Hiking is one of the most enjoyable ways to experience the amazing outdoors because it gets you exploring new places in nature. You leave all stressors about work and time behind and arouse your appreciation of the natural world.
But nothing can be even more fun than a long distance walk. No, forget your usual hiking spot – you know the one just two miles away from your house that you visit every Friday and come Saturday morning you are already complaining about how your body aches?
Well, that’s just a drop in the ocean! We are talking about an extremely long distance hike like a walk across America through longer trails like the American Discovery Trail, Continental Divide Trail and similar tracks that will take you months to travel from end to end. However, to nail such routes, you will need adequate preparation, proper training, and the right gear.
If you have never done cross country walking before, the whole idea may feel intimidating, but this guide will provide you with everything you need to get started, so you can enjoy a comfortable, injury-free, and pleasurable trek.
Find The Perfect Trail
You just don’t start your cross country adventure by strapping your backpack and searching for a route along the way. Okay, there is totally nothing wrong with being a little spontaneous but for a trip like this one, you will need to plan ahead. Otherwise, it will be so difficult for you to find the perfect route.
Check online for the best and safest trails. The internet is full of resourceful information that can help you find the trail that meets your needs. You will find out how to access it, how long it will roughly take you to complete, and how easy or difficult it is to navigate. Some websites will even suggest the most effective way to carry your gear; whether to bring a backpack, cart, or both.
Also, check the trail maps to see what surrounds it. Are there people who live around? Any social amenities? Or just pure vegetation?
Know how elevated the trail is too, as this can affect your timing. The best way to do this is to add about 45 minutes for every elevation of 1000 feet.
Acquiring this information beforehand will help you prepare adequately, bring the right equipment, and determine if the trail is safe enough or you will need to consider an alternative.
Training is essential for a comfortable and successful cross country hike. For this particular adventure, you should focus mainly on developing a good base of walking, increasing your mileage, and wearing your long distance walk gear.
To build mileage, try to do about 25 to 30 miles, at least once or twice a week before your trip. You can do this for a month or two and repeat it a week before you go, just to make sure you are fit for the walk.
And don’t worry too much about the speed. A walk across America will require you to have more endurance than speed, so concentrate on building mental and physical stamina by hiking at a steady pace.
Besides this, you will need to learn how to eat healthily and most importantly, how to stay hydrated on the trail. Speaking of, make sure to pack plenty of water especially if the trail passes through a desert or any other place where water is scarce. You also need to plan how you are going to refill your water bottles in the event you run out of water.
Healthy diet and hydration aside, you must train how to wear and operate your equipment. You don’t want to keep stopping on the trail to fix your gear just because you packed it wrongly or get stranded because you don’t know how to use a compass.
Gain Basic Knowledge
Even if you already know which path you will be following, it is important that you gain knowledge on the most basic things like how to stay safe on the trail. Know the common symptoms of hydration, hypothermia, and other outdoor-related ailments, what to do when the weather gets hostile, and how to deal with wild animals that you may encounter along the way.
And just like any other hike, know how to do basic first aid. You will be walking through the wilderness where cuts, scrapes, and bruises from rocks, logs, and vegetation are inevitable. Even the smallest wound can ruin your long-awaited trip. So make sure you know how to carry out first aid so your cut does escalate to something untreatable or even worse, cause you to abort the hike.
Being mentally prepared can mean the difference between an amazing and life threatening adventure. Know what you are getting yourself into from the word go. You don’t want to wait until you are caught in a sticky situation to learn about safety.
Know Where You Are Going To Sleep
Taking a serious hike like a walk across America is not something that should be taken lightly. You are going to spend months of miles away from your home and so you will definitely need to figure out where you will be spending the nights. As such, a camping tent and a sleeping bag is a no brainer.
In the beginning, you can use the camping sites set on the trail (if any) and sleep in your tent. Once you start gaining more confidence in yourself and what you are doing, try yard camping.
In fact, if you are on budget, yard camping can save you a few bucks. Just make yourself as presentable as possible while on the road, wear a warm, friendly face, and speak to people who understand what you are doing. You never know who may have a free spot in the garage or backyard where you can set up a tent for the night.
Over time, you will be able to know the kind of people who can and cannot welcome you in. Just make sure to explain yourself clearly and in a friendly manner. Let them know what it is that you are doing and how they can help you. If you are lucky, most of the people will not only give you a spot to pitch the tent but also a plate of food and a place to shower.
Now do the math. If you had planned to spend some of the nights in a hotel, think about looking for someone to host you for those nights and see how much you will have saved at the end of your trip.
If you love taking risks, however, you can try “secret camping”. Most long distance and cross country walkers have embraced this kind of camping whereby they wait until night sets in and set up their tent secretly, sleep, and get up before dawn, leaving no trace.
Although there are hikers who would vouch for stealth camping, we still feel like this is not the safest way to spend the night outdoors. It is much better when there is at least a person who knows where you are and what you are doing. If you are a first time hiker especially, building a secret camp could be nerve-wracking and you may not have even the slightest sleep on those nights.
Carry Your Gear Properly
If you want to succeed in a cross country hike, then you must bring the right equipment. We highly recommend using both a backpack and a stroller for carrying your gear. That way, even if the cart beaks down, you can still keep walking.
Don’t carry the pack on you back unless you have to – place it on the cart and push it. A trip like a walk across America is going to require a lot of equipment and trust us, you don’t want to carry all this on your back. Your knees, ankles, hips, and back will be in so much pain at the time you are ending your day.
Pack The Right Stuff
Packing for a hike to your local park won’t require too much because you will only be gone for a day or few hours. However, when preparing for a long distance walk, there are a few essentials that you can’t afford to leave behind. Here is a list of the stuff you will need.
1. Navigation Tools
Make sure to bring a GPS, compass, or map on this trip. You will need to know where you have been, where you are and where the rest of the path is leading to. Just be sure you know how your navigation tools work before you go.
You will need not one, not two, but about three to four pairs of hiking shoes for this trip, depending on the route you are taking. Sneakers will be a better option than hiking boots because they are more flexible, lighter, cheaper, and dry much faster – all the important elements of good long distance hiking shoes. The only downside is that they wear out faster than boots.
Pack at least four pairs of sneakers and a pair of sandals so you can switch to allow your feet to breathe. You don’t need to pack more than this because it will just take up more space and add unnecessary weight. We are sure that there will be many places where you can buy new shoes on the trail and if not, you can have a pair sent to the nearest post office.
The last thing you need is to get hydrated while on the hike. You will therefore need to pack plenty of water for the trip and since you can’t manage to bring enough for the entire time you will be away, make sure to pack some purifiers too.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should go refilling your water bottles at any source you bump into. You need to make sure it is a reliable one.
Take advantage of gas stations, public restrooms, and camping sites. Most gas stations and camping sites across America will allow you to refill your bottles. All you got to do is give an explanation of what you are doing and request to fill up.
There are plenty of lightweight options these days but we highly recommend free standing tents for cross country walking. Not every day you will be lucky enough to find a place to hook a tent, so it would be wise to have a shelter than you can erect anywhere.
Just as the name suggests, a free standing tent will stand on its own. All you need is a flat surface to lay your sleeping bag.
You will need to eat to help your body generate the energy that it requires to keep you moving forward. And even though it is not easy to eat a well-balanced diet on the trail, try as much as possible to have a healthy meal.
In the morning, plan to take oatmeal but if you feel like this is going to take too much time to cook, pack granola and chocolate bars and munch as you walk. For lunch, a honey and peanut butter sandwich or tuna will do. Save rice and beans for dinner.
Make sure to eat plenty of fruits too. If you can pack dried ones, even better, because these contain a higher amount of calories, which you need for energy boosting. Don’t forget to buy energy drinks with electrolyte supplements for hot weather.
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Planning a long distance walk can be overwhelming especially if you are a first timer, but this doesn’t mean that it is undoable or you can’t have an enjoyable adventure. If you are physically and mentally prepared, know how to stay safe, and have the right equipment, your walk across America will be something to remember for years to come.
A cross country hike will get you immersed in the beauty of Mother Nature. It will improve your well-being, help with stress reduction, and lower your risk of life-threatening health conditions.
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