means less traffic on the trails, which provides less distraction and more miles in a shorter amount of time.
Fitting a section hike onto the work and home calendar is still a challenge. But, the advantage is that a friend or family member(s) are more likely to be available to join you if you desire the company. A hiking benefit for me is the memories created while on the trail, especially the people I hike with. I truly enjoy an impressive scene in nature, and even more so when I share that with a family member.
Big trails are a treasure, even if experienced a section at a time. It is best to have hiked only in sections, than to have never hiked it at all.