It's April! We all know what that means, my fellow northern hemispherers.
It means the local mountain in your town is saying goodbye to snow and waving at you. You wave back and think how much missed them - the way to escape the city rush and listen to yourself in the calm nature with fresh weather. So you open the group chat with your best friends, text them about how the local mountain invites you and make plans of hiking on next Saturday and camping the same night.
But... you've been living a sedentary life for months now. Or maybe, you have never hiked in your life. Either way, you aren't sure if your body can endure miles of hiking. And you're right not to be sure.
Although most hikers hit the trail without any preparation after a long break, there is a right way to prepare to improve your overall outdoors experience.
1- Schedule walking
Walking, obviously, is the most effective preparation you can do prior to your hike. Wait, did I say most? Sorry, I meant second most.
Because the most effective preparation is to schedule walking.
I don't care who you are, how fit you "used to be", how good genetics you have, how you "got it" from birth or your confidence.
If you've been living sedentary for more than 6-8 weeks, cardiovascular training WILL improve your hiking experience. For your body AND your mind.
In my experience, for most people it takes around 2-3 weeks to adapt cardiovascular exercises to a degree (and much less to lose). So instead of walking 3 miles 2 days prior to hitting the trail, just start slowly 2 weeks before, and work your way up.
It's just an example. No-one can tell you what is the BEST for you, you can only figure that yourself with trial and error. The important thing here is to start slow and incorporate progressive overload in time.
2- Incorporate endurance weight training
Most people think weight and cardiovascular training as two separate things. This isn't necessarily wrong, but also not true.
There are 2 different approaches to weight training; strength training and endurance training.
Most of the time, strength training requires progressive overload with weights. Meaning that if you squat 180 lbs for 3 sets and 8 reps today, to build strength, you must be squatting more weight the next time with the same set and rep range. You're trying to build an exploding power; i.e. strength.
On the other hand, endurance training is centered around the principle of progressive overload with duration. For example, if you squat 180 lbs for 3 sets and 8 reps today, to build endurance, you must be squatting the same weight for more sets and/or reps the next time. You're trying to build power that lasts, i.e. endurance.
For hiking, endurance is more important than strength.
You'd benefit building endurance with lunges, squats and deadlifts immensely.
3- Pack the right way
Although most hikers shove their stuff into their pack with no particular organization, there's a correct way to pack your backpack.
For optimal weight distribution, heaviest items should be carried closer to your body. This should be your primary concern while packing, although not the only one.
Check our post here to learn more about the correct way of packing. Plus, there's a bonus checklist!
4- Adjust calories... and your bodyweight
I know, I know... None of you want to hear this. Sorry, "see" this. Yes, it's more like a life preparation than hiking, and most of you won't adjust their calories.
But during hiking, it's very beneficial to stand at the weight that you feel comfortable (duh). So I'll leave the simplest tip below so that you know there's something you can do about it.
Most sedentary people are guilty for being fat. But under this heading I'll cover my skinny fellows as well.
Calorie balance is pretty much the only thing that determines whether you gain or lose weight.
If you want to gain weight, you need to be in a calorie surplus.
If you want to lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit.
Calorie balance determines weight loss/gain - not fat loss/muscle gain.
For example, let's say Bob is 5'10" and 200 lbs and he calculates his TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) as 2100 kcals. To start losing weight for his first hiking after a long break, he must be in a calorie deficit. To do this, he must either intake less than 2100 kcals - or burn more than 2100 kcals.
In most cases, 10-20% surplus/deficit is recommended to gain/lose weight. How much you eat determines you weight gain or lose, NOT what you eat.
5- Don't forget a pack with hip belt
Function of backpack hip belts are extremely important.
They convey the weight of backpack from your shoulders to your legs and hips. Legs and hips form the core strength of your body during hiking, and they are the strongest and largest muscles in your body as Library of Congress explained in 2017.
As a result, hip belt provides longer walks with less exhaustion as the study Epstein et al conducted in 2017 concluded.
If you're going to be hiking uphill or downhill for some time, especially leg flexibility and stretching becomes particularly important.
Believe me, guys, if you have a sedentary lifestyle, you need this even if you won't be hiking in your life once. You'll feel much better walking and sitting straight. Your lifts will go up inside the gym, too.
You don't have to do all the stuff Alan mentions in this video, although you can.
7- Adjust your sleep cycle
This is a little bit different than the previous ones.
At least a week before hiking I'd start waking up at 8-9 am at most (and also going to bed equally early). If you keep going to bed after midnight and waking up at 11 am everyday before hiking, you won't be able to sleep early the night before even if you go to bed, and end up feeling lousy.
Getting enough sleep is crucial for your body performance AND cognitive performance. Yes, body performance seems like the primary reason here, and I don't disagree, but after all, we hit the trail for our own enjoyment. For me, my cognitive condition is as important as my body condition to enjoy fully experience the nature.
Plus... There are very few things that feel better than waking up early in the nature, feeling fresh and enjoying the breathtaking sunrise the morning after camping. I wouldn't risk oversleeping and missing it, guys!