Section Hiking: The Practical Compromise


Section Hiking: The Practical Compromise

Section Hiking New River Gorge

Section Hiking: The Practical Compromise

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Section hiking is likely to be the only thing that makes completing your favorite long-distance trail a reality for most of us. When most picture a thru-hiker, they imagine someone just out of school young enough to live foot-loose and fancy-free, or someone old enough to share some valuable lessons around the campfire or spin tales from their thrilling life adventures. What about the rest of us, though, the people who have work and life responsibilities that keep us from thru-hiking our favorite trail in one trip? Even here, at UST, we all have obligations to keep the company running smoothly. So, how do we go about hiking our favorite trail and following our dreams? One answer may be section hiking.  In addition to making the possibility of hiking a long distance trail a reality, there are a number of other benefits that section hiking brings.

1. Take advantage of the best time of the year

Hiking a trail in sections allows you to determine the best season to visit each location either to the take in the best scenic views or possibly avoid the crowds. The fresh green of Spring on the Florida Trail and the Autumn leaves on the Appalachian Trail both fall outside of the prime hiking season, and therefore are often missed by thru-hikers. Being able to spread out your sections beyond hiking season also helps you escape some of the crowds that come with the popularity of scenic trails.

(Photo by Dan Human) Cranberry Lake 50 Trail, Adirondacks

2. Learn from each section to improve your next hike

Before joining UST, my first hike on the Florida Trail was met with disaster. I had an old over-one-shoulder backpack from high school that I over stuffed with drawing supplies and very little water. Since, that back-aching trip I have learned a lot about gear, survival, and each successive trip bring further improvements. That is a great advantage of section hiking your favorite trail. Thru-hiking generally requires you to be better prepared than I initially was, but section hiking allows you to improve your skill level one hike at a time.
Florida Trail at Big Oak Trail

3. It allows you to enjoy each section for what it is

Even though it may be over generalizing, I expect most of us go hiking for the beauty of nature and to relax, with the bonus of some enjoyable physical activity. With section hiking, you avoid the worry of completing your daily miles to make trail’s end before winter sets in or your own personal time constraints send you back to reality. Section hiking allows you to take a breath and stop to watch the little squirrel gathering nuts for the winter, without having to worry about being late.

(Photo by Todd Nystrom) Enjoying the view from a side trail near the 290 mile long Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail in the Red River Gorge Geological Area, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky.

4. Spread it out over time

Speaking of deadlines, with section hiking you can spread your hike out over many months, years, or even decades. Each section can either last for weeks or can even be as short as day trips. You can set a pace you are comfortable with that also keeps you truckin’ along the trail. Ultimately, the choice is yours on how you spread out your hikes and how much you do.

(Photo by Dan Human) Black Forest Trail, Pennsylvania

5. You can also spread out the cost

When it comes to thru-hiking the cost is often underestimated. I mean, how much can hiking in the woods really cost, right? As it turns out, it can actually be a lot. Between gear, supplies, and the loss of income, the cost of a complete thru-hike is several thousand dollars. Section hiking can cut down on the cost by limiting supplies, being able to invest in more multifunctional gear and, most importantly, the ability to keep your day job.
(Photo by Dan Human)

6. Update your gear between trips

This is the best part of section hiking, being able to upgrade your gear. However, some may say we are a bit biased since we make gear. As you continue hiking the trail you will discover what specific gear fits you the best and it may not always be whatever is most recommended by the ”experts.” You also don’t have to worry about having the lightest gear (also often more expensive) and can trade weight for comfort since you will not be backpacking for as long. You may be surprised what you learn along the way from camp set up, to cooking gear, to sleep arrangements, each hike will bring you a little closer to being an expert in your own right.

(Photo by Dan Human) Finger Lakes Trail – Western Terminus

7. It is easier to avoid bad weather

Here in Florida rain is generally accompanied by lightning, which does not make for the best hiking conditions. Section hiking allows you to look out the window or at the weather forecast, to determine that perhaps right now or maybe next weekend would be best to do a certain part of the trail based on the weather. When hiking a Scenic Trail in one long session, you will be stuck traveling for miles under those threatening clouds until you make it to the nearest shelter or camping spot.
Florida Trail at Big Oak Trail

8. Medical Limitations

Even though plenty of people with severe limitations inspire us with what a determined person can do, for some of us it is more realistic to do a bit at a time based on our medical history or physical limitations. Always do your best to follow your dreams, and with section hiking you are able to do just that without risking your health or putting too much stress on your body.

(Photo by Dan Human)


Since we always love talking about dogs, section hiking allows you to bring your dog into areas that are safe and allowable for your pet. Several trails do not permit dogs for the whole length of the trail and alternatives have to be found for them during those sections. When, you section hike you can bring them along for those stretches and leave them with family members that will spoil them as you hike the rest.

                                                   Section of the Florida Trail at Gold Head Branch 

In the end, you may not get the cool points of being a thru-hiker, but you can still say you hiked your favorite Scenic Trail from end-to-end. And, you had the chance to follow your dreams, even if a took a little bit longer