Section Hiking



Section hiking versus thru-hiking, do you know the difference between the two?

Both section hiking and thru-hiking are usually associated with longer hiking trails. Some of the longer hiking trails are ones you’ve probably heard of. One is the Appalachian Trail (AT). Another is Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). There are also smaller forms of these trails, like the River to River Trail. And then there are mega-trails such as the American Discovery Trail (ADT).

I bet there is a longer trail in your area, even if it isn’t as long as the AT or ADT. In my area, the River to River Trail is our longest spanning nearly 160 miles across the state.

But now let’s take a look at section hiking versus thru-hiking and which one would be best for you.


Section Hiking Versus Thru-Hiking: Section Hiking

Section hiking makes a longer trail but breaks it up into different sessions.

Only some people can afford to take enough time off to hike an entire trail like the AT or PCT. So, they will section hike various lengths at different times until they can complete the trail. Sometimes people will section hike a trail first to train for an entire thru-hike. Some might section hike to enjoy the best parts of a trail and ignore the rest.

I section hike my local River to River Trail because it’s easier to spend a weekend doing it than taking off an entire week or more to finish it. It would be a different story if I didn’t have to work. Section hiking is easier for me at this point and time.

But if you need something more than hiking little bits and pieces of a trail, you should move on to the next section of this article.


Section Hiking Versus Thru-Hiking: Thru-Hiking

Thru-Hiking is when you hike the entire length of a longer trail in one session.

Thru-hiking often means hiking an entire trail for a span of multiple days. It might take you six months to a year to hike the AT. Thru-hiking is reserved for people who can take time off work, don’t work, take a sabbatical, or are lucky enough to make hiking their work. Thru-hiking is definitely a life changer, and you become connected with a trail and the people who use the trail.

Eventually, I’d love to thru-hike the River to River Trail. It’s no AT by any means, but it’s nearly 160 miles from what we in southern Illinois call paradise. It will take about a week and a half to do without pushing myself too hard.

So, when it comes to section hiking versus thru-hiking, which one should you do?


Section Hiking Versus Thru-Hiking: Which should you do?

This matters on three main elements you must answer time, ability, and motivation.

You must be able to have the time needed to hike a trail’s entire length. Do you have that much time? You need to have the ability to put in that many miles over a span of that many days, weeks, and months. Can you do something like that? You need to have the motivation to wake up each day and repeat a hike. Can you accomplish that?

I don’t think I could make a super long trail like the AT or PCT. I feel I’d need to train more than what I’m doing now. I could thru-hike the River to River Trail, however. But honestly, I’d rather section hike it first so I know what I’m getting myself into once I decide to thru-hike it.

So, which are you when it comes to section hiking versus thru-hiking?


Now that you understand the difference between section hiking versus thru-hiking, what would you prefer to do? Which one is more realistic for you to complete?

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Thanks again for checking out another one of my articles and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!

Shawn Gossman

Shawn Gossman

Founder, Hiking with Shawn

Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman

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