Do you want to hike more miles in a day without injuring yourself or not being able to get out of bed the next day?
Increasing daily mileage is a common goal for backpackers and hikers. Whether it’s because you want to expand the trails and trips available to you during your limited time off work, or because you need to finish a thru-hike within a weather window, or for entirely different reasons, here are the strategies I’ve used over the course of 8,000+ miles to consistently hike 30+ mile days.
To be clear, I’m not telling you this should be your goal. I’m simply sharing strategies I’ve used to increase daily mileage while remaining largely injury-free. As always, take what serves you and leave the rest.
Fuel for Performance
Hiking all day puts a lot of demands on the body. To reduce inflammation, optimize recovery, and have more stable and abundant energy, what you eat matters. Eating healthy doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. The simplest advice is to focus on eating mostly whole foods. That means things like veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, or anything without an ingredient label. Your body will digest these types of foods better, giving you more energy for hiking. This doesn’t mean there’s no room for treats. Just aim for 80% of your calories to come from real food.
Be sure to consume adequate calories, including enough of each macronutrient (protein, fat, and carbs). Eat and drink water regularly throughout the day. On a long hike, I snack (200-300 calories) at least once every 2 hours.
Hike Longer, Not Faster
Trying to hike faster, at a pace that’s not natural to you, usually doesn’t work, and it can often lead to injury. A more effective strategy is to put in more hours. Start earlier in the day, take shorter breaks, and hike later into the afternoon. I like to organize my gear the night before, so I’m ready to hit the trail in the morning. I also look at my maps for the next day to avoid (as much as possible) getting off route. In the mornings, I put snacks in convenient spots so I don’t need to dig into my pack every time I’m hungry.
Being intentional with what does and does not go into your pack serves a variety of purposes. First, carrying a lighter load is easier on the body. It requires less energy to carry a lighter weight, so you can hike further with less exhaustion. Additionally, carrying fewer items simplifies setting up and taking down camp, creating more time for hiking. There’s a lot to share about how to carry less safely, but that’s a topic for a different post.
Build Miles Gradually
Too much, too soon is a surefire recipe for an overuse injury. Many hikers hit the trail with a lot of exuberance and not much training under their belt, only to end up sidelined shortly thereafter with shin splints, plantar fasciitis, or knee pain, or other inflammatory injuries. Much of this can be avoided by building miles the smart way. In general, this looks like increasing mileage by no more than 10% each week, taking practice hikes with a pack on, and including adequate recovery.
To perform well, your body needs proper rest. A big part of recovery occurs during sleep. Optimize sleep through basic sleep hygiene, like cutting off stimulants after noon, sleeping in a dark, cool environment, limiting blue light exposure in the evening, and maintaining a consistent sleep and wake time. Other recovery exercises that can move lactic acid out of the body and help you perform better include foam rolling (a water bottle can suffice o on trail) and stretching.
Master Your Mindset
“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” This famous Henry Ford quote sums it up pretty well. To achieve anything, you must first believe you’re capable. When I was first getting into long distance hiking, the thought of hiking more than 15 miles in a day seemed absurd. The more time I spent in the community watching others do this, the more it seems achievable for me. For anything you want to achieve in life, it helps to see that there are others already doing it, and to see that they’re no different than you. It may take work to build up to your goal, but with time, you can absolutely get there!
For the complete blueprint on preparing your body inside and out for a healthy adventure, take the Adventure Ready course.