Have you ever totally lost your motivation to continue on a hike? It happens to the best of us from time to time – sometimes it’s external factors like difficult terrain or horrible weather, or something internal like having a bad day or bad interaction with another hiker.
Quitting or going home isn’t always the best solution to put an end to the suffering of a difficult hike. Here are some tips for your success next time you’re having a sucky hike.
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Before you hit the trail
Get in as good of shape as you can. Now, you don’t have to be in super triathlete shape by any means, but the more active you can be in your daily life leading up to hiking season, the happier your body will be on the trail.
Even small actions add up and make a big difference! When I wasn’t hiking as much during mud season, I would do some weight training in my kitchen every single morning while my water boiled to make coffee. My muscles became more defined just from mixing up weighted squats, lunges, calf raises; and bicep curls, bent over rows, and triceps dips or extensions. Squeeze in 3-4 of those exercises, even for just a few minutes each day, and mix them up through out the week.
Start rested and hydrated. Especially if you’re trying to tackle a longer hike than usual or one with more elevation gain than you’re used to, make sure to get plenty of sleep the night before as well as plenty of water and electrolytes the day before and morning of your hike.
Pack food your body and taste buds will love. Stock up on your favorite hiking snacks and treats to help keep you moving along the way when the trail gets tough or if you just need a pick me up through out the day.
On the trail
Promise yourself a pack off, shoes off, snack break! I’ll admit it, bribing myself with food usually does turn out to be the biggest motivator. Setting a designated point, either the next big peak, a shelter or a mile marker as a goal to reach before I allow myself to take a real, sit down break works wonders to keep me moving towards that point.
Shifting your mindset about burning, wobbly legs. If your legs start to feel pooped, you can choose to think one of two things – one being, OMG I’m so tired! My legs are done! I’ll never make it! This is horrible! It’s going to take forever!
Or two, that burning in my legs is only making them stronger! They’re getting stronger every minute! My legs and butt are going to be so killer after this hike! 😉 That simple mindset shift instantly makes me want to push on a little further.
Counting each step. This goes hand in hand with the last one, count each step as if it’s a rep in a set of exercises you might do at the gym, like squats or lunges. This works wonders going up a steep hill, I literally count each step to 10 or 12 and let out a mini boo ya! Another round! Then keep on stepping forward, counting to 10 or 12, over and over again, all while thinking about how much stronger each set is making me until bam! I’m at the top!
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not some sort of super human lunging all the way up a mountain. Most of the time, those are literal baby steps I’m counting, but forward is forward!
Day dreaming about how much lighter my pack will be after drinking water and eating food. Again, staying laser focused on that snack break, haha! I do a mental inventory of how much water and food I’m carrying vs how much I could drink when I stop and what the heaviest thing is I could eat to help lighten my load even the tiniest bit.
Track your progress. Some people who hike with me think I’m a total weirdo for how often I love to check my map or GPS. I love to keep track of how far I’ve gone and how much further I have to go – that’s comforting to me to be able to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
But I know some hikers who would rather not know and then be pleasantly surprised when they reach their destination, that is not me. Not knowing drives me bonkers because I tend to imagine the rest of the trail is actually much worse than it really is.
Music. This may be a given, but it’s also a last resort for me. I don’t typically hike while listening to music and usually prefer to listen to my surroundings, but sometimes, on really bad, hard, cold, rainy days, listening to upbeat music is the best pick-me-up.
After the trail
Stretch, rest and take care of your body. Be sure to stretch your legs, back and shoulders after each hike and rest when you need it. If you’re feet are sore or swollen, sit or lay down with your feet up for a long while or soak them in a real cold stream at camp or in a cold bath at home.
Unpack, clean and organize your gear. I try to do this as soon as I get back from a hike or backpacking trip, just so it doesn’t get put off for too long. Hang up any wet gear that needs to dry out, put your gross smelly clothes in the hamper or laundry, clean out any trash and uneaten food from your pack, etc.
Organize or share your pictures and look back on the accomplishment. Instead of focusing on or complaining about how hard the hike was, look back at how beautiful it was or how proud you were for finishing it! I also try to download and organize my photos from each trip into their own file on my computer titled with the trail name and month and year of the trip so I can easily find them in the future.
As much as I wish all of our hikes are amazing experiences with gently rolling hills and sunny skies – it doesn’t always turn out that way.
Share your favorite hacks for getting through difficult hikes in the comments below!
For more hiking and backpacking tips, check out:
- How to Prepare for Hiking in the Mountains
- Best Insect Repellent For Hikers
- How To Make More Time For Hiking
- Hiking Essentials For Beginners