Hiking has both mental and physical challenges associated with it. Here are some methods to help prepare in both areas.
Beyond any research you may have done on the trail, being prepared mentally is just as important as being prepared physically.
The ‘Can Do’ Attitude
Many people are put off by something that sounds too challenging. While they convince themselves to do it anyway, they tend to pull out when things get a little difficult. For the most part we can push the body further than we think. But if the mind’s not fully into it we’ll give up well before we meet our maximum exertion level. By having a ‘Can Do’ attitude we can actually achieve far more than we think.
The easiest way to get a ‘Can Do’ attitude is to stop doubting yourself. If others can climb a mountain there’s no reason you can’t. Always set your sights to the top and not ‘just as far as you can get’. It doesn’t matter how long it takes just that you’re prepared to go the distance. And once you make it all the way next one summit will be easier.
Dissect Your Map
While many people like to hike without much information about the trail, I like to break it down to get an understanding of what I can expect each day. I write a small blurb in my trail book and read it during breakfast to mentally prepare for the day. The blurb might read something like this… “Day begins with steep 500m climb to summit then gentle downhill along ridge line for rest of the day stopping at a lookout then a river crossing before a final short but steep climb to camp.” The blurb also allows me to note points of interest along the way so I can plan my breaks.
Dissecting the map can also be useful to pinpoint any known dangers on the trail. For example, if there’s a strong wind and the trail leads along a ridge line, you’ll be able to prepare accordingly. Or if there has been plentiful rain prior to the hike, the river crossing in the middle of the day may be heavier than usual or there may have been rock slides on cliff top trails.
Hiking is a sustained endurance activity which can take some conditioning to get used to. For the fairly fit, carrying a sizeable pack long distances with some intense climbing shouldn’t pose too much of a problem. But for the first time hiker undertaking a long hike can be challenging and exhausting.
On the first few days of your hike, your body’s not going to like you very much and will probably react something like this:
End of day 1: “I hate you.”
End of day 2: “It hurts, why are you doing this to me?”
End of day 3: “I’m sore but this isn’t so bad after all.”
End of day 4: “Another day on the trail? Let’s do this!”
Day five and onwards: “Sore? Tired? Not me, I’ve been on this trail my entire life!”
The problem is, most hikes finish on Day 3 just when your body’s getting used to the sustained exertion. To lessen this effect trick your body into thinking it’s already been walking for days as follows:
Increase your exercise leading up to the hike, focusing on building leg muscles and increasing your core strength. Squats, step machines and running are all good for this.
Training under weight will condition the body to carrying your pack. Fill your pack with 10-15kgs (22-33lb) of books or stones and walk for about an hour, increasing time and/or weight as you see fit. This can be done on a treadmill or to and from work if you live close enough. If you don’t, you can always get off the bus/train a few stops early and walk the rest of the way.
If you’re first hike is for a week or more, it’s suggested to do an overnight training hike a week or two prior to the major hike. This will not only get you used to the process, but will help you break in the new boots and allow you to recover from any blisters they may cause.
The more you do, the less likely your body is going to complain when you get out on the trail.
The Lone Trail Wanderer