It's the beginning of April in Minnesota. Last week, the last snow just melted and yesterday was a beautiful, clear day. A perfect day for a hike! And that's great because my first big hiking/backpacking trip of the season is in two months.

But, I've been nearly sedentary for the past 3 months, barely getting outside due to snow, super cold temps, short days, ... and a myriad of other excuses that are way too easy to come up with. The worst thing I could possibly do would be charge out the door on a 5 mile hike down the local regional trail. After that, my shins would be killing me and I would be stuck inside for at least 3 days. I know this because I've done it before. Fortunately, being the older and wiser hiking dude that I am now, I understand some of the limits of my body.

This year, I just went on a short hike of 1 mile after warming up for about 10 minutes. It felt good. I felt fine the next day so I went on a 2.5 mile hike. The next day, my son and I hiked 2 miles to the store, got ice cream, then hiked home - 4 miles in 80 minutes. We repeated that yesterday, but comparing prices for ice cream at a different store. I ramped back up much faster than I had expected and my legs are feeling fine.

Hiking Preparation


There are two reasons to prepare for hiking. Either you are just starting back into hiking and need to get going or you are training for a big backpacking trek. Both needs have similar preparatory guidelines, with the backpacking event needing a bit more focus.

You really need to prepare three areas before you go out on a serious hike:

  • Hiking muscles - all your leg muscles plus your core body support. Arms and upper body are not that important for hiking.
  • Cardiopulmonary - your lungs and heart need to be fit to supply your body with adequate oxygen.
  • Gear - your feet need to be comfortable with your boots and your hips and shoulders with your pack.

Use these tips and guidelines to safely and effectively get into the hiking life:

  • Ask Your Doctor

     - Before you start any physical activity, you really should get a doctor's blessing. If you've been inactive for awhile, your doctor may recommend other programs or preventive measures.
  • Enjoy It

     - Hiking is recreation which means its supposed to be fun. Take your walks someplace clean and green that you can enjoy.
  • Take a Friend

     - As long as you're practicing hiking in high traffic areas in which you feel safe, you can hike alone. But, for real hikes make sure you have at least one buddy along. It would be great to have this friend do your same hiking schedule, but at least be confident that s/he is capable of completing your planned hike.
  • Be a Turtle

     - start slow and build gradually. Here's a sample schedule for someone in good health just starting to hike:
    DayMilesMinutes
    11/215
    23/420
    31 25
    40 rest
    52 45
    62 40
    70 rest
    82 40
    93 60
    100 rest
    113 60
    123 60
    In two weeks, taking it slowly, you can be on a routine that provides you with recommended amounts of physical exercise using a gradual increase in distance and exertion.
  • Light is Right

     - Carry only water and a first aid kit. Don't weigh yourself down when starting out and hiking in populated areas. Add safety items like a whistle, pepper spray or whatever is necessary where you live, but wait until you are strong before carrying your pack. And, that first aid kit isn't just for you. I got to help out a neighbor boy that fell off his bike because his mom didn't have bandaids along.
  • Stick To It

     - set aside the 30 or 45 minutes religiously for your hiking training and guard it against all those things that creep into life. Do it after dinner before your favorite TV show. Do it in the morning before your shower. Do it after the kids are in bed. Whatever - do it.
  • Fake It

     - On really yuchy days or for any other reason that you can't get out, use a treadmill or stairmaster for exercise. I find these to be awful boring, but if you have MTV or VH-1 in front of you, its not too bad. Any aerobic activity will help your body get and stay fit - I really love swimming and its a super overall exercise, but getting to the pool is a pain for me.
  • Bulk Up

     - Once you are comfortable hiking three miles in an hour, you can start thinking about what you need to carry on an all-day hike. See Packing for a Hike for some suggestions, but you can figure a 5 to 10 pound pack of food, survival items, and clothes. That weight will really vary depending on where and when you are planning to hike for your all-day hikes.
  • Test Yourself

     - If you plan to go on an all-day hike in a couple weeks, its time to test your body to see if it is ready. On your first all-day hike, don't plan to hike more than about 8 miles because you haven't proven yourself yet. At least once before the real hike, set aside enough time to actually hike your planned distance. On your easier training terrain, hike the 8 miles carrying your full pack. See how long it takes you and how your feet, legs, and body feel. If you didn't feel ready to hike even further, then you're probably not ready yet.
  • Self-Evaluation

     - Take an honest look at yourself. Before going on that big hike, be honest with yourself:
    • Physical Skills - Is your body ready for the hike you have planned? Will you be able to hike through the worst weather you might encounter?
    • Outdoors Skills - Do you know enough to survive? You need to be able to build a fire, use a compass, filter water, camp overnight, stay dry, perform first aid, and basically take care of yourself if things go bad.
    • Mental Skills - Are you mentally and emotionally ready to challenge yourself? How will you handle a twisted ankle, sore knees, getting lost, slow pace, dirty hands, a swarm of insects, or any other thing that may pop up unexpectedly? You need to be emotionally flexible and tolerant as well as confident in yourself.
  • Be a Hiking Dude

     - Wake up, pack up, and start hiking! Your first real all-day hike will be great! You may be surprised at how rough the trail is, how thin the air is, and how steep the mountain is, but take it slowly and you'll do fine. Even though you were hiking about 3 miles per hour at home, don't expect to cover more than 2 on the trail. Take your time and enjoy what's around you - it shouldn't be a race.

Now that you are a healthy hiker, your body will be itching for more challenge and variety. If a long distance trek is planned in the coming months, consider these suggestions:

  • Bear the Burden

     - You'll need to increase your pack weight to prepare for all you carry on your trek. Each day of practice, add a couple pounds to your pack until you are at the weight you expect to carry. Don't just load your pack and start carrying full weight or you'll risk blisters, sores, aches, and pains. A backpacking pack will weigh from 20 to 40 pounds.
  • Hike Every Day

     - If you are preparing for a 5-day trek, then go on practice hikes 5 days in a row before taking a rest day. Daily hikes more closely simulate what you'll have on your trek and prepare your feet and joints to the shorter recovery time.
  • hiking trip preparation

    Climb Stairs

     - If you're in a flat-land area and heading on a mountain trek, you'll need to find pretend mountains to climb. Hiking up and down flights of stairs doesn't fall into the enjoyable category, but it worked for Rocky.
  • Toughen Up

     - Your hips and shoulders will take abuse carrying a pack for many days. At least 3 weeks before your trek, make sure you carry the pack you'll be using for all your practice hikes. Toughen up your skin and muscles to prevent irritation on the trail.
  • Take a Deep Breath

     - If you live at low altitude as the vast majority of people do, there's not a lot you can do to get ready for the thin air of a mountain hike. Taking a deep breath and holding it as long as you can will help develop your lung capacity. You can do this any time when you're sitting around. Time yourself and see if you are getting better at it. Other than that, just exercising will develop lung capacity.

Of course, you can always just call your buddy and say, "Hey, let's go hike 12 miles on Saturday up Mt. Brokenfoot!" and you might do just fine. Just don't call me!



Comments:
 Mar 01, 2012 - Rick Mullins
Great info. Have not done a lot of hiking with a backpack, but am planning on going in about two months, so this info is very helpful
Mar 02, 2012 - Jack Bumgarner
Good info.  We're taking our second GC hike in May, and I found your comments right on.
Apr 24, 2012 - Anita Ebrahimpoor
Good Info I have  done a lot of hiking with a backpack and i went E.B.C in Nepal, I need some people take they in E.B.C
May 28, 2012 - Tony Rankin
i begin my first hike in 2 weeks,and will take on all things written here.Sounds good and look forward to posting the results
May 28, 2012 - Hiking Dude
Tony, Rick, and Jack - best of luck on your hikes!  
Jun 05, 2012 - Erynne
My aunt and her friend hiked the 100 Mile Wilderness last year, and I went on parts of it with them! I was NOT ready for it! This year I plan on being better prepared, with tips like these!
Jun 07, 2012 - Matthew Anderson
I did my first long distance hike last year, 92 miles across Scotland and it was great fun.  I was very well prepared but not particularly fit however coped well and only got one blister which with a second skin stayed intact.  I am now doing a minimum 2 walks per week at 20 miles+ and gearing up for a 250 mile walk later in the year and a 400 mile the year after.  After the 400 mile?  Who kows but something challenging!
Jun 07, 2012 - Hiking Dude
Matthew - congratulations on sticking with the hiking after completing your long walk.
Jul 21, 2012 - Laura
Wish my friend and I read this before. We were prepared with first aid kit and water, however, we hiked entirely to far on terrain that we weren't used to. Needless to say, our bodies are punishing us for it now.
Jul 21, 2012 - Hiking Dude
Laura - Ouch!  That's a bummer to hear.  Even with lots of preparation, legs and feet can just wear out when pushed past your normal walking distance.  I've found that doing a couple day-long walks at home before hitting the trail helps get me used to the wear on my legs.
Jul 22, 2012 - Glenda
Getting ready for a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains. Will defintely take your advice on all training skills. All sounds logical to me. Thanks for the help.

Jul 30, 2012 - Lal
Great thing for preparing your lungs and body for a high elevation change is a product by Herbs Etc. Called Chloroxygen. Its a Chlorophyll concentrate made from stinging Nettles and will help oxygenate the blood, thus giving more energy at a higher elevation as the air becomes thinner and it becomes more difficult for the body to get oxygen.. Thought hikers coming from sea level could use this and it WILL help a lot!
Aug 15, 2012 - Rebecca
Thank you for the information!
I'm a beginner to hiking so haven't really challenged myself yet. My brothers and I are planning a hiking trip/holiday next year in Wales (Offa's Dyke) and it's 177.5 miles of hard work! But I'm looking forward to the challenge, and I will, with this guide, have loads of miles of hiking under my belt by then. Thanks again!
Sep 02, 2012 - Dana
Thank you for this info!  I am hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro in 5 months and I couldn't figure out where to start.  I'm starting with your training suggestions - thanks so much.  I have to start somewhere and this is easy and makes total sense.  Thanks for making the start of my training seem less daunting.  
Sep 17, 2012 - Sara J
Thank you for this article and the great tips!  My sister, some friends and myself are going to tackle Pike's Peak in about three weeks.  I've never done any sort of hiking before so I'm going to stick to the easier paths and a two hour time limit (so I dont stroke out or anything).  I'm on the pounchey side for a woman but otherwise in good health and just completed my first marathon with no complications!  I'm confident and excited about the hike but was worried because I dont know what to expect.  Your tips sound great and I will follow your sample schedule starting today!  Again, thank you!
Nov 16, 2012 - Skip
Hey Hiking Dude thanks!
My 11 yo daughter & I are off on our first 2 night hike in  our local mountains (World Heritage Barrington Tops), with a small scout patrol. This happens in 2 weeks, so we ned to get out with our gear and wear it all in ... This hike should be a small step towards our goal => the Over Land Track in Tasmania (est 10 days), but that's a way off.
Your info is straight up and casual, as well as informative, I'll bookmark it for our Scout Troop blog.        
Best, Skip
Dec 17, 2012 - Teresa
Thanx for the advice....I'm planning on going on a two week tour in Israel in about four months, and they're telling me I need to start excersising at least three months before...so this helped.
Feb 19, 2013 - Hike4fun
Cheers hiking dude, your page is still being read and appreciated in 2013!
Feb 20, 2013 - Hiking Dude
Hike4fun - great!  I'm still here in 2013, too.  Planning my Ice Age Trail hike this summer.
Mar 13, 2013 - Sharon
This is great.  My husband and I are planning to do the long range traverse in Newfoundland this summer and starting to get back into shape after the winter.  Also lots of great ideas for future hikes, thanks
Apr 04, 2013 - Tierra
Great and useful information . I think I will be prepared for my first hiking trip . I can't wait.I'm going hiking in a couple of days .... This trip should be fun & adventurous .Thanks a lot Hiking Dude !!!
May 03, 2013 - travelaine
Enjoyed reading your article.  My husband and I are trekking the Salkantay route to Macchu Picchu this summer and are trying to prepare ourselves as much as flatlanders possibly can.  Thanks for taking the time to post this.  Enjoy the Ice Age Trail!
Aug 08, 2013 - Rob
Thanks great info, doing a 3 day hike starting friday for my scout platinum award, great usefull infomtion! :)
Aug 31, 2013 - Katherine Chappelle
After reading thru your site I have found so much that is going to help me get thru my first hike. In September my sister and I are doing 6 canyons in the Grand Circle in 9 days in memory of my grand daughter. Can't wait to use this knowledge and all of the training I have endured for the past year.  
Jan 11, 2014 - Tatiana Wolf
This is good advice me and my mother  want to go hike the Appalachian trail in like 4 years and a bit. We are going to do it all at once the whole six moth trip between high school and collage but we are going to do a lot of training and hocking first
Feb 23, 2014 - Dalton
Hey this is great I am planing of hikeing the Florida trail in a few months it is my first big hike but what kind of gear should I bring do you know any good sites or insights your self

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