It's quite a step from being a day walker to tackling your first long-distance hike, and you'll need to be well prepared. If you're not, what should be an enjoyable challenge can become a soul-destroying trudge.
Start with shorter hikes
First, make sure you're in good shape. Being fit for the gym isn't the same as being fit for the trail; you'll need to get used to carrying a pack of the same weight you'll be taking on your hike, and you should aim to do plenty of walking, if possible over terrain that's similar to what you will be exploring on the trail. Climbing up steps (and going down again) can be good practice for the mountains if you don't happen to have any real hills handy.
Start gently. If you've not been active for a while, start out with some one-hour local hikes or short walks in town before you head out to the woods and hills for whole-day walks. Aim to finish each walk feeling good, without aches and pains, and gradually step up the distance. At the same time, step up the weight you're carrying. You'll need to start a couple of months before your big hike.
Exercise regularly. Once you're on the trail, you'll be hiking every day, come rain or shine. Only use a treadmill or other exercise machines if the weather is too bad to get out and hike.
How's your equipment?
Your equipment also needs to be in good shape. If you already have your kit, check it for fit and condition. A rucksack might need a new waterproof liner, for instance, and leather boots you haven't worn for a while might have become stiff and need waxing. Old outerwear may need to be rain-proofed again before you go.
Our Echelon All-Conditions, Featherweight Pouch is perfect for any hike you take. Items that are ultra-light weight and weather proof are essential for any outdoor adventure.
Check your boots
Many people get new footwear for a hike. Make sure you've worn your boots in first, though; new boots can chafe and you're far more likely to get blisters. Just wearing them around the house can help, though ideally you should take two or three short hikes to get them broken in before you go.
Make sure your pack fits
It's going to be sitting on you for eight hours a day or more, and if it doesn't fit properly, you won't be comfortable. Straps may need lengthening or tightening so that the pack sits at the right height on your back and is firmly attached without restricting your movement.
Get some basic skills
Ensure you have practiced putting up and taking down your tent. Can you do it in the dark? Can you do it with a strong wind blowing? Can you do it in the rain? Remember that you may not have much choice about when and where to pitch once you're on the trail; you need to be able to cope with whatever the weather throws at you.
Brush up your skills, such as map reading and walking a compass bearing. It may be worth taking a weekend course if you have any doubts about your abilities; better make a fool of yourself in safety than realize too late that you're lost in the wilderness! Check the route maps and description to see if you will have to do anything that you haven't done before, like fording a river or walking across ice fields or on scree slopes. Plan a way to get experience, or at least research the techniques you should use to minimize any risks.
Finally, take a deep breath and relax
Once you're on the trail, your life will slow down dramatically to the pace of just putting one foot in front of another. If you're not ready for it, and if your mind is still racing away to deal with the challenges of the 21st-century urban environment, you're not going to get the most out of the experience. It may take a few days to find the right rhythm, but having a relaxed mind and body will help you easily get into your stride.
A long-distance hike can be tough. The better prepared you are, the more able you will be to meet the challenges it presents, and the more enjoyment you'll get from the experience.
Photos: Andrew Welch, Louis Hansel