Training for a Thru-hike

When people ask me how I train to hike a long trail, my first response is, “by eating everything I can.” Then I laugh. But it’s kind of true.

Really? You are going to put that into your body? Well, yeah, sometimes...

Really? You are going to put that into your body? Well, yeah, sometimes…

During a typical 20-30 mile day on the trail most hikers burn around 6,000 calories a day, an amount that is impossible to carry no matter how much peanut butter, olive oil, or chocolate you have in your pack. By the end of a 5-6 month long hike many thrus look like mere shadows of their former selves, as often the body starts consuming muscle once it has burned off all the fat reserves.

Now for women, this isn’t always the case. Our womanly figures like to preserve the baby-making ability, and will hoard the fat/muscle more than our male counterparts. I’ve heard some women say they didn’t lose any weight during a hike, which can come as a surprise to them.

I’ve typically slimmed down quite a bit over the duration of a long trail, but then again, my preparations have included consuming as much cake, beer, and cheetos as possible.

I find an amazing cache of trail magic at Rainy Pass, mile 2,593 on the PCT. At this point you really can eat whatever you want.

I found an amazing cache of trail magic at Rainy Pass, mile 2,593 on the PCT. At this point you really can eat whatever you want.

This year I’m doing things a little differently. While I probably won’t say no to a pint of IPA from one of our local breweries in Bend, I am keeping up a regular fitness routine, and I do want to eat more nutritious food on the trail.

Over three years ago I started attending the Namaspa yoga studio in Bend that specializes in Baptiste Yoga, an incredibly challenging yoga discipline, that has transformed my body from regular 2-3 sessions a week. I have never been as strong as I am now.

Now this is a full-body strong, not the typical strong that results from 2,000 miles, a condition we like to call the T-Rex syndrome. The T-Rex is a hiker that has tree-trunks for legs, someone who can climb thousands of feet without labored breathing, but can’t throw a rock past the closest tree. Think T-Rex: all leg and no arm.


Oh I hear hikers say they are going to keep their core & arms strong through daily sit-ups and push-ups. But really? At the end of your typical 28 mile day in the mountains it’s all you can do to lift your spoon to your mouth before falling asleep in your Ramen noodles. We expend so much energy during the day it’s unusual for the idealistic fitness routines to last past the first week of a hike.

So this year I’m starting the trail stronger than ever before (thanks to yoga) and also with a steady program of weekend warrioring. Kirk and I usually get out of town as soon as we can on Friday or early Saturday morning to ski, hike, packraft, raft, bike or any of the other 100’s of activities close to Bend.

Last weekend we went packrafting. This is my patented don't swallow any of the cow-dung water move.

Last weekend we went packrafting. This is my patented don’t swallow any of the cow-dung water move.

I’m hoping this will make the first month on the trail a little less painful than my previous 7 thru-hikes, but you never know. I’m 37 this time around, and age has a way of throwing aches & pains your way in body parts that you never knew existed.

But really…hiking all day every day is really hard to train for. The first few weeks will suck and your body will hurt, I’ll try to spare you too much whining when I start hiking north!

Oh feet. That's a whole other issue the first few weeks on the trail.

Oh feet. That’s a whole other issue the first few weeks on the trail.

7 thoughts on “Training for a Thru-hike

  1. I hope that eating well works as well for you as it has for me. I only have one thru hike under my belt, PCT 2012, but I don’t ever remember being hungry or tired. Focusing on nutrition over calories – salads at towns, hiking up fruit, as many avocados as most stores had, junk food only if it was free (and sparingly) and quite possibly no candy the whole trail. OK, there were a few cookies and definitely some chocolate at the Canada border. But I did 25 miles/day in California and 30+ after that. Not to mention the fact that the few times I added up how many calories I was eating a day it seemed to be around or just over 2500.

    I remember talking to lots of hikers who looked gaunt and complained of being hungry despite eating 5000 calories. Invariably they had potato chips and candy bars on them. Your body doesn’t want calories, it wants material to rebuild the parts that are worn.

    Congrats on making the healthy eating switch and on the yoga! If you have any advice or questions feel free to contact me. I don’t know if you can through my email, entered to make a comment, but I should be notified of new comments via email.

    Good luck on the CDT, I will be out there this year as well.



  2. By the end of the hike, a few people called me Toast but we were ahead of enough people to not really be known by it. I could go either way on using it again.

    You up to doing yoga on the trail as well?



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