tips for long-distance hiking

You’ll know I’ve just returned home from hiking the 51-mile Coleridge Way.

I am still a bit dizzy with jubilation. It was a challenge, yes, but not overly ambitious for me. The scenery was first class and I took so many photos I’ve had to buy more storage space.

Walking is so simple, right? You put one foot in front of the other and keep going until you get to where you want to be. A bit like life really (if only it were that easy).

After my previous blog I thought I would share some simple practical lessons in case it has piqued your interest.

What I won’t do is impose brand names or suggestions for where you should get kit. There are hundreds of websites and bloggers that do that. I’m sure you know where to go if you want that.

When I was searching for information, I found an over-saturation of articles that were essentially collaborations or promotions with corporate brands. To me, they lacked authenticity; there’s always an ad somewhere or a ‘recommendation’. It is easy to fall for that hype so I’m offering ad-free information that is free from bias.

Pick the right route for you

Ignore what is popular, looks good on social media, or has epic reviews. Do one that ignites interest within you. What I loved about this one was the story behind the trail and the opportunity to trace in the footsteps of Coleridge and the Wordsworths. Of course, it helped that the landscape is magnificent. Go about choosing an experience that sets you aflame because it’ll make it even sweeter when you reach the end.

Prepare

Obvious, right? You’d think so. During my Coleridge Way walk I met another hiker who confessed he was struggling because he hadn’t ‘trained for it’. I was initially bemused by his remark, but it does make sense.

If you’re used to a gentle three-mile meander after a Sunday lunch, you’ll be in for a shock if you tackle a vertical climb up to a craggy ridge. In the run-up to the walk I’d completed a series of longer expeditions and wore my kit to get used to how it felt and deal with any potential chafing/rubbing issues (yew-ouch!)

Be realistic

If you’re tackling a long-distance path be realistic about your level of fitness and ability to sustain walking on consecutive days. Look at the terrain too: steep ascents and descents are markedly different to strolling along ribbons of canal paths. Different muscle groups come into play and boy; do you feel it! Some people factor in a rest day and while I didn’t, I probably would on longer trails.

Mind map it

You know from my previous post on this subject, I love geeking out on maps. In all seriousness, having a good look at the route helps you understand how the trail plays out: where the hills are, the fiddly bits where the route chops and changes and any convoluted directions where going off-piste could be easily done. It’ll also help you identify where pubs, cafes and places of interest are which you may want to visit as you’re passing.

Some interactive maps show footpath diversions which are hugely helpful in planning the day rather than experiencing the surprise of a sudden three-mile uphill diversion which adds an hour onto your journey.

Pack well

During my hike there was rain, mist, sunshine, cold autumnal mornings and hot evenings. Layers were essential as was waterproofs, sun-cream, a hat and sunnies. I got it right with wearing comfortable, breathable clothes but lacked layers. At times I fried and others I froze. Lesson learned and I’ll know better next time.

A great rucksack

If you do anything then invest in a great rucksack with an integrated raincover. Carrying your kit will be infinitely harder with a badly fitting one. I spent time ‘trying before buying’ to see how different ones sat against my back and shoulders. It really was time well spent. The one I settled for fitted like a dream and made carrying everything so much easier and the raincover kept contents dry. It was so useful for those typically British downpours! I chucked in a couple plastic bags to use for extra waterproofing too.

Keep your feet sweet

After the first day of 16 miles of ups and downs and arounds, my feet were burning like fire. I’d made a bad choice with my socks. Great socks (chuck in a few pairs if space allows) make a massive difference and a nice clean dry pair is a manna from heaven.

(I never thought I’d see the day I was blogging about the virtues of socks for goodness sake, but there you go).

The old adage about wearing nicely worn-in walking boots holds true too. I took a lightweight pair of sandals to wear when not hiking. Freeing your feet feels frigging great, honest.

Take a travel first aid kit

You know the drill: plasters, antiseptic wipes, dressing, microporous tape, paracetamol. At times your walk may be quite remote and you’ll be so pleased you packed it when the blisters appear or malicious fingers of gorse scissor at your skin.

Eat/drink

Your mood and energy levels can dip quickly through hunger or thirst. Even if you don’t feel either (a lot of the time I didn’t) then try to eat/drink a little and often because – honestly? – hiking is horrible when you feel like shit. Flapjacks, fruit and nut bars, bananas and water are all good.

And finally…

Look, listen, feel

That sounds cringey – maybe I should have said ‘live, laugh, love’ and be done with the corniness. Sorry about that.

Humour me, for a minute. Hiking is a form of time-travelling. You see landscapes that have been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Each day brings something new, even if its been around for centuries. You lose yourself in these places and, simultaneously, discover who you are.

Take time to soak it all up – and take lots of photos!

If you follow some of my tips (and I’ll make a note to do likewise) then you will have a blast, I promise.

Have you walked a long-distance trail or hiked somewhere exciting? Let me know in the comments below.

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I'm a writer, journalist and communications officer based in the South West of England. I write about wellbeing, the outdoors and life in a rural playground.

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