No Façade to Hide Behind: Long-Distance Hikers’ Journeys Through Self and Society

Lauren Reiss


This ethnographic study uses a phenomenological approach to better understand how Appalachian Trail (AT) and Long Trail (LT) thru-hikers create meaning and make sense of their experiences while hiking. Drawing on participant observation and in-depth interviews with 13 hikers, I analyze hikers’ initial reasons for hiking, their reflections while on the trail, and the impacts thru-hiking had on their self-concepts and social lives. Key findings demonstrate how life on the trail contrasts with hikers’ everyday lives in society and thus suggest ways that their experiences on the AT/LT may give insight into nature, community life, personal change, and the process of personal reflection. In particular, this study suggests that long-distance hiking builds personal skills and confidence. Further, this research uses a phenomenological approach as well as the concepts of liminality and communitas to analyze the creation of an alternative trail subculture and new personal identities on the trail, including trail families.



Long-distance hikers; phenomenology; ethnography; liminality; self-reflection; communitas

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The JUE is a peer-reviewed online journal that publishes original ethnographic research by undergraduates working in a variety of disciplines. Submissions are welcomed. Contact the Editor, Karen McGarry.

ISSN 2369-8721