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How to Increase Your Daily Hiking Mileage

100 Mile Wilderness, Appalachian Trail
100 Mile Wilderness, Appalachian Trail

There will probably come a time in your hiking career where you need or want to do a big day hike or a backpacking route that requires hiking longer daily distances than you’re used to. While training for bigger mileage in advance can help tremendously, there are often limits to how much advanced training you can fit into your schedule and the trails you can hike may be substantially different from those at your destination (such as lack of elevation gain.)

Here are a few tips and tricks to increase your daily mileage, despite these limitations.

Pack Light

If you can slash the weight of your gear, food, and water by 25-50% by weight, you will be able to walk farther, faster, and be less tired at the end of the day.

Wear Lighter Weight Shoes

Every pound on your feet is equivalent to carrying 5 extra pounds in your pack. If you can switch from heavy leather boots to lighterweight mids or even trail runners, you can add about a 1/2 mile per hour to your pace. That adds up over an 8 or 10 hour hiking day.

Wake up Earlier

Hikers waste a lot of time in camp in the morning. If you go to sleep when the sun goes down and wake up before dawn, you’ll have several more hours of daylight where you can pile on more mileage. This is especially important closer to autumn, when there are fewer hours of daylight left in a day.

Carry Less Water

Water is one of the heaviest things in your backpack. If water is relatively plentiful, don’t carry as much with you. Instead, pre-hydrate in the morning at breakfast by drinking a full quart and camel up at each resupply point by drinking another quart on the spot. You still want to sip water all day to keep your metabolism running smoothly, but for some reason water in your tummy feels less heavy than water in your pack.

Don’t Take a lot of Breaks

Maintain a steady pace throughout the day and don’t stop for a lot of breaks. Get a backpack with big hip belt and side pockets that you can reach into while you are walking, so you can drink water and eat snacks without stopping. I can’t emphasize this enough, keeping a steady pace will make the miles fly by.

Use Trekking Poles

Hiking with trekking poles has many benefits including better balance and reduced stress on your knees and leg joints. They can help you walk faster if you develop a steady rhythm of swinging them forward with your arms, like a drumbeat. It can get a bit hypnotic (which can be quite pleasant), and helps you keep to the steady pace required to pile on the miles.

Plan Ahead

You can really motivate yourself by planning your route and mileage goals in advance. For example, I always plan my route for the next day after dinner before I go to sleep. I read my map and figure out where I need to be at certain times during the day, I write these down and track my pace the following day. There’s a big mental and motivational component to keeping on a schedule if you have to do a long day and keeping on top of your segment times can be helpful to keep your goal in sight.

What do you do to hike bigger mileage days?

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37 comments

  1. Keep hiking later in the day. Specifically, hike after the last meal right up until I camp.

  2. Snack throughout the day to keep the hiker engine stoked. This is not so important on a 1 or 2-day trip, but on longer trips I find that a snack every hour to hour and a half keeps me from bonking. Choose something that can be munched on the go and you won’t skip a beat. Setting aside snacks in the morning and stowing them where they can be easily grabbed, preferably without taking off the pack, makes this easier. Empty wrappers should find their way back to a place in one’s pack where they won’t inadvertently slip out and become litter. Naturally if you eat, you have to drink, especially if your snack is sweet or salty, or risk becoming dehydrated.

  3. Have rythym! Keeping a tune in your head helps a great deal.

  4. Snack all day, this keeps your metabolism from dropping too low or too high, find an effective means of keeping the bugs away (swatting at flies slows you down tremendously), drink more water than you think you need to. Using a hydration system will keep you moving rather than reaching around to the side of your pack to grab a water bottle. If you have time to train before a long distance hike, take shorter trips several days a week for a week or two prior, and carry extra dead weight in your pack. Then when it comes time for your long trip, drop the weight and you will be used to carrying more, so you will move faster once you lighten your load.

  5. +1 On the Snacks! Instead of stopping and eating a lunch, I eat 4-6 snacks throughout the day usually at the same time as when I take my normal scenery and water breaks. This not only keeps my energy up all day but avoids the tired, heavy feeling that can occur after a meal. I don’t eat a big breakfast which can start my day off slow and instead add a breakfast type snack. I also avoid a hot breakfast in seasons where I can get away with that. I do make sure I always have a hot drink with breakfast and bed excepting in the warmest months to make sure I keep my core temp up, which also keeps me from needing as much insulation in my pack.

  6. Cutting down on weight and changing to trail runners made a huge difference for me. Although I’m older than I’ve ever been (aren’t we all?… and it sure beats the alternative!), I hike far better than I did when I was half the age.

    I hike with a waist pack that has my need to access quickly items, such as snacks, maps, compass, small multi tool, water purification, fire starter. I pack snack size Ziplocks of jerky, chocolate chips, dried fruit, etc. and snack through the day. My meals that take some prep are breakfast and supper. I used to use a water bladder in my pack but had a some leaks and also didn’t know what was left in it. Now, I clip a couple Ozarka type bottles to the straps on my pack and can quickly pop them off and drink while moving. It’s easy to see what’s left and the size is perfect for dropping in a purification tablet at a water source.

    For resting, I stop with one foot up slope or on a rock or log and kind of lean onto that leg. A few seconds like that and I’m ready to continue. Hiking poles have made a big difference for me and my Pacer Poles are my favorites of them all.

  7. What if foot pain is what is keeping your daily hiking mileage down? Do you have any tips with dealing with foot pain? My feet usually start to get sore after mile 6. I’ve added cushioning insoles but they have only helped marginally.

    • Hi Chris,
      Depends on the cause of the foot pain. I do a fair amount of taping of known problem spots on my feet before anything hurts rather than waiting until something becomes a problem.
      If you haven’t already, you might want to see a specialist to see if you are dealing with plantar fasciitis or something similar. Sometimes an orthotic device (OTC or prescription) is needed to give adequate support to the arch.
      In my experience the amount of foot pain is highly correlated with training. If I gradually increase the miles I hike per day, I can pretty much avoid the soreness, but if I jump from doing 5 miles to 15, it’s pretty painful!

    • Chris – what part of your foot hurts. Do you know the cause? Getting sore feet after 6 miles is not normal.

      • I wish I knew the cause. I’ve tried many different hiking shoes. The best so far as been the vazque breeze’s. I wish I could try trail runners but I have really bad ankles and need the ankle support. The pain runs pretty much the length of the foot of my sole (all the parts that contact the found except the toes). It usually goes away after a nights sleep but is frustrating because it means I can’t hike more than 10 miles each day with the last 4 being painful.

      • My foot problems sound different than yours, but Superfeet insoles helped me a lot. Worth giving them a try.

  8. Chris,

    Pain is bad on mileage. You have my sympathy. Although my comments don’t necessarily address your situation, I’ll make some observations on things that helped me. Going from boots to trail runners was easier on my feet. I also use heavily padded socks, such as Thorlo Level 3 Extreme or merino Smartwool ones, which add more cushioning. I also do a preemptive strike by taking three ibuprofin tablets before beginning my hike. Using hiking poles and transferring some of the stress from the feet to the arms helped also.

  9. 1.Get fit.
    2.Good trail shoes helps
    3.Calories to keep energy levels high
    4.Pacer Poles
    5.Determination
    6.Long days
    7.Tape up your feet on long days and avoid blisters.

    All will mean you can hike 28/30 miles with no issues.

  10. Setting totally unrealistic goals and then trying to get as close as possible to them works great for me :p

  11. Susan "Backpack45" Alcorn

    Mazzachusetts,
    Sounds like my entire life to me!

  12. Taking 10 pounds off your body is a cheap, easy?, long-term way to make your hikes longer with less effort. That’s the same as 25% off a 40lb pack. If you’ve got more ‘excess baggage’ then you can get even bigger gains.
    It’s as easy as walking just 5 miles/day (90 minutes) for 10 weeks, and not increasing your food consumption.
    HIke On

    • Hiking Dude I couldn’t agree more about what a difference it makes to loose just 10lbs. Unfortunately I totally disagree that it is easy. Also it seems to me that the easiest and fast way to loose weight is to run. Not jog, but run. If I run 2.5 miles I burn more calories in less time than if I walk 5 miles. it is more difficult, but I finish in 17-20 minutes instead of 90 minutes. For those that can make a good run part of their training I always recommend it.

      • I have to agree with Hiking Dude. I am a fat hiker and over the past 2.5 months I have been walking 5 miles 3-4 times a weekday and a hike on the weekend and I’m down 15 pounds.

        But I am ready to start a slow jog as I do feel running would probably burn more calories. :-)

    • I found it as “easy” as eating two meals a day and walking 2 miles a day. But losing 30lbs definitely increased my hiking abilities!

      • Laural,

        What were the two meals and what might me some examples of your intake?

        Thanks for sharing,
        Jesse

  13. I totally agree about planning ahead. My husband and I do the exact same thing, look at the map before bed, sleep on it and in the morning we know exactly when and where we want to be.

    Excellent post! Thanks for the good tips.

  14. Clare McDermott

    Awesome post, Philip. I recently went on a long day hike and FORGOT my hiking boots, so was forced to wear sneakers. I was shocked by what a difference the lightweight shoes made on my overall time. Caused me to invest in some trail runners.

  15. Last year, my brother in law and I planned a hike on the Buffalo River Trail in Arkansas. My trail runners somehow got under a chair in the living room and we unsuccessfully searched for them a couple hours. We finally gave up and I resurrected my old leather boots for the hike. Did I ever miss my trail runners!

  16. Yeah, for trail runners–the shoes of choice for this backpacking household!

  17. I find stopping to eat something and get a good drink in every hour is essential to me getting in bigger mileage days. When I try to push and push without those carb/sugar/salt breaks, I really suffer later in the day.

    I get not taking long breaks a lot, but those 5 – 10 minute stops make a big difference for me!

  18. I have recently switched to wearing minimal shoes for all my hikes. I wear Merrell Barefoots, I have three pairs of them because I love them so much. This weekend I did the Tripyramids 11 mile loop and had zero foot pain.I feel lighter and quicker on the trails and better grasp of what is underfoot.

    I say this coming from a world where every pair of boots and trail runners leave me with blisters and pain. So if the weather is good, the minimal shoes come out.

  19. A lot of different things came together so I could hike bigger mileage days:
    http://rockssandwater.blogspot.com/2012/01/500-miles-on-pct-getting-into-shape.html

    My biggest surprises were:

    – Slowing down and taking breaks

    – Taking real breaks sitting with my feet at butt level or higher, and shoes and socks off

    – Stopped taking Ibuprofen, Aleve, Aspirin, …

    Works for me.

  20. On really big days, I’m up before first light. I strap one headlamp across my mid section and wear another on my forehead (in the normal position). I find that I can move full speed if I have this two headlamp system in place whereas I have to slow down a bit if I only use a headlamp on my forehead. The lower headlamp gives contrast since the light is coming from a different angle than my eyes are seeing from.

    Another trick is to just roll out of bed, pack up and go (no breakfast). If I eat breakfast after a few hours on the trail, I’m generally more focused, and it takes less time.

    I also pack up everything I can the night before so that packing in the morning is fast.

    I “cowboy camp” when the weather is good and bugs are minimal. Not having to set up and take down a shelter saves time.

    HJ

  21. OK, so we don’t do insane mileage in a day (we are still building up stamina with the kids), however, taking regular (measured) short breaks has actually helped increase our mileage. It allows us to hike for a longer period of time without getting over tired.

  22. Hey Chris, I think you should really work on those ankles (and foot strengthening in general) then. Sounds like you probably have weak feet, which is probably contributing significantly to your pain. Are you able to walk barefoot around home at all?

  23. After your Challenge attempts, you need one on how to decrease your mileage. My tips – stop to check your map frequently, re-do your shoe/sock arrangement, take in the vistas, post the vistas to Facebook/Instagram/Twitter, carry a little notebook and stop frequently to note the quirks of your fellow hikers for use in possible novel later, step to the side to let all faster people & people going in the opposite direction pass you, bury snacks deep in your pack, determine how long you will be in the car that day and make your hike last at least 1.5 times as long, check your map again, check Facebook/instagram/twitter to see if people like your posts.

  24. First of all great topic thanks for sharing it!! I really enjoy reading your post. I have been bitten by the distance bug this summer..I treat long hikes like a marathon.. refuel every 90 minutes,stay hydrated with nuun energy, keep a steady pace, …usually at the half mark I like to stop for a 20 minute break to re-energize the muscles..that helps tremendously!! My pack weighs no more than 8-12 pounds depending elevation,weather. If I know I am doing a distance hike I fuel properly all week with good carbs, protein and lots of water..on morning of hike its a standard oat meal with fruit or granola. Lots of people say that you can’t enjoy the hike going fast..well I believe the longer distances/traverses gives you so much more!! You see the mountains and ridge lines from every angle..Every angle is a different view!! When you hike those same mountains as a day hike you just can’t get that perspective..They think I’m nuts but its a pretty amazing feeling when your standing on West Bond and you look to see what you have accomplished and what you still have left on a Pemi Traverse!! I say hike your own hike and to each there own:) but once you have been bitten look out!! You see the map as loops and traverses!!!

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