Whether you are looking to start hiking on a "Triple Crown" trail or you start looking at more local based multiple day hikes. The guide below is to help you try and understand the need for time and money and whether a long distance trail is right or if you may want to begin with shorter duration hikes to validate your gear.

How to Choose the Right Trail For You

When you want to begin thru hiking you need to take many things into account, for many they will have their eyes on one of the triple crown and shouldn't shy away from it. This may not be the best approach though for all hikers, many would be better served doing gear shakedowns on week long trails finding what works and doesn't work for you.
Many times a single trail will speak to you, flowing towards you like an oncoming storm. Follow that urge, don't run from it.
Once you have in your mind about how long you want to take then you will have a better idea of the hikes you could plan to complete. Next thing to start working on is your overall health and fitness, and I am not talking about how much weight you can lift.

Building Mental and Physical Fitness

For many the thru hike will be the hardest physical activity they have done in their lives, for others who go workout religiously it will put that muscle to the test. See the hike is less about brute muscle strength and more about your sheer will and tenacity to keep going when it hurts, when the suck happens.
While starting you may be intimidated by those you see around you with huge muscles, while that shows they have physical muscle it doesn't show they can use it. You need long distance muscle, strong endurance and the ability to adapt.
I would argue that someone who prepares to hike in a gym will almost always find hiking more difficult than someone who prepares for hiking by hiking.
The issue with big muscle and why most hikers don't look like musclebound freaks is that it is calorically impossible to maintain on a 2000+ mile hike, there is a reason our ancestors were thin. It is a metabolic advantage to have strong and compact muscle that has endurance and long range as its power, there isn't many places on trails where your "bench" or "squat" weight would ever matter.
I would suggest preparing for a hike needs to be done via hiking, nothing works out your muscles for hiking like being out on a trail and being wobbly and going up and down. This training should also include your backpack and weight close to what your hiking weight would be as this prepares you mentally and physically.
An additional part of preparation that many fail to train is your mental game, your mental approach to the hike will make or break you far more often than your body will physically fail you. Your want needs to be balanced with a will or reason for you to complete the trail or you may end up breaking on the 10th day of constant rainfall and being soaked.
I would suggest journaling and documenting your highlights and lowlights, these can help ground you and really help you see what you already have survived and that there is and will be no reason to quit on yourself and your goals.
Things to Work On:
  • Building Up Hiking Mileage Per Week
  • Train with Full Expected Pack Weight
  • Build List of Reasons Why You Want to Do The Trail

1-4 Week Long Thru Hike

These are often overlooked trails that are very good for you to get your hiking legs in shape while also doing gear testing and shakedowns. This allows you to drop gear that just doesn't work for you or you don't use along with replacing gear that fails you in your hiking.
The other thing is that on hikes of this length you can get a feel for what 6 months on a longer trail would be like, and if you have employment you will be able to do this on just your paid time off and not need to quit.
There is significantly less issues for a person to take a shorter thru hike first, allowing you to feel out your needs and plan for them prior.
For many this is a smart introduction to feeling out how you will manage longer times on the trail, if you are able to make it on a 2-4 week long thru hike on a shorter trail you will be better able to understand what distances you can make and the hardships you will endure.
Some of the best trails in the United States are in this range, definitely don't skip them due to their shorter length as you will miss out on quite a lot of beauty that exists in the world.
Trail Examples:
  • Lone Star Hiking Trail (96 Miles)
  • Ouachita Trail (192 Miles)
  • Pinhoti Trail (335 Miles)

1-3 Month Long Thru Hike

These hikes will be more viable to someone who wants to keep all their personal belongings but needs to take an elongated break away from civilization. 
Many of these hikes will require proper gear and planning and they aren't just a walk in the woods, but unlike the longer hikes like the AT these are around 1/3-1/2 the distance.
These would be perfect for taking longer PTO but without necessarily needing to quit employment and selling possessions.
If your final goal is to accomplish a long distance trail like any of the trails on the triple crown, this is a perfect way to get in a hike that will help you really test out your gear, preparations, and point out any flaws in your plans.
Many of these trails are a perfect chance to experience many environments in one trail and a chance to test gear in many environments and to see whether they can hold up to the abuse a hiker will put on their gear.
Trail Examples:
  • Arizona Trail (807 Miles)
  • Pacific Northwest Trail (1200 Miles)
  • Florida Trail (1300 Miles)

3-6 Month Long Thru Hike

The big thru hikes everyone speaks of where you will be out for 2000+ miles and 5-6 months out living from a backpack, these are a true test of your mental resilience and physical ability.
These will require much more commitment from you and will require large leaps for many, like quitting employment, selling homes, and much more to get the time and bill freedom.
The biggest life change event and big bang possible for a hiker is to take the challenge of 6 months with their life carried on their back.
These trips have the possibility to be life changing and provide amazing levels of self learning and exploration, teaching you deep information on yourself, from resilience, to planning, and adaptation. 
The interesting thing about a thru hike and spending 6 months on the trail is that many, once done, want to go on another. They look to leave society behind and instead have a wanderlust for life again and not to be confined to cubicles and 9-5s.
Trail Examples:

Next Stop: Preparing and Planning

The next phase will be the longest in time on average for people planning to leave for a 3-6 month long thru hike, you will need to start saving your money and putting plans in motion to get time off or quit. You will need to figure out insurance options for the trail and start preparing your detailed plans to give a basic timeline to family and friends.
Continue to Preparing and Planning
Welcome to thru hiker guide, helping those who hunger for travel.
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