Mentally Preparing for a Longer Distance Hike

Everyone has a place in the outdoors and nature welcomes all of us. Nature meets us where we currently are in our lives and the trail gives us what we need, whatever it is that we are looking for. I believe that hiking is 90% mental and 10% physical. The amount of kilometers covered on a “long distance” hike is determined by you and only you. I believe that hiking is a personal endeavour and that no one hikes your hike but you.

I briefly want to touch on the physical demands of hiking before discussing the mental component. I know what makes my body feel good and while speed is not a motivator for me, strength and endurance is. When choosing to go on a longer hike, whether it is day or overnight, we need to meet our bodies where they presently are. While it is incredible to push ourselves physically, mental stamina can only carry us so far if our body is not physically ready for the challenge.

The difficulty-level of trails is something to strongly take into consideration when choosing trails and distance. The trails we want to hike will always be there and if starting off on easier trails for a longer hike would be more gentle on your body, than honour that. If you do not think you can safely finish the hike and there is no where to exit, reconsider the hiking trail you have chosen.

On May Long weekend, I hiked 40 km round trip on Épinette Creek Trails overnight with my husband and our dog, Asha. The truth of the matter is that two days worth of hiking 20 km each way was taxing on my body. I was a lot more active this past winter than I have been in previous years but I am still coming out of hibernation mode. This overnight hike was by far the most strenuous activity that I have done in a long time. If I hike this same trail again in the fall after all of the hiking and cycling that I will do this summer, I almost guarantee that my body will respond differently and in a more positive way.

Mentally Preparing

Set your intention. Why do you want to hike? Knowing your “why” will help keep you rooted and grounded if the time comes that you are feeling defeated. Your intention on the trail doesn’t need to be poetically deep unless that type of thought is authentically you to begin with. The trail is a spiritual place where I feel connected to something larger than myself. That is my intention. What is yours?

Expect an emotional roller coaster and have a self-care plan ready for yourself. I remember feeling lonely while hiking and I yearned for the connections I had back home. I had cell service and was able to text and video chat during breaks and my spirits were lifted that way. Some trails do not have cell service so if times are tough, what can you do?

  • I journal while on the trail and bring multi-coloured pens. Yes, five rainbow-coloured pens may seem excessive but they are special to me and part of self-care on the trail
  • I also very much enjoy reading and love to get lost in the pages of a book while taking a break
  • Yoga and meditation (or simply, quiet uninterrupted reflection) I love the feeling of uneven rock on my bare feet as I focus on my breath and lean deep into a stretch, feeling the air around my body
  • Listen to music, an audio book, or POD cast

Pack a luxury item (or a couple of them) for a morale boost. One of my luxury items is a hammock. I love laying in it on a day hike during an extended break. What are your luxury items?

Hike your own hike (HYOH). HYOH means that you create your own individual style of hiking that resonates with you. HYOH means that you can put in as many kilometers a day as you want and choose gear that works for you and your style. HYOH does not mean that you can disturb other hikers and campers with excessive noise during the day and especially not after Hiker Midnight (9PM) and HYOH is not a free-pass to not clean up after yourself (LEAVE NO TRACE!). All trail etiquette still applies for HYOH.

Choose your crew wisely. Proper communication leading up to the hike is crucial to ensure the goals of group members are similar. Be honest about your experience level and why you want to hike. I take a lot of pictures and make videos, and take extended pauses from physically hiking to read, write, fish, and meditate. My style of trail life would probably drive someone bonkers, and in turn make their hike more mentally taxing, if their goals are not the same as mine.

Keep your gear and backpack organized. Every piece of gear should have a “home” inside your pack. When you are done using it, it goes into its home so that when you need it again, you know exactly where to find it. Being organized helps me to keep my stress levels low.

Research every possible thing you can about the trail you choose to hike. The internet, social media groups, YouTube, and guide books are a wealth of information. The research will allow you to make informed decisions regarding the trail and your goals.

Make yourself aware of current or recent situations on the trail. This ties into researching the trail. Seek this information out and do not leave it for someone else in your group to do. Has there recently been wildlife encounters? Do you know how to properly handle those encounters? Have precautions been put in place by Conservation? What are the current fire regulations? Has a portion of the trail been rerouted or closed? In the age of social media, knowing trail conditions is easier than ever.

Study the trail map and make notes. Chart your route and know a head of time where resources like water sources are. What are the distances between designated camp sites? How is the trail marked? If you are in a group, do not just follow blindly. Know where you are going every step of the way and speak up if you feel something is not right regarding navigation.

Plan for success and fun but prepare for the worst. Ensure that your ten essentials are covered in one way or another. There will always be learning opportunities from the trail whether it is related to gear or the way our bodies (and minds) respond to being on trail. On my hike last weekend, I forgot to bring a mid-weight fleece top to wear at night. I had my down jacket and a base layer and while I got through the night, taking the edge off the chill by wearing fleece would have made me more comfortable. I will *likely* not forget fleece again when camping in cooler weather because I *hopefully* learned my lesson.

2 Comments

  1. Fleece eh? I battle ‘the cold’ seemingly every time I camp/sleep. Last time, I had on three bottom layers, 3 top layers, and my coat, in an old -7 (that’s likely now a 0) this past weekend, I think evening was 5. My base s merino wool, and I hadn’t thought of fleece for a top layer. Will try. Any other thoughts?

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    1. Hi! Something that can make a big difference is a sleeping pad. Do you know the R-value of the one you have? Merino wool for a base layer is great followed by fleece that will trap the heat. Do you wear a toque at night? Grabber makes hand, toe, feet, and body warmers that I use in cooler weather.

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