How To Get In Shape For A Thru-Hike (Physical & Mental Tips)

appalachian trail hiker

Have you dreamed about a trek on the Appalachian Trail? If you’re an avid hiker, you’ve likely considered this trip at least once or twice.

Like all thru-hikes, preparation needs to be a top priority — otherwise, you won’t make it to the finish line. You have to get in shape, mentally and physically, before you start your adventure.

Here are a few tips on how to train for a thru-hike.

What Is Thru-Hiking?

If you don’t know what “thru-hike” means, here’s a quick explanation. By definition, thru-hiking refers to a trip that takes place on a long-distance trail.

For example, you could backpack from Mexico to Canada on the 2,663 mile Pacific Crest Trail. This thru-hike, alongside the Appalachian Trail, tends to be the most well-known option.

There are also several more paths and trails across the United States — and the world!

To complete a “genuine” thru-hike, you need to walk the entire length, even if it takes you a month or more to accomplish. Of course, how you define thru-hiking may differ from someone else’s opinion.

Many hikers choose to work through one section at a time so they don’t need to set aside months for a single trip. It’s up to you to decide whether a 100-mile portion or a 1,000-mile trail makes the most sense.

In any case, you can think about a thru-hike as a hike that spans more than 10 miles.

Ways To Prepare Physically

After you set a date and request vacation time, it’s time to get to work. People train for months just to run 26 miles, so it’s imperative to prepare your body.

If you don’t take this part seriously, you may injure yourself down the line or be unable to make it to the end. You may spend every weekend out on a trail, but that doesn’t mean your body can handle a thru-hike.

Consider these suggestions on how to prepare physically:

1. Do Cardio and Strength Workouts

Create a weekly workout routine that addresses the entire body. Combined with regular strength exercises, cardio can build and tone the muscles you’ll need while thru-hiking.

Even a daily walk can provide benefits. Make sure to try various workouts over time so you can become comfortable with continuous physical activity.

Add a few weights here and there, but don’t forget to rest.

2. Build Your Uphill Endurance

No matter which trail you choose, it’s likely you’ll encounter some steep slopes. These areas won’t be manageable unless you practice beforehand.

You can use a treadmill with an increased incline if your region doesn’t have many hills. As you get closer to your thru-hike, make it a point to carry a weighted backpack.

The more you can simulate certain conditions you’ll encounter in the wild, the better.

3. Create a Meal Plan

When you’re in the middle of the mountains, you can’t order a pizza. You definitely don’t want to starve yourself, but it’s smart to adjust to the food you’ll have access to on the trail.

Now’s a chance to ditch those frozen dinners and try to jazz up a pot of beans and rice. Use your free time to test foods that work well on the trail so you know what to expect.

Of course, you’ll still want to consume a balanced diet while at home.

Remember that what you plan for your trip depends on where you intend to thru-hike. For instance, the Continental Divide Trail spreads across five states — each with different climates and terrain.

Pay attention to these elements so you can adjust your preparations as needed.

Ways to Prepare Mentally

A successful thru-hike requires more than physical fitness. If you’re not strong mentally, it’s not easy to manage the difficulties that a solo excursion can create.

Unless you plan to walk with a partner, you won’t see other humans for days or even weeks at a time. Even though you’ve fantasized about this trip for a while, you’ll likely feel like quitting at least once along the way.

Explore these ideas on how to establish a powerful mindset to prepare yourself for the journey:

1. Learn How to Meditate

A sharp mind matters most when you’re alone. Many people choose thru-hiking as a way to spend time with themselves.

This soul-searching experience can’t happen if you don’t know how to look inward. Set aside a few moments every day to practice meditation and mindfulness before you leave.

This way, when you reach a point when you feel like you can’t continue, you’ll have a way to cope.

2. Talk to Accomplished Thru-Hikers

If you’ve never visited your chosen trail, it’s smart to conduct some research. Find books, documentaries and forums that provide information on what it’s like to thru-hike this particular path.

Write down helpful advice as you come across successful thru-hikers. You can even reach out to them if you find their emails.

You don’t need to spend every day online, but you should put in some work.

3. Complete a Trial Run

Before you set out on a thru-hike, it’s necessary to complete a trial run. You don’t need to overexert yourself, but you should spend at least a weekend on the trail you want to hike.

If you’re unable to travel, find a nearby path that does the job. Remember to bring along some gear so you can test its function and durability.

This practice time matters because you may find you need to train a little longer.

Always remember that your mind matters as much as your body. When it comes time to prepare for your thru-hike, pay attention to your mental strength.

The sharper your psyche, the better the hike. If you can learn how to power through those first few days away from home, you’re ready.

Use These Suggestions to Prepare for Your Next Adventure

Whether you plan to head out on an overnight trip or dedicate four months to a 1,000-mile hike, it’s always crucial to prepare. Use these tips to get in shape for your next thru-hike.

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