There’s nothing like hiking a long trail. Whether it’s 200 miles on the John Muir Trail or 3,000 miles on the Continental Divide Trail, the rhythm and routine of hiking day after day delivers unmatched rewards. But the experience will be a lot sweeter if you’re ready for logging big miles everyday. That requires a trifecta of fitness, self-care, and mental resilience. Here’s how to get started.
Endurance and Strength
They say the best way to get ready for climbing mountains is to climb mountains. The same goes for thru-hiking: Nothing prepares you for backpacking 20 miles a day like backpacking 20 miles a day. Putting in that kind of training time is unrealistic for most folks, but you can still increase endurance and strength before you hit the trail.
Start Hiking and/or Running
Whatever your base level fitness is, start building cardio endurance and leg strength with regular hikes and runs. Begin training at least three months before your hike (more if you haven’t been regularly active). Schedule one or two rest days per week and gradually build to the distances you’ll be tackling. Listen to your body.
Increase Distance Slowly
Runners training for marathons and ultramarathons generally try not to increase mileage by more than 10% per week. That helps prevent overuse injuries, allowing your body to gradually adapt to longer distances. Hikers can follow the same principle to safely build up endurance, but can add slightly more distance, more quickly, since hiking is lower impact.
Train Your Feet
At the same time you’re training cardiovascular stamina, you should be thinking about the endurance of your feet. Going on long, slow hikes (as opposed to running on a treadmill) toughens your feet—and gives you a chance to make sure your sock/shoe system is dialed for the trail.
Maintain your cardio training but give joints a rest by cross-training. Try swimming, cycling, or Nordic skiing.
Mimic the Terrain
Find trails with terrain and steepness that mimic your target trail. No hills nearby? Use a stadium or other buildings with stairs to train for elevation change.
Even a lightweight pack requires upper, core, and lower body strength. Gradually increase the weight of your training pack until it’s equal to the heaviest load you’ll carry on the trail. Also, add strength work in a gym or at home, two to three times a week.