What Is Thru-Hiking vs Backpacking?

By Anna Duncan

Thru-hiking and backpacking are two similar, yet distinct, styles of outdoor travel. While they both involve extended journeys in the wilderness, there are some important differences between the two.

Understanding these differences can help you decide which type of adventure is right for you.

Thru-hiking is a long-distance journey over a continuous route that typically takes several months or more to complete. Common thru-hikes include the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail in the United States, as well as the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand.

The goal of thru-hiking is to complete the entire route from start to finish without taking any shortcuts or alternate routes.

Backpacking, on the other hand, is more flexible and does not have one specific route or goal. It usually involves shorter trips lasting anywhere from a few days to several weeks, where one arrives at a destination each night before setting off on a new journey the next day. Backpackers often carry multiple days’ worth of supplies at once and have more freedom to choose their path than thru-hikers do.


Thru-hiking and backpacking are both excellent ways to explore nature and challenge yourself outdoors, but they offer different experiences. Thru-hiking requires an extended period of time dedicated to completing a single route from start to finish while backpacking provides more flexibility in terms of distance traveled and destinations visited along the way.