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Choose Your Own Adventure: Section Hiking vs Thru Hiking The Bruce Trail

You made the decision. You’re going to hike the oldest marked trail in Canada. But how are you going to accomplish this 900 kilometer journey? The most realistic option is hiking the Bruce in sections, and The Bruce Tour is the only company offering complete section hikes of this Canadian gem. It’s important to understand what is involved in section hiking versus thru-hiking. Here at The Bruce Tour, we researched the options and want to share our knowledge with you.

As with any subject, it’s important to learn some vocabulary first.


Section Hiking

Section hiking, also known as SASH (short a** section hiking) is intuitive. The hike is completed in sections at different intervals: weekends, months or years between each portion. There is no set order to the hikes, you can complete the last portion first or choose specific areas of interest, like regions with waterfalls or those with easy accessibility.


Thru Hiking

Thru hikes, also known as end-to-end, end-to-ending, through-hikes, or LASH (long a** section hikes), include hiking an entire trail in one trip. Some define thru hikes as those that are completed within 12 months, or during one season. The gear is usually lighter with a focus on minimal living. Averaging a challenging 18 kilometers a day, hiking The Bruce Trail would take at least 50 days to complete as a thru hike. This was a major hurdle we faced when designing The Bruce Tour. We evaluated the pros and cons before making the decision to create a separate hiking tour for each of the nine Bruce Trail sections.

There are pros and cons to section hiking.


Cons of Section Hiking

Though section hiking comes with an unparalleled feeling of accomplishment, the bragging rights may be a little higher after completing a 900 kilometer journey versus an 80 kilometer trek. There is a sense of community that comes along with finishing such a huge goal in one session. Not everyone can become a nomad for a while, missing holidays, friends, family, and work. Thru hiking will push you to the limits as you finish a huge milestone and learn how to live with minimal supplies. If your equipment breaks, you have to fix it when you reach a town or work with what you have. This can be considered both a pro and con for section hiking, but everyone can agree that putting the buzzing world on hold for an extended visit with nature is an experience like no other.

Another negative aspect of section hiking is missing the changing of seasons as you hike. Section hiking usually occurs during one specific time of the year. Experiencing the highs and lows of one or multiple seasons is a unique aspect to thru hiking.

A third con to section hiking involves coordinating transportation to and from the trail. This is difficult, as not every portion ends in an easily accessible location. However, at The Bruce Tour, we recognized this concern and have eliminated the need for arranging transportation, as well as accommodations. Choose your section, book with us, and we do the rest.

A final negative to section hiking lies in fitness. It is difficult to reach peak condition after only a few days of hiking. Where section hikers go from zero to possibly reaching peak at the end of their journey, a thru-hiker benefits from getting into good hiking condition after a few days or weeks on the trail. There’s something to be said for acclimating the body with days of hiking, but this isn’t possible with most section hikes. Click the link to check out our other blog, How to Get in Shape for Hiking the Bruce Trail,(opens in a new tab) on how to prepare for your section hike tour.


Pros of Section Hiking

Clearly we chose section hiking the Bruce Trail for a reason: benefits outweigh the cons. The most obvious benefit involves time and flexibility. Completing portions of a trail is not as time consuming as thru hiking, and you do not have to take an extended leave from work. You can tackle the trail over multiple years, making it easier to plan for. This allows one to savor the trail and its beauty. You can also choose to hike during the best time of the year for that particular region, i.e. hiking Canada’s vineyards during harvest season.

Another advantage of section hikes is that they require a smaller financial commitment than thru hikes, due to the shortened time frame. Section hiking is basically like paying in installments since you pay for each section at a time. Not everyone has thousands of dollars and months of vacation to allow for an end-to-end hike.

A unique positive to section hiking is tradition. The hiking adventure can become an annual anchor for reconnecting with friends or family. You’ll have a constant challenge to look forward to every summer as you make your way through all nine sections of the Bruce Trail. You’re also breaking down the insurmountable goal of completing 900 kilometers into manageable, yet challenging, portions. You establish an annual “hiker’s high” by completing your current mission.

Section hiking also allows for less specialized equipment. End-to-end hiking requires thoughtful equipment choices as weight and durability are of great importance. Here at The Bruce Tour, we’ve selected equipment necessary for shorter distance trips. It’s easier to repair or replace gear after hiking a section compared to a thru-hike.

Along with gear, one needs to consider safety. Though first aid courses are recommended for all hikers, it is not a necessity for section hikes like it is for thru hiking. There is also a decreased risk of scenery fatigue and altitude sickness. The beauty of the Bruce Trail is clearly recognizable, but viewing the escarpment day in and day out can become boring after weeks of trekking. When you “choose your own adventure,” you can avoid difficult seasons and the need for specialized gear. You’ll experience the ideal hiking season and each section is a refreshing return to nature.

The Bruce Trail is a monumental 900 kilometers of Canadian wilderness. It’s no wonder people want to complete the trail in its entirety, and that’s exactly why we founded The Bruce Tour. We have eliminated as many of the cons as possible, focusing on hiking, culinary experiences and enjoying time outdoors. You can start with Chapter 1: Niagara Section Tour(opens in a new tab), or jump on to Chapter 2: Iroquoia (coming in 2023), either way, you’ll love being a Brucer and understand why we enjoy sharing this Canadian treasure.

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