Mountain Education Resources
Getting ready for the long-trail: physical conditioning
It is wonderful that the Pacific Crest Trail or any other long-trail is so attractive to so many, but to consider hiking it end-to-end in one season requires physical training to prepare the body.
Many of our students aspire to do the whole thing and ask, “What’s the best way to get in shape for the trail?” From our standpoint, the only way to thoroughly prepare your body for what you’re going to demand of it from Day One is to start hiking around home. Even backpacking requires specific muscle use, even different from walking or running. So, put your pack on at a trailhead near home and start hiking!
Start easy. No hurry. Pick a trail or route that is flat and simple to walk. Don’t carry a heavy pack at this point. A few miles will do; maybe go out with a picinic lunch and return. The next weekend, pick a trail that involves more up and down, maybe a creek crossing thrown in. As the weekends roll on, increase your distance and elevation gain.
Begin starting at the time of day that you will when you’re on your thru hike to see how many miles is feasible by lunch. In this fashion you will get to know what you can honestly do and not do (accomplish) or even want to do.
Many hikers think that because everyone else is doing 20-mile days that they have to as well. The number of miles you do each day is based on what you want to get out of your hike, your fitness, your exposure and weather, and your schedule. If you want to challenge yourself to long miles, to see if you can do it, by all means go for it. You’re learning about yourself. Just don’t push yourself so hard that you suffer. For most people suffering is not enjoyment and that’s why most of us like hiking, afterall.
If you can, plan your trip with as many days of hiking that allows you the average daily mileage you found works best for you during your preparation hikes.
For example, for my PCT and CDT hikes, I planned on low-mileage days for the first week or two. This allowed my body to get in muscle-specific shape, to work out the blister-problems, and find solutions for the body pains that always start most hikes. After week three, you’ll be in great shape and rhythm and longer days will begin happening quite naturally. By the end of the first month, you’ll be hiking your trip average without any problem.