10 Steps to Training for a Long-Distance Hike
With 2021 just around the corner, it's time to start training for next summer's dream hike. The CDT? The PNT? Or maybe something unheard of like a Cascade Volcanoes Thru-hike? Whatever the case may be, here's 10 things I always do, besides walking, to prepare myself for weeks or months on trail. In this post, I'll show you what they are, and why I do them.
Step 1. Training for Movement
When training for a sustained activity such as a long-distance hike, I take time in advance to prepare my entire body. Doing yoga allows me to stretch my muscles and tendons safely, helping to prevent injuries during the effort. When done regularly, yoga makes you more flexible for climbing over and under things gracefully, improves balance for dancing across log crossings, and strengthens your ankles which I use to bomb across talus fields and root carpets - all from the comfort of real carpet! Here's the kind of movements I focus on during my training, to maximize my agility on the trail.
Once on trail, I continue stretching daily plus do poses that promote digestion.
Step 2. Training for Pack Weight
When it comes to training for a long-distance hike, the worst plan of attack is to log a few miles without a pack on then think you're ready to go. To prepare myself for carrying the loaded bags of food and heavy jugs of liquids that I'll need to survive waterless sections and distances between resupplies, I train my upper body as well, especially the arms and shoulders.
Step 3. Training for the Tread
Whatever type of tread you're expecting to encounter during your upcoming hike, do your best to mimic it during your training. Expecting sand? Hit the beach. Expecting steep? Hit the stairs. When compared to simply walking, this step is exponentially more beneficial to conditioning your body for the journey.
Step 4. Training for the Season
What time of year will you be hiking and what kind of seasonal variables are you likely to experience because of that? Train for these things by mimicking them as well. While under those conditions, write down whatever comes to mind that could help improve your comfort or make traveling more enjoyable when exposed to those same conditions again during the actual journey. Then, upgrade your kit or style with the suggestions you thought of and test again, repeating until fully comfortable. Personally, I've gone from carrying a tent to a tarp to a garbage bag then back to a tent again. But we'll come back to that later. For now, let's dive deeper into my training regiment.
Step 5. Building Nerve Force
Expecting sub-freezing temperatures during the hike? Take a cold shower. Expecting 110 degrees? Jump in the sauna! It's better than sitting around waiting for the weather to turn in your favor. Besides, brief exposure to extreme temperatures also helps the body build nerve force.
Maclean's Magazine writes about nerve force saying "In our nerves, therefore, lies our greatest strength; and there, also, our greatest weakness—for when our nerve force becomes depleted, through worry, disease, overwork, abuse, every muscle loses its strength and endurance; every organ becomes partly paralyzed, and the mind becomes befogged." Sounds like a lot of hikers I've met at the end of the day, or late into their career.
Behind brief exposure to hot and cold's ability to generate nerve force is its ability to help the body detox, which lessens toxic burden. This frees up energy that can now be used instead to defend the body from the elements, which translates into having a greater resistance to the elements and a greater level of endurance. If overdone though, the positive effects of hot and cold exposure are voided, and hypothermia or heat exhaustion can set in, so unless you're Wim Hof be careful here.
Step 6. Filling your Reserves
Not to be confused with carbo-loading, nutrient-loading involves filling your micro nutritional reserves as well. In other words, instead of just eating a bunch of empty carbs in hopes of storing energy, now's the time to double-down and eat foods that will boost your immune system (to keep you from getting sick by Covid, Guardia, etc), prevent inflammation (which reduces pain and Ibuprofen use), and build your nutritional reserviors (to stay ahead of nutritional deficiencies during the journey). During my training, I like to include 5-10 organic fruits or vegetables with every meal. On trail, I continue that diet. With health on my side, energy comes naturally.
Step 7: Preparing your Skin
To minimize my risk of sun or wind burn, cancer from radiation, and other skin conditions such as dry skin, chafing, or prolonged wound healing, I prepare my skin ahead of time mainly in 3 ways. First, I apply plant-based lotions that have shea butter, coconut oil, aloe vera, and other anti-inflammatory-rich ingredients that help keep my skin moist and supple. Secondly, I eat silica-rich foods like spinach, peppers, and celery which gives the skin a healthy shine that acts as a natural forcefield against radiation. Overly shiny or tight skin on the other hand is usually a sign of inflammation of some sort. Thirdly, I expose my body to hot & cold water regularly, plus, dry brush my arms and legs in between which helps toughen my skin while simultaneously removing dead skin cells, dried salts, and oil residues. With the skin stimulated, now's a great time to apply essential oils such as tea tree for wound healing, myrrh to remoisturize any chapped or dried skin, or eucalyptus to aid in relieving underlying pains like sore muscles from a lack of training!
Step 8. Recovering from Previous Adventures
Training time also means it's my last chance to pamper whatever lingering injuries I may have from previous adventures. I don't think it's necessary to show up to Mile 0 feeling 100%, but I do think that if left unaided, lingering injuries or ailments can worsen or resurface during a long-distance hike, and are therefore best addressed beforehand. Showing up to the trail healthy makes the next step a lot easier as well.
Step 9. Affording a Long-distance Hike
Don't just train for your upcoming hike, work to save more money than you think you'll need for it. Hotel stays, gear swaps, late night delivery to the trailhead. Even expenses during a short hike can add up quickly.
Step 10. Training for Zero Days
Ah, finally a training step I can do all day! But seriously, to avoid unnecessary Zero Days (days with no forward progress), make sure you're getting plenty of rest in between all of this. If at all possible, show up to each day of your hike feeling rested too. There's no shortage of information online explaining the benefits that sleep has on one's health and performance while awake; however, it's the level in quality of your sleep that determines how productive it was. This is why, whenever I go on a long-distance hike, I always pack an extra cozy sleeping kit (instead of a garbage bag) and will go the extra mile to find a more comfortable resting spot rather than settling for a restless night in an attempt to save energy.
11. Additional Steps
When it comes to preparing yourself for a long-distance hike, it's good to train for expectations, but it's also good to be able to adapt in the moment, to deal with the unexpected as it arrives. These 10 steps outlined above can minimize the known factors of a long-distance hike, but the only way to train yourself for the unknown ones, is to go on a hike and face them firsthand. Then, as with each of these, you can better prepare yourself for them in the future by having already had direct experience, plus time to recover and adapt. In the end, training for a long-distance hike is really, training for life.
Before hitting the trail, I hope you take these 10 steps in advance which I know will improve the comfort and success of your next long-distance hike. That said, I'm always looking to improve my own rate of comfort and success on trail, so tell me, what am I missing here? What other essential training steps do you take in your camp that you think I should know about? Comment below, thanks for sharing, and blessings on the journey.