How to Train for a Long-Distance Hike: Advice from an AT Thru Hiker

You’ve planned to do a long-distance hike.  You’ve done your research and bought your gear.  Now all you need to do is get out on the trail, right?  What you may not have thought about is the fact that you might need to do a little more than just put all your gear on your back and start walking!  While some people actually do their first hike ever with all their gear on their backs and walk 2000+ miles, chances are many others who never hiked before quit before their first week is even over.  Having confidence in your abilities will greatly help your chance at success on a long-distance trip.

Start Walking-
While most people consider a long hike a vacation, it’s actually one of the hardest jobs you’ll have.  You will be walking most of your waking hours, covering upwards of 20 miles a day sometimes!  The first step to getting into shape for a hike is to walk.  Start slow and build up your miles gradually.  Once you can do a few miles, try to get out and hike on actual trails, as walking on pavement and walking on a trail are two totally different experiences for your body.  When I first started hiking I knew I could walk easily 2-3 miles, but get out on the trails and you’ll find that you might be hurting in places you didn’t know you had!

Add Some Weight-
Once you start getting in the miles, add some weight to your walk.  Put on a backpack and fill it with water bottles to give it some heft.  Try to take 5-10 pounds in the beginning, gradually getting to your full overnight backpack.  Then, start taking it on trails this way.  Again, you might find that the easy 8-10 mile day hike is totally different when you have 25 pounds on your back!

Don’t Forget to Stretch-
I encourage hikers to try and incorporate a few gentle stretches into their evening routines and post hike rituals.  While you may feel like a total weirdo doing stretches in camp at night or in the parking lot after a long hiker, an important part of keeping your muscles strengthened is helping them recover.  Try to learn a YouTube beginner’s yoga video and try to do it after each time you walk.  Yoga stretches can also help you build your core strength, which is a lot more important during hiking than most people realize.

Remember to Take it Easy-
You’ve learned how to hike with all the weight on your back and now it’s time to test out your skills.  Go out on a practice trip, called a “shakedown” by hikers.  Pack up your gear and do a backpacking trip for a night or two.  Testing out your gear and your trail legs is a great way to build up confidence for your long-distance trip.  Give yourself plenty of daylight hours to get to your destination and take as many breaks as you feel you need.  A steady pace will help you build your endurance for the longer days ahead.

Now that you're in hiking shape, make sure you're trail ready!  Check out my posts on how to pack your backpack, gear you should leave at home, and even how to avoid and treat common hiking injuries.  Of course, after you do all that, make sure you thank your support crew in advance for all the work they'll be doing for you while you're away!

Do you have a long hike coming up in the near future? I’d love to talk with you about it!  Find me on Facebook or Twitter and we can talk about it.