Are you ready to commit to the monstrous challenge of completing a summer thru-hike? Not everyone is game to spend weeks or months on the trail. But if it's something you hope to accomplish in your lifetime, then what are you waiting for?
Thru-hiking one of the country's iconic trails, like the Pacific Crest Trail or the Appalachian Trail, is a rewarding yet grueling experience. And if you're planning to tackle one this summer, it's about time to start training. There is so much to know about thru-hiking. But here is a brief overview of what you should start thinking about now, if you want to hit the trail this year.
You and your pack are going to bond in ways you never thought possible, and your relationship will be stronger if you're stronger. Strength training enables you to handle the heavy load of your pack, day after day after day. Focus on exercises that build your shoulder and back muscles. Rock climbing or bouldering are excellent ways to get the upper body strength you need for a thru-hike.
The Pacific Crest Trail is 2,650 miles long. The Appalachian trail is 2,200. There are plenty of shorter thru-hikes, and there's always the option to complete just a portion of one of the big ones. But no matter what, you're looking at serious mileage. The more endurance you can build up before the start of your thru-hike, the more enjoyment you'll find along the way. And remember, these hikes are rarely flat. Running around your neighborhood is a good place to start training, but you'll want to incorporate some incline and altitude into your regimen, too. Short hikes, trail running, and hiking with a weighted backpack are all helpful ways to start building your endurance.
Your muscles are going to get stiff and tired on the trail. And with all that exercise on unforgiving terrain, injuries are always a possibility. Stretching is a good way to avoid muscle pulls in your training, and in your thru-hike. Daily stretching will help you recover faster from the day's workout, and hit the trail feeling better the next day. Yoga is a popular way to build flexibility and strength. It also strengthens your core, which you'll need when lugging that pack.
The mental and emotional challenges of thru-hiking can be just as heavy as the physical ones. You are about to embark on an incredible feat. You will have amazing days and you will have days when you want to quit. Talk to people who have done the type of thru-hike you're looking to tackle. They'll have plenty of valuable advice to offer. It's also important to find coping mechanisms that can get you through bad days on the trail. Does listening to music help you relax? Should you schedule time to stop in towns and connect with friends back home? Take some time to think about what will be hardest for you, and how you can overcome those bumps along the way.
The trail is not the place to break in your hiking boots. You'll want to wear them plenty before you start your hike, to save your feet from blisters. (You'll still get blisters. But they won't be as bad if your feet are well-acquainted with your boots.) You should test all of your gear before you begin a thru-hike. You don't want to run into any surprises once you're out there. Practice packing and unpacking your bag with all of the supplies you'll be bringing. The excitement that comes with preparation is half the fun. So enjoy it! And congratulations on taking the first steps towards an incredible accomplishment.
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