I hate being last. Or even second last. In fact, I need to get first place in just about everything I do.
Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way. This is especially true when I’m hiking along a brutal trail with folks built like race horses. I trained my ass off for three months before tackling Peru’s Choquequirao Trail, yet I still couldn’t keep up with the local folk who scurried up and down this punishing path like it was a staircase at the mall.
They were in better shape. Plain and simple. My 12 hours of running, squats and lunges every week were no match for the raw power they developed over a lifetime of clamoring up and down those mountains.
Now, I understand that backpacking isn’t a race. And you certainly should take the time to enjoy your surroundings. But still, there are occasions when you need to get to that campsite fast.
If you’re looking for that extra little edge on speed – without having to live at the gym – give these techniques a try. Some trekkers wear by them.
Get your form down
Don’t stomp around like a Sasquatch – you’ll only scare the squirrels. Instead, try shortening your stride to prevent leaning forward and displacing your center of mass. Research has shown that being unbalanced will waste precious energy. Also, stand up straight with your legs directly underneath you and your eyes looking ahead – that’s the optimal position for efficiency.
And finally, swing those arms. You’re more efficient when your opposite arms and legs move together. This will also help you to develop a rhythm, which brings us to the next point.
Get your rhythm right
Set a nice rhythm for yourself and you’ll tear up that trail while burning fewer calories. Think of your body as a machine – all the pistons need to be firing just right for maximum power. So how to do you get there? Consider these pointers:
Ease into it: Start your trek out slowly and gauge the terrain (and perhaps, your physical ability) before determining what kind of rhythm and pace you want to set. But don’t take too long: the sooner you settle into your rhythm the better.
Synchronize your breathing: This is key to getting your entire body working in harmony. Time your breaths with your steps and focus on getting your legs and lungs in sync.
Give cadence a shot: It works for the military, doesn’t it? Sing a song in your head (not out loud, please) and match the beat with your steps. It’s important to stay consistent on this, even when going uphill. If things get really rough, such as trudging up an incredibly steep bank, switch to a different song or rhythm to match the intensity of the situation.
Get a lighter pack
Veteran thru-hikers understand better than anyone the benefits of carrying less weight. It seems like a no-brainer, but many people I’ve trekked with underestimate the benefit of cutting even a few ounces of weight out of their supplies.
So educate yourself. Evaluate how long you’ll be trekking and determine what exactly what you need and where weight can easily be reduced.
Get the right mindset
Anyone who has ever done a gruelling, multi-day (or multi-week) trek knows that willpower and attitude are keys to success. The moment you start worrying about what the 40 kilometres of steep terrain will do to your legs, your spirit drops and your energy level will follow.
Getting your head right for faster hiking goes beyond thinking happy thoughts. Some trekkers use visualization techniques to speed themselves up, such as imagining they’re being towed up the trail by an invisible line. Hey, it’s worth a shot.
Got any other tips on how trekkers can hike faster? Share them in the comments below.