12 Time-Saving Tips So You Can Hike More Miles
There comes a time in every thru-hike where you have to hike a high mileage day. Maybe you have to make it to a post office before it closes. Maybe you’re rushing to finish a trail before winter arrives. Maybe you just really like pushing yourself physically and want to cover more ground. Still, there’s only so fast you can hike. If you remember high school physics, distance is speed multiplied by time. If you can’t increase your speed, you have to increase your hiking time to cover more distance. These tips will help you find more time in your day to hike.
Ten Before Ten, or Get Up Early
You’ve probably already heard thru-hikers talking about doing ten before ten, or ten miles before 10 am. This trick is key to maximizing daylight so you have more time to hike. If you get up at 5 or 6 am, you should have plenty of time to cover ten miles before 10 am. This makes the rest of the day a cinch, and you can easily cover 30 miles before dark. Set an alarm for twenty minutes (or however long it takes you to break camp) before sunrise. You might have to start packing up in the dark, but you should be able to hike without a headlamp by the time you are ready to go.
Even if you’re not a morning person, you can still increase your hiking time. Night hiking is less efficient than hiking during the day since you need to slow down to watch your footing. But if you want to cram in a few more miles before bed, it’s a great tool. On my PCT thru-hike, I hiked with a guy who was incapable of getting up early. We would sleep in until 7 am, then night hike for an hour to make up miles. I find an early start much easier, but if you’re a night owl, hiking after dark may work better for you.
Take Efficient Breaks
Small time savings might not seem important, but minutes add up to miles. If you hike at 3mph, skipping a 20-minute break means you can cover an extra mile. However, not taking breaks is fraught with risks, especially early on in a thru-hike. You should never skip addressing foot issues, or other small problems that can later lead to larger injuries. You also have to be careful about fatigue. There’s no point skipping a break in the morning if that means you are too tired to hike in the afternoon.
However, especially once you get your hiker legs, you can get away with taking fewer breaks. If you only pause when you absolutely need to, you can save a lot of time (pathological Guthook-checkers: we’re looking at you). You can also combine breaks, so you don’t have to stop for a different reason twenty minutes further down the trail. For example, if you’re hungry but know you’re close to a water source, wait until you get to the water to take a break. Then you can filter while you eat, and you don’t have to stop and take your pack off twice.
You can also minimize stopping by keeping your gear accessible. If it looks like rain, keep your jacket in the mesh pocket on your pack. If you don’t have to unpack your entire pack, it will turn a five minute stop into a thirty-second chore. Commonly used gear like water filters, rain gear, headlamp (if you’re night hiking) and an extra layer should all be easy to get out or put back into your pack.
Pocket Snacks Over Sit Down Breaks
This ties into efficient breaks. If you can eat while you walk, you will have to take a sit down break less often. Stuff granola bars and candy into accessible pockets on your pack or your clothing, and eat while you walk. Snickers bars aren’t only a thru-hiker favorite because they’re high in calories: they are also easy to eat on the go.
I really like being stoveless. Not because the food is amazing (it isn’t) but because it saves so much time. I can be finished eating before my hiking companions are even finished cooking. I don’t have to waste time doing dishes. It’s quick and easy.
You don’t have to completely ditch the stove if hot meals are important to you: just try having a no-cook dinner on days you’re hiking more miles. Whatever you would normally eat for lunch makes a great no-cook dinner. You can also try sticking to foods that cook quickly. Mashed potatoes and ramen cook much faster than Mountain House dinners, which need to sit for up to 20 minutes. Remember, for most people that’s the same time as it takes to hike a mile.
Eat Dinner Early
A lot of people eat dinner when they get to camp, but this can make you more inclined to stop early. You also run the risk of getting hangry (and no one likes a hangry hiker). If you stop at five or six and eat a quick dinner (see the tip above), you should have a few more hours of daylight to hike afterward. You’ll be able to keep hiking until dusk without having to stop. This is also a great tip if you’re hiking in bear country, since it will reduce food smells in your campsite.
Get Really Good at Making/Breaking Camp
On a good day, I can set up and tear down camp in less than ten minutes. The more familiar you are with your gear, the easier it is to set up quickly. If you can’t set up quickly yet, keep practicing. Not only will it help save you time, but it will also make it a lot easier to collapse exhausted in your tent after a long day.
Taking shortcuts can also help with breaking camp. If you cowboy camp or sleep in a shelter, you don’t have to set up or take down a tent, which saves precious minutes. Just be careful if you do sleep in a shelter that you don’t wake everyone up when you get up at dawn to do your ten before ten.
Think About Gear in Terms of Time
Normally when thru-hikers talk about gear, we’re focused on weight. You should also keep in mind the time penalty that comes with some ultralight gear. Alcohol stoves can be great for gram counters, but can take twice as long to boil water as a Jetboil or PocketRocket. Those extra minutes can add up over the course of a thru-hike. Likewise, spending five minutes every night inflating an air mattress will rob you of more time than shaking out a foam pad.
Think about the gear that you use every day, and keep in mind that sometimes choosing a faster method can be more important than weight. If you find you’re spending ten minutes trying to squeeze water through an old filter, don’t be afraid to swap it out for a faster method. On that note, a simple gravity-fed water filtration system can be a great time-saver since it frees up your hands to work on other things.
Watch Your Off-Trail Miles
Every mile you hike on side trails is one less mile that you have hiked towards your goal. Whenever possible, try to stay at campsites or shelters that are close to the trail. Also, keep an eye on how far off-trail your next water source is. It may be worth carrying an extra liter or two so you can avoid a source that’s a half-mile off-trail.
Hanging out in town with your trail family can be one of the most fun things about thru-hiking, but it eats up days. If you can avoid staying in town as much as possible, it will give you more time to actually hike. As tempting as it is to double zero sometimes, you might really wish you had spent that day hiking later on. Identify the chores that you can’t skip (resupply, shower and laundry, charging devices) and try and squeeze those tasks into a shorter time frame. For example, plug in your phone in the laundromat, rather than getting a hotel room. Minimizing town time will also help you to save money.
Make Sure You Still Have Fun
If you combine all of these tips, you’re not going to have a great time. Never sleep in, give up hot dinners, don’t take any breaks… Who wants to go on a hike like that? Making miles can seem like a chore sometimes, so pick and choose strategies based on what is important to you. A lot of thru-hikers quit because hiking fast to finish a trail starts to feel too much like a joyless task. Don’t let that happen to you! If your favorite thing about hiking is sleeping in, don’t sacrifice that just to make miles. You can also use these tips to make more time to do things that are important to you on the trail. Less time at camp means more time at viewpoints, or more time in town eating cheeseburgers.
You don’t necessarily have to hike faster to hike big miles: just hike longer. Hopefully, these hints help you make your mileage goals. Remember to pick and choose just a few of these tips at a time so you still have a fun hike. Now get out there and crush some miles.
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