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What Happens to Your Body on a Thru-Hike (outsideonline.com)
498 points by bootload on Feb 22, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 269 comments

I came across three emaciated, bearded men on the continental divide trail in glacier national park. When I asked one of them where he was from he looked at his buddies and they all replied excitedly, in unison, "Mexico!". It was at that moment that I came to realize that these men were one day away from completing the entire thru-hike.

I vividly recall one of their dinners: Dried ramen noodle, straight from the bag.

They slept in their bags exposed, beneath a basic light tarp.

The best foods for backpacking are actually peanut butter, salami (depending on the brand), cheese, and nutella. They all have roughly the same calorie density at about 70% fat. Toblerone actually comes surprisingly close (even compared to other chocolates/candies).

Raman noodles or tortillas or something like that are generally used as a carrier for those foods to keep you sane, but they aren't very good from a weight to calories standpoint. M&Ms are also common, as they are easy to eat and keep well.

Some people actually just drink cooking oil, but it's rarely worth the tiny bit of extra weight efficiency.

One of the classic British walking rations (we don't use the word 'hiking') is Kendal Mint Cake:


It's a slab of peppermint-flavoured sugar, doused in glucose syrup, covered in chocolate.

It's one of those things that you cannot possibly imagine yourself eating, until you're actually out on the hills after a long day (or several days) and you're cold and you're tired and then you've never eaten anything quite so delicious.

On my thru-hike, I ran out of candy (I always carried a bag with an assortment of gummies, hard candies) and just started eating sugar (intended for my tea) by the spoonful. I've never felt such an intense craving for simple sugars as I did on the PCT. It seemed to revitalize me, both physically and emotionally. So I can totally understand this mint "cake."

we don't use the word 'hiking'

Yes we do.

I don't have many sources but I believe the word 'hiking' is a relatively recent American import. The OED lists a lot of American historical examples, but only relatively recent ones in the UK

I would just call it walking, or tabbing if it's at an aggressive pace. Old people seem to call it rambling, but that makes it sound a bit lazy I think.

We used to use rambling for a gentle country walk through fields etc. We'd say we were fell walking if we went out for a day up the mountains in the Lake District, we'd wear walking boots. If it was for a night or more it would either be camping or an expedition - as in DofE.

Tabbing tends to be a military term as far as I'm aware. I don't remember using the term hiking until recently.

Tabbing tends to be a military term as far as I'm aware

The MilFit community have brought it into mainstream usage. I don't remember not using/hearing the term hiking.

While it probably became popularized in North America, it seems to actually be of British origin: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/hiking

> Compound noun of hill walking, British origination, c. 1920s

OED, which I'd trust more than Wiktionary, says 'colloq. orig. dial. and U.S.' and gives US examples prior to the 20s.

etymonline cites it as an English dialectal word from 1809 http://etymonline.com/index.php?term=hike

Almost all American English words are originally of English origin, of course ;)

However, Google Ngrams shows that the term "hiking" was very rare prior to about 1920, and the large majority of 1920s sources are American. https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=hiking&year_st...

Compare hiking, hill walking, tramping, and rambling: https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=hiking%2Chill+...

That's right and I guess they are all inspired in Pemmican[1], the original energy bar.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pemmican

I carried oatmeal, brown sugar and cooking oil.

You make a porridge with oats, add few table spoons of sugar and so much oil that it looks more like soup than porridge.

100 ml oil contains 900 kcal. You can go all day with 3-4 oatmeals

Noticed too late that I reversed the fat content percentage, it's usually 30-40% fat. Roughly 4 calories per gram, compared to most candy's 3. Pure fat or cooking oil is around 9.

> Some people actually just drink cooking oil, but it's rarely worth the tiny bit of extra weight efficiency.

Is this really a thing? I've read quite a bit about thruhikers and have never encountered this. If you have any more details, mind sharing?

I've encountered it once. He preferred to mix it into foods whenever it made sense to do so, though.

The 2010 AT thru-hiker with the trailname "Butter" was so named because she was eating a stick of butter with a spoon somewhere down south.

Just make sure it's not vegetable oil (safflower, grapeseed, soybean, sunflower, corn, etc). It's full of Omega-6, which is very inflammatory.

"Is this really a thing? I've read quite a bit about thruhikers and have never encountered this. If you have any more details, mind sharing?"

Yes, but I have always heard of sticks of butter being used for this purpose - not cooking oil.

it's more common in extreme environments where your caloric expenditure is very high.

antarctic sled teams do this sometimes, because you're burning about 7,000 calories a day just staying warm.

Take it from me, pemmican is the best thing ever, and if you are a hiker, Hunter, or general outdoorsperson, you owe it to yourself to try a few different recipes. (Wrap it extra good in bear country though!)

Fun tidbit of the day: in the Marine Corps our long full pack hikes (~90lbs) were called "humps". In the old days they were death marches.

What changed about the humps? I've heard that boots are dramatically better, but you're still hauling 90 lbs...

Mostly just shorter, with better medical care for those injured or falling out. The old death marches I heard used to be ~40 miles, while these days they tend to be ~12 or less depending (big difference between 12 miles on the coast of Pendleton vs 12 miles in the 115 degree mojave desert). Yes, the boot have improved dramatically as well.

Lonnie Dupre thru hiked the Alaskan trail and brough a giant bag of wild rice cereal combined with pumpkin seeds and dried fruit. Seemed to work well for him...

And I thought it was all about the Malt Loaf

I don't think is a good idea to feed a healthy activity with unhealthy palm oil.

That peanut butter has palm oil probably, but Nutella has it for sure.

Palm oil is very bad for your health, and it's very bad for the environment.

Why is palm oil bad for your health? I always considered it to be one of the better plant-oils, with a low polyunsaturated fat composition similar to coconut, though really actually closer to butter (50% saturated, 40% mono, 10% poly.)

Not saying anything about its environmental impact, which I haven't researched, however.


You can't throw something like this out there without the evidence to back it up, because right now there is too much bullshit nutrition advice floating around out there.

I think he assumes you're an orangutuan

The problem with palm oil isnt the raw liquid form, the problem is palm oil is very cheap and is typically a target for (partial) hydrogenation into stuff like margarine. This produces a lot of trans fats unless carefully controlled and those are super unhealthy.

Palm oil is one of the healthiest oils.

Peanut oil is one of the worst oils (arachidonic acid).

You're correct about palm oil production hurting the environment.

Real peanut butter only has peanut oil.

Your comment made me think of Bill Bryson's accounts of how people change on the trail in 'A Walk In The Woods'. Good book if anyone is considering a thru-hike, and it's just a fun read anyway.

Agreed but don't waste your time with the film

I'll be the lone dissenting voice with regard to the film. I liked it. It wasn't nearly as funny as the book; it was barely funny, at all, in fact. But, it still contained some of the gentle charm of the book. At the end of it, I said to my girlfriend, "I guess I just really like movies about hiking, even when they're kinda boring." (I also really liked Wild, and liked that book, too...in that case, I think the film held up better against the book, as the book just wasn't in the same league as A Walk In The Woods, so the film had less to live up to).

> I guess I just really like movies about hiking, even when they're kinda boring.

As someone who is willing to tolerate utter dreck as long as it's In Spaaaaaaace, this made me smile. I think it's just the fact that the setting is so compelling and romantic for me, and I can ignore the flaws and enjoy the little redeeming value that is in there.

I watched the film with my parents, mostly because they like Robert Redford. I had no expectations going in to the film, and I have never read the book. My view of the film is pretty similar to yours.

Most of the people I know who have problems with the movie are really in to hiking, and really liked the book. A fair number haven't watched the movie. I think if you just watch it without any expectations, it's a solid bit of entertainment about being outdoors. It's not the best movie, but it's a good movie to watch with someone.

I think you're right. I read the book first and the movie was disappointing, while the friend with me who hadn't read the book was pleasantly surprised.

A fun alternative is the unabridged audiobook, read by the author. Now that is great fun on a long drive!

Correct. The movie is beyond atrocious. One particular soundstage set is actually insulting.

Seconded. Novel is great movie is Meh. Bryson is such a great author.

When you carry your gear for a thousands of miles, you reevaluate what you really need. A stove is not needed because food can be consumed raw. A full tent is not needed because a basic tarp and careful site selection are enough to keep a person dry while sleeping. Toilet paper is not needed because smooth rocks, leaves and other material found on the trail can be used to wipe.

The reason some experienced hikers (not talking about noobs here) carry small stoves on the AT and other trails is not because they haven't evaluated what they need. It's because "what you need" is about tradeoffs. Sure, you can consume raw food for the entirety of your hike, and some experienced hikers do this, but food aversion is a real thing. Avoiding it is worth the weight for some hikers.

You generally get more calories from cooked foods too. I suspect the raw food thing has more too do with being cheep/lazy/hard-core.

'Laziness' was a big part of my switch to stoveless.

At the end of the day I never wanted to waste time boiling water/cooking food I just wanted to eat and sleep. I found myself eating cold even with a stove so I just dropped the stove.

I don't know anyone that has done it just to be hard-core.

Dropping the stove certainly does simplify things, that's the main benefit. I've tried it but I just couldn't eat cold/raw all the time, especially in cooler weather. I use one of these brass alcohol stoves, it's light and dead simple: http://brasslite.com/

> When you carry your gear for a thousands of miles, you reevaluate what you really need.


There is one interesting exception though: everyone I met who traveled (not hiked per se, but lived out of a backpack), had one "luxury item".

It was something that was absolutely not necessary, but they lugged it around with them anyway, because it made sense strictly for them.

One dude I met had a folding camping chair. (relatively) big, awkward, weighty. But around the campfire, everyone was sitting on rocks like cavemen -- except he was enthroned on his camping chair.

Before you ask: my luxury item was a discman (this dates me, I suppose :-) ), plus a few CDs. Really awkward. Susceptible to impact and moisture, requires batteries, etc etc. But I just love to get lost in rhythm and let it drive my thoughts while I'm out hiking or biking.

I hiked 400 miles of the AT and while you're technically right, I found that cooked food made me feel better, having a shelter (I hammocked) made my sleep more restful, and I couldn't trust myself not to accidentally wipe my ass with some poison plant, so I was glad I had TP.

I need some comfort to sleep otherwise I'm more and more tired on the trail, I get up later and later and get cranky and then I just frigging stop and go back home.

Tarp and tent campers both sleep on the ground, usually with a sleeping pad. At this level, the comfort level is the same.

There are situations where a tent will be more comfortable: a tent provides protection from the wind absent natural barriers, a tent provides a refuge from biting insects, etc.

In many situations, the comfort provided by a tent is more mental than it is physical. The full enclosure of a tent provides comfort to people who worry about critters crawling over them in the night. Some people just feel more comfortable when fully enclosed.

All this said, it does take more expertise to sleep comfortably with a tarp. Site selection is more important. There are several ways to pitch a tarp and the best pitch to use depends on the situation. Tarps are more fiddly to pitch.

Wouldnt you need a tent for mosquitos spiders and Scorpions?

Most people will want some sort of netting when there's moderate to heavy pressure from biting insects. I carry a three ounce mosquito net in these situations. A full tent is not required.

Insect repellent and site selection (don't sleep next to lake) handle low bug pressure situations.

I don't worry about other critters where I hike in the PNW.

How light do you get your pack (minus the starting liquids).

Depends where you are and the season - bugs are less of a concern in the winter, and harmful spiders/scorpions aren't present everywhere. Plus, a can of insect repellent is still much lighter than a tent

> I vividly recall one of their dinners: Dried ramen noodle, straight from the bag.

I'm embarrassed to admit how many times I've eaten that on hikes. For my next long hike I'm probably going to ditch my stove completely: it's not so much the weight, but personally the last thing I want to do after a day of hiking is cook.

Dried ramen noodles, with the powder, shaken up in a bag, was a DAILY snack for many of us elementary school kids in the Northwest in the 90s.

A poll of Facebook friends showed that EVERYONE in the northwest in my age group found it normal and common, and it was common in Hawaii and really all over the west coast -- but nationwide as well. I think the idea originated with families of Japanese origin.

On the PCT I ate PopTarts every fucking day. Never again...

I've heard before (could be made-up) that instant noodles in dried form is, while enjoyable, basically indigestible and devoid (even moreso than if cooked) of nutritional content

I went on a five-day hike on a whim, and was pretty badly prepared. I suddenly found myself at the head of a trail, and decided to give it a go -- the things you do when you're young and invincible.

I had a few packets of ramen. I'd eat two packets for breakfast, but alredy an hour or so later I'd feel painfully hungry again.

I dreamed of huge, juicy steaks like you wouldn't believe.

After I returned to the world, I treated myself to the biggest steak the supermarket sold. DELICIOUS.

Well it's all carbs. I don't see how adding water changes the macronutrient makeup.

In the same way a block of wood is chock full of carbs but will provide no nutritional value (not quite the same way, but vaguely related).

This is not the same at all. You don't add something to a block of wood and then eat it - a block of wood is inedible.

Where I live eating ramen noodles dry is extremely common. Mainly as a snack, though.

I'm embarrassed to admit how many times I've eaten that while not on a hike.

"Sure, I could boil some water. Or I could just sprinkle seasoning on the top and eat it now..."

That's an actual food, you know =):

Mamee noodles:


They're very popular in Australian schools - basically dried ramen noodles with a special seasoning you sprinkle on, and eat them dry.

(The product originally started in Melaka/Malacca, in Malaysia which is my father's hometown).

Exactly. Ramen, uncooked, crunched up, with the flavor packet sprinkled over it was a great favorite of some of my friends in college...

When there aren't any cool ranch Doritos left, what are you going to do?

david chang agrees with you:


great reference -- I love this episode

The first time I wasn't cooking food on the trail was just a yew months ago, on my 22 days hike in Nepal (Jiri-Namche-EBC and the three passes). People who hike in these areas rarely camp but rather dine in the (very comfortable) tea houses. The food was tasty, filling and cheap, but by 2nd week I started to feel that I miss my evening camping routine of cooking my pre-made meal under a tarp.

I love hiking and but I also love cooking. Few years ago, while starting to shift into lighter base camp, I discovered how easy it is to make your own dehydrated meal. Nowadays when I hike, and especially on long multiple day hikes, I prepare myself a diverse food menu (i.e. Hummus, Pad Thai, vegetarian bolognese, curry, lentils with rice and the list goes on). I find that it keeps me motivated on the trail and full of anticipation for dinner rather than just eating to fight the trail hunger.

Moreover, the entire (long) process of cooking before heading out to the trail is for me a ceremony that fills me with anticipation.

I've done quite a few very strenuous, multi-week races on bike, including riding the Colorado Trail in 7 days [0], and riding to, then summiting all the Colorado 14ers in 34 [1] - as well as participating in the Tour Divide [2] twice.

I would call my fitness before these races as "peak", but I wouldn't call myself anything but near, "onset of over training syndrome" afterwards. The only thing I experienced similar to the author's was a slight bit of fat loss. Every other part of my body was wrecked, which took months to recover from.

One thing that stuck out with me is that they only hiked for 8 hours/day. That seems like a light day! compared to these races, where 5 hours of sleep is spoiling oneself. I guess the moral of the story before doing a, "thru hike for fitness" is to not to overdo it. It also seems like the author was in pretty alright shape to start out, with a fairly low pulse and overall bodyweight.

[0] http://www.climbingdreams.net/ctr/ [1] http://longranger.justinsimoni.com/tour14er/ [2] http://tourdivide.org/

I'm willing to bet money that the single determining factor that led you to different results was the amount of sleep. 5 hours is not even enough for a sedentary person, much less someone riding a bike all day. The more you work out the more sleep you need. I'm guessing the author got at least 8 hours a night, or however much was enough to fully recover.

I'm reading a book on breaking the two hour marathon and one pro (I cant remember her name at the moment) sleeps 16 hours a day when her training peaks

What's the book? Sounds interesting!

I'm guessing it's "Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon", by Ed Caesar (http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/review-two-hours-the...)

This is really interesting, statistically people sleeping 7 hours have the highest life expectancy.

I personally need 8 to 9, but I'm sharper if I only sleep ~ 6 hours (and eventually crash and have to recuperate).

Paula Radcliffe

Indeed. One of my favorite things about thru-hiking is that you get a ton of sleep: it's not unusual go to bed shortly after sunset and wake up at sunrise.

I usually feel like crap hiking if I'm not in bed for 10+ hours. Mostly that's not hard - you're tired, and just sleep all night. It was a pain in the ass in Alaska, though; I think I'd have real trouble with long hikes there in the summer.

I actually found kayaking and hiking in Alaska amazing (I was only there for 2 weeks). We'd be going for 12-16 hours a day but the constant sunlight made me feel super energized and happy.

The conditions of a race are very different from a thru-hike done for enjoyment. I got the best sleep of my life on the PCT. 8-9 solid hours each night (sometimes I would wake up to eat), and an hour nap after lunch every day.

That sounds like backpacking paradise, of which I am delighted to hear of as a contradiction to my experience. I hiked the New England section of the AT in high school, but our small party included a guy who snored louder than anyone I've ever met before or since. A wet, sucking, horrific noise that to the mind of my light-sleeping sixteen y/o self was surely identical to the sound of a giant lamprey or hagfish, slurping the innards of its living, long suffering prey, still undead after twenty-odd very very long nights...

Try some earplugs next time?

Your comment has me fondly remembering a backpacking trip in Wyoming. We'd go to sleep around 8 or 9 since it would get dark before then and wake up at about 7, and the sleep was indeed the best of my life, like coming out of a coma.

"One thing that stuck out with me is that they only hiked for 8 hours/day. That seems like a light day! compared to these races,"

Really. Carrying a 20kg pack for eight hours over rough terrain is less strenuous than bike riding? Do this for over 500 miles? Ever done this before? Hike on foot with 20kg packs on consecutive days? Make camp, make food, rest, break camp. Everything on your back. This is a lot more strenuous than you think. Hands down racing on a bike is much easier ^physically^ than hiking on foot carrying weight over broken terrain over long distances.

""One thing that stuck out with me is that they only hiked for 8 hours/day. That seems like a light day! compared to these races,"

Actually, this is probably true. 8 hours a day, averaging 18 miles per day for 486 miles over 29 days is not that much. I don't see where they say they had 20kg packs, which is quite high weight for a thru-hiker. (EDIT: See now where he says he had 40 pound pack, which is probably at heaviest point with full load of food, still high for thru-hiking and maybe a reason they logged less miles/day.) 18 miles/day is probably right around average for thru-hikers, who are mostly out for enjoyment and sense of accomplishment, not for speed. You have to be in decent shape, but it's not a high-intensity endeavor.

There is a fairly sizeable subset of thru-hikers who do go for speed, though. Many average well over 40 miles per day for several months and over 2000 miles. (They're definitely not carrying 40 pound packs.) They accomplish this mostly by hiking for longer hours each day, not by moving faster, since going faster breaks their bodies down. E.g., see this article:


18 miles can be quite an effort if there's over 7,000' of elevation gain. We're not told the grade of the trail but I imagine it's not flat.

The CT is about 500 miles long and has about 90,000 feet of accumulated elevation gain, which averages out to 3,200 feet over each 18 miles. That's not especially much for mountain hiking. One thing that makes the CT a bit harder is that it lies mostly at altitudes over 10,000 feet, where the air is thinner. Hiking 18 miles/day is quite an effort in any case, but still doing it on a hike like the CT is something the average person can do if they set their mind to it and train a bit for it.

"One thing that makes the CT a bit harder is that it lies mostly at altitudes over 10,000 feet, where the air is thinner. Hiking 18 miles/day is quite an effort in any case, "

Altitude would stop a lot of people. How long to acclimatise living at sea level?

As long as you aren't in the 5% of people who get Acute Mountain Sickness, probably just chill for 1-3 days at 6K-8K ft, and then "Hike High-Sleep Low".

I haven't spent much time at 10k but I routinely go to 8k and have never thought twice about it. Wake up, drive to 8k, do a trail race, go home.

" 8 hours a day, averaging 18 miles per day for 486 miles over 29 days is not that much."

Have you done this?

No, although I've done many days of more than 18 miles in the mountains, including 50 mile single-day mountain races. (The elite runners complete those in around 6 to 7 hours, over terrain of similar difficulty to Colorado Trail.) I don't mean to downplay their achievement, but the article is about a pair of average thru-hikers, out for a relatively short thru-hike. It is something that the average person can do, if they set their mind to it.

It doesn't really make sense to compare that effort to a race of any kind, let alone a mountain bike race -- since the thru-hikers we're talking about were not doing it as a race. Of course their effort was done at a lower level of intensity. For some perspective, a fellow recently set the Colorado Trail record with a time of 9 days 12 hours, almost three times as fast as the thru-hikers in the article: http://johnzahorian.com/coloradotrailfkt

For anyone interested, here's a youtube video documenting the record effort. The guy is kind of a celebrity in hiking circles, in large part because of high-quality videos he makes of his adventures:


(Zahorian's effort set the "unsupported" record, which means he carried everything, including all his food, from the start, and didn't stop at any towns along the way to resupply. Most hikers carry only enough food for 3 to 5 days at a time, and resupply along the way -- understandable because it's much easier than carrying everything from the start.)

"No, although I've done many days of more than 18 miles in the mountains, including 50 mile single-day mountain races."

With a pack? I ask because running over this terrain is hard. Hats off hard. But with a pack, things are different. You don't move as fast. Thanks @hsitz for the video.

"Most hikers carry only enough food for 3 to 5 days at a time, and resupply along the way"

Unsupported. I did't see if the original was unsupported - can't imagine carrying 30 days food. Even the PR1M I've used is pretty heavy. [0] Possible but you'd strip out all but the useful food. With re-supplies, do they have access to water?

"lower level of intensity."

Totally agree with this. Still hard yards.


[0] https://flickr.com/photos/bootload/4549780731

But 2.25 miles per hour is not fast. And you get 16hours to rest.

btw @hsitz I ask this question not to be rude, but to work out if overconfidence is driving the answer cf: ~ https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13620745

No worries about offending me. To give you some idea of where I'm coming from, I run, hike, and backpack over 3,000 miles per year, much of it in the mountains, and I'm in my fifties. I have good amount of personal and theoretical understanding of human physiology and psychology in endurance events.

Yes, some people are overconfident. I would suggest that the main problem in the context of endurance activities, though, is that people tend to be underconfident. People never get started because they think they can't do it, or that it would be too hard for them. They hear about people doing something like a thru-hike and they think these people must be gifted, special, or athletic in some way that they aren't.

That thought is almost entirely misguided. Certainly everyone has different abilities. But the vast majority of people out there doing these things have fairly average physical abilities. (For perspective, 2,000+ mile thru-hikes have been completed by children under 10 and people over 80.) They do probably have more motivation and dedication than most people, which are by far bigger determinants of success in these kinds of endurance endeavors than physical ability. But part of getting this motivation and commitment hinges on believing that they have the physical ability to do it (and/or that they can build themselves into physical shape to do it). Hence my post.

BTW, this is pretty much borne out by the guy who wrote the original article we're talking about. He didn't claim to be in great physical shape or have special physical ability, saying:

"Before the hike, I was fit but not training for anything. I ran five miles a couple times a week, went mountain biking about once a week, and periodically lifted weights. Like most Americans, much of my day was spent in front of a computer. I was 35 years old, 5'9" tall, and 150 pounds, with a BMI of 22.2 and body fat composition of about 13 percent."

thanks for the great reply @hsitz. One thing I did notice that as a fitness marker was the authors heart-rate (BPM). His resting heart rate measured at 48bpm. This is unusual and is in the range of ^endurance athletes^. In fact, soldiers are tested on carefully for this marker. It indicates no matter how fit you may be, resting heart-rate is an indicator of ^endurance^ capability. That resting heart rate means he can push a lot further, longer than most people.

I'm a thru-hiker. I'm done PCT/CDT & others.

8 hrs & 18 miles/day is pretty slow and short day. This is a novice thru hiker pace, but I doubt they were trying to set any records--

Average walking speed is 3 miles per hour. You're averaging that or greater, through trails / mountains, for 8 hours straight?

Yes 3mph is the pace for slightly rough trail. On flat/smooth ground it is slightly faster. Up at altitude & scrambling the pace will drop, but the CT doesn't have much of that. The CT is high altitude but overall fairly easy grade(the CDT has much more challenging sections).

8 hrs is nothing, once you have trail legs many thru hikers will basically walk the entire day. 3*15 = 45 miles per day give or take. In CO it will be slower generally as CO is not the easiest hiking, but still 18 miles/day is very chill pace.

The CT is also only 450 miles, so when they finished, they were just starting to get in shape really. On a longer trail is it generally considered that around 500 miles is where people start to observe really obvious improvements.

"many thru hikers will basically walk the entire day. 3*15 = 45 miles per day give or take. "

Yes on the many "hike all day" thing, but regarding mileage this is starting to shade off into hyperbole. E.g., when Scott Jurek set the (then) AT speed record in 2015, he averaged 49.2 miles/day, and that was with support (van carrying food, gear, and meeting him for sleeping spot each night, people helping with massage, etc.). And Jurek is (or once was) a world-class athlete.

Heather Anderson set the "unsupported" (she had nobody helping her carry anything and no help with camping or resupplies) AT record, also in 2015, and she averaged just 42 miles/day.

The speed records on PCT are a little faster in terms of miles/day, but not much. So I would not say that "many" thru-hikers are averaging "45 miles/day give or take", although I agree that 18 miles/day is pretty average. A lot of people may hit a 45 mile day somewhere along their hike, but it's exaggerating to suggest that more than a handful average anywhere near that over the entire hike.

I took Boy Scouts to Isle Royale (on Lake Superior). Its very rough and challenging. Average hiking speed for visitors is under 2mph.

We averaged 3.5. Carrying heavy packs, every day for a week. All it takes is practice, motivation and youth.

I have done both week long MTB touring off road with about 20kg of gear plus the bike. And 12 day off trail hikes through river gorges and crossing some steep ranges starting with about 24kg on my back.

On the MTB I got more fatigued each day due to the pace we were riding at. This meant we were burning glycogen most of the time. When you run out of glycogen you really struggle to keep pace.

On the hike the pace is usually at a level that allows effecient fat burning. Finding palatable food that has a high enough energy density and protein content to weight is a challenge.

If we rode slower then I would have been less fatigued each day.

Both types of activity are tiring but in different ways. The biggest difference though will come from the pace you set.

To my mind the key difference here is the word 'race'.

Your body will definitely be stressed differently if it's spending a lot of time near (above/below) lactate threshold as might be the case in a long bike race.

In the cycling world that might be called power zone 4(ish).

You'll probably also have to throw in a number of VO2max efforts for small hills; zone 5.

In the case of hiking with a 20Kg pack, in a non-race situation, for 8 hours a day I would guess you'll mostly spend your time at a lower heart rate doing tempo work, which would mostly be zone 2.

This is somewhat similar to the long, slow, steady training winter bike training that was popular before current practices of interval based training became popular. It is designed to improve muscular mitochondrial density.

Another way to put it, if the through-hike had been a race against the clock the hiker might have been much more degraded by the end of the race because he wouldn't be able to pace himself the same way.

I'm not a qualified sports scientist so would very much appreciate someone with more knowledge than me clarifying or correcting anything I've written.

All these mountain bike races are self-supported, so they're actually very similar in the amount of gear carrying by someone doing a thru-hike with UL equipment, as you're carrying everything you'll need from start to finish, including your sleep system. Much of the course for say - the Colorado Trail is difficult enough you're not riding the bike: you're pushing it. This sort of thing [0]

I've actually considered trying to hike the Colorado Trail unsupported - carrying everything I'll need from the start (except water) with NO resupplies until the end. My target time would be around 9 days. If you're trying to gauge how strenuous the types of effort I put forth when I go and do the things I do.

Anyways, 8 hours seems like an easy day on the trail for sure. 8 hours hike + 8 hours sleep leaves you 8 hours for $Other_Things. Might as well hike some more!

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyznXGXiSDk

"My target time would be around 9 days. If you're trying to gauge how strenuous the types of effort I put forth when I go and do the things I do."

These are good points. The distance this bloke covered was 800km. Every day another 30km. That is hard.

The current FKT for an unsupported CT hike is 9days 12hours and 32minutes. (Set this past season)

So, a 9Day pace would be a new record if you went for it.

Over the same distance sure, but have you ever raced mountain bikes? The broken terrain thing applies as well. And the increased efficiency just translates into more speed and distance. You might think descending 10k feet on a bicycle is cake compared to hiking, but packing that elevation drop into a tiny fraction of the time leads is actually a fairly intense upper body workout.

"have you ever raced mountain bikes?"

No. I think the OP was referring to road racing. One question, "do you carry the bikes uphill?"

When you hike do you ever jump down a 20-foot cliff?

It's asinine to get into this dick measuring contest, you shouldn't claim your sport is more hard-core than a sport you don't know. This mentality is why Lance Armstrong got his ass handed to him the first time he tried mountain bike racing because he thought it would be easy. And yes, there are race format where you carry bikes uphill: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclo-cross.

That sounds fine. I haven't done it for 500 miles but I've done it for 50mi, 40lb pack, all over 7000ft. Yeah, you're VERY tired at the end of the day, but I'd never compare it to racing anything but a car.

I've done 100- and 200-mile bike rides in one day, and foot races up to half marathon, and I'd absolutely consider those to be harder.

For one, the backpacking I could get up and do TOMORROW. The racing, not so much.

And the racing I could not do 2 days in a row. The backpacking I could do, again, tomorrow, for 2 weeks, without a doubt.

Experienced thru hikers have packs with base weight of 6-7kg in summer. The total with food and water 9-12kg.

Man, how did you survive on 5 hours of sleep ? I rode my bike for 200 km in 11 hours and post that, slept like a log for 9 hours. I mean, I was knocked out. Couldn't open my eyes despite alarms.

I can't understand it either, I'm absolutely exhausted from _one_ day of biking. But check out things like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans_Am_Bike_Race and the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcontinental_Race for the really extreme stuff.

There's a great documentary about Transcontinental race from 2015 at https://vimeo.com/ondemand/transcontinental which is well worth watching. Seems to be behind a (cheap) paywall now but it's well worth it as an intro to how it's done.

It's absolutely mesmerizing to watch for regular crazy people (as opposed to the crazy crazy people who partake) and there is some great behind the scenes footage on youtube. These races are great to watch in real time because you can follow every GPS tracker and since each rider chooses their own directions it can get really exciting.

If you are unused to it, this sort of thing is a real shock to the system, but your body is more adaptable than you might think.

On the other hand, there are limits. Some of the scenarios discussed int this thread (distance races for time, SF training, etc.) are causing damage to your body that will require recovery time - and the longer you go for the more recovery you will need. Other levels of exertion seem extreme to us from the point of view of a mostly sedentary life, but if you manage the sleep and diet stuff (a bit better than a typical thru hiker does), you can handle medium-high level physical exertion (e.g. 8 hours hiking) basically indefinitely.

I've done multiple 1000km bicycle rides (with full gear) at a similar pace that, once you are settled in, feels a bit just like routine. On the other hand I've ridden distances on a single day or weekend that knocked me out for a week afterwards. It's all in the balance.

The US Army's Ranger School is 8 weeks on 2 hours of sleep a night, apart from one night you are allowed 5 hours because there's a parachute jump the next day...

NB: The point of things like that is to explore failure boundaries, not a sustainable activity level.

Don't forget the malnutrition and that it takes a year to recover from.

I'm just a civvy and obviously don't know anything, but I've always found what I've heard/read about Ranger School puzzling. Does it really produce something that cannot be produced any other way? Why does no other military have something like it?

I raced Tour Divide in 2015 too (21 days), slept an average of about 5 hours a night, until New Mexico, which I rode the entirety of on 5 hours sleep. I was utterly destroyed by the end of it. I went from 78kgs in Banff, to 69kgs in Antelope Wells. My resting heart rate was already low (around 45) by the end it was more like 35.

Agreed with other comments on here, the thru-hike is a totally different situation, and 8 hours a day hiking is half the time I was on a bike probably.

I'd love to do it again!

He's the strava activity https://www.strava.com/activities/341380125

When i walk all day i sleep 12 hours, in morning i feel like i want to continue this way instead of noooooo no more walking! Sleep deprivation is just ridiculous, water sleep and food should be plenty in any of long strenous things or else its just self destruction madness

"When i walk all day i sleep 12 hours"

I wish there was some perma-link from:

- HN comment threads about insomnia (lightbulb colors, screen brightness, silly apps)

- HN comment threads about light to moderate exercise

It's amazing how simple the answers to these problems are and how close at hand those answers are ...

I agree that people often miss the easy answers on sleep. It's important, though, that light/dark and exercise are not interchangeable sleep aids. Very, very broadly:

Light issues are about melatonin, which is production-inhibited and rapidly destroyed in the presence of blue light. Increasing melatonin levels is the point of Flux and blue glasses and all the rest.

Exercise issues are about adenosine, which is produced over time and gradually with physical activity, and consumed during sleep. (It's also what caffeine inhibits.)

These aren't entirely interchangeable, so there's more to be gained from addressing whichever one is the largest personal issue. (Anecdotally, I have a suspicion that the feeling zombie-tired insomnia is about a bad mismatch from sedentary tiredness.)

I do think that people preferentially worry about light issues without trying exercise, though.

This guy took a selfie every mile of the PCT. It's pretty cool to see his transformation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyo8OIp7aHM

I brushed over this post the first time but I just watched the first and last segments of the video now.

I am mind blown. He is a completely different person in appearance! (2600 miles btw)

The subtleties of it are very interesting. It took ~1300 miles for significant loses to appear(IMHO) but you can see how it took a while for his skin to catch up. For a while his face is a bit droopy giving him a very haggard look. Nothing another 1k miles didn't tighten up lol.

The longer he walks, the more he looks like Chuck Norris.

I can't BELIEVE how different he looked after the hike. Rugged handsomeness increased 10-fold.

How come his beard isn't growing? It's freaking me out!

I did 50mi backpacking over 7k feet with a 40lb pack in 5 days, and lost 10lbs. Which is impressive considering even at my hardest training I have a hard time losing more than 1lb/week normally.

By far the best shape I've ever been in was after hiking the 270-mile Long Trail in high school. It's the only time on my life—before or after—that I've ever been not overweight. The amazing thing about thru-hiking is that you can start in any shape and come out healthier.

For a while last year I toyed with the idea of hiking the Appalachian Trail. I even did a few practice hikes of a week or two, but ultimately realized that even if I completed the trail I'd gain all the weight I loss right back, the same way I did after the LT (by continuing a high-carb diet).

Now I'm on keto and cutting carbs was by far the best health choice I've made in my life. It's still a dream of mine to hike the AT though (probably not for a long time though, as my startup wouldn't survive absence).

Why not do something that is easy to maintain on a daily/weekly basis? I cycle to work every day (approx. 11 km, so 22 km per day). In the summer I usually take a route where I have to climb quite a bit twice a week. Going by train/car takes approximately the same time. I am fit and have a good weight.

When I was still studying, I climbed indoor twice a week, which made me extremely fit. But after a couple of years I got bored.

I am on a regular Dutch/Germany diet.

The simple answer is that you can't outweigh a fork, and until he/she sorts inputs, outputs will have little effect on weight loss.

Keto has so far been quite easy to maintain. It's just a simple habit change.

I already walk to work every day.

I did about 500 miles on the AT. I found that my miles per day were dramatically better when I upped my calories per day from 3000 to 4000. But then I wasn't losing any weight (although I was certainly gaining leg muscle mass).

I went back to my pre-hike weight and then some within a few years afterward.

I do think if you've got the time and inclination, a thru-hike is a lovely way to lose weight temporarily!

Best of luck in making a permanent change in your lifestyle. I've been maintaining a low carb diet/lifestyle (paleo inspired) for over ten years, so it is indeed possible, with enough habit building.

It's definitely the best diet I've ever tried. After the first week I stopped craving carbs at all. Plus I feel full all the time.

After doing 2000-mile treks on the AT and PCT, I can say that hikers generally get their "trail legs" after roughly 500 miles or one month. Damascus VA and Tehachapi CA are big spots for zeroes and recalibration, and then you're off to the races. This post is excellent in showing the changes in those first 500 miles, but doesn't go on to show much about what happens after. That peak performance is maintained very well.

I agree with your assessment generally, but there are some caveats.

When you start to get into around the 10th week and beyond, there's a wall you can hit if you aren't eating well enough. This is not really an issue on American or European long-distance trails where any sort of nutrition one desires can be arranged in your resupplies (and you can eat ravenously on town days) but if you do multi-month trips in the 3rd world, you'll find trail legs don't last forever when all you're eating is rice and some kind of legume for every meal. At a certain point the lack of high-quality nutrition starts to make you progressively weaker.

That was exactly the case on my 18 month bike trip in Alaska, South America, SE Asia & China. We found it very difficult to pack or even find enough quality proteins (and at the time we didn't know they where that important tbh). In the end I lost 20 kgs and went from 85 to 65 for a 178 cm 30 y.o. guy.

That was 5 years ago and I managed to mantain that weight by taking care of what I eat. I think that trip changed something in my metabolism and helped to know myself better.

Do you have any data or articles or anything?

Another good option if you're not interested in hiking is bicycle touring. A few years ago I spent a summer cycling across France, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria and it was an absolutely incredible experience. After cycling for roughly 6 hours per day over six weeks, I lost a ton of weight, despite eating anything and everything I wanted. (Which was more food than I would normally eat at home, considering you're burning thousands of calories per day in exercise alone.) Definitely would recommend to anyone interested in combining long, sustained periods of exercise with traveling.

i biked the oregon coast with some friends. it was so fun, despite being a literal pain in the ass. also highly recommend! i was quite strong after just a week. the highlight of the summer for sure.

> despite being a literal pain in the ass

A good saddle helps with that. :) My preference is the Brooks B-17.

Such a heavy saddle but once you wear it in its the most comfortable ride out there.

I'm pretty sure I didn't wear mine in, rather it wore me in.

If you are touring with gear, that weight gain is a rounding error :)

I would love to hear a rough outline of your path. Were you mostly on roads with cars or is there a more established bike lane infrastructure? Any issues sharing the road with vehicles?

We followed the Eurovelo 6 bicycle route (http://www.eurovelo.com/en/eurovelos/eurovelo-6). Fortunately Europe has great bicycle infrastructure so we were able to stay on dedicated cycle paths or at least bike lanes the majority of the time. In the instances where we did end up sharing the road with cars, it was not an issue, European drivers are in general very cycle friendly. (Especially in contrast with New Zealand which was frankly terrifying.)

Awesome, thanks!

@kevin488 The Adventure Cycling Association is the de facto source for bike touring routes and maps: https://www.adventurecycling.org/routes-and-maps/

I'm just getting into touring, myself and it's quite awesome. You get the joys of cycling, treking through nature, and can pack a little more liberally than backpacking. The big limiting factor is finding suitable trails and roads.

Good article, but just to nitpick a 0.3% hemoglobin A1c change over only 2 tests doesn't necessarily mean anything. Normal people can vary by that much from week to week due to a variety of factors. We would have to see multiple tests over a longer period of time to tell whether there was a real reduction.

Also his testosterone levels were shockingly high but I know from personal experience those can fluctuate dramatically for many men.

Additional tests would have been nice.

IMO strength training will boost my test far more than cardio but I have never carried a 20lbs pack for 500 miles.

Yea, I was going to point out the testosterone test as well. Taking 2 data points is hardly enough. To really understand your testosterone levels you need to take multiple data points, over a period of weeks / months.

A1c in a month? It's usually not particularly helpful to remeasure A1c in less than 30 days because blood cells don't turn over that quickly. Whatever changes happened to his blood glucose could only have affected about 1/3rd of the blood cells. If there was real change to his glucose tolerance or uptake, it would take another two months to really know what the effect was.

Agree. The hormonal differences could have be attributed to the stress of preparing for this big event versus not working and being out in nature for a month. Or even things like the time of day, or sleep the night or two before. Would've been helpful to have more numbers over a longer period of time.

Yeah, Type I here and I've always heard that .5% is within the margin of error.

How does one get started doing this kind of thing? Ever since moving to the US, and specifically to the PNW, I've been wanting to hike, but I don't know where to start. People here seem to grow up used to it, but I don't know what equipment I need, what food to bring, how to get to the trails (do I drive? what if there's no parking?), etc.

You just kind of... do it.

Step 1.) Pack what this dude tells you to and follow his advice for food -- http://www.adventurealan.com/best-backpacking-food/

Step 2.) Go when temperates are cool at night, but not cold (high 40F as a minimum). This allows you to buy cheap gear to learn with.

Step 3.) Pack the gear this guy tells you to -- https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-ultimate-hikers-gear-gu...

Step 4.) Buy the cheapest lowest quality gear you can for cool weather hiking. Let it be heavy/used/whatever. Cheap shelter. Cheap sleeping bag. Cheap pack. Except -- https://www.traildesigns.com/stoves/caldera-keg-f-stove-syst... learn about alcohol cook systems. They are super light and there is no sense in buying a heavy cook system you will just re-purchase. For a pad, just get a foam ridge rest, see if you can live with it. Most thru hikers end up with a very minimal padding. Something like a thermarest prolite is an okay compromise if you can't stand a ridge rest foam pad thing. There are some ultralight air mattress options that aren't too heavy, but foam pad is easiest.

Step 5.) Plan very low risk "backpacking" at state park camp grounds where there are RVs and lots of people. Trial your gear. If you fail you are right next to lots of people and shelter. Go to places with lots of day hikes. Hike all day. Camp at the camp ground at night.

Step 6.) You should know what kind of sleeper you are. Now you have to decide... are you a camper or a hiker? If you are a hiker, be a gram weenie and buy the nicest ultra-light gear you can afford. If you are a camper, stick with comforts, plan to hike less. Check out cottage gear makers like enlightened equipment and z-packs. Their gear is great. Pay attention to skurka on water treatment: platypus plastic bladders are fine. Aqua mira (a chlorine water treatment system) is super easy.

Step 7.) Do the things. After 3 or 4 weekend trips you will start to know what is up.

Step 8.) Keep reading the blogs and gear things of crazy ultralight hikers. Expand your horizons. If you hike more, learn more about ultralight gear (http://www.adventurealan.com/2-4-pound-extreme-ultralight-ba...)

Step 9.) Learn about orienteering and navigating with map and compass. On major trails you can get away with guide books, but a little knowledge can help you out here.

Step 10.) If you are athletic stick with "trail shoes" and not hiking boots. Hiking boots are crazy. I have hiked hundreds of miles on the AT in plain old running shoes. buy nice wool socks. Accept your feet will be wet and that it is part of the experience if you are a distance hiker. Wool socks will keep your feet warm, even if they are wet :)

You will make mistakes. Surprisingly a lot of the rules of how and where you can hike are very sparsely documented outside of the main trails like the AT.

That is it. Start safe to permit mistakes. After a week of nights outdoors you will have the hang of it. You can start planning weekend backpacking trips then probably.

These are all just guidelines. I am not sold on any brand or whatever, I just use these things and know they work for me. You can spend endless hours researching gear. You just have to commit, be safe, and learn what works for you and what you like and enjoy about the outdoors and backpacking experience. Some people love camping and food and hike as a means to see beautiful places. I am a restless soul and want to tire myself out covering ground when I hike. I am there to be in motion in nature. You just gotta think it thru and figure what you like, and if you like it.

Good luck! Happy trails.

edit: I have met thru hikers that literally had /zero/ experience when they started an AT thru hike. By the time they made it about 50 miles on the trail they are throwing out hatchets, heavy foods, and heavy gear. If these folks can do it, you can to, and you can cut out the days of misery as you learn your gear is too heavy, etc.

> If you are athletic stick with "trail shoes" and not hiking boots

Use what works for you, but I completely disagree with this. I thru-hiked the AT in 2014 in full hiking boots, and didn't have any of the feet problems like friends in normal trail shoes did afterwards; I would have rolled my ancle several times if it weren't for the support, and it only took two pairs (friends with trail shoes went through a lot more when the bottoms got too worn out and got slippery on wet rocks or started to peel off).

Athletic is subjective of course. I do think boots are fine for most, so this is a good addition, but if you run a lot your ankles are probably pretty strong. And moving heavy boots every step slows you down.

Caveat: I run ultramarathons and have thousands of trail miles on my feet. Never rolled an ankle. Never worn boots for 99%. Sample size of 1, etc, but I have met many others in this camp. Shoes can get "religious".

If you are on super rough terrain or mountaineering you also want specific boots.

Number of people who were dismissive of my heavy hiking boots in the first 200 miles of the AT: too many to count (maybe dozens?).

Number of those people who went home with injured ankles: 2. Anecdotal, of course, but I certainly felt vindicated (and, of course, sad for those folks).

If you're in a super duper hurry, having your boots slow you down is maybe a slight drag. If you value foot health over speed, I, too, am a huge fan of heavy hiking boots.

Heh yeah. See below... it is sort of a religion. I really do tell most people to wear hiking boots for the reasons you and your parent commented cited though. I just felt like I should say if someone was in really good shape (like, really good) they can get away with less.

I decided to do a little research to see if I could find any actual studies. Didn't find anything. Some interesting data about military using combat boots vs. running shoes in PT, but that is pretty different from rooty/rocky/slipper trails like the AT. I am gonna have to say anyone that feels too strongly about one or the other should proceed with caution because there is no real evidence one way or another, just religious camps. :)

I'm sure I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about the whole thing; I'm jealous of people like you who never roll their ankles!

Know your own capabilities is a good approach, in most activities.

Yep. Find what works, and try the alternatives when there is no good science one way ir another.

What an excellent and helpful comment. Thanks for sharing that.

REI Garage Sales are excellent sources of incredibly cheap and good equipment. Become an REI member so you can take advantage!

If you live in Seattle, check out the Mountaineers. If in Portland, the Mazamas. First and second largest mountaineering groups in the US iirc. I learned to climb through maxamas, you'll learn to do it right. They don't just climb though, lots of hikes and training.

Finding a group in your area that's open to beginners can be an excellent way to start out, because they'll be planning the hikes and navigating, and can tell you what you need to bring.

With a bit of experience, you can start to pick up on basic navigational skills, etc., and be able to judge what equipment works and what you're lacking.

You don't need much to start out. Some good sneakers/tennis shoes/running shoes are fine for most on-trail hiking, and then just a liter or two of water (more in hot/dry climates) and some food/snacks for an average dayhike with a group where others are navigating.

On your own, you'd want some sort of map/compass, GPS or phone with GPS capability and relevant hiking maps of your area.

A good first step would be to go to REI. They have a liberal return policy if the gear you buy doesn't work for you. They have good trail books at the bookshelves that will give you plenty of well-categorized hikes organized by region and difficulty. Start with a decent daypack, hiking boots, and a basic survival kit (water bottles, first aid kit, emergency blanket, knife). Try out a few dayhikes of five miles or less, at that point you'll rapidly learn enough to know what direction you want to go in next. It's not that big a leap afterwards to getting a multi-day backpack, a tent, a sleeping bag / pad, a water filter, and a stove.

Take a look at your local Sierra Club chapter or outdoor goods store (REI for example). There are a ton of "Beginner Hiking/Backpacking" type classes.

The Washington Trail Association (http://wta.org) is a great resource for hikers and backpackers in Washington State.

See http://www.wta.org/hiking-info/basics for introductory information about hiking and backpacking.

Seconded, but in NY here.

If you're in NYC, there are several hiking clubs which are very friendly to beginners which you could join.

Big state, but I assume NYC?

Yeah, city.

Here are two recommendations for places within proximity to you:

The Palisades Interstate Park is just across the GW Bridge in New Jersey. It has hiking trails all throughout the park but I would recommend the northern section and the "giant steps" trail leading to the "peanut cascade".

New York's Hudson Highlands is just across the Hudson River from Bear Mountain. There's a nice scramble trail at Breakneck Ridge.


I roped a buddy into doing the Old Croton Trail this spring as well.

A good way is to sign up for group hikes and camping trips from REI and other places. You can also look for hiking clubs and ask for help, or find people at work/school who hike. Finally, you can start doing research by yourself and learn by (sometimes painful) trial and error.

My first major hike (9 days at Torres del Paine, solo, I was 19) was hell, shitty gear, overweight backpack and so on, but was amazing and I learned a lot.

It is far easier to hike in groups, there are major gains in weight (stuff for 4 people weigh far less that 4X stuff for 1 person).

Just a small comment I don't recommend anyone to try to learn hikes/camping by themselves. Hike and camp with a buddy until you are very, very experienced (even then I still recommend not being alone).

Not so much of an issue if you're hiking around well-populated areas with celular coverage, starting with day hikes and eventually extending to overnight. Or by camping with your car.

I must admit I was pretty stupid to do Torres del Paine alone with little experience and bad equipment, but hey, I was 19.

I've done it two more times since then, both alone. But one detail worth mentioning is that for famous hikes like TdP, you're rarely alone, there are usually dozens of people doing the same hike, and you end up teaming up with them and hiking together. I'm still good friends with most of the people I met on the trail, especially remote trails.

Sometimes it's not an option. I've survived years of solo hiking but I do worry and try to keep to places where someone would find my body within a day and only hike in warmer months.


Is this the type of thing you mean? REI is a brand I've seen so I wasn't aware they did things like that.

I'll be traveling a lot but I'll be hiking/camping alone since I don't have a spouse, so groups would be a great way to make friends and not have as much risk.

Yes, REI is a outdoor sports chain, with a lot of stores across the country. They are actually a coop, owned by the consumers. You become a shareholder by spending money on the store, and get 10% back after becoming a member. Really great company.

That's a good place to start.

Meetup.com is great for just getting into hiking, just search "[your city or metro area] hiking." Equipment couldn't be easier, wear comfortable walking shoes (sneakers are fine) and bring sunblock, snacks, and water. If you start hiking a lot, you may want to invest in dedicated hiking shoes, a hydration pack, trekking poles etc. But you don't need any of that to get started in easy hikes.

I did El Camino de Santiago 3 years ago weighing at 220 pounds. 600 miles and 35 days later i was 160 pounds and had new perspective on life. As someone who always struggled with extra weight I've been able to keep the weight off ever since. Never felt better physically and mentally.

By the way, I've met a lot of folks who started with the Camino as their first thru-hike and went on to do AT and Continental Divide. I highly recommend it as a trial thru hike. It's not very difficult, but not easy either. But it'll definitely whip your legs into shape and get your prepared for something bigger and better.

I did Camino 2.5 years ago (same year? October). Started with 160kg,finished with 132. 24 days. Felt like iron man after I dropped off my backpack at the Santiago airport. I got my weight back eventually. Looking forward to repeating this someday.

60 lbs in 35 days is really dramatic! Is that even possible?

Are results like that typical?

I was a sack of bones when I came back. I shocked nearly everyone and used to get this same question a lot. I don't think it's typical. I did starve myself for a little bit because I had huge trouble adjusting to food, which i typically do when i travel for some reason, and had a lot of digestion issues. I was mostly on fruits and veggies for the first 2 weeks which was rather hellish. Walking 8-10 hours a day and these first 2 weeks I'm sure contributed a lot to this.

That is 12lbs/wk! 2lbs/wk (-1000 cal/day) is considered a harder weight loss diet to maintain! That means he had a 6000 calorie deficit per day. Backpacking all day can give you a 4000-6000cal burn per day[1], so if he kept up something like a 2000cal/day diet and not conk out, then I could see that.

[1] https://www.outdoors.org/articles/amc-outdoors/how-many-calo...

something happens to metabolic rate too. you keep burning more calories even resting and sleeping. After camino, I lost another 7kg in 10 days doing mostly nothing, sleeping a lot.

I did 10lbs in 5 days so I don't see why not. Obviously you have to start high enough that you can continue to lose.

From memory, we had oatmeal and coffee for breakfast, a bunch of salami throughout the day, and freeze-dried camp meals for dinner. Couldn't have been more than 2k calories/day. I'm not saying this is sustainable for more than a week, but I don't remember feeling particularly hungry. It's really hard to carry enough food to eat a huge amount of calories.

So the question is: at what point does this kind of long-term exercise turn from beneficial to burnout/overtraining?


And can you reliably predict it beforehand?

Having suffered from burnout/CFS, I would be very careful about doing something like this, and I'd be on the lookout for early warning signs such as elevated heart-rate, anxiety/depression, excessive fatigue/pain, oversleeping/insomnia, etc.

The old-school method is to get a grip dynamometer and keep a daily log. If your grip strength suddenly takes a dive you need to take some recovery time. Lot's of other indicators seem to work too, eg resting heart rate, but grip strength is really easy to measure reliably.


That's a very useful and informative post. Thanks!

Lots of good answers, but I would add that long-term hiking in particular is remarkably sustainable.

As far as I know, hikes like the one described here (8 hour days at a mild/moderate pace) can be kept up almost indefinitely if you have a good diet and don't run into acute injuries. Lots of overtraining injuries like shin splints are much less likely than in other sports.

That said, you can get badly burned by fairly tame risks just because you're doing something so repetitive. Even simple dietary stuff can blow up - if you're eating the same handful of meals every day you can run into uncommon issues like micronutrient deficiencies.

The risks you mentioned are definitely real, but most of the stories are hear suggest that there are solid warning signs (even just "I feel shitty now"). Most of the people who burn out seem to be ignoring those signs or pushing through them for some goal.

Related to that, are there detrimental long term effects for too much exercise? Can you wear out your joints so much you'll be using a walker at 60? Damage your internal organs by pushing yourself too far?

The glib-sounding, but basically true answer is: If you're planning to do it every day for 5-6 months, you ease into it, and do it at a level you can maintain for the next 5-6 months. And if you're feeling sore, ease back off a bit. Your body will mostly tell you what it needs.

The conventional wisdom among thru-hikers is that the only way to get in shape for a hike is to start hiking and get in shape as you do it. This seems to be largely true. In 2010 on the AT, down south, a number of people who started out in good shape from e.g. running, pushed too hard early on, had various health problems and dropped off. People also take far, far more Ibuprofen (I.B. Broken) than they ought to so they can continue pushing out long days.

For something like a thru-hike, you adjust your level of exertion to what you can sustain for the time you expect to take, which for practical purposes is "indefinitely" when you're talking about a 5 month walk.

The above applies to a "normal", unsupported thru-hike. People shooting for the speed record are a whole different case.

I would suggest it becomes burnout when you don't get enough nutrition or sleep to recover reliably.

I had normal sleep and nutrition, and so did most people I know who burned out. However, insomnia can be a symptom of burnout (I had severe insomnia, but it a symptom rather than a cause).

I do know of one person for whom sleep deprivation seemed to be a contributing factor, along with other stresses associated with military service.

In general burnout seems to be caused by chronic physical/mental stress.

Secrets to fitness revealed!

  1: Stand up
  2: Go outside
  3: Walk around a lot

Those are the easy steps. You forgot:

    0: Acquire the free time and money to not have to work,
       take care of others, etc. for extended periods of time.

>Acquire the free time and money to not have to work,

I do a lot of work while walking and hiking; as a programmer, most my time is spent thinking which I do not need a computer for. Well, I need a phone or tablet to find stuff on internet to think up a solution, but I can do that during walking. And I do. It won't give me a month of 8 hours / day, but it does give hours of walking per day. I did hikes of 4-6 hours / day in fulltime work days while sleeping / working in hotels on way points of the hike. 4-5 hours of walking/dictating/looking up stuff and then 2 hours of typing in/testing/delegating when arriving at a hotel.

That's really interesting did you document any more about your process?

I was going to do that but did not yet. I must say that I generally try to do not do any 'frontend' stuff. So sure I do prototypes of the frontends but someone else does a UX/UI and the coding of that. So my thinking is architectural, the different components, algorithms and low level implementations. All of these I can work out in my head with some Google + paper which means I can walk during that. If I would have to do HTML/CSS it would not work; I am not sure if that's because i'm just not that fast with it, but it's way too much iteration to not make me sit in front of a (large) screen for too long. For instance, when I have to do embedded work, thinking up the coding, let's say for a RISC chip, can be worked out to quite a lot of detail before typing 1 line. Worse; if I don't work it out in detail, I'll just end up frustrated behind a debugger and a lot of crashes. I have done that since I was young as assembly or low level C never worked well for me while iterating; only in recent years I realised that this applies to other projects as well.

Another thing that has to be said is that peripheral vision is important; when I walk writing or staring in my phone, I don't have issues tripping, walking into things etc. I would be very handicapped if I did not have that. And another thing with my eyes is that I read very very small print which is why I can work quite comfortably on small tablets / computers (I am looking forward to receiving the Pyra).

There are plenty of people hiking the AT who are decidedly not wealthy. Heck, I've met quite a few hikers who hike specifically to save money (living off social security).

I found lots of folks on the AT who weren't Silicon Valley wealthy (although I'd say more of them were than I expected).

But almost no one was actually poor, as in, had ever lived hand to mouth, or couldn't call in family support at a moment's notice.

So I'd say everyone I met was much more wealthy than anyone who's really poor in the US.

Certainly there are exceptions, but the general assessment that thru-hikes aren't for the poor seems sound to me.

No, that's irrelevant because of all parent's 3 points could easily be part of a job like land or mineral surveying, field biology, forestry, and so on. You don't have to quit working to go outside and walk around all day.

I always wanted to be ....

A lumberjack!

This isn't realistic for most people. How many foresters/ mineral surveyors are there?

Not realistic for many people who live far from rural areas.

Or have an outside office with stand up desk and treadmill.

Run, walk or cycle to - or part of the way to - work. Problems solved

4: Be restricted in your calories by having to carry everything on your back.

Not really because you choose foods that are calorie-dense (i.e. foods without water weight, and fatty foods).

3000-4000 calories per trail day was typical during my 1,900 PCT miles. I never had to restrict intake due to weight concerns. Also binged on burgers and ice cream at every opportunity in town.

This is what one of my larger resupplies looked like, 31,750 calories for a 7-day stretch:


I gained 5 pounds overall, but started in decent shape without much to lose (125 lbs).

When I did the JMT I was restricted in the last leg by the volume of my bear cannister. That's mostly what I was thinking of. I dropped from around 3500 calories per day to around 2800, and I sure felt it (also the last leg is by far the most difficult, southbound).

Yes, the southernmost stretch of JMT is also the burliest stretch of the PCT!

Many thru hikers bend the rules for bear canister use. We carried canisters because we had to, but I don't know any PCT nobo'er who was able to cram all their food inside for the long Sierra Nevada (JMT) stretches. We slept next to our food so that we could chase away the bear.

Yeah, that would have been nice to have even just one more day of food outside the cannister, but I was pretty committed to following the rules.

5. Uphill.

6. Repeat.

Things do tend to be needlessly complicated, don't they?

But the data provided in the article is a nice contribution.

I think the complication comes in trying to balance exercise with everything else you want to do. Not everyone has the interest or the means to go on a 30 day hike.

Completely agree. But while I usually find overly-distilled things unhelpful, for the vast majority of people it really does come down to consuming fewer, better calories, and moving more (i.e, burning more).

But I agree that the overthinking comes when people are trying to fit 27 hours of daily activities into 24, and also when people are pursuing results without burning more and/or consuming fewer calories.

You need to lift heavy things as well.

I wish he had tracked his wife's possible changes as well.

I am suspicious he was not at 5 % body fat after the hike. 5 % is extremely low, like really really low, and he used impedance scales as he said in his post.

I use them every day and the fluctuations can be massive due to the water content in the body. And obviously long hikes do mess up hidration a lot.

He should try weighing himself / checking fat % for 5-6 days after the hike on different times of day.

I am not saying his hike sucked - I am envious, I wanna do it ! :)

A long thru hike is something I've always wanted to do. I was planning on hiking the AT or PNT after I finished university. But, now that I'm a few weeks away from graduating/starting my job, its not something that's financially possible for me. Does anyone have any suggestions about how to find time for something like this later in life?

I know an individual from Microsoft who's managers were kind enough to allow him a 6 month absence to hike the PCT. He thru hiked it this Summer and is now back on our team, as productive as ever.

I'm sure this situation isn't exclusive to Microsoft. If you're valued as an employee and want to do something like this, make your wishes known to your management and see if they're willing to work with you. If you never ask, the answer is always no.

Well, there's Microsoft, and then there's my wife... But seriously, I've been thinking about walking from Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass for a couple of years now, so maybe this summer is the time.

Its not exclusive to MS, like you said if you're valued as an employee, ask.

I work for a pretty small security company doing assessments (penetration testing, vulnerability research and stuff). I loved the job and really didn't want to lose it but was willing to.

The first year I asked, I basically just said, I love working here but I'm going to go hike this trail for 6 months and hopefully they'd work with me.

Then I asked for it again the next year, again willing to leave but didn't have to.

Finally, I took some time with my boss and had a discussion around continuing that work pattern into the future and how I can make it easier for them (notice periods, time of year to take off and such)

I completely agree with your last statement, if you never ask, the answer is always no. One of my coworkers when I returned the first time actually asked me how I asked because he wanted to do the PCT.

Do it now. Every year it will get harder to find the time.

Do it between jobs, or work for a company with a decent leave policy. My friend took 6 months off from Google last year.

Once you're out of debt and have the savings: do it. It's generally easier to do these things before other responsibilities start having higher priorities.

Yes, it's simple. Quit your job. Get a new one when you finish your hike.

We can say with relative certainty that the body fat measurements are incorrect and can be discarded. When you see glaring errors such as the assumption that the author was 5% body fat at the end of his hike,it makes you question the other metrics as well. To the authors credit he points out that bioelectrical impedance is flawed.

Cool hike though!

As long as he used the same equipment before and after, does it matter? The Point is the change, not the exact numbers.

In this case it does matter. Hydration levels cause massive fluctuation in bioelectrical impedance testing. Also, at bodyfat levels below 15%, the numbers tend to be meaningless, even the trend in the numbers.

For instance, I have a Fitbit Aria which I use to track weight. It also spits out a bodyfat number. This morning I measured 5.4%. yesterday, I measured 12.1%. Skin caliper testing, DEXA scans, or submersion chambers are the only real way to test at lower BF levels. An eyeball is better than the scale at this point. One look at someone will tell you that they are not even close to 5%. You will see significant vascularity and seperation between the muscles at that level. Only bodybuilders really tend to get there. The typical guy on a mens fitness cover wouldn't likely be under 7%.

Hydration levels can cause it to fluctuate dramatically. Most are also calibrated for an "average" level of fitness, and state that if you are an athlete, the numbers may be inaccurate.

So if he went from typical fitness to "athlete" fitness, or typical hydration to shortly-after-long-hike hydration, the error range for the second may be much wider than the first.

That said, he undoubtedly lost fat. The BF% measurement change is likely not an accurate measurement of how much he lost.

Now if only we could replicate this somehow in the 21st century knowledge worker world without actually dedicating 8 hours a day to walking in nature. Any tips?

Perhaps install a treadmill, with a desktop setup attached to it? [1]

Or, better yet, [2].

[1] http://thehumansolutionblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/t...

[2] http://assets.inhabitat.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/201...

Walking a few weeks in the nature is precisely the point.

Humanity will have to figure something out here. Our bodies are evolved for hunting / gathering, yet over a few thousand years we've evolved to sitting in an office chair all day. Until our bodies have adapted to what, we need to come up with a way to simulate the environment we are actually optimized for.

Treadmill. VR headset or at least a wall-projector. Nature soundtrack. Variable speed fan with heating, cooling, and automatic scent generator.

...And moving the soda machine 20 miles away.

That environment is still out there.

7 weeks minimum vacation by law, so everyone has the time to stay healthy and sane (could do a 4wk-long hike/year and you still have 3wks left for regular vacations and other stuff, plus holidays off). Quickest and surest route from here to there.

Ya but how many toenails does he have left? Every time I've hiked > 15 miles at a time they start turning purple

Get new footwear :). Get some flavour from somewhere like outdoorgearlab.com, then find a proper outdoor store that'll fit you properly. You'll find that you probably won't end up in whatever reviews best, but you can use the knowledge of what to look for in those reviews to make sure your choice is right.

Basically, everyone's feet (and walking style) are different. I discovered this when I started skiing last year; I got myself a cheap pair of boots when I started and absolutely hated it. After everyone told me I'd been an idiot -- that while you can cheap out on skis, pants, gloves, poles, whatever, and that boots are the only thing worth spending money on for beginners -- I went to a boot fitters and spent a few hours getting sized properly. Suddenly, skiing became one of my favourite pastimes.

Walking's similar. If you're walking in top of the line boots that don't fit your feet or your gait, you're going to end up injured pretty quickly. If you're walking in cheap boots, it's even worse. Find a shop with a wide variety of brands and decent staff who know how to fit you up properly (they'll often squeeze in orthotics to adapt for your gait too). Since doing that this summer, I've had a much more comfortable time hiking :).

Thanks for all the comments. I have a pair of keens - https://www.rei.com/product/772930/keen-targhee-ii-mid-hikin... - probably 5 years old and I haven't replaced the soles yet and put a good amount of mileage on them. I've only actually lost one toenail once, but it took about a year to grow back and my big toes do hurt like hell after most hikes and get some small bruising on the big toes after long hikes. I've never thought about the foot swelling when hiking you all are probably right! They're too small when hiking. I'll size up.

It's not just the swelling (the swelling mostly makes your feet wider, not longer) but when you are going downhill your toes are hitting the front of the boot and this is something most of the people don't test when they are trying them out in stores.

This should not happened if you sized and laced them correctly.

Also, keeping your toenails short is an important thing to do.

Keens are a good example because they're really nice. I really wanted a pair, but their footbed just doesn't fit my foot :(. Good luck for when you head back to the store.

There's always going to be wear and tear on your foot when you're out and about (and legs -- part of my problem is that the pair of shoes I had didn't adjust for the way I stand/walk, and now I've got ITB/knee problems), so there's no miracle cure. But a properly fitted pair of shoes goes a very long way :).

I've done lots of hiking, the longest being the John Muir Trail last summer, about 220 miles over 17 days, and never had any toenail problems. I haven't heard any complaints from fellow hikers either (although tons of complaints about blisters). Sounds like an issue with your shoes, perhaps they're too small or the footbox is too narrow. Feet swell a lot when you hike so most people size up.

I'm beating a dead horse here but other commenters are correct, your footwear sucks or you've got something else going in. I've done lots of hiking in the military, >20 mile distances, and we don't go light - I'm talking ~100 pounds of gear. I've lost lots of skin, but never a toenail.

Do you have any kind of circulatory problems or blood sugar issues or anything like that? Because the feet take it really hard from things like that. Gravity and the way the circulatory system is designed causes the feet to be one of the biggest victims of any kind of blood related disorder.

I do a lot of walking these days, and my foot health has improved dramatically. My toenails are also healthier and I have less edema in my feet and just a lot of changes.

There are other things that go when you hike a lot. But my guess would be that you have some kind of medical condition and blood-related in some way is the first thing that comes to mind.

Shoes for hiking should be sized to be roomy around the toe. All of mine are 1-2 sizes larger than my Brannock size. Toe bang is prevented this way.

Is this with toenails trimmed and shoes with enough room in the toe box?

For a couple of years, I hiked in shoes I thought of as really comfortable. On long walks (especially 35m+ in a day), I'd get blisters around my heel and sore toes. I just figured that was what happened when hiking a lot.

Changed shoes (same brand, but larger and better cushioning) and haven't had those problems since.

Too much room in the toe box can be a problem too, your feet slide around and your toes slam the front of your boots repeatedly. This is actually worse (to me) than having shoes that are too tight.

Don't you cover for this doing up the laces properly? That should at least help. Obviously terrain will influence how much of a problem smashed toes are.

Steep terrain will destroy you if your shoes are a little too big. Think going down a steep mountainside with a heavy pack on your back - all of that weight wants to roll down hill. Even if you lace up tightly, your feet are going to move around.

This should not happen. Your shoes/boots are likely too short and/or laced improperly (it's not enough that your toes don't touch the end when stationary under load, you need a good cm or more room).

Also make sure to keep the nails trimmed!

If you are fine with overpaying a little bit go to a local shoe store, or even a REI. They will help you get a good fitting shoe.

Sounds like you're doing it wrong...

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