For many, hiking is a more leisurely activity where they head out for the day and enjoy some great scenery at their own pace, but for others, hiking is a way to see some great scenery as well as a way to challenge the body.
For those who have dove into the world of thru-hiking, "leisurely" is not often used to describe the pace of a hiker that needs to make it to their next campsite before the sun goes down. No matter if you are a thru-hiker or just want to get the most out of your body, if you need to increase your hiking speed, there are a few select steps you can take.
Plan Your Route Efficiently
There is a certain allure to just hitting a trail and not knowing anything about it, and you can still do that and hike faster.
However, if you are taking a long trip, it is best to know as much as possible about the trail in question. This way, you can plan to increase your speed on easier sections while allowing more time to tackle the more challenging areas.
Yet that isn't the only aspect of preparation. If you want to increase your speed on the trail with a particular time goal in mind, it might be worthwhile to invest in a fitness tracker, specifically one with a speedometer as well as a finishing time estimator.
If you want to finish your hike by a specific time, fitness trackers can help you keep track of it and really push your body to faster speeds.
If you have a trail close to your home, this can be a great way to train yourself since you can hike it often and decrease how much time you have to do it. After enough repetitions, you will find that your natural hiking speed has increased.
Try Trail Running
Like hiking with a fitness tracker, trail running is another great way to naturally increase your hiking speed as well as your overall endurance so you will actually be able to hike longer as well as faster.
However, trail running is a bit different than your typical sidewalk jog. There are quite a few more variables that you have to contend with when the trail varies in all the ways that it does.
Start by jogging with as little gear as you possibly can (although with ample water) and then slowly move up to carrying more stuff or increasing your speed for more of a challenge.
If you intend to start trail running with any sort of frequency, you will also want to invest in a good set of trail running shoes. Different from running or hiking shoes, trail running shoes will prevent you from slipping, tripping, or otherwise tumbling and hurting yourself while running the trails.
Stop For Pain, Endure Discomfort
No matter which way you decide to use to increase your hiking speed - be it using goal-based advancements or trail running - it isn't going to be easy.
Any endurance-building exercise is about enduring a certain amount of discomfort until it is not quite so uncomfortable anymore. However, if it ever gets to the point that you are feeling pain, then it is time to stop. This could mean stretching it out or going at a slower pace, but training yourself to hike faster is not a "no pain, no gain" sort of fitness venture.
If you are having to stop due to joint pains, this may mean you may need to reduce your regimen slightly to build endurance. This means you can still do the same endurance-building trail activities, but they need to be done in shorter intervals.
Stick With the Seven Words Trick
When you are training your body to hike faster naturally, you never want to deprive your muscles of the oxygen that they need. By doing this, not only are you setting yourself up for a bad time, but you will not be able to sustain the effort you are putting in for very long.
If you want to know how sustainable your pace is, try to calmly say "seven-words-in-one-breath-without-problem." You can say any seven-word sentence, but that is pretty easy to remember!
If you can say your seven-word sentence without rushing it, your pace is good and you will likely be able to continue it for some time. However, if you can't say it calmly, you need to slow down or pay the price on your body.
Of course, there will be times where this trick won't work like when climbing steep hills where you would get winded just by walking. However, it is good to just do this trick every so often on long stretches, particularly on hikes where you decide to push your usual pace just a bit faster.
Take Smaller Steps
This seems counterintuitive, but smaller steps at faster speeds actually work better to increase speed and endurance than you might think.
Typically hikers try to walk faster with big steps, but that just increases the effort needed to move those heavy, muscle-laden legs of yours. Smaller steps mean less effort so you can put in more steps at a faster speed.
If you are trying to increase speed, never try to increase the sheer range of your natural step. If anything, rein it in a little and try to do your steps faster.
Stay Fed and Hydrated
Make sure to stay hydrated with a good hydration pack and keep those calories coming in. Once your muscles become depleted it takes a long time to get them back up and running.
So make sure you keep everything topped up
If you are looking to increase your distances, these are a few little tips and tricks to get you going in the right direction.
However, don't expect massive increases immediately, especially if you are already a seasoned hiker.
Instead look to small, incremental gains that will move the needle bit by bit. Keep doing this and soon they all add up