The degree of challenge of a hike is highly individual and a lot of factors come into play, not the least of which are age, fitness, medical condition, and the amount of passion you have for getting outdoors. If there are any concerns about medical condition, confer with your doctor about your hiking plans.
Even if you are not starting out at a high fitness level, there are still hikes for you. Plan on several shorter hikes and start with modest goals. Take a one-hour level-ground hike and work up to longer ones. Then look for hikes with uphill sections, as they take more out of you.
Whatever the hike, this post is about how to do more of it than you thought at the outset.
The Goal is To Feel Great and Do Something Healthy
A hike that challenges you can easily cause a roller coaster of emotions ranging from “look how far it is, I can’t do it,” to “Oh, thankfully it is downhill for a while, maybe I can do it.”
There can be no denying that it feels great to complete a challenging hike. It is a physical feeling of having been pushed and done it, and it is also good for the soul–you had an adventure that is out of the norm of the daily grind and the gym. This is why we hike.
How to Push Hard without Over-doing It
In my experience, there are several keys to overcoming physical challenges that seem at first to be insurmountable. One important tip is to allot enough time for the hike so that you have no time pressure on exactly when you need to be back.
Do not fall prey to ill-chosen partners who are only interested in speed and competition. Pick the right hiking buddy who is at a similar fitness level and who has the same hiking goals as you.
Take Breaks: Stop to take a breather, take photos, eat an energy bar, take in the beauty or a curiosity along the way. Notice interesting geologic features, interesting plant or animal life. You are in training to Be-In-the-Present and absorb everything the hike has to offer. A good hiking buddy will be doing the same thing which will give you more reasons to take a break.
Divide and Conquer: Whenever I have been confronted with a large business problem that at first looks insurmountable, the first thing I do is to break it down into smaller pieces. Each smaller piece always seems more manageable than the whole problem. This translates directly to hiking. When you are feeling physically stressed, drop all thoughts about the final goal. Instead, pick out a landmark ahead or a single uphill section and bring your total focus to getting there. Just focus on getting to the local top.
When you get there, take a quick rest, and treat that as an accomplishment. Then look for the next reachable goal up ahead which becomes the new focus. With this technique you will surprise yourself by getting further than you thought and you will maybe even reach the goal of completing the hike.
Your body has a recovery ability–quicker as you get fitter. Stopping for even a short while, drinking some water, and eating protein will give you another energy burst.
Care for Any Hot Spots on Your Body: Get at them before they get you! A small blister or raw spot can turn into a giant pain quickly. Do not wait for another mile; stop and tend to it as soon as you notice it. Pay attention and address areas of discomfort as soon as possible: adjust your pack straps so that the weight is on your hips not your shoulders, use sun tan lotion so that you are not frying, and take sips of water from your pack bladder to prevent dehydration. If you have the right equipment you will have the answers to many discomforts. See Short-hike Equipment List and Long-hike Equipment List
Do Not Look Up to the Final Goal: Especially when you are on an uphill pitch, pay attention to the trail rather than the summit. This will not only help with hiking pole and foot placement, but it is another version of taking a big problem (getting up the next rise) to smaller problems (one foot after the other). Your trail walk then proceeds one segment at a time, and you don’t see the steep hill you are actually climbing.
There are other techniques, but in my experience the above four are some of the most powerful tactics that help you get past what may seem at first to be insurmountable. Above all, unless you are feeling sick, do not give up, go for smaller segments and see how they add up–and how great you will feel at the end of the hike!