When I first started hiking, in my early 20s, I was like a young baseball pitcher with an overpowering fastball: I simply hurled myself at every hike with all of my energy and cluelessness, not terribly concerned about whether I hit the metaphorical strike zone. I didn’t think much about how far I was hiking, how rugged the terrain was, how heavy a pack I was carrying—or, to be honest, how much my companions were ready or eager for whatever lunatic plan I was dragging them into. I was young and fit and didn’t really care how much my body ached afterward, so my haphazard strategy worked well enough.
Now, many miles and (too) many years later, I’m more like a veteran hurler who’s learned the benefits of honing a repertoire of off-speed pitches. Hiking and backpacking can be hard on your body. But over the years, I’ve learned various tricks to soften the blow of hard miles, and they have helped enable me to hike 20, 30, even 40 miles in a day. No matter how far you want to hike, the tips that follow will make those miles a little easier.
While it’s natural to think that walking is walking and there are no secrets to doing it better—after all, most of us have been walking since we were about a year old—as with many endurance sports, there are ways to hike a trail more efficiently, conserving energy and reducing the physical toll that brings on fatigue.
Here are mine.
No. 1 Be Fit
This one seems obvious, but we all know it’s easy to fall off track and find yourself struggling at the outset of a dayhike or backpacking trip because you’re in less-than-optimum physical condition. Maintain a regular exercise program so that you hit the trail with a good base of fitness—the better your physical condition, the more you’ll enjoy whatever distance you hike, and the less likely you are to get hurt.