A recent query on a popular Colorado Trail group had a lively discussion about how to do a “fast thru-hike.”
What this type of discussion usually means is how to hike not so much fast, but how to do many miles per day on a well marked and maintained trails such as the Appalachian, Colorado, Pacific Crest, or similar trails.
I would say there are a few key tenets to do a “fast” hike. I saw the word “fast” in quotes because the idea is not to hike fast, but to hike all day and consistently.
There are a few ideas I find that work well. Not only to hike many miles per day on a lettered route, but also to hike all day on a less established route. Or to hike more on your precious time off during a week’s vacation or even a weekend when not on a thru-hike.
As context, and as part of the original discussion, I did a thru-hike of The Colorado Trail in 20.5 days with nothing too magical. A good pace, but not record breaking. The extra half day is because my girlfriend at the time dropped me off later in the day and walked Waterton Canyon with me. She was, and presumably still is, pleasant company… 🙂 When I am solo, I still keep a similar pace (in hours, if not miles, when off trail) for shorter jaunts in terms of time available.
Unlike those who truly hike fast (meaning hiking 3+ MPH consistently and can put down 30, 35, or more miles per day on established trails), I will say I am no athlete. Far from it. I am built more like Gimli’s distant Italian cousin. Less mead; I make far better “Sunday Gravy”… 😉 But I do know my gear, how to set my pace, and have a good base to keep consistent MPD every day. Even when coming from my beige box associated with my day job.
With all that in mind, here are some ideas for a “fast hike”. Ideas if a person wants to hike twenty or more miles a day on an established lettered trail, spend all day hiking in rougher terrain, or to make the most of some free time regarding overall time hiked.
- Keep your pack light. That’s the easiest part. All you need is a credit card. 😉
- More importantly? Have your system dialed in. A bit more difficult than buying the gear and putting it on a spreadsheet. All that fantastic gear on the spreadsheet people have means nothing in the real world unless you have it dialed in as a SYSTEM. Learn to set up the shelter, fire up the stove, pack up your gear efficiently, fit your pack well, etc. I was able to break camp and be on the trail in thirty minutes or less as one example.
- How to get dialed in? That means lots of backpacking. Use your gear. Know how it works as a total system. If you are futzing with your Wicked Cool Wonder UL Fiber Tarp every day, you lose time…
- Hike, backpack, hike some more, hike, backpack, etc. Nothing gets you gear system dialed in, lets you know to set your pace and see what hiking style works for you, more than the simple act of actually backpacking. I had thru-hiked some alphabet soup trails already, so I knew my gear, how to set my pace, knew what style of backpacking worked, and had a good base of endurance. Then, as now, I spent all my free time hiking, backpacking, and ski touring as well. And tend to spend all day doing it. Plus it is fun!
- Get up early, walk all day, make camp not too much before sunset. I don’t hike fast, really. But if you walk 10+ hrs every day, and have the base to do it, it can be done. Hike long, not fast, in other words. And then repeat. Anyone can hike one 25 mile day. To repeat it every day? See above. The overall key is endurance and not speed.
- Limit time in towns. Towns are time sucks. Get in, resupply, maybe grab a shower or room if needed. But be back on the trail by the morning. The socialization on a long trail CAN be fun. But if your goal is 20, 25 or even more MPD, then a different goal is desired than the social aspect.
- Enjoy hiking. Sounds silly, but sometimes there are different goals that people want on a longer hike. Could be camping more than hiking, or socialization in towns, or even just trying out the gear collected over the years. But to do a so-called fast hike, well, that involves the hiking itself as the primary goal.