Welcome to American Backcountry’s Notes from the Trail. Here we share stories and thoughts from some of our favorite contributors. Each mountain is different and each trip has a different story – these are notes collected along the trail.
Thru-Hiking America: The Top 3 Trails
April 7, 2020
Not many companies are born on the trail – figuratively speaking – like American Backcountry. Seasoned outdoorsman and traveler Frank Hintz turned his love for our national landmarks into shirts that were made for embarking on them. It all happened when he marched into the Appalachian Trail Conference headquarters in 1993 with the first ever American Backcountry prototype, and would later debut them at the annual Appalachian Trail Day Festival.
To say they were a hit would be an understatement, and are one of the only brands that lets you rock your love for the outdoors – and the trails you’ve hiked and adventured on – with style and comfort.
In this blog, we’ll highlight the top 3 thru-hike trails in the United States and what makes them special:
The Appalachian Trail
This esteemed route spans across 14 states, topping its tallest peak at 6,643 ft above sea level at Clingman’s Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. What that means is if you’re looking for a flat and smooth ride, stick to the neighborhood hill (it’s okay, we all have to for the time being).
It’s been said that most people who set out on the Appalachian Trail (AT) actually don’t finish, for a number of reasons – illness, fatigue or injury. The first person in history to finish it however, was a World War II veteran named Earl Shaffer, who set out on a quest to “walk the army out of his system.”
Typical hikers who finish it, however, say it takes about five to six months to finish clocking in about five million footsteps. What all of these people will tell you is that the less weight the better – some even go as far as ditching a tent in their pack. Instead, some rely on the approximately 250 three-sided shelters or “lean-tos” maintained by volunteers. If you’re that desperate to shed weight but still want a smidge of shelter, we recommend a bivvy.
Lastly – and this will apply to the following thru-hikes – pick a cool trail name! You’re out in the heart of the wilderness embracing the world in a light you don’t see everyday, why not immerse yourself fully? Bananaman, Wild Turkey, Mountain Dew are some of the big names – but they’re already taken.
Whatever you decide on, few shirts will keep you as comfy and protected as American Backcountry’s Appalachian Trail Design. Also, what better way to represent the journey itself?
The Pacific Crest Trail
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a rather self explanatory route, spanning from the US/Mexico border up to British Columbia, Canada – cresting the Pacific Ocean. Passing through California, Oregon and Washington, the PCT encompasses 25 national forests and seven national parks!
This scenic, lush route clocks in at 2,663 miles, topping the AT at a peak of 13,153 ft at Forester Pass! Before making it to the vibrant greenery further up the trail, Southern California tests you right off the bat with a 700 mile stretch of desert before reaching the base of the Sierra. The Sierra is actually dubbed as one of the make or break points in the hike, because clearing it in time means avoiding heavy snowfalls that could otherwise likely derail the whole journey.
While that portion is less than halfway of the whole route, it means you’re mostly out of the thick and will now hit the beautiful sights Northern California, Oregon and Washington have to offer.
It’s also said PCT is one of the more privileged routes in terms of its proximity to nearby towns – and you know what that means: beer, food, showers and beer.
The PCT highlights some of the unique marvels that the West has to offer, and some consider it a great trail for the novice thru-hiker. That said, you’ll want to be as prepared as possible with the proper research, knowledge and gear – like American Backcountry’s UPF 50+ Pacific Crest Shirt.
The Continental Divide
Rigorous, trying and arduous, the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) is where all of your backpacking experience and skills are put to the true test. It’s also hailed as the most rewarding of the 3 trails discussed due to its stunning and beautiful sights.
Surprisingly, 95% of the trail is on public land, and there are a number of alternative routes, with a mixed terrain of paved roads and dirt trail. Spanning through Montana, Idaho, Colorado and New Mexico along the Rockies, with an estimated total mileage of anywhere from 2500 to 3100. Whatever it is, it’s long.
The CDT is closer to the PCT in terms of overall length, going above treelines and being open to horses. However, unlike the PCT, the CDT is unfinished and isn’t well marked and very unused in a lot of places. There are also fewer town stops, and when there are, they’ll tend be more expensive.
There are two primary ways to approach the trail: The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDSNT), or the Continental Divide Trail. The CDSNT is the designated trail maintained by the USFS, said to be a less remote and sometimes easier version than the normal CDT. They rival and contradict each other in different ways, but the CDT is said to have even more rewarding sights and is shorter at some points.
A major safety tip to keep in mind is that there are grizzlies on the trail, though usually will stay clear of people – packing bear spray is a personal choice. Also, depending on the time of year you start, heavy snow may require you to bring an ice axe and even crampons.
All three trails have one thing in common for preparation – RESEARCH! Be safe, speak with experts, but most of all, have fun. All this makes up the passionate foundation that American Backcountry was built on. Who knows – when you’re out there, you might even come up with a business idea 😉