Nobo Vs Sobo Hiking: What Is It All About?

Last Updated on 12/10/2021

Nobo Vs Sobo Hiking

What Does Sobo and Nobo Hiking Mean?

Nobo and Sobo hiking is a term that refers to the direction in which you are heading on a walking route. So if you are heading north on the trail you would be considered a nobo and if you cross paths with someone walking the opposite way (southbound), they are sobo’s.

When considering whether to walk Nobo Vs Sobo, it really does depend on the walk and climate of the country you’re in.

Why is it Called Nobo/Sobo Hiking?

If you are planning to thru-hike a long-distance hiking trail then you may have come across the terms “nobo” and “sobo” and wondered what they mean? It is basically an abbreviation of the words northbound and southbound used by thru-hikers to identify which way they are heading.

Why does it matter which direction you walk on a hiking trail?

Depending on the hiking trail you are on, the direction you travel can make a big difference to the trip. From having the wind work with you to escaping cold weather, experience has shown that some trails are better when hiked as a nobo or sobo. For longer walks, the direction you take can allow you to start earlier or later in the year which would give you more time to complete it.

Which hiking trails qualify for nobo and sobo hiking?

There are three main thru-hiking trails across America that run north to south or south to north which are the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. There are of course lots of other trails in the US and around the world that follow this orientation like the Te Aroa Trail in New Zealand or John O’Groats to Lands End in the UK.

For the sake of keeping this article short, I will use the Pacific Crest Trail as an example of the benefits and disadvantages of walking from the south to the north.

Nobo vs Sobo Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail?

You may be questioning which way to walk the PCT, northbound or southbound? There are benefits to both however for most people, the advantages of walking nobo on the Pacific Crest Trail outweigh the advantages of walking sobo. That being said, there is a special breed of people who prefer to walk sobo to avoid the crowds, hot weather, and bugs. Let’s have a look at the differences in more detail.

Walking Nobo on the PCT

Around 90% of people choose to head this way and start around April/May at the Mexican border which offers the best chance of avoiding snow and creeks that are so high that they are too dangerous to cross. Starting in spring means you also get to see all the blossoming flowers and experience wildlife to its fullest. This way you also get the largest weather window for hiking which often helps to plan around work.

The next advantage of hiking the PCT northbound is that you meet lots of like-minded people who for the most part make your hike more enjoyable. For some people, this may be seen as a disadvantage because campsites and hut spaces can be in short supply and you might just want to camp alone. For others, this creates lots of social interactions and is potentially safer if you are hiking solo.

Another advantage is that there is an abundance of water when noboing the PCT which means you can refill constantly and don’t have to carry as much in your pack. A good water filter is recommended so that you don’t risk getting sick.

The final advantage is that you can avoid the intense heat of the desert and aim to hit that section after it has reached its peak temperature.

Walking Sobo on the PCT

To hike southbound on the Pacific Crest trail you have a smaller window of opportunity and most sobo hikers start in June. You do need to be fairly experienced and confident to attempt this route as it can pose some significant dangers in the snow.

Another issue is that many of the resorts are closing or closed as it is late in the season so make sure you go prepared. On top of this, water sources become fewer and far between in the drier sections.

But what about the benefits? Well the main appeal of hiking sobo on the PCT is that it is less busy which means you get most camping spots all to yourself and it is easier to find a room or campsite. Often rooms will be much cheaper and can be negotiated which is great for budget thru hiking.

The trail will feel like more of a solo adventure with fewer people out there and is considered to offer a more authentic experience of how the trail used to be. Apart from this, you will be challenging yourself and belong to a small group of people who have done it this way.

Another advantage of hiking this way is that the biting insects are not out in force due to the cooler temperatures in the worst places.

Whether you choose to hike nobo or sobo depends very much on the thru-hike you are attempting as well as the time window you have. We hope you found this nobo vs sobo guide useful and stay tuned for more articles like this.

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This article has been written and/or edited by Andrew N. 20+ years of hiking, mountaineering, and camping experience, with access to all the latest outdoor gear.

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