There’s nothing quite like a long-distance hike.
Imagine being away from the hustle and bustle of the city for weeks or even months on end. You’ve got little to no indoor plumbing, zero modern comforts and you’ll probably be wearing the same clothes for the entire trip.
The catch? You get to enjoy the raw beauty of the great outdoors, up close and personal.
Long-distance hikes can be life-changing. And for that reason, you shouldn’t embark on one without adequate preparation. These hikes are no weekend excursion: you’ll be traveling at least a hundred miles on foot with only the bare essentials, so make sure you’ve got all your bases covered before going on your epic journey.
Here’s how you can prepare for long-distance hikes:
Initial Preparation and Logistics
Long-distance hikes require serious preparation and logistics.
Start off by picking a trail. There are hundreds of excellent long-distance hiking trails in North America alone. You can take a couple of weeks to hike, say, a section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), or if you’re feeling brave, take 4-5 months thru-hiking all 2,659 miles, from California to the Canadian border.
Whichever long-distance trail tickles your fancy, make sure to read and research everything there is to know about it. Here are some factors that you have to consider when planning your hike:
- When do you plan on hiking? Some trails close during the colder months due to inclement weather, so take that into consideration.
- How long will the entire hike take? Plan your daily mileage goal. Don’t forget to factor in your zero days when calculating the duration of the entire hike.
- Will you need to restock your supplies? If so, how many resupply stations are found along the way?
- How many water sources are there? Some trails have sections with no water sources at all, so determine the type of water reservoir and purification system you’ll be bringing with you.
- Which campsites will you spend the night in?
- Do you need special permits to hike? If so, obtain them beforehand.
Getting all these details together will ultimately help you plot out a working schedule and budget. It will also help you determine your hiking pace and the gear you’ll be bringing with you on the trail.
Packing the right gear is essential for a successful long-distance hike. The essential equipment you should pack include the following:
Not all backpacks are created equal. You’d want something that’s big enough to accommodate all of your gear. You also want a backpack that’s made of lightweight, yet durable material--- something that can withstand different types of weather.
As for straps, go with backpacks with nice, wide straps that offer adequate support. Make sure that the material doesn’t dig into your shoulder blades or chafe your skin.
Packs with hip straps are also great as they divert the weight of your pack from your back to your hips and thighs.
Good Hiking Shoes and Socks
Make sure your feet are supported and comfortable for the entire hike by investing in proper footwear. Choose hiking shoes that can withstand various weather and terrain. They should be the right size; they shouldn’t pinch or feel too loose. If you’ve got new hiking shoes, make sure to break them in properly before going on a hike. This is important to prevent the formation of nasty blisters.
The right socks can also make or break your hiking trip as well, so choose a pair of socks that offer protection, support, and adequate warmth.
Trekking poles are essential for hiking! They help you propel yourself better and give support when you’re going uphill or downhill. If you want to hike for longer, using trekking poles is beneficial as they can significantly decrease the stress on your knees and back. To know more about trekking poles, check out this article.
Water Filters and Purification Tablets
You’d need a good water purification system while out on the trail. Should you go for ultralight backpacking water filters or do you just want to use iodine drops, water purification tablets or portable UV purifiers? The choice is ultimately up to you.
Camp Stove and Pot
A camp stove and pot is an easy way to prep food and sterilize water. Invest in a light and easy-to-use camp stove that you can take anywhere.
Tarp or Tent
Depending on your needs and preferences, you can pack a tarp or tent during your long-distance hiking trip. You can check out the pros and cons of each one here. If you want an entirely new experience, you can even forego both and use a hammock for camping instead.
A comfy sleeping bag ensures a good night of sleep. It also protects you from low temperatures and possible hypothermia. Not sure how to choose a good sleeping bag? We’ve got a guide for you here.
Aside from mapping your itinerary and getting all your logistics and gear down pat, you also have to ensure that you’re physically capable of undertaking the trail.
Some trails are more rigorous than others and are therefore more physically demanding, so make sure that you’re physically fit before going on a long-distance hike.
The best way to physically prepare for a hike is to go on a hike.
If you’re conditioning yourself to take on a long-distance trail, go for shorter hikes during the weekend, weeks or even months before your actual trip. These short getaways will help warm your body up for the main event.
It also helps if you hike on similar terrain, so you won’t get a shock when you take on the actual long-distance trail.
If you’re a bit out of shape, you might want to hit the gym or go running to improve your cardio.
Cardio exercises can significantly improve endurance and stamina--- two things you’d definitely need on a long-distance hike. You can even add swimming, jogging or cycling to your workout regimen for variety.
Another great cardio exercise is sprinting. The video above shows how doing short sprints up an incline is one of the best ways to avoid getting too winded on the trail. Run up a small hill, some bleachers or a flight of stairs. This simple workout will get your heart pumping in no time.
While cardio should be your primary focus, don’t forget to throw in some strength training into the mix as well. You’ll definitely need strong muscles to carry your pack better and climb steep parts. You don’t have to do any heavy lifting if you don’t want to; you can get away with simple resistance exercises like lunges, squats, and push-ups to strengthen your muscles.
When you’re working out, be mindful of your posture. People often overlook posture and the right body mechanics when hiking, but these elements are just as important as the exercise itself. Practice walking around with a full pack. Is it too heavy? Too tight around the straps? Adjust it as necessary and make sure you don’t stoop or slouch when it’s on. Take note of the bag’s hip belt or hip straps--- they should go right on your hips, where they’re supposed to.
Lastly, make sure you know how to use your trekking poles properly to fully reap its benefits. Your back should be straight, and your arms should hold your trekking poles at a right angle. Lengthen the poles as you go downhill, and shorten them for uphill climbs.
Food is another important physical aspect of long-distance hikes. Although it’s tempting to bring a ton of food for sustenance, you have to remember that you’ll be out in the backcountry for weeks. You don’t want to load your pack with a lot of heavy food products or utensils unless you want to ditch it halfway through the trail.
High-Calorie, Low Weight
Many hikers go for ultralight foods that are still dense in calories. These foods include:
- Instant ramen noodles
Some even add olive oil into their pasta, rice, or noodles just to bump up their calorie counts.
These foods are easy to prepare and require little fuel and water to cook. When packing foods like this, don’t forget to include condiments like bouillon cubes and seasoning. You can repack these into small tictac containers, so they take less space in your backpack.
Ready To Eat And Freeze-Dried Food
If you’re not keen on cooking on the trail, you can get away with foods that you can eat directly without additional prep like:
- Cured meat
- Dehydrated fruits
These keep well and are considered camp staples. You can also bring tortilla wraps or bagels to go with your cured meats and hard cheese.
Some hikers like to take a pack or two of freeze-dried food on their journey. Albeit pricier than ready-to-eat meals you can find in the grocery store, freeze-dried foods take little space in the bag, weigh close to nothing and can be eaten straight from the package--- all you have to do is add hot water to reconstitute it. They’re also quite tasty, and having a hot meal at the end of a long day on the trail can greatly boost your morale.
If you’re planning to go on a thru-hike, you can pack around six days of food at the beginning of your hike and just resupply along the way. You can always buy more food as you pass by towns or have someone send you a package of food along the trail.
Another important thing to consider while out on a long-distance hike is camp hygiene. There are no hot showers out in the backcountry, and on some days, you may have to make do with just wet wipes. You have to know the best practices when it comes to cleaning yourself and cleaning after yourself.
Some common personal hygiene supplies include:
- Biodegradable soap
- Toothbrush and floss
- Bandana or washcloth
- Zip baggies
- Baking soda
- Hand sanitizer
- Wet wipes
- Tissue paper
Bathing is optional when out in the backcountry. Sometimes, you can just take a “dry bath” and wipe down with baby wipes. Clean important areas like your face, armpits, and groin. Don’t forget to take care of your feet--- wash and dry them to avoid blisters.
When you’re lucky enough to stop by and take a dip in a stream, lake or river, make sure you’re far from where other hikers (at least 200 feet away) gather water so as not to contaminate the water source.
If you’re going for a wash, do it several yards away from the campsite. Make sure to use only biodegradable soap when bathing to prevent disturbing the environment.
Brushing Your Teeth
A tube of toothpaste can weigh your pack down and is generally not great for the ecosystem. Pack baking soda and dental floss instead. Both items can clean your pearly whites thoroughly without harming the environment. Plus, they’re multipurpose. You can use baking soda to deodorize your clothes and tent, and the floss can double as a thread or clothesline.
Leave No Trace
Like every other aspect of outdoor exploring, the main principle surrounding camp hygiene is to leave to trace.
You have to pack in what you pack out. That means you don’t leave any hygiene products like tissue paper, wet wipes, or tampons strewed about.
When long-distance hiking, a trowel or small shovel will be your best friend when you have to answer the call of nature. Make sure that your cat-hole is around 6 inches deep and that you can bury your waste properly. Remember to only dig cat-holes in designated areas. Cover it properly with dirt and other debris once you’re done doing your business.
While it’s generally acceptable to bury tissue paper, most areas prohibit burying products like wet wipes, tampons, and sanitary pads. In cases like these, you have to pack your trash out in a zip baggie (make sure it’s color-coded, so you don’t confuse it with your other plastic bags) and dispose of them properly when you get to the next town.
Other Hygiene Alternatives: Squeeze Bottles and Pee Rags
If you’re not keen on taking a lot of tissue paper with you, there are other hygiene alternatives. One would be to bring a squeeze bottle for washing after you do your business. This helps cut down your tissue paper usage significantly. One can also use natural materials like leaves, moss, and snow in lieu of toilet paper.
A lot of women hikers also advocate bringing a pee rag. A pee rag is basically a bandana that women use to wipe after peeing. After using, one can just hang it on their backpack so it can dry and get sanitized by UV rays. If you want to use a pee rag, make sure it’s color-coded--- you don’t want it to mix with your regular bandana. Wash it regularly as well.
Hygiene can be challenging for women, especially when they’re dealing with their monthly cycles. Instead of using tampons or pads, many female hikers opt for reusable menstrual cups. This helps reduce waste and chances of infection.
One of the most essential yet often overlooked aspects of long-distance hiking is mental preparation.
Keep in mind that long-distance hikes can take their toll on both your body and mind. Even when you're an avid outdoorsman, the whole endeavor can still thrust you out of your comfort zone. You'll encounter situations that are out of your control. Your patience, resilience, and resourcefulness will be tested at each step.
Each person has a different way of dealing with stress, so there's no one way to mentally prep for long-distance hikes. One of the most important things to remember, though, is to be flexible. You may not be able to control a certain situation, but you can certainly control your reaction to it. You must learn to think on your feet and adjust to the situation.
You also have to develop a never-give-up attitude. You gotta find the mental strength to continue the journey, even when it's far from the trip you imagined.
Of course, don't forget to bring your sense of humor and positive outlook. Be ready to connect with other hikers and exchange stories and experiences while on the trail.
Long-distance hikes can be life-changing. Sure, they’re not the easiest outdoor activity out there. In fact, it requires serious preparation and planning. Both your body and mind should be ready for this challenge. Aside from that, you have to pack the right gear, know the do’s and don’ts and carry the right attitude with you.
Still, the payoff is worth the trouble: when you go long-distance hiking, you’ll be able to see the world with brand-new eyes. It’s an experience you won’t likely forget.
Are you going on a long-distance hike? How are you preparing for it? Let us know in the comments below!