Even the worst of couch potatoes can see beautiful vistas and jaw-dropping scenery thanks to technology and access to the internet. But for some, the nature soaked images are not enough — we crave dirt under our feet, fresh air coursing through our lungs and the ache in our muscles that only a long day of hiking can bring.
There’s no shortcut or easy way out to prepare for an epic walk, but these tips will facilitate your journey towards ambitious hiking goals like the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Northwest Trail.
Give Yourself Months to Prepare
Just like marathon training, getting ready for a long hike is best when built-up over several months. If you only go to the gym a few times a week or play pickup games of soccer on Saturday afternoons, you’re most at risk for lulling yourself into a false sense of security.
Hiking for multiple days is a feat of endurance — every day is leg day. You can’t go home to a hot shower and relax with some cold ones if your workout on the trail goes sour. Hiking experts recommend a minimum of six months to prepare.
Invest in Good-Fitting and Well-Made Footwear
Have you ever gotten really into running? The most common rookie advice is to invest in good-fitting, well-made shoe. You’ll be on your feet for hours at a time every day of your hike, so you’ll want your shoes to fit as perfectly as a glass slipper on Cinderella.
Cross-training shoes are mostly appropriate for hiking, not running shoes. Remember to replace your shoes when they show signs of wear — nothing kills a good hike as quickly as a blister.
Pick the Right Exercises
Just like people can mistake rowers for relying on arm strength — it’s all in the legs — inexperienced hikers often only develop their thighs and calves while training. Take into consideration that multi-day hikes require backpacking gear. A strong core will help you carry your pack and support your entire frame. Strong arms will assist in clearing clutter on the trail or picking up your bag.
In short, hiking is a full body sport. Ideally, you’ll be working all your core muscle groups to prepare. Hiking is also stressful on the body. Consider adding yoga into your routine to avoid back pain, shin splints and a stiff neck. Your body will need to perform every single day, so nurture it with yoga to balance the beating it will receive from hours on your feet.
Download Some Apps
There are a ton of hiking apps that can save you from getting lost, eating a poisonous plant or finding yourself caught in a rainstorm. Like marathon training, there are also apps that help you keep your training organized, on schedule and effective.
Now, don’t let this stop you if you want the roughest experience possible of venturing into the wilderness with no cell phone. But for the sake of emergencies, it’s a good idea to bring a phone — you can keep it turned off at all other times to feel that sense of solitude.
So, when you’re ready to leave the developed world and get out into nature for a few weeks or months, do it mindfully. Patience, discipline and foresight will prevent you from becoming another Christopher McCandless statistic.
Scott Huntington is a writer from central Pennsylvania. He enjoys working on his home and garden with his wife and 2 kids. Follow him on Twitter @SMHuntington