Planning a thru-hike might feel overwhelming, exciting, or both! We posed a few questions to Matt "Gnome" Dobson, BRHC Lead Guide and Instructor for the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike Prep Workshop. Gnome has well over 12,000 trail miles on his legs and almost 9000 of those miles are thru-hikes so he might know a thing or two about what it takes to complete a long distance trail.  

When was your first thru hike? How did you prepare? 

My first thru-hike was in 2016 on the Appalachian Trail. At the time I didn't know anyone who had thru-hiked and I wasn't much for researching something like this on-line. I got lucky with the items I chose to backpack with and learned to shed/streamline things in the first 1000 miles. I did read in advance. I consumed books about thru hiking. More than anything, this was inspirational preparation but very valuable. Books took the place of the in-person discussions I could not have by not knowing anyone.

The AT changed me in so many positive ways. It renewed my faith in humans and greatly enhanced my appreciation of our natural world. My outlook on food, possessions, and money became simple and streamlined.

What other long hikes have you done? 

I hiked the Continental Divide Trail in 2019 and the Pacific Crest Trail in 2022. I have also hiked the John Muir Trail, the Long Trail, and over  600 miles in GSMNP. 

What is the hardest part about a thru hike? Easiest part?

This is a tough question. Obviously climbing mountains, being hungry, thirsty, dirty, tired or injured can be hard. I revel in everything related to thru-hiking. I honestly love everything about it. The one thing I would say that is hard for me is when other hikers don't appreciate the situation they are in. Thru-hiking is a privilege for everyone. People that do not appreciate this privilege are hard for me to be around.

The easiest part is being in nature. Once we realize that we are a part of nature it is easier to be in nature. Most of us go through the bulk of life separating nature from our constructed lives. It is easy for me (now) to be in the wilderness because I know how to be a part of it. It's as much home as home is.

What is the most important piece of hiking advice you were given?

Everything weighs something.

What's one piece of advice you'd leave for anyone planning a thru hike?

The only thing you absolutely have to have to complete a thru-hike is desire.