Want to hike faster? Here are five helpful tips

It is no mystery to those who read the blog regularly that, in the words of Ricky Bobby, “I want to go fast!”. But in all honesty, hiking style is a very personal thing and the “light and fast” method isn’t for everyone. For me, the experience is just as much about the physical challenge as it is about experiencing nature. Now to qualify that, I love spending time admiring nature (I am a geologist after all) but I also love challenging myself against the toughest terrain I can get to. I like to be sore, covered in mud, and dripping in sweat by the end of the day because it really just makes me feel alive. Now I understand this isn’t the same for everyone, and really it shouldn’t be. We all have different motivations and things that make us tick. This is to be expected -sometimes performance just isn’t the number one goal and that is OK too. Some days I just want to get outside and enjoy the day with loved ones with no pressure and no ticking clock.

However, being able to move efficiently over tough terrain can do a lot to maximize your experience by allowing you to see more with less time and for an everyday adventurer like me that is a huge plus. Life has a tendency to fill up my schedule pretty quickly so maximizing what free time I have in the outdoors is a huge plus.

With all that being said, below I have listed out five helpful tips that have made a big difference in making me faster on the trail, while maximizing my experience in the outdoors overall:

1. Reduce your pack weight.

Now this is can be a touchy subject in the hiking community because there are basically two main schools of thought: Either you go as light as possible packing only the bare essentials, or you pack enough gear to prepare for every possible contingency and like most things I think the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle. It is important to be prepared for things like an unintended night out in the wilderness or bad weather but there are also many ways to prepare for these scenarios more efficiently.  Reducing your pack weight has a lot to do with your own comfort and experience, but new hikers are especially prone to carrying way more than is probably necessary. So how do you figure out what you really need and don’t need to be carrying on your hike? Well, first consider that most of the weight you carry will be in the form of water and food (which isn’t where you want to focus your weight reduction as a new hiker). The rest of your gear can be largely dependent on your specific trip plans and what kind of gear you might need to accomplish that goal. It is important to be prepared so items like a map and compass are pretty vital but that solar phone charger for a 10 hour hike might be excessive, or your favorite metal thermos. A good way to gauge what you actually do and do not use is to reassess your pack after each hike. Spread everything out and review what you use regularly and what just sits at the bottom of your pack trip after trip. It is likely that you can cut back on duplicate items or replace several items with one that serves multiple purposes. You can also focus on replacing items with light weight versions to reduce weight. I could write an entire post alone on reducing pack weight but the bottom line is if efficiency is your goal you want to carry as little as possible while still being well prepared. Generally you should look to reduce comfort items in favor of speed, NOT sacrifice safety margins. In the end every pound you can remove from your pack will pay huge dividends.

2. Plan, Plan, and Plan some more.

You can really never be too prepared for a hike. If efficiency is your goal or even if you are just trying something off the beaten path, familiarizing yourself with the route is a huge plus. Every minute you don’t have to ponder which way to go or backtrack from taking a wrong turn can add up by the end of the day. I have wasted more than a few hours wandering around because I didn’t bother to review my route and ended up taking wrong turns. This is also a great way to make you feel more confident and relieve any pre-hike jitters you may have.

3. Try to not stop moving.

Moving slowly is quicker than not moving at all. I usually maintain a steady pace and eat/drink as I move. If you cut out 15-20 minute breaks every hour you will save a lot of time overall. I strive to condition my body to be able to maintain a steady pace as I climb. Even if I am walking at a crawl my goal is to just keep moving. Overtime it gets easier to up your speed without killing yourself. You just need to listen to your body and try and figure out a pace that you can maintain throughout the entire day. Hitting the ground running right out of the gate can just make you slower overall if you end up hitting a wall in the middle of the day, just remember the story of the tortoise and the hare.

4. Try to run where you can. Flat ridges, logging roads, etc

I am not an expert trail runner but I try to run where I can.  also maintain a much faster than average descent pace. If your confident with your foot placements and don’t hesitate much you should have less problem staying upright.  Confidence navigating the terrain quickly can pay huge dividends, even if you are going at a moderate pace. It just takes experience with the specific environment and conditions. This is something that we all get a little better at each time we get out and hike. Just think about how much easier your third or fourth hike in an area felt compared to your very first one when your worried about not slipping on each and every rock or root.

5. Train ahead of time as much as possible.

This may be a no-brainer but training is also an important step to getting faster on the trails. You will have to put in as much time as you can increasing your fitness level, particularly cardio fitness. I live in NJ, not far from the shore so there are no real mountains to speak of where I can train regularly. So instead I focus my training on running the trails at a local park that has a lot of hills. I run almost everyday and focus on sprinting up and down all of the hills as fast as I can muster. I have found even this limited amount of elevation gain to be helpful for plodding up steep slopes later at a more reasonable pace.

Have any other helpful hints or thoughts? Please share them below! This is by no means an exhaustive list but it should help steer you in the right direction if speed and efficiency are your goals. If you have any specific questions about my gear or really anything else just let me know!

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