7 Keys to a Great Long-Distance Hike
Preparation is essential when doing a long-distance hike (we’re talking a week minimum to more than a month; up to six months if you’re looking at the entire PCT). Our guide gives you 7 keys to a great long-distance hike, from what to learn to what to consider as you plan.
by Carolyn "Ravensong" Burkhart
Preparation is essential when doing a long-distance hike. Here are 7 keys to a great long-distance hike, from what to learn to what to consider as you plan.
1. Put it in perspective
Remember that hiking a long-distance trail, such as the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), the Pacific Northwest Trail or the Wonderland Trail, is a journey unto itself. The completion of the trail should not come at the expense of your, or others', health and well-being.
2. Know how to navigate
Learn how to route-find with a map and compass, and carry maps that cover a broad area.
Consider any applicable smartphone apps for the trail you are hiking, such as the Halfmile app for the PCT or Green Trails’ Wonderland Mapp.
Know the alternate routes and roads out to the nearest trailheads in the event of adverse conditions or personal health and safety needs.
3. Learn first aid
Learn the basics of wilderness first aid, including how to prevent and treat health concerns ranging from blisters and sunburns to muscle strain, hypothermia, tick bites and giardia.
4. Make good decisions
Trust your own gut feeling, whether it pertains to river crossings, impending weather or the sense of adverse conditions or critters (including people) nearby.
Beware of group decision-making. If the way your group is going or the time of day they want to hike doesn’t feel right, do what you would if you were trekking solo or with a loved one. Others may change their direction and follow you—or not.
5. Think about your timing
Consider how fast you hike and how often you take “zero” days when deciding the duration of your hike. And understand that the exact timing of your hike can be affected by seasonal factors such as snowpack, river crossings and the availability of water.
6. Be fire- and water-smart
PCT hikers, especially those covering California and Oregon, should be aware that there have been more fires and less water available along the trail in recent years. Research which stove to use (if any) to minimize the risk of igniting a forest fire.
Determine how much water to carry, along with where to access it, and how to get through long waterless stretches. Do not be dependent on Trail Magic water stashes.
7. And remember ...
Be safe and have one of the most amazing journeys of your lifetime!
More long-distance hiking resources
Want to learn more about preparing for a long-distance hike?
- Visit our hiking resource section and Long-Distance Hiking 101.
- Check out the online home of Ravensong's Roost to learn more about Carolyn "Ravensong" Burkhart.
- Explore resources of the excellent Pacific Crest Trail Association and the Pacific Northwest Trail Association
This article originally appeared in the March+April 2015 issue of Washington Trails magazine. Join WTA to get your one-year subscription.