Northern Wilds Magazine
Finishing a thru-hike on the SHT is incredible, sad and beautiful. | ANNIE NELSON
Along the Shore

Prepare for a Superior Thru-Hike

Thru-hiking the Superior Hiking Trail will take your breath away with its arduous climbs and stupendous beauty. Thru-hiking teaches hikers to adapt to life in the woods on nature’s terms—hiking through rain, mud and bugs as well as beautiful blue-sky days—which can create a profound connection to the natural world.

Planning a thru-hike of the 300-mile Superior Hiking Trail, also called the SHT, can be intimidating, overwhelming and scary. The best way to keep yourself safe and calm your nerves is to prepare thoroughly.

Get Ferociously Excited

When you start telling people your plan to thru-hike the Superior Hiking Trail, most people will get an excited gleam in their eye. You may also discover, especially if you are a woman planning on thru-hiking alone, that some people will seem desperate to convince you it’s too dangerous. What about the bears, ticks, bad weather, and people who want to hurt you? They’ll ask, brows furrowed.

The first few times you get a negative reaction won’t phase you, but the 20th time may make you doubt yourself if you are not absolutely committed to your adventure. Defend your thru-hike like a mama bear defends her cubs—ferociously.

Do Your Research

Do thorough research. Read the Superior Hiking Trail Association’s website front to back. Buy all the guides. Get all the maps. Review everything. Ask questions of other hikers. Finally, read Thru-Hike the Superior Hiking Trail to start thinking and planning like a thru-hiker.

Study Up on Safety Skills

Many first-time thru-hikers can get too focused on bears and overlook learning about more common dangers: getting lost, exposure, falling, dehydration, injury, experiencing a health emergency while on the trail, etc. The leading causes of death in the backcountry are drowning and falling, according to the Wilderness Medicine Institute of NOLS, not bears. Taking a Wilderness Medicine course is a great way to improve your safety knowledge.

Thru-hiking is dangerous in different ways than life in city, suburban and rural communities, but not necessarily more dangerous. It is important to learn what specific challenges and dangers you’ll face on the Superior Hiking Trail.

Make Your Plan

Once you’ve studied the trail guides and maps, you can start forming your plan. How many days will you need for your hike? Where will you need to resupply food and fuel? How will you get to your starting point—northern or southern terminus? Will you take a day off periodically in town to rest, shower and do laundry? The Thru-Hike the Superior Hiking Trail guide will be your best resource to help plan your overall
thru-hike.

Every thru-hiking plan is a best guess. If this is your first thru-hike, the entire hike will be a learning experience. Set yourself up for success by accepting that whatever plan you make for your hike before you start isn’t likely to be perfect. You may hike faster or slower than anticipated. You may have an injury that doesn’t require you to end your hike, but may require a couple days off trail to rest. To give yourself the best chance of success, pad your plan with a couple extra days. Worst case scenario, you end up home early or you can slow down your last couple days on the trail and really savor your accomplishment.

Buy and Test Your Gear

If you don’t already have all the backpacking gear you need, acquire all your gear at least a few weeks before you plan to start your thru-hike to give yourself time to test it out. Thru-hikers call this doing “shake-down” hikes. If you live within driving distance of the Superior Hiking Trail, go do a shake-down weekend hike on the trail. If not, try to find a trail with as much elevation change as you can. During your shake-down hike, you want to accomplish three things: see how heavy your pack is fully loaded with all your gear, food and water; test all your gear to make sure you know how to use it correctly, and see how your body performs.

Following these five simple steps will increase your chances of having a successful thru-hike. Happy hiking!

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