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Section hiking

Need to know: Section hiking

What is section hiking and how does it compare to thru-hiking? That’s a very controversial question if you ask passionate hikers alike. Section hiking is tackling a long-distance trail in several phases. These phases can be anywhere from a weekend getaway to weeks or months at a time on a trail. Whereas thru-hiking is a commitment to continuously trek a long-distance trail within a specific period with few to no interruptions.

Many backpackers and hikers dream of long-distance trails such as the Pacific Crest Trail, John Muir Trail, or the Croatian Long Distance Trail. But not all of these folks have the financial means, support, or time to commit to 3-6 months off the grid. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t tackle long-distance trails in other ways. Section hiking allows the hiker to be flexible, have more time for exploring, carry less gear, and ultimately can be less intimidating. 

Photo by Liz Guerrero

How to begin

Don’t get overwhelmed, there are easy ways to break down the sections you want to cover on a long-distance trail. Section hiking is a mental and physical endeavor, just like thru-hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trail or Camino de Santiago. However, once you identify the trail you want to tackle, you can start by downloading the trail’s map or guide from apps such as AllTrails, Komoot, FarOut Guides, or Hiiker. Become familiar with the layout of your favorite guide and start to break down the mileage into doable and manageable sections.

As you map out your sections, make sure there is an accessible trailhead or spur trail that leads to an exit. This can be a campground or trailhead exit, a highway where you can safely hitch a ride back to your starting point, or where you left a car. Apps are great for navigating, planning your sections, and identifying potential campsites, water sources, important landmarks, and exit points.

Photo by Liz Guerrero

Meeting other hikers

Another benefit of section hiking is having other like-minded adventurers join you, you don’t have to do this entirely alone. Section hiking is more fun when you have a buddy or someone to help shuttle each other, and it’s easier to convince someone to join when it’s just a few days instead of a few months!

When it comes time to find people who want to section hike, this is easier than ever before because of social media. There are Facebook groups for any trail you want to try, just use the search function using keywords for the trail you are interested in. Join a local hiking group from Facebook, Instagram, or Meet-Up to find a new friend and share the cost of transportation and shuttles. You’ll be surprised to find the good in people in these social media groups. These are people who are genuine and want to help, and like you, are looking for an adventure buddy. Social media groups are also great for obtaining crowd-sourced trail reports and information you can’t find elsewhere.

It’s not so scary

If you love the outdoors but feel uneasy or scared to tackle a thru-hike, section hiking might be the answer for you. So when you get outside, tackle these long-distance trails at your own pace, at your leisure. Remember that this is your hike, and you can dictate how it will go.

We hope this guide has inspired you to explore the backcountry in a manageable way for your lifestyle, no matter what that may be. Happy trails!


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