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How to Get Fit for a Long Distance Hike

Posted on May 15, 2017 by Gill McMillan

Planning a long distance hike? Here are some tips that I’ve picked up along the way to get your body prepared…

You may have asked yourself – “Why should I train for a hike – surely I’ll get fitter as I go?” It is true that you will find it easier as the days progress but the fitter you are, the more you’ll enjoy your self-guided multi-day hike from the very start.

This is a guest post from Walking guide Gill McMillan who has been leading walking adventures all over the world for many years. Here she shares her top tips to prepare your body and fitness levels for a long distance trek in Scotland. 

Set yourself a goal

Have a look at your intended route and note down the distance you’ll be walking on the longest day. That’s the goal you should aim for. Look to see if ascent and descent are mentioned and factor this in. This matters more than you might think; you might be fine walking the dog on flat ground, but add in a hill or two and it will become more challenging.

  • Tip: Figure out your longest day, factor in some hills and work up to it.
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Walking the mighty West Highland Way long distance trek.

Make walking a habit early on

Start well in advance, I’d recommend three months minimum before if you aren’t used to regular exercise. The goal is to increase breathing and heart-rate so that you can walk uphill while still being able to hold a conversation. When it gets too much, slow down or stop to catch your breath. It will get easier as you do it more often.

  • Tip: Build up your stamina over time

Combine with any other cardio exercise

Any exercise that increases cardiovascular fitness will help. Swimming and cycling are good options but even climbing the stairs instead of using an escalator or lift are a start. The key, as most experts will tell you, is to build up your stamina by exercising little and often. It’s far better to have four half-hour walks in a week than a massive day once a fortnight.

  • Tip: Mix up your fitness training and do shorter blasts regularly

Take your boots for a walk

As your fitness increases you’ll also be wearing in your boots. Walking short distances will allow your feet to get accustomed to new boots. Try out different socks to get a comfy fit. Wool ones are best but you can try different weights.

Get Fit Long Distance Hike-1-2

Develop a good relationship with your new boots before the long walk.

Remember your inhaler (if you use one)

If you normally use an inhaler, even if it’s only occasionally, do make sure you bring it with you on your trip. It’s always better to know it’s there rather than wish that you’d brought it along.

  • Tip: Put any prescribed medication on your packing list even if you only use it occasionally

Try some trekking poles

Trekking poles can be very handy too, especially for coming downhill. If you have trouble with your knees they can really help to take some of the strain off.

Get a clean bill of health

Be honest with yourself if you are setting yourself a big walking challenge and you haven’t exercised for a while.

  • Tip: Visit your GP prior to your trip if you have any health concerns.
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It won’t take you long to get fit for long distance walking but remember slow and steady wins the race. Give yourself time to build up and you’ll really love the feeling of pulling on the boots each morning. In fact, I have a health warning of my own to impart – walking becomes addictive but in a pleasant sort of a way.

Join us on a self guided walking trip on some of Scotland’s greatest long distance trails.

Watch our short film about Self Guided Walking Holidays in Scotland.

About the author

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Gill McMillan

As a child I skied in Glenshee and loved being outside. At 19 I started hill-walking and have happily worn out many pairs of boots since. I especially enjoy hill-walking, long distance trails (the Camino de Santiago across Spain and the West Highland Way several times) and wild camping. Late evening sunsets from high up on a mountain have to be among life’s greatest pleasures. Thankfully, in Scotland we’re spoilt for choice.

Read more articles by Gill


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