How do you train for a long distance hike? I get asked this question at least once a week.
Also referred to as a trek, a multi-day hike can seem daunting.
If you’re anything like me, you doubt whether you’re fit enough to do it. You question your ability to carry a heavy pack day after day. I hiked for years before I did more than a 3-day hike. But after doing the Tour du Mont Blanc, consistently rated as one of the most epic hikes in the world, I became obsessed with trekking. I now do at least one 7-day+ hike every year sometimes more. After completing the Tour du Mont Blanc, I’ve since done the Wicklow Way in Ireland, the West Highland Way in Scotland and have even hiked to Everest Base Camp in Nepal.
I don’t believe there’s just one way to train for a long distance hike which is why I asked other hikers for their training tips. Read on for their invaluable tips that will help make your long distance trek worry-free and an incredible experience.
“Hiking can seem very daunting, especially to those who have never really done much walking. My advice would be to start off small. I began by going for a 2-mile walk around my neighbourhood every evening and gradually increased the distance the fitter I got. I eventually decided to try hiking up hills and would use a small local hill for practice.
My first time, I only made it halfway but with determination, I eventually got to the top. It was the best feeling ever! Fitness level is obviously important when it comes to hiking but in my opinion, a determination is just as important, if not more.
I can now hike for miles and climb a mountain or two but I can’t run a mile!”
Founder of HikeBikeTravel.com
“A long distance hike is very rewarding if you’re well prepared. Get in shape physically – whether it’s at a gym, pounding the pavement or weekend hiking as much as you can in the months and weeks leading up to the main event.
It’s hard to replicate a long day of hiking without actually doing it. Make sure your boots are well-broken in but not so old that they’ll fall apart on the trail. If you still get blisters use Compeed to speed their healing.
Practice carrying a knapsack with a weight similar to what you’ll be carrying on the hike itself. Pare back to carry the essentials and I guarantee you will enjoy the hike much more than if you have a heavy pack.
Learn how to manage your energy with regular nutrition. Try a variety of energy bars before you leave to see which ones you like – and which ones give you the boost to keep going.
Be prepared for discomfort. It comes with the territory. But with the right attitude and training, you’ll be sure to have a great time.
Member of Hiking Buddies Munich
“Three hours before reaching the Mont Blanc summit I decided to turn back, as I lost all my power and couldn’t continue. It all started when I joined a much stronger team to attempt Mont Blanc, for the first 5 hours of a long hiking day (around 9 hours).
I was pushing myself too hard to keep up with the speed of the team. I learned that choosing the right skill level of a group that you’ll be hiking with is really important to survive a long hiking day. The wider the gap, you can either get too tired or too bored, Make sure you are enjoying it!”
Margherita Ragg, Co-Founder of the Crowded Planet
“Tackling a long-distance hike for the first time is a very daunting task – after all, on a day hike you can just push yourself to the limit, knowing you can just collapse into your bed at the end of the day… but if you’re on a multi-day hike, you’ll have to get going again the following day!
If you’re planning to go on a hike that lasts a week or longer, I recommend going on a ‘trial run’ for two or three days beforehand, to see how you cope and act accordingly either with extra training or changing your plans.
For example, if you find yourself getting short of breath really easily, you could get some extra cardio training. If you find it hard to carry your backpack you can practice carrying weights, or reduce the weight of your backpack.
Another important recommendation to take into account when planning a long-distance hike is introducing rest days. If you can – not just to give your body a break, but also to enjoy yourself and do some sightseeing!
On our recent hike in the Girona Pyrenees, we did just that – one-day hiking and one resting and sightseeing, and it was great! ”
Frank Parrott of RoarLoud
“The old adage is true, that practice makes perfect. Training for long distances like when we did Kilimanjaro consisted of hiking often and trying to simulate the conditions we would face. We hiked the most challenging mountains in our area. Of course, we don’t have mountains that compare to Kili, but the consistency of hiking as hard as possible increased our endurance.
Endurance increases were also helped by practice outside of hiking. During the week we focused on endurance with trail running. Although not a favorite exercise of mine, I came to appreciate the endurance improvements it made in future hikes.
The practice also included doing the little extras. In the Kilimanjaro example, we knew that altitude was going to play a factor. We got a couple of inexpensive O2 masks to help prepare us for the reduced oxygen.
In the end, practicing what you’ll expect makes a world of difference.”
Laurel Robbins, Monkeys and Mountains Adventure Travel
I agree with all the great advice given above. I hike every weekend which helps with my endurance but I find it extremely useful to do harder day hikes than what I’ll be doing on my long distance trek since on the long distance trek you have to repeat it day after day which is the challenging part.
For example, if a typical day on the long distance hike is 15 km, 1000 m of elevation gain, I’ll try to do day hikes that are 20 km, 1200 m of elevation gain. That way, I’m training for harder conditions than I’ll be encountering which makes the trek much more enjoyable.
Another tip is to try to train on similar terrain. For example, while I hike regularly, I rarely train on stairs. And if you do the gorgeous day-hikes along the Italian Riviera where there are a lot of stairs on the trails, it’s helpful to train on stairs prior to hiking on them for five days straight.
Another training tip that I find useful is doing hard workouts a few days in a row. It’s great if you can do a two or three-day hike before your long distance trek but if this isn’t possible, then do tough hour-long workouts for several days. For example, I might do a difficult strength building workout. The next day my legs will be really sore. The last thing I feel like doing is another leg workout or going for a run or bike ride but I force myself to do it anyway.
That’s what you’ll be doing on your long distance hike – hiking when your legs are burning. And the more that your body gets used to this, the more enjoyable your long distance hike will be.
Also be sure to check out these 7 things that can ruin your long distance trek – and how you can avoid them.
It can be daunting knowing how to train for a long distance hike but by implementing some or all of these tips from experienced hikers your long distance hike can be a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
One that you may just feel the need to repeat regularly as I do :).
I’d love to hear your training tips. Let me know in the comments below.