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Thru-Hiking Culture Shock: Navigating Trail Differences Between the US and Europe

I've thru-hiked several long trails in the United States, but after 5 weeks on Spain's GR11 trail, I realized that there are some big differences between American and European thru-hiking cultures.

In the summer of 2023, my hiking partner Flan and I set out to thru-hike the 510-mile-long GR11 trail through the Spanish Pyrenees. With 150,000 feet of elevation gain and an equal amount of descent, that baby is a doozy.

Our goal was to complete it in 30 days, which put us at around 5,000 feet of gain and loss daily. That’s substantially steeper than the steepest U.S. trails I’ve completed, such as the Wonderland Trail and the Long Trail — which would have been enough to make our Pyrenees adventure a completely different experience from U.S. thru-hiking on its own.

But we would come to discover many other differences between European and American thru-hiking. To the point, we actually felt some level of culture shock between our different ways of life on the trail. The challenge of the GR11 was partially due to the rugged nature of the mountain range and partially due to very real cultural differences in outdoor recreation.

We learned a lot. Here are some highlights that could help prepare you for your own thru-hiking experience across the pond, written by Brett Kretzer

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March 15, 2024

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Brett Kretzer

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