This article describes what I perceived to be the top 10 most important things to successfully hike an extended distance. It’s not finite, and there are many other lists like it online. Additionally, if you’re planning your own trip, you’ll inevitably discover things which are more important to you than my top 10. Let’s start with a little bit of love.
1 – ‘Foot Love’. Your feet are what will make or break you. You have to look after them, or as my friend ‘Yeti’ says, give them ‘foot love’ each day. This involves any combination of remedies, depending on what you find works for you. For me, it involved spray-on second skin, moleskin patches, Compeed patches, a pin to pop the blisters, a needle and thread to drain fluid and an emu oil based cream to prevent my feet, and particularly my heels from cracking. Good foot care starts though with the right shoes, and most importantly a sock combination to boot! I wore Icebreaker merino wool socks which worked pretty well for me. Others wear double layers, a thin liner sock under a thicker sock. I did find though, the further I walked each day though, the more the sweat built up causing heat spots and rubbing to occur, which ultimately led to blisters. Taking the shoes off every few hours and allowing the feet, and the socks to dry out completely certainly also helps.
2 – Select the Best Gear you can Afford. Preparing to undertake a long distance walk is an expensive exercise, and you can do everything in your power to go as light weight as possible, but there will come a point in your preparation where you need to choose between weight and how much you are willing to spend. At the end of the day, as I say here, you can really only do one thing, and that is select the best lightweight gear that you can afford. Just remember that others before you will have done it tougher than you will and survived, so suck it up, and go forth with a positive attitude.
3 – Watch Your Calorie Count . One area in which you shouldn’t sacrifice weight is on food. However, you will inevitably either over pack or under pack at least once. In doing the latter, be aware when resupplying and purchasing food not to sacrifice too much on your calorie intake per day. When you’re out there, you’re burning ridiculous levels of energy, and the food that you’ll be eating is unlikely to meet your bodies needs, so keeping that in mind, purchase with weight to calorie intake return in mind. While it’s seemingly heavy, olive oil is one of your best hiking condiments for the trail – it’s literally liquid gold for your health. Thank the Greek gods for this little gem!
4 – Water Equals Weight – however, it’s a necessary evil. There are some simple things I learnt when it comes to keeping up your fluids. I left Horseshoe Meadows like I was taking on thousands of miles in the outback. In short, I was packing more than 5 litres of water in various forms. At the end of the day, the rule is KISS. Keep it simple, stupid! By the end of the trip I was packing no more than 2L at a time, often really needing only 1L. This was carried in Gatorade bottles which are lightweight, durable and available at any service station along the track. Nalgenes are heavy, and Camelbaks as good as an idea as they seem, are simply deceptive. I found I was never drinking enough with the Camelbaks, as I was conserving in fear of running out given I couldn’t see the bladder which was tucked safely away in my pack. After ditching both the Camelbak and the Nalgenes, there’s a few hundred grams that were instantly saved.
5 – Only Cary What you Actually Need. Sounds like an obvious point, right? You’d be surprised how industrious you will become if you give up just a few luxury items. What you call luxury, compared to what I call luxury will invariably differ. For example, I made a huge call just a few days in by ditching my rain jacket. The mountain weather is unpredictable, but I had heard that if the skies open in the Sierras, it’s hard and fast and then over. I decided that in the unlikely chance of the heavens opening up, I would pitch my tent and see it out from the inside. It was a decision that saved me from carrying close to half a kilo, but one which could have caused some serious discomfort had it actually rained. I had many other layers, so I feel I was at no risk of further possible complications like hypothermia – and it was Summer.
6 – Keep Your Loved Ones Happy. This ties in with above, in that when it comes to weight I believe that you should carry mobile phones and/or other communication devices which can not only act as risk management equipment for you, but also eases your families minds who may be sitting at home, anxious about your ventures.
7 – You are What You Eat and Drink. I met plenty of people on the trail who would carry a few beers out of resupply destinations, or get hammered as they exited a town. Alcohol and hiking don’t really go hand in hand. For safety’s sake you need to keep your senses sharp and this can be impaired by any drug. Keep off the booze at least while on the trail and enjoy the experience in its unadulterated beauty!
8 – Write & Document. Hiking, surprisingly can become boring, so to ensure that your sanity is maintained, make sure you exercise your brain and creativity by taking as many photos as you feel comfortable with, and write a journal. Journals are not teenage “dear diary’s”, they’re whatever they need to be for you. Write about your day, create a collage, sketch, purge your feelings and tell stories of people you meet. Your journal will quickly become one of your most treasured items in your sack. It’s worth the extra weight too.
9 – Engage. This means totally. Engage in the scenery, engage in others you meet, engage in yourself. Walking any distance is challenging not only on the body, but the mind too. Speak to yourself, figure out the way you tick and build inner strength. Make an effort to speak to others as you go forth, as others on the trail are a wealth of information, and a source of motivation. Engage with others – everyone has a story, and walking for a distance should not be just all about you. The scenery, regardless of how bland or contrasting should be admired. Take it all in and appreciate it for what it is. Life is balanced by immersing yourself in different surroundings.
10 – Listen to your Gut.When you’re researching for your trip, you will come across a wealth of useful, yet conflicting information online. My last piece of advice is simply to listen to your gut. Don’t take advice from others who are in the same (inexperienced) position as you, and trust those that have done what you’re about to do. The whole thing about walking long distances is that it’s a learning experience, and that regardless of how well you have planned, I can tell you that things can go pear shaped and need to be reassessed.
Prepare, and then prepare to be unprepared.
Have fun, and happy hiking!