There are times when a leisurely hike is just what you need, but there are other times when you might want to cover more distance or get to your destination sooner. If you’re interested in learning how to hike faster, farther, and more efficiently, you’re in the right place. Here are our top tips to boost your hiking efficiency.
Use Breaks Wisely and Avoid Unnecessary Stops
Avoiding preventable breaks is one of the most important aspects of boosting your hiking efficiency. All of the tips in this section focus on ways to minimize breaks and use any breaks you do take wisely.
Think Strategically About Fueling and Hydration
Almost every hiker knows how important it is to drink enough water and consume enough calories to power your body while you hike. By consuming enough snacks and drinking enough water, you reduce your risk of numerous ailments that impact hikers and slow them down, including dehydration, exhaustion, heat-related illnesses, hypothermia, and altitude sickness. Not only does staying hydrated and well-fueled help ensure you have a safe and enjoyable hike, but it also helps boost your performance, speed, and energy levels.
However, taking breaks to sip water and eat your snacks can significantly impact your hiking speed and overall time on the trail. One way to improve your efficiency without sacrificing your energy needs is to bring snacks and drinks that you can consume on the go. For example, if you have a water bottle that you need to take out of your backpack and pause to take a sip every time you need a drink, it can slow you down substantially.
Consider using a hydration reservoir instead so that you can sip water without needing to take a break or fiddle with your gear. If you prefer using bottles, make sure your water is in an easy to access location – many backpacks have water bottle pockets that are designed with this in mind. You should also opt for a bottle with a narrow opening or a built-in straw to make drinking easy while you’re moving.
When it comes to hiking snacks, there are numerous high-energy options available that are easy to eat while on the go. Some hiker favorites include trail mix, granola bars, protein bars, pre-made sandwiches, dried or fresh fruit, fruit leathers, and beef jerky.
Know Your Route and Improve Your Navigation Skills
Getting lost is potentially very dangerous, but it is also detrimental to your overall hiking time and efficiency. Make sure you know your route ahead of time by familiarizing yourself with the trail map and route description as well as landmarks in the area. It helps to know what kind of trail markers you’re looking for, the name of the trail(s) you’ll be on, and the name of your destination ahead of time.
It’s also smart to brush up on your outdoor navigation skills before heading out for a hike, especially if you’re visiting a new area. Check your map regularly to ensure you stay on track and make sure you can quickly find your way back to the right trail if you do happen to get turned around.
Choose Your Gear Carefully
Fiddling with a shoe that keeps coming untied or an uncomfortable article of clothing takes up valuable time and takes your focus away from your hike. Choosing high-quality equipment you’ve used before and know works well for you makes you less likely to be distracted by ill-fitting clothing or gear malfunctions.
You can read detailed gear guides and tips in our blog, but here are some basic suggestions to consider when selecting and using your hiking gear.
- Opt for hiking boots or trail running shoes that fit you well, and make sure you’ve broken them in thoroughly.
- Wear high-quality hiking socks like Silverlight socks to prevent blisters, improve comfort, and regulate temperature and moisture.
- Dress in layers so that you can quickly and easily adjust your attire according to the weather conditions and your exertion level.
- Wear comfortable, breathable clothing designed for outdoor activities like hiking. In general, look for wool blends and synthetic materials like nylon, polyester, and spandex.
- If any of your gear is new, make sure to test it on a walk or short hike first to make sure that you understand how to use it and that it works well for you. This way, it won’t slow you down on a longer hike.
To make hiking feel easier, avoid bringing unnecessary items with you and reduce your overall pack weight. Keep your backpack light in order to limit excess fatigue and avoid taking unnecessary breaks. For tips on packing light and cutting weight, check out our guide to ultralight backpacking. If you need help figuring out what to bring and what can be left behind, you’ll find detailed packing tips in our day hiking and multi-day hiking checklists.
Keep Items You’ll Need Frequently Readily Accessible
The way you pack your gear can also make a big difference in your hiking efficiency. It’s important to stay organized and make sure you have easy access to items you need. Pack items like water, snacks, your map, compass, phone, and headlamp in places where you can get to them quickly and easily, and make a mental note of where you put everything. If you know where a specific item is stored, you’ll avoid wasting time rummaging through your backpack to look for it.
Combine Necessary Tasks into a Single Break
Try to do everything you need in a single planned break so that you don’t have to stop multiple times. For example, you can refill your water bottle, reapply sunscreen, check your map to ensure you’re on the right trail, remove or put on a layer if the temperature has changed or might soon change, and get something you need out of your backpack all within one stop.
Take Breaks Strategically to Prevent Excess Fatigue
While speed is often associated with efficiency, going faster isn’t always more productive – especially in endurance sports like hiking. Sometimes slowing down or taking a break during a particular section can help hikers conserve energy and result in a faster overall pace when looking at the entire hike. For example, stopping for a quick break just before or in the middle of a steep uphill climb can help you regroup and recover some energy to power you through the challenging section.
Similarly, on a sweltering day, you might feel more fatigued than is typical for you. In these situations, it’s important to monitor your exertion and pace and identify times when it might be beneficial for you to conserve energy by slowing down or briefly stopping. By taking strategic breaks, you can help prevent exhaustion and allow yourself to maintain a better overall pace during your hike. Keep in mind that short, regular breaks are better than infrequent, longer breaks because it prevents your muscles from cooling off and stiffening up.
Set a Reasonable and Consistent Pace
Similar to the section above, you should choose a pace you can maintain for the entire duration of the hike. Doing so helps prevent wasted energy, excess fatigue, and subsequent breaks to recover. Hiking is certainly challenging, but you shouldn’t feel like you’re gasping for air during your hike. If you are, you are likely pushing yourself at an unsustainable pace for your current fitness level. Try to find a steady pace where you feel challenged but can maintain a conversation without struggling to breathe. It’s okay if you need to move slower during steep uphill or downhill sections. The idea is to maintain a consistent effort throughout the hike and avoid tiring yourself out too quickly.
Choose Hiking Partners with Similar Goals and Capabilities
There are times when it makes sense to enjoy a leisurely hike with another person or a group who may not be as fast or as skilled as you, such as during a hiking date or a fun outing with friends who are new to this outdoor activity. However, there are other times when you might have specific goals in mind or need to get somewhere quickly for safety reasons.
Waiting for a partner or group moving at a slower pace can significantly and negatively impact your hiking efficiency. If speed and efficiency are priorities for you, it’s best to choose hiking partners who have goals, expectations, experience, and stamina that match yours. Talk with your partners ahead of time to ensure you are all on the same page.
Apply First Aid Immediately When Required
If you’re in a hurry to get to your destination, you may feel hesitant to stop and tend to a small scrape or a hot spot starting to form on your foot. Although it may not seem like a big deal at first, ignoring the issue can cause problems down the road and cost you even more valuable time. Stop and change your socks if you feel a hot spot forming, and use your first aid kit to prevent it from getting any worse and turning into a painful blister. Make sure you’re familiar with wilderness first aid protocols so that you can handle any issues that come up quickly and efficiently.
Improve Your Endurance and Technique
In addition to avoiding unnecessary stops, improving your hiking stamina and technique will play a prominent role in boosting your hiking efficiency. This section covers specific ways you can build endurance and improve your hiking skills and techniques to move more efficiently on the trail.
Perform Hiking-specific Exercises Ahead of a Trip
Getting in shape before hiking season or a planned hiking trip is one of the best ways to boost your hiking efficiency. Since hiking is a full-body workout requiring endurance, strength, and balance, you’ll need to build strength in particular muscle groups and improve your aerobic fitness. Lunges, step-ups, glute bridges, squats, hill runs, stair climbing, and planks are all excellent options to get in better shape before hitting the trail and reduce your risk of injury while hiking.
Your body requires time to adapt to new training stimuli, so start your workout plan at least six to eight weeks ahead of your planned hikes. For thru-hikes, longer backpacking trips, and high-elevation hiking or mountaineering adventures, it’s best to train for at least a few months. Check out our post about the best hiking exercises for detailed training tips and specific moves you can incorporate into your workouts.
Allow Time to Acclimatize for High Elevation Hikes
Hiking at altitude presents additional challenges for the mind and body and comes with added risks like altitude sickness. Make sure to allow plenty of time to acclimatize if you’re not used to high elevations. For example, if you’re flying into a high elevation area for a multi-day hiking trip, make sure to arrive a few days before your trip to let your body adjust and, ideally, do a few short warm-up hikes. This will reduce your chances of developing altitude sickness, which can seriously slow you down or even force you to turn back on a hike or summit attempt. For more detailed tips and advice, take a look at our post about preparing for the challenges of mountain hiking.
Apply Good Hiking Posture and Technique to Maximize Efficiency
Maintaining proper posture and using good technique can help you conserve energy while hiking. Here are some specific ways you can improve your posture and technique on the trail.
- Shorten your stride and take smaller steps when going up or down a steep hill or technical section.
- Avoid rounding your shoulders and hunching over. By keeping your chest open and shoulders back, you can breathe easier and get oxygen into your lungs.
- When ascending a steep incline, try to keep your torso at a similar angle to the terrain you are hiking up. By bending at the waist and leaning into the hill, you have a lower center of gravity and can more easily maintain your forward momentum.
- If you like hiking with trekking poles, engage your arms to do some of the work and use the poles to help power you up the hill.
- If you prefer hiking without trekking poles, you can maintain forward momentum by swinging your arms as you move or propel yourself upwards by pressing down on your knees as you climb.
- Keep your eyes ahead of you on the trail and avoid looking straight down. This keeps your chin up and makes it easier to maintain good posture. You’ll also spot potential obstacles and tripping hazards before they become an issue.
Track Your Progress and Set Goals
Setting goals and monitoring your progress is a crucial part of getting better at any activity. Establish your baseline pace on a short trail you have easy access to in order to see where you’re currently at. If you have a specific goal in mind, such as a long, challenging day hike that you want to complete during daylight, figure out what pace you need to achieve and use that as a guideline for your goals. Once you’ve started training, you can repeat this same trail or section of trail every few weeks to see whether your training is having an effect and helping you improve your pace.
If it’s not working, your body may need a little more time to adapt, or you may need to change your approach. You can re-evaluate your training plan based on this information and consult the help of an expert coach or trainer if needed.
Setting goals on your hike is also an important way to push yourself and monitor your success. You can plan your pace ahead of time using the route map and establish particular times by which you need to arrive at various waypoints. This will help you stay on track during the hike, structure your breaks accordingly, and improve your chances of meeting your goals.
Maintain a Positive Mindset
While physical stamina is crucial for hiking efficiency, we can’t underestimate the importance of mindset in hiking, especially on multi-day backpacking trips and thru-hikes. Maintaining a positive attitude and believing that you can – and will – get through something difficult is an essential part of success. Come up with a mantra that you can use when things get tough and avoid focusing too much on how tired you feel. Repeat this mantra to yourself (or even out loud!) as you hike to help keep yourself in a good frame of mind.
Improving your hiking efficiency can help you cover more distance in a day and get to your destination faster. That said, there’s nothing wrong with hiking leisurely and taking unnecessary breaks. If you like stopping to enjoy the view, admire wildlife, have a snack, or take some photos, that’s okay too!
Still, by learning when to take breaks, how to avoid unnecessary stops, and how to boost your endurance and technique, you’ll find you can significantly improve your hiking times. If you follow the suggestions in this post, as well as other tips in our blog, you’ll be well on your way to hiking faster, farther, and more efficiently on your next hiking adventure.