Have you found yourself dreaming of hitting the trails lately? Maybe even started looking at prospective destinations for your first thru-hike?
You’re not alone. It’s the dream of any nature-lover: just you, the trail beneath your feet, and the skies overhead.
But whether your exploring areas close to home, like Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon, or heading out to the mountains and coasts beyond, preparing for an extended hike is a challenge. And to meet that challenge, you need to start preparing now.
Getting in Shape for a Thru-Hike
Like running a marathon, many athletes are drawn to the idea of a thru-hike because of the physical challenge that they promise. However, it takes more than just some extra cardio to carry on for days or weeks at a time, and if you begin ill-prepared you can find yourself in over your head.
To get ready for a long hike, you need to build strength, endurance, and prepare for the specific challenges of crossing long distances of uneven terrain. Some ways to improve these areas include:
The common wisdom is that flexibility training is the prime factor in preventing injury. And when you’re out on the trail, an injury is the absolute last thing you need.
Yoga is also great for building those core muscles that see a lot of use during backpacking. And the breathing exercises that accompany it will help you keep a steady pace during difficult stretches.
Strength and Endurance Training
Not that you should be skipping leg day, but back and lower body strength will be especially important in a thru-hike.
While a foundation of strength is important, you’ll get as much or more utility out of building up endurance. So focus more on that than just doing a few reps of heavy lifts.
And remember to ease yourself into it. Backpacking requires the use of a lot of joints that you wouldn’t normally use much in your day-to-day life. So it’s important to ease into your regimen to help them adapt to the pressures they’ll be under.
Prepare for the Elevation
A lot of the joy of a thru-hike is traveling through landscapes that you’d likely never be able to see otherwise. The trade-off, however, is that you’ll often spend at least a significant portion of your hike on an incline.
Aside from the extra work of walking uphill, there is the added issue of elevation.
Las Vegas sits about 2,000 feet above sea level. That’s still low enough that if you find yourself hiking in areas at more than 10,000 feet, you might not be used to the change in altitude.
Most beginner-level hikes are probably not severe enough to give you altitude sickness, but if you’re heading up into the hills then it’s all the more reason to work on increasing your lung capacity.
Even at low altitudes, just having more air in the tank will help you keep pace for longer.
It’s Just One Foot in Front of the Other
A thru-hike is a challenge, unlike any other athletic endeavor.
But when you’ve completed it, you will be able to look back on the sheer distance that you’ve crossed on nothing but your own two legs. There is a unique sense of achievement in that.
One final thing to consider is the climate that you’ll be hiking in. Here in Las Vegas, the heat can feel oppressive at the best of times. So if you’ll be taking your first thru-hike close to home, check out our tips on how to manage an extreme workout in the extreme heat.