Out There has been pretty heavy on the winter sports lately (‘tis the season, you know), so I decided to turn back toward our own stomping grounds here, or in some cases, looking ahead to future treks.
One of the great things I’ve seen happen lately is a stronger desire by people to seek out their own adventures. Trekking the Appalachian Trail, hiking the Grand Canyon, or even doing a through-hike of the Ouachita Trail — all these are “dream trips” that might take several days or even weeks. And these are things you don’t just decide to do on a whim.
Even shorter day hikes provide challenges your average weekend warrior might not think of. So before planning your next ambitious wilderness walkabout, take time to consider preparing not just your gear, but your body.
Yep, hiking requires special physical preparation. Unfortunately, it’s not the type of training you can get at the gym or even out on the running trails.
This will sound pretty stupid, but the best way to train for big-time hiking is to go hiking. I know, it sounds silly. But there is sound reasoning behind this.
Let’s say you’re planning to through-hike the Ouachita Trail. Its western end starts in the Kiamichis, and it continues east well into Arkansas. So we’re talking several days, minimum, with a lot of uphill and downhill travel. Spots of the trail will be rocky, braided with tree roots and uneven. Your feet will constantly be turned at different angles.
There’s no doubt you can get in shape on jogging paths at your local park or on the treadmill at your gym. But those paths and machines won’t simulate the uneven ground you’ll face on the trail.
Practice hikes will work muscles in your legs (and the rest of your body) that don’t normally see much work in everyday life (or routine training). So before heading out on that big hike, do some shorter ones that include rougher paths.
The same could be said of training for excursions that might involve some minor climbing. Do you really want to tackle a big mountain route in the Rockies without having tried some scrambling on the lower peaks here? We can’t mimic altitude here (though long, frequent cardio sessions help), but we can practice Class 3, 4 and 5 climbing routes in places less than three hours away.
There’s a lot of other considerations for practice hikes, mostly dealing with clothing, food, campsite selection and so on. Rather than go on about that, I’ll suggest this link from sectionhiker.com: http://sectionhiker.com/2009/04/17/beginner-tip-go-on-practice-hikes/. Truly a great site.
Lastly, I’ll say this: Work up to your ultimate challenge. You don’t do a day hike once every six months, then decide to do the Appalachian Trail. Work up to it, improve your skills and knowledge. By the time you’re ready for your rim-to-rim Grand Canyon trip, you’ll have all the great memories and experience from scores of trips you’ve already made.