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Transitioning from 3-4 Day Trips to Two Weeks (and Beyond)
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Evan McCarthy
(evanrussia) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Transitioning from 3-4 Day Trips to Two Weeks (and Beyond) on 12/08/2011 16:49:07 MST Print View

A question for those who know their way around a longer trek:

I pump out long mileage days (20-25+) with glee and no body issues -- but have thus far only been able to get out for 3-4 days max. In fact, usually three or even less. I finally have some time to take a couple weeks and pound out a longer hike this May.

Is it reasonable to plan for 20 miles a day over this longer period based on my background? Does anyone have experiences that point to any lessons to heed in the planning (and executing) phase?

Let's just assume moderate to strenuous elevation gain, since it will be over ridge/mountain terrain on the eastern side of the US. I also have a 6-7 pound shoulder season base weight which will obviously get pushed with more food than I'd usually bring on a weekend trip.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Long Trips on 12/08/2011 17:16:34 MST Print View

Longer trips are not something I do all the time but heres what I've noticed, hopefully more knowledgeable people can chime in.
First you'll want more food after the first week. When I was on the Colorado Trail this fall I started with about 1.4 pounds of food per day. That wasn't enough really. Part of my problem was I was pushing the mileage a bit but I still think I needed more. After a resupply I had a bit more and was happy for about 10 days. The last four days or so (out of 23) I was getting pretty hungry again.
Not having enough food really saps your motivation.
I think doing 20 miles a day from your base should be fine. I started the Colorado Trail without a lot of long mileage training and was fine. I was sore a lot but I never felt like I was damaging anything. I did reinjure an old ankle sprain but I'm not convinced the pace had much to do with that.
I had been in the habbit of carrying a small tarp and minimal rain gear. That gets old on a longer trip so you might consider whether a tad more weight would be worth it. I switched from my 7.5 oz tarp to a 24 oz 9x9 tarp at Lake City (becuase my smaller tarp seemed to be wetting through). The extra space was really nice to have when I was camping out in the rain. I'd carry a heavier rain coat if I did it again.

Edited by Cameron on 12/08/2011 17:22:14 MST.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Transitioning from 3-4 Day Trips to Two Weeks (and Beyond) on 12/08/2011 18:20:36 MST Print View


In August my friends and I hiked the JMT, doing 220 miles over 16 of those days being a full rest day.

Things that I took from it was that elevation gain and loss, as well as altitude were more important factors than overall mileage.

For example, in 2009 we did a training trip for the JMT on the Tahoe Rim Trail, which was a relatively easy trail with not a lot of elevation gain or loss. This allowed us to kick out 15 to 20 miles easily.

On the JMT, on the 2nd half of the trip (Yosemite to Whitney, Southbound), facing a pass everyday at altitude was a butt kicker where we were averaging about 15 miles per day...much more difficult than the TRT.

Anyway, things to consider for a longer trip: Foot Care. It is all about your feet. Extra socks, taping feet, hot spots, etc. Same thing for chaffing. I found that my inner thigh was completely sore to the touch from chaffing and I needed to tape my inner thigh. Very uncomfortable.

I also agree with the prior will want extra food on a 2nd week.

I would also add that you might want to make a point of washing your clothing on the trail. I can not tell you how much I started to stink and going to sleep with the overwhelming stench of myself was getting old.

Monkey Butt...avoid it at all cost for keeping your sanity. I took to using Mike Clelland's tip on washing my backside with soap and water after depositing into a cathole.

At higher elevation, I found that my fingers were cracking and splitting open, sometimes bleeding due to the dry air.

Mentally, I found that having some nice treats or snacked in my resupply kits that we mailed out to ourselves was a nice pick me up. Be it a favorite candy bar, dried fruit, etc. In our case, having a zero day of rest at a resort, Vermillion Valley, allowed us to drink beer, eat hot food, and to shower.

Bottom line: On the longer trips, it is about taking steps to slow the eventual break down of your body and to keep your spirits up.

Hope this helps.


Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Transitioning from 3-4 Day Trips to Two Weeks (and Beyond) on 12/08/2011 19:56:06 MST Print View

"Is it reasonable to plan for 20 miles a day over this longer period based on my background? Does anyone have experiences that point to any lessons to heed in the planning (and executing) phase?"

In terms of conditioning, yes. Whether or not you succeed will depend on other factors which you haven't yet experienced, proper planning of your food, how well you adapt to being out on the trail for weeks at a time(especially if you are going solo), and how well your body handles a heavier load than you have carried to date, to name the big ones

"Let's just assume moderate to strenuous elevation gain, since it will be over ridge/mountain terrain on the eastern side of the US. I also have a 6-7 pound shoulder season base weight which will obviously get pushed with more food than I'd usually bring on a weekend trip."

You will definitely need more food/day as your trip goes on. Perhaps the best explanation of why and how to handle it is found at the following link to RJ's writeup on food strategy and planning for the Arctic1000 unsupported traverse of the
North Slope of the Brooks Range in 2006. I did a fair number of unresupplied trips in the 13-17 day range back in the 1970's-90's and can only say that I wish I had known what goes into this article. I would have been able to go much lighter and more comfortably. I would highly recommend that you read it before planning the food for your upcoming trip.

Edited for content: You will also likely need a pack with a frame to accomodate the increased weight of your food. I am assuming you currently use a frameless pack, given your stated base weight and trip duration to date.

Edited by ouzel on 12/08/2011 19:59:47 MST.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Foot Care on 12/08/2011 20:34:15 MST Print View

Oh yeah I forgot foot care. Normally I never get blisters, ever. After about 8 days on the trail I had some humdingers. After that I was constanlty fighting hot spots. Part of it was because my socks started to wear out. Getting a couple new pairs improved things a lot. I picked up one pair that was a bit thicker than I would normally wear and that was really nice. I guess over time your feet get more wear and tear. I'd bring a bit more moleskin than you expect to use. I went through more than I expected to and you don't want to be rationing that stuff.

Edited by Cameron on 12/08/2011 20:40:33 MST.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
YMMV on 12/09/2011 17:59:46 MST Print View

Luke said:
"First you'll want more food after the first week."

My own experience is that I don't really get "thru-hiker hunger" until at least 3 weeks and sometimes 4 weeks out. It depends on different factors; how soon and how much you start wanting more food is going to vary. If you start out without a lot of body fat, likely you'll get hungrier sooner. My sense is that age is a factor too --- or maybe not, as younger people on average carry less body fat.
Very typical I find for long distance trips is that for the first couple of weeks folks are carrying more food than they need (or even really want).

Another comment was about getting blisters on longer trips but not shorter ones --- I think this is a relative thing based on the length of trips, as for me it's exactly the opposite. Shorter trips of up to a couple of weeks are when I think a person is most vulnerable to blisters; after that the feet generally are quite tough and blister only very infrequently, and always then due to something changing --- weather (humidity), changing trail surface perhaps, new footwear or socks, something like that.

Bottom line is that I think it's going to be hard for you to synthesize other people's experience here into something you can count on for yourself. Sadly you probably want to err on the conservative side a bit on things like food carried and being prepared for blisters and the like. Then take note of what happens with you --- for next time.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
food resupply? on 12/09/2011 18:06:28 MST Print View

One other comment from re-reading the initial post. OP talked about doing something like a 2 week trip, and said:
"I also have a 6-7 pound shoulder season base weight which will obviously get pushed with more food than I'd usually bring on a weekend trip."

If you have a 6 - 7 pound base weight and are contemplating carrying food for a two week unsupplied stretch, my advice would be --- don't do that (!).
Instead, think hard about a food cache (or even a couple), or about hitchhiking out along the way to resupply somewhere. Unless you're hiking somewhere really, really remote, chances are that if you're doing a long trip that's at all linear, you'll be crossing roads with enough traffic to take you out somewhere that you can buy more food, plus take a night (maybe a day and a night) off in a motel room, get a shower, wash clothes, call loved ones and tell them you're still alive, etc. Oh, and definitely eat in a restaurant, hopefully more than once.

Brian Austin
(footeab) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
pre trip foot care on 12/09/2011 18:19:26 MST Print View

How many others have found that by NOT wearing socks in everyday life that this improves their callused feet? I sure have. I found this out when I quit wearing socks while working at a greenhouse nursery due to always getting them dirty. My shoes had holes in them. Mud/pebbles would always get in and because of this I grew calluses. That summer I went long trip hiking and Never even had a hint of a blister. Since then I don't have as tough of feet and pay the price. I now always carry duct tape and wear said duct tape before setting one foot on the trail.

Now when I exercise I don't wear socks and have found better callus growth. Likewise fewer blisters or hot spots.

Jettison the socks for happier feet. Exercise shoes will stink though. I have gone so far as to place pebbles/sand in my shoes as well and this also improves my feet. Seems extreme at first(it is a bit), but its not really after a while.

Edited by footeab on 12/09/2011 18:20:31 MST.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Yes, Maybe on 12/09/2011 18:36:12 MST Print View

A few years back I did the JMT. An interesting thing happened about day 7. (out of 9.5) All the blister and elevation issues started to go away and I had very happy hiking and very high mileage days. So, I would say that if you can do 25 a day for short periods that you will be able to do 20's sustained IF the terrain and elevation is apples to apples.

Normally, I would recommend that someone be able to do in a day 1.5 times what they expect to average over a sustained hike. I found this to be true on my thru-hike but this is likely a bit more extreme than what you have planned. If you have time prior to your hike then I would train for 1.5X. (I trained out to 57 a day for a 30+ mile/day average.)

One thing to keep in mind. If you are doing 25 in a day then you are at least somewhat disciplined in getting up early and other strategies that will allow you to do your desired distance. One final thought, a big difference between 3-4 day and longer trips for leaner folks is that they lose the ability to use body fat as an energy store for longer trips. Energy input becomes a much bigger issue. I was burning close to 8000 calories a day on my thru. I would also agree with Brian Lewis regarding when hiker hunger kicks in. I didn't see it at all on the JMT.

Edited by gg-man on 12/09/2011 18:40:35 MST.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re Yes Maybe on 12/09/2011 18:44:13 MST Print View

I'm pretty sure I burned off most of my excess body fat. I forgot to weight myself before the trip but I could look in the mirror and tell I was skinnier at the end of the trip.
Brian I think you're right that your feet do toughen up. I built up some very nice calluses after a while. Part of my problem with blisters was my feet were wet a lot and the blisters I had didn't heal fast. After I started to monitor the issue I ddin't pick up any new ones that I recall. I image once my existing blisters had healed I would have done better like you did. I don't get many blisters on short trips even if I push the mileage.

Erin McKittrick
(mckittre) - MLife

Locale: Seldovia, Alaska
A bit more food. on 12/09/2011 23:17:26 MST Print View

I've also found that food needs ramp up fairly slowly. At two weeks, you'll probably only need a little more than you usually would eat on a hike. After a month, it's decidedly more. The other huge thing I've found on long hikes is planning for and dealing with the failures and wearing out of gear. For 2 weeks, you should be fine on that one also.

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: food on longer trips on 12/10/2011 01:40:16 MST Print View

I agree with the experience of other and more experienced long-distance hikers.

Unless you are very thin to begin with, you can go quite a while before your food needs ramp up. In my case it was more than a month of being on the trail and even then it wasn't a tremendous increase. It took a long while after that before I noticed a serious upturn in calorie consumption - more than three months. It was a result of significant weight loss and a decrease in average daily temps that really gave me reason to carry more and more food.

As for sustained mileage, I think if you wake up and get on the trail early - particularly during the peak summer months - making 25 miles isn't out of this world. If you can hike 12+ hours over reasonable terrain, making 2 miles per hour is a relatively reasonable pace. Of course, if you have two weeks worth of food at 1.5 pounds per day or so - you would have in excess of 20 pounds of food plus water and gear, which will slow you down some. If you can cache food, all the better.


Steve S
(idahosteve) - F

Locale: Idaho
Re: Transitioning from 3-4 Day Trips to Two Weeks (and Beyond) on 12/12/2011 12:33:43 MST Print View

Thats awesome that your schedule may finally allow you to get out for that long trip! I would throw out on other item that seems to be missing from the responses. In general, I think you probably will have the ability to pound out the miles, and cover the ground you hope to, but as I learned this year on my SHR trip, ... why? I would add that a small touch of the brakes might be the highlight of your trip. I don't know the details of your trip, but don't forsake the miles per day at the expense of the beauty and experience of your advenure. Rest days and long evenings at special places will be remembered long after you are done. Don't rule out flexible and capricious decisons while you are hiking. Make sure to search out prior to embarking on your trip where there might be some worthwhile spots or opportunities to just wallow in the journey. Then, take advantage of the fact that you are getting to spend enough time out to really soak it up! Have a great trip!

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Transitioning from 3-4 Day Trips to Two Weeks (and Beyond) on 12/13/2011 10:05:36 MST Print View

I think it is reasonable to plan for 20 mile days if you are already comfortable with that. When I was hiking the PCT, I found that I really enjoyed having a half day or a whole day off every week or so. A week is a long time to go without a shower and even if I have plenty of food in my pack, nothing is better than a real breakfast of real eggs and coffee. If your trips don't have an opportunity for resupply, you can still give yourself time to rest and relax. Swim at a lake, take long breaks on summits or hot springs. Getting stuck on milage can take some of the fun out of a long trip after a while.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Transitioning from 3-4 Day Trips to Two Weeks (and Beyond) on 12/14/2011 00:25:08 MST Print View


One thing I have noticed about lightweight backpackers is that many of them focus on daily mileage, construct a route based on that mileage, and then become pressured to complete it on time because family and friends are told when they will be back. Seems the mileage becomes too important. Also base weight and pack weight become mental blocks and frequent re-supplies are scheduled. For a major thru hike, I can understand these logistical considerations.

Back in the 60's and 70's a lot of us did 20 mile days fairly regularly with external frame packs and leather boots. And we did not re-supply often. Sort of a rule of thumb or goal was around 200 miles between re-supply, and trips usually included one rest day (exploration day) a week. And I am talking about hiking in the Sierras. Even back then, we worked to reduce weight, given what gear was available so we were not carrying the "proverbial" 65 lb packs. The goal was not to necessarily average 20 miles a day, but to stay in the wilderness and not visit towns. Even today when I plan a 3 or 4 day trip, I often plan around 20 miles per day, but sometimes add an extra day to my itinerary, so my wife expects me a day later than my plan. That way, if I see something I want to explore I have time to do it, or if I find a great spot that invites me to lounge around for a few hours or even a day, I can do it, and if I get home a day early that is okay too. The advantage today of ultralight gear is that I can still travel the same distances as I did 40 years ago, but all the other goals remain the same.

In the early 70's twice I did 6 month trips. For me, going into a town for supplies was not that much fun. It interrupted the purpose of my trip, which was not getting from point A to point B. Towns were a necessary evil (other than an ice cold beer) and out of my way.

The only big difference in longer trips IMO, is food. As others have mentioned, at a certain point you need to eat more. There is no rule of thumb here. Everyone is different.

So maybe you plan a loop, without re-supply, with a daily average of 15 miles per day. If you do several days of 20+ miles, that is okay and gives you extra time to enjoy the other things in life.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: pre trip foot care on 12/14/2011 00:53:17 MST Print View

Brian: We may well just have different feet, because I've had very different experience. I have totally soft feet. Softer than my hands because, well, I don't chop wood, shovel snow, or weld metal with my feet. And I always wear shoes. It bugs my wife, with her dino-like scaly feet, when I wince and go slow across a stream barefoot. Then I dry my feet well, put socks back on and then shoes.

But I'll do 40+ miles in a day and never get a blister. I don't use boots, only low-cut trail shoes from brands I know fit me well and have 1-2 months on them before any long hikes.

I've seen some people with callouses get deep splits in their thick skin and then it's duct tape and Superglue time.

But going your route is way more SUL. Eventually, you'll do the whole trip in Crocs (superlight, waterproof, quick stream crossings), carry no socks, and save all that weight.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Transitioning from 3-4 Day Trips to Two Weeks (and Beyond) on 12/14/2011 01:11:07 MST Print View

Evan: the following equation has worked very well for me to equate one trip to another:

horizontal miles (regular trail miles) + every 500 vertical feet = equivalent miles.

Example: Grand Canyon in a day: 16 horizontal miles and 9,500 vertical feet (yes, count both up AND down). 9,500 feet = 19 x 500.

16 + 19 = 35. And, after going to the River and back, you feel just as tired as if you hiked 35 fairly flat miles.

Okay, first factor done.

Then there's pack weight. You'll be carrying more pack weight and that's more work. In my early 20's I was really sensitive to pack weight and 6 miles with 40 pounds equated to 20 miles with a day pack. Maybe because I (have to) condition more now in my 50s, I don't notice 40 pounds on my back so much (or maybe it was all that carrying toddlers around?). You'll average 20 pounds with all that food on top of your base pack weight and for me, that would make 20 miles feel like 25 or 27 miles.

Not for you, but for completeness: Then there's altitude. It will make more of a difference early in the trip, but you just can't work as hard in thin air. If at all possible, play and sleep at altitude for as many days as you can in advance. I love coming off one high-altitude trip and going right into a another - you kick butt compared to the sea-level creatures you're hiking with. But in the East, you're sort of devoid of 11,000-foot passes, so think of this if/when you head west for a trip.