I’ve taken three completely different approaches to training.

This post covers those three approaches.

Train as you go

This is basically letting the trail train you. Most people on the Appalachian Trail use this approach.

You start with hiking 8-10 miles a day when you start the trail. Then 10-12. Eventually you reach 15-20 miles a day. The Appalachian Trail is really well suited to this approach.

It is no coincidence that most people take three days to cover the first thirty miles on the Appalachian Trail from Springer to Mountain Crossing.

Some Preparation

This consists of getting into or being in good shape before you start. It begins with walking four to five miles a day (about an hour).

Then you move to carrying a backpack for that five miles a day. A week or so of that will prepare your feet so they can deal with hiking ten miles a day without pain.

That saves you a week or two of conditioning your feet on the trail.

The next step is getting a stretch routine going.

Finally, training your eating. That means having a third of your calories at breakfast so that you can eat enough in the mornings on the trail. I found bigger lunches, snacks and dinners easier on the trail than eating a substantial breakfast.

Real Training

Real training. There are some trails and directions (Eg SOBO on the Pacific Crest Trail) where you really are under the gun to start with twenty mile days and just starting at ten miles a day and training on the trail takes too much time.

For this approach you need to be able to make time commitments. It starts with the “preparation” type training until about 2-3 months out. It ideally includes 3-4 months of weight training, stretching and getting five miles a day walking in to get ready.

At three months out you start adding a little more mileage here and there and you start carrying your pack.

Then, at two months out, you start carrying a pack 10-15 miles a day. That takes at least four hours or so a day, 5-6 days a week. Make sure to get a full rest day or two every week.

You don’t want training injuries.

To get the distance and elevation you need you can take a road walk or a trail up a pass. Five miles and two thousand or so feet of elevation up and then five miles back down and then pick up 4-5 miles on trails or neighborhoods is a good pace to aim for by week four or five as you start the second month.

Carrying your full equipment loaded backpack to start and a month out is where you begin. After a month you move to a full load (four days) of food and two liters of water too.

When you start your hike you will hit the trail with fifteen to twenty miles a day as your baseline. Most will train beyond that on the trail with twenty mile days starting off on this type of regimen.

In application

My wife and I have trained on the trail on the Appalachian Trail (“the AT”) and it worked well. Going NOBO there is a great bubble going about ten miles a day at the start. Eventually everyone gets moving faster, until they hit the Whites.

But training in the trail is what everyone is doing (even if they don’t realize it) and you will find yourself in your own bubble or hiking cluster.

We did the preparation approach for when we went back to the AT. That was great too. Looking back we did a lot more miles each day than I was mentally framing it. The preparation paid off in longer miles and faster acclimation to the trail.

While training

For our 2022 PCT hike we trained with up to 27 trail miles a day. We were in a great place with local trails and elevation. That let us get a solid start time wise with 20 to 24 mile days out of the gate.

I think that if I had not developed shin splints* that put us off the trail for about three weeks we would have gotten through the downsides—the fires and other problems—and probably finished in 2022.

Or maybe not. The Sierras went from killing hot (as in people dying on the trail) to waking up with ice on the inside of our tent and snow in the forecast when we got off for altitude sickness.

For our 2023 completion we expect to train so we can be comfortable with starting doing twenty miles a day through the desert and into the rest of the trail.

But we like hiking. So the training is fun for us.

Caveat. Training should include attention to taking zero and rest days. Too many people get injuries because they don’t have enough recovery time.

Zeros aren’t just for partying or wasting time and money. Your body needs recovery.

*with new shoes and compression calf sleeves that problem seems to be taken care of. I’d never had shin splints before. Live and learn.

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