5 Key Elements to Help You Prepare For a Long Hike

When it comes to knowing how to prepare for a long hike, I’ve found that the following 5 elements are key:

  1. You need to know how to navigate the trail so you don’t get lost.
  2. You need to be physically prepared for it.
  3. You need to have the proper supplies (food, water, safety stuff).
  4. You need to wear the proper clothing depending on the weather.
  5. Always do a long hike with enough daylight to spare.

Now before I continue and get into the specifics of these very important elements, there’s an important question that we need to answer and that is:

What’s considered a long hike?

how to prepare for a long hike

To me, a long hike is any trail over 10 miles long and this is based on a few things:

My own long hikes that I’ve done, especially in 2021 (I’ll talk about that in a moment). They ranged from 10 miles and up to 17 (in one day). In 2022, I intend to get to about 30 mile hikes in one day.

Second, if you see what others are saying (A Google search on how long a long hike is), the general consensus is 10+ miles.

So for the remainder of this post, we’re going to consider 10 or more miles to be considered a long hike and frankly, its a physical skill and experience that carries over to even longer trails and here’s what I mean:

If you can pretty easily hike 10 miles or more (and feel great the next day), there’s a good chance you’re prepared to do even more serious/longer trails like the Long Path (420 miles) or even the Appalachian (2,500 miles) and Pacific Crest (2,500+ miles) trails.

So let’s continue:

How I learned to prepare myself for long hikes:

I became very inspired in 2021 to do long hikes (in one day) after checking out a YouTube channel called Mediocre ametuer. On that channel, extremely fit people do very long hiking trails, often in one day. I find that stunning and extremely motivational and it’s why I started doing this.

When I began, I obviously couldn’t do what these guys could, but I figured with proper training, I could eventually reach their level and so what I started doing was weekly day hikes near NYC where I live, and each time, I’d try to challenge myself more and more.

It began with 5 miles hikes like the Bull Hill Loop Trail or the Reeves Brook Trail in Harriman State Park and it slowly expanded in distance and even combining trails I already did for an extra challenge.

Eventually, I reached a significant growth point in my quest where my abilities rose more than I imagined they could. Here’s 3 moments in which this became clear to me:

  • My 7 mile day hike on Devils Path (hard trail). I never got tired.
  • My 15 mile day hike across 3 different state parks in Finger Lakes. Didn’t get tired either.
  • My 17 mile day hike in Harriman State Park (where I ran into a bear). This trail tired me out, but I made it back to my car with plenty of energy to spare.

While my physical endurance grew (one of the key elements), I also quickly learned that there was more needed to successfully complete long hikes and what I want to do right now is cover each element, it’s importance and how I had to learn the hard way why it’s essential to you completing your own long hikes (don’t make the same mistakes I did).

1) You absolutely have to know how to navigate trails:

how to navigate a trail on a long hike

I can’t tell you how many times I got lost in the woods in 2021.

It’s a freaky situation to be in if you’re not careful, not to mention all the stress and panic zaps your energy in significant ways.

I linked an article that will help you become more aware of your surroundings when you hike and when you do your long trails, make sure to know how to read trail markers and just as importantly, map out your hike ahead of time and keep the map on hand at all times.

Sometimes it may become necessary to cut corners or try shortcut trails to save daylight, so the more map and surrounding awareness you have, the better off you’ll be.

If you’re just a beginner, hike easy and short trails at first to become better at this (under 5 miles is considered an easy trail).

I also suggest keeping apps like Alltrails and tools like a compass handy on you (they are great to reference when you’re on your trail).

2) Physical fitness is essential (do the right exercises for your hikes):

best exercises for hiking

I’ve found the following exercises are pivotal to your endurance on a hike, especially ones that require you scramble upwards:

1) Stair master or just walking up the stairs (this is the best exercise for hiking). In my case, I reached a point where I was doing 1,000 steps on the stair master. Just make sure you stretch your legs and behind afterwards.

2) Burpees. These are great if you intend to do trail runs. There’s a lot of explosive motion involved in trail running and these exercises help your body prepare for it.

3) Swimming. Swimming is just good all around and in regards to hiking, it will just help your gas tank last longer on the hike.

4) Lifting. Odds are, when you go on a long hike, you’ll be carrying a backpack with a lot of weight in it (the most I’ve carried was 30 pounds) and being able to walk/jog/hike with that on you is huge. The lifting exercises I’ve done include kettle bell swings, barbell lifts and walking with weights on you.

5) Calesthetic exercises. Pull ups, pushups, leg raises while doing pull ups are huge for your body’s muscle mass to become strong. This will help you greatly.

3) Carry proper supplies, especially for long hikes:

the supplies I bring on a long hike 02

There’s a few things I suggest you keep you on for a long hike. Most of these come from my post on essential things to bring on a hike, but here’s the quick list:

  • A backpack to carry most of your supplies. I use this Outdoor products hydration backpack.
  • Water. I typically carry about 4 liters of water on me (for 10 or more miles).
  • pH salts. This is very important and I mix that with 1 of the liters of water I carry (it prevents cramps).
  • Candy bars or a snack. Typically I will carry about 500-1,000 calories of food on me.
  • Bear spray. This is huge, especially if you’re hiking where bears are known to be.
  • Trekking poles. If you ever get tired (which you will on a long hike), trekking poles will help you go further and longer on your hike. I use the Trailbuddy Trekking Poles and they are amazing. I can easily hike 2-3x longer thanks to them.
  • A change of clothes (if and when I get too sweaty, I’ll wash up, change shirts and this helps a lot).
  • Compass (maps, Alltrails app).

For a 10 mile hike, this should be plenty for you and it should all ideally be able to fit in your backpack.

Now of course, you should adjust your supplies based on what you expect to be on the hike (element 1). If you expect to do rope climbing or other crazy stuff, add the necessary supplies according to that.

4) Proper clothing and gear is also necessary:

what to wear for a long hike

The better the quality of the gear you wear, the easier and more fun your long hike will be and the thing is you don’t need to be overly fancy and buy the most expensive stuff, but I would invest in certain gear that really does match it’s price in the value you get out of it. Here’s the typical stuff I wear:

Salomon Speedcross trail running shoes (they make hiking a lot easier). Another option (if you prefer hiking/walking over trail running) would be simple but good hiking shoes like the Ozark hiking shoes I have worn for at least 50 miles.

Rash guard shirt. You’ll sweat a lot and these shirts will absorb that.

Waterproof socks. I typically wear either the Showers Pass or Randy sun waterproof socks. Most of your hikes, especially the long ones will usually have mud, water (or rain) involved and trust me when I say, you don’t want your feet to get wet and risk problems. Waterproof socks are a great investment in just about any type of hiking environment (rain, snow, mud, cold, hot, ect…).

I also recommend reading the following 2 articles I’ve written on what to wear depending on the weather conditions:

Each circumstance/situation requires it’s own things you should wear to make sure the conditions don’t screw up your hike.

5) Make sure you do a long hike with enough daylight to spare:

sun setting in the woods long hike

Unless you plan on camping somewhere, you’re likely going to be doing a day hike the way I do and trust me when I say, the last thing you ever want is to be stuck on a trail when the sun is setting or it’s dark. It’s a terror inducing feeling (unless you know where you’re going), but to prevent this problem from happening, here’s a few tips:

1) I suggest doing hikes in the spring and summer. You just have more daylight to spare then and this is key to long hikes since you’ll likely be on a trail for at least 10 hours so give yourself at least 12 hours of daylight for it until you become more confident.

2) Always leave super early to arrive at the trail you’re taking around the time the sun is rising (You give yourself maximum daylight).

3) I would avoid hiking in the winter because the sun does set a lot earlier and unless you’re experienced and can manage your time/hiking/distance to avoid the dark, don’t do it.

4) Know that the sun typically sets a lot faster in the woods than it does in places like a city. This is because the elevation is a lot higher. Think of it this way: If the sun typically sets at 8 p.m your time in the city, make sure you’re done with your long hike by 5-6 p.m as it’ll likely feel a lot darker in the woods by the 5-6 p.m time frame.

You will likely have moments on a long hike where you’ll want to stop, relax, eat or you’ll even get lost and will need to retrace your steps. Any extra amount of daylight you have if and when those moments happen will work to your advantage. It just becomes all the more difficult the darker it gets and the best thing to do is just avoid such a scenario.

Why you need all 5 elements to properly prepare for your long hike:

I’ve learned the hard way that cutting corners or not taking a long hike seriously could truly endanger your life and that the best place to be is to make sure all 5 elements are in place before you go. Here’s a few examples:

  1. Despite being physically fit (element 2), I’ve gotten lost too many times because I needed to work on my navigation skills (element 1).
  2. Despite having a lot of water, I didn’t bring all the supplies I needed (element 3) on one of my long hikes and thus I had cramps with 5 more miles to go (this was a seriously bad situation I was in).
  3. Because I didn’t wear waterproof socks (element 4), I had to hike in mud and thus had massive problems hiking with the mud drying up and rubbing against my feet (calluses).
  4. I’ve had moments where I’ve started a hike late (lack of element 5) and ended up barely finishing the trail when it was dark (had to walk around with flashlights).

I could honestly cite a number of other bad situations I’ve been in throughout the period I learned this, but the good news is that I actually did learn from my mistakes and with every hike I did post every learning experience, I learned and applied more and more.

Thankfully, nowadays when I go hiking, even though I still learn more every time, I can tell you that applying these 5 elements has kept me safe, sane, and able to finish every long hike I’ve done so far.

After awhile, I can tell you that it’s easy to apply these things and it becomes second nature for the most part. So if you’re planning a long hike, make sure to apply these elements and it’ll help you have a safer and better time altogether!

If you have any questions or want to share your thoughts and experiences on what you personally do to prepare for a long hike, let me know below 🙂

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