From Bill Bryson’s ‘A Walk in the Woods’ to Cheryl Strayed’s ‘Wild’, to the Martin Sheen vehicle ‘The Way’ and beyond, tales of long-distance hikes have been inspiring people and changing their lives for as long as pilgrimages have existed. If you’re tempted to go on one of these journeys yourself, there are a few things you need to do to prepare.
What Kind of Journey to Undertake
The first step is deciding whether you want a full-on wilderness experience or a trek that is more cultural or religious in nature. Someone looking for the first would be disappointed on the Camino Frances across Spain, and anyone hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and expecting a lot of camaraderie from fellow hikers could find themselves very lonely. Other things to consider are whether you want to take a walk in which there are accommodations available nightly or if wild camping is more your style.
Decide How Long
Do you want to walk for six days, six weeks or six months? Even if you only have a short time, you can walk a section of a trail. Many people do the Camino, the Appalachian Trail or other long-distance paths in stages if they can’t afford to take weeks or months out of their lives to complete them.
Get Your Finances in Order
Long-distance hiking is generally not very expensive. You need the right equipment, but once you have that, you will either be camping or spending most of your nights in lodgings. However, you will need to build funds as well as a cushion in case of emergency. You also need to look at your financial obligations. If you are or were a student and took out student loans to pay for college, how will you keep up the payments? If you’re taking time off school for your long walk, will you need to make payments, or will you remain officially enrolled as a student? You may need to talk to school and your lender. Whatever the answer, be sure to factor this in your planning.
What do you need for your journey? Will you be camping or staying in accommodations along the way? Is there a service that will carry your backpack ahead for you that you plan to use? Have you got the right shoes? Many long-distance hikers report that their journeys have been cut short because of having the wrong shoes, so be sure to find a pair that work for you and break them in thoroughly before setting out. You also need to make sure you have the right clothes to protect you from wind, rain and cold.
In addition to buying the right pack and shoes, the other most important element of preparing for your walk is the right training. Even if you regularly engage in another type of exercise, such as cycling or swimming, you need to prepare your body to walk long distances daily, preferably wearing the shoes and pack you plan to take with you. Be sure to include some training hikes that mimic the terrain you’ll be walking if possible. For example, if the walk you’re taking involves a lot of hills, include some hill walking in your preparation.