Monday, 5 June 2017

Training for a long(er) hike.

In the Kaimai Ranges
I will preface this by saying the longest hike I have done is 5 days, 82km and most of my hiking is generally two days one night. So if you’re looking for advice when preparing for a long through hike (weeks – months long) this isn’t necessarily aimed at you, however it will still be somewhat helpful. This post is more for those looking to go from an over nighter to several days (3-5 days).

My first longer hike was Around the Mountain, Ruapehu. It was amazing, but painful. Day one was long and tough, day two was tough, day three was ok, but I was getting worn down, and day four was an easy walk, but still a painful shuffle. I found two things in particular that were difficult, the weight of my pack on my shoulders, and the stress on my feet and calves. Now my pack was on the heavy end (21kg) but not crazy and I’m generally in good shape. I just wasn’t prepared for 6-10 hours per day walking with a heavy pack.

I’ve not yet seen any wonder program of special exercises to prepare one for multi day hiking, and I really doubt one exists, sure some general strength work (squat and deadlift) and maybe some unilateral work (step ups, Bulgarian squats) will help but when it comes down to it I think the training that will make the most difference is time on your feet and time under a heavy pack.

Mt Ruapehu

I’ve said before with regard to running that you need time on your feet and hiking is no different. Hiking is a long time with a heavy pack, plugging away on your feet, and the only way to replicate this stress is to put a heavy weight on your back (and therefore your feet) and clock up some distance. Again with the weight of the pack on your shoulders, once you have some meat on your upper back from weight training the only other thing that will help is to build up some resilience but having the weight on your back for a long time. Now I know this isn’t the most accessible training in terms of time, but I’ll address this later.

In the lead up to my hike across the Kaimai Ranges my plan was to get out each weekend for two months prior and get in 6-8 hours, 20 odd kilometres with a 20kg pack on. The plan was to weight my pack up to 20kg, as that would be the max weight to start the hike with. The plan was then to head out early on either a Saturday or Sunday to cover 10-20km, either on the road around home, or sections of bush within close driving distance. This didn’t quite work out as I was very busy in the lead up to the end of the year, but I was able to get some time between Christmas and New Years to get out hiking under my pack.

I started easy with 1-2 hours, then 2-3 hours just to ease into it, get the back and feet used to hiking again, as I hadn’t been out for a while. After this short warm up I ramped up the time on my feet, and the distance covered to better replicate the distance I would be covering on the North South track. I was also able to get out with some friends to the Crosbie’s hut, and used this as training as well. In total I got only 5 days of training in, but it was 5 days on my feet, under a 20kg pack, preparing my feet and back for the challenge ahead.

Mt William

On the way up Mt William

Table Mountain from Crosbies hut

I can say that even this little bit of training made a noticeable difference, I didn’t get any soreness in my shoulders until the fourth day, and even the fifth day wasn’t that bad. My feet held up really well also, they were a little worn out by the end, but never that sore.

I was only able to get this level of training in as I was on holiday, however it is still possible to simulate during the work week or weekend. One option is to have a weighted pack ready to go either after work (or before) or after dinner to get an hour in walking around the block. Even better would be 1-3 hours or more during the weekend. Either getting out before lunch, or if possible pack a lunch and go for the whole day. Ideally spend 6-8 hours hiking, but any amount you can get in will help. I did all of my training on trails, however this isn’t necessary, footpaths and road will work just fine as its really just about building up time on your feet. I do think that adding as many hills as you can will do you good though. It really boils down to weight a pack, and walk around for as long as you are able, as many times as possible before your big adventure. Just don’t go overboard and get hurt.

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