How to Conquer 30-Mile Days Regardless of Hiking Speed
Unless you are a marathon runner, the concept of hiking 30 miles in a day sounds insane. That is, until you do it and realize that it is still insane, but a realistic goal even for hikers who aren’t speed demons on the trail. That’s not to say 30-mile days are easy by any means. It’s still an enormous feat and often can be looked at as Type 2 fun. But setting and achieving goals is what thru-hiking is all about. The more smaller goals you give yourself throughout your time on trail the more likely you’ll reach Canada or wherever your final destination may be. So if you’re ready to challenge yourself, here are some things I learned on trail to complete “a 30” as someone who just isn’t that fast.
Time is everything when hiking a 30. You only have 24 hours in a day and at some point you will need sleep. In summer you will get daylight between 6:30 a.m. and 9 p.m.—a major advantage. Hiking after dark is possible and sometimes necessary to get those last few miles, but personally I’d rather be setting up camp with my last bit of sunlight.
Mathematically speaking, 30 miles at three miles per hour means at least ten hours of hiking. It sounds like a lot, and it is. But how you break up your day can make it feel less daunting. Plan to wake up between 5:30 a.m. and 6 a.m., and spend 45 minutes (or less) breaking down camp before hitting the trail. Once you get going, try to only take just 20-minute breaks every six to eight miles. It is helpful to look ahead at the day and pick out a spot to take a longer lunch and have the stop planned in advance. Consider as the day goes on stopping a few miles before camp to eat dinner. Propping your legs up on a tree while refueling can provide both the physical and mental boost needed to crush those last miles to camp… usually with a nice sunset view.
You’ll want to adjust your resupply if you are planning to hike one or multiple 30-mile days. Food=fuel so don’t let yourself go hungry. I recommend planning your typical breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but adding more snacks than usual. Consider bringing a few extra bars each day. I find having lots of candy to snack on helps with morale and adding more crackers or something salty with carbs is a great way to stay full.
Cooking on trail is great, especially when you have friends to eat and relax with. But that is not the goal of 30-mile days; you can spend time cooking with friends tomorrow. Instead, consider cold soaking. Cold soaking involves placing your food (ramen, instant potatoes, couscous) in a plastic jar with water and letting it rehydrate over time. Not only will you save time on cooking, you’ll save weight by ditching your stove and fuel. Keep a sealed jar on hand to store leftovers to eat later. Trust me, you will eat them.
You will want to drink plenty of water while hiking a 30-mile day. However, filtering water can take awhile as filters slow down after consistent use during a thru-hike. Planning your breaks around water sources is a huge help. Rest your legs while waiting for water to filter. For those carrying the Sawyer Squeeze, consider screwing it right onto the top of your water bottle and drinking from it directly. If you find that your filter is slow, replace it! Don’t let yourself end up in a situation where you’re not drinking enough water because you’re too annoyed to filter.
Keeping yourself entertained during a 14+ hour day is not easy. But remember, you’ve been thru-hiking and boredom has become something you’re accustomed to. It is important to remind yourself that this is a goal you are trying to achieve. No pain, no gain, as cheesy as it sounds. When you look back on what you’ve accomplished during the day as you lie in your tent (finally!), you’ll realize it was worth it. It can also be helpful to try to hike a 30 with a friend. Not that you have to spend all day together, but if you set a goal to reach a certain lunch break or campsite, knowing someone else is relying on you can be motivation to keep going. It can be helpful to remind yourself that this is the best opportunity you have to accomplish this. You’re in the greatest shape of your life. Know your limits, though. If you suspect any kind of overuse injury, it’s not worth ruining the rest of your hike for one day’s miles.
The best time to hike a 30-mile day depends on trail conditions. Can you expect a lot of steep elevation gain? Are there long water carries? Is it going to be brutally hot or freezing cold? All these things will slow you down significantly. Oregon is a great place to hit 30-mile days on the PCT: gradual inclines and declines, plenty of water, and moderate temperatures. The mid-Atlantic is prime for 30s on the Appalachian Trail, with flat, well-graded trail and easy resupplies. Just know what kind of hiking you will be doing to set expectations appropriately.
Whether or not you complete a 30-mile day is totally up to you. Even just making an attempt at bigger mileages is an accomplishment in itself.
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