Taking your hikes from simple one to two mile loops to the longer, and generally more exciting hikes can be a challenge for some. There are many reasons to up the mileage on your hikes. Many do it for the fitness benefit, and a long hike can be a great way to get into shape. Others have a certain destination in mind, and some of the best and most remote places require several mile hikes one way before you reach that coveted destination. So if you’re ready to take longer hikes, here are some tips to make the transition easier for you and your companions.
Proper conditioning is a pretty obvious first step, but if you’re planning on hiking more to increase fitness, it can sound redundant: “get in shape to hike more to get in shape.” That said, you’ll want to start a light regiment of lunges, and work on your quads and thighs. Some good core work like crunches can’t hurt either. Finally, some light jogging as the weather warms up can do a lot to get you in better shape to tackle those longer hikes you’re desiring.
A good base workout before you begin hiking is a good start, but you’ll want to ease yourself into hiking longer as well. Don’t start with the extreme hike you’ve always wanted to do. Instead find a hike that is just over the threshold of what you usually do, and start there. Next time you can add a mile or two and work your way up to those longer days and more substantial hikes. Make sure your hiking partner (if present) is in the same shape and desire for those hikes as you are.
A hike is not a sprint, and it is certainly not a race. Pacing yourself becomes an important factor in hiking longer, and you’ll want to find a rhythm that is comfortable for you. A good hiking pace involves a period of effort followed by stopping, breathing and resting briefly. Set goals for yourself as you hike like: “I’ll get over that next ridge and stop to rest and hydrate.” Finding a groove like that will take you farther on your hike. Don’t forget that those first few minutes can be the hardest. Most will find that after their first cycle (effort, drink, rest and repeat), their body is generally more accepting of the activity, and hiking feels much easier, at least until they reach a certain level of exhaustion. You can call this getting over the hump, or that feeling when your body gets in the rhythm for a hike. Most will know it when they experience it, and it can be a great feeling and help motivate you to keep trucking down the trail.
A common mistake in hiking is to wear the wrong footwear. You’ll see trail runners while you’re hiking with lightweight, low top trail running shoes, and footwear like that can be great when you’re only hiking mostly flat, well-groomed trails. But when you start to add a lot of wayward boulders and angled rocks that you have to scurry up and down to the trail, and you’ll be better off wearing a slightly heavier boot with some ankle support. This can make a big difference on the wear inflicted on your ankles, and it can even save you from an injury. Think about it, after a day of stepping back and forth up uneven rocks and hiking down inclines where your ankles can take a beating, your feet can feel pretty beaten up, and this is a great time to sprain an ankle when you’re not careful or you’re getting tired. Instead wear a pair of boots that reduces ankle strain and you’ll get farther without feeling like your ankles are shot.
Hiking poles can be another way to reduce the likelihood of injury and make climbing up and down rocky paths easier. Just make sure you get proper hiking poles sized to your frame and made specifically for the trail, not skiing. Those hiking poles will reduce strain on your legs and make it easier to get in a couple more miles that day. They can also be of use if you ever plan to snowshoe in the winter or if you need to cross a deeper stream with only a few rocks to balance on.
Time and time again, we talk about bringing all you need to be prepared for the worst. What happens if you get lost and you only have one energy bar? Or worse, what happens when it’s getting late and you might have to stay the night in the bush? These will always be important factors to consider, but you’ll have to balance these needs with the fact that you want to cover a lot of ground, and a heavy pack isn’t going to make that very easy. Try resetting your pack to hold only the bare essentials, or get a hydration pack gear pockets and reduce some of your water bottle weight. It’s up to you what is truly necessary, and it will depend on the usual weather and terrain you hike in. Resist the temptation to go light on your water supply, because being dehydrated isn’t going to make hiking any easier, that you can be sure of.