As part of the Continental Divide Trail Survey I ask CDT hikers what they would do differently, given the chance to do it all again, and what advice they have for future CDT hikers. I share this information in the hopes of giving an idea of what mistakes people typically make pre, during, or post-CDT so that future generations may avoid the errors of the past. Basically, I want you to get out there and live your best CDT life.
Don't forget, these are statements from individual hikers and each one reflects the thoughts, feelings, or biases of a single person. That said, if something you read here plays into your pre-held beliefs or justifies your making a decision about something, then feel free to embrace said thing as trail gospel (just remember who your prophet was when everything proves otherwise for you out on the trail – some stranger's hearsay on the internet).
Don't die out there, friends.
General CDT Advice
- You walk one step at a time, no matter who you are and how fast you do it, you can still only go one step at a time. Know in yourself that all you have to do at any given time is have the willpower to take one more step. Also, no matter how bad the water looks, collect some anyway.
- Spend the money, do it first class, slow down and enjoy. Give yourself adequate time to absorb surroundings, hang out in trail towns and interface with the locals. So much to learn.
- Trust but verify your information resources.
- Try to enjoy every day as if it were your last on the trail (one call home or one injury may end your hike quickly). Pay attention to your trail markings – you may find yourself off-trail quickly.
- Positive attitude is key. Make the road walks a party.
- Conquer any fears you may have of cows.
- Listen to everyone, and then make up your own mind. You know the best approach for yourself.
- The dirty secret of thru-hikers is that we're all control freaks. You might think you're not, but I'll bet you are. Let go of that obsessive desire to plan this thing and control it. You can't. Put down Yogi's guide. Stop trying to choose alternates three months in advance. The CDT will laugh at the hundreds of plans you continue to make even as zero percent of them have ever come true. Just relax, buy food when you need it, walk the direction that seems interesting, and have a fucking blast with incredible people in stunning beauty. It's a glorious trail and I was so thankful (almost) every day to be walking it.
- Don't do this trail for any other reason than that you want to do it.
- Have plenty of funds saved up. Don’t rush.
- Pay attention to what’s coming up in the next several towns. Switch out shoes often and plan ahead. Most sections are over 100 miles (160 km), so if you’ll need something in the next 200-ish mi (320 km) you need to think about it ahead of time.
- Nobody ever gets to the end of a hike and says “I wish that had been faster”.
- Try to hit towns more on weekdays.
- Worry less. It'll all be fine. People a lot dumber than you have made it to Canada this way.
Continental Divide Trail Culture
- The trail has a lot of beautiful sections with lots of trail bullshit between.
- There is no purism on the CDT. Keep your eye out for cool alternates, there's a lot. Fuck paved road walks, don't kill your feet to add/save some miles.
- Get ready for the hardest and least fun trail.
- Don't do it for the Triple Crown, the status, or the record. You will maybe make it, but you will be pretty miserable doing it.
- Do it. But be prepared and confident that you can do it alone. This is not the social club that the Appalachian Trail Has become.
- Have a better understanding of how you want to define your thru-hike. It's a big clusterfuck with no two people doing the same hike. That's not a bad thing, just a reality, and everyone I hiked with had a similar confusion. Skip fire reroutes? Continuous footpath? Continuous road walking to skip fire closures but also skip large portions of a perfectly good trail? Super Butte? Is that still the CDT? None of these issues are really discussed beforehand.
- Everyone's hike will be different; the CDT is a choose-your-own-adventure trail.
- It will be a shit show. It will be boring. It will be so incredibly beautiful. Take your time and create your own adventure! You’ll regret skipping that side trail or lake dip when your off trail.
- Make sure you like road walking before deciding to thru-hike the CDT!
- Never miss an opportunity to swim!
- Wish I had ditched one of four shuttle mates that I hiked with sooner than later. He was woefully unprepared with regard to navigation and stuck to me painfully. Oh the trials and tribulations of societal interaction one the trail.
- Take photos of people.
New Mexico Advice
- Take your time in New Mexico, most people seemed to take loads of days off in Chama waiting for the snow to melt.
- Keep your base wight to a minimum, take your time – especially in New Mexico.
- Buy an umbrella because there's like three trees and they're on fire.
- Water in Lordsburg sucks; there is a machine at the grocery store where you can fill bottles for like $0.50.
- Be prepared for long stretches without water.
- The thorns and burrs don't mature until early May. Hike the dessert sections early.
- I wish we had gone a bit slower through the Gila.
- I wish I was prepared better to deal with blisters in the desert.
- People are going to make a lot of really stupid decisions in the San Juans. Keep your head, screw the official track, and make your own way as needed.
- Check snow conditions in Colorado before you choose your way there.
- Don't worry too much about the snow in the San Juans.
- I wish I would had a long pants in San Juans.
- I wish I'd been more stubborn about taking trail zeros in the Wind River Range (I got outvoted by the rest of our group).
- Mack’s Inn Cutoff was lame, I would take the official trail.
- Make sure you get to east Glacier by September 25th – no later. Everything shuts down at the end of September and it starts snowing.
- Hike the Butte Route. The trail there is in great shape with good views. The tread is in better shape than much of the rest of the CDT. Few hike it opting instead to do the long busy road walk to Anaconda. This is a real shame. Things have changed on the CDT here. Hike Butte!
- Bring bear spray in Montana and Northern Wyoming.
- The terrain for a starting SOBO is tough. Some physical training before could definitely be beneficial.
- Found that carrying a device for satellite texting was very useful in Montana for contacting shuttles to town in remote locations. I didn't carry one but my buddy did. I’d take one if I was to do the trail again.
CDT Gear Advice
- The CDT is cold. Pack warmer clothes. I think gloves are a must for this trail.
- Never give up! Keep your weight low but don't sacrifice your safety to do so. Just sacrifice the comfort items.
- Don't go “stupid light”. Bring pants, long sleeves, and a headnet for the Winds.
- Wish I had started in shoes and not boots.
- Practice hiking before to dial in gear.
Continental Divide Trail Surveys
- Continental Divide Trail Hiker Survey
- Continental Divide Trail Survey: The Gear Guide
- Continental Divide Trail Survey: The Resupply Guide
- Continental Divide Trail Survey: Horror & Heartbreak
- All CDT Hiker Survey Posts
If there is ANYTHING you can think of that would make this information more useful (or any more resupply related cross-referencing you would like to see), then please LEAVE A COMMENT and let me know.