A day in the life of a long distance hiker

Hiking Practice

I’m a bit of an obsessive about some things and one of those is information. As such I often find myself thinking about various aspects of hiking, some obvious like distances travelled, meal planning, equipment weights, camp sites, and all the other logistical considerations, as well as some not so obvious aspects including what does a typical hiking day look like. While I do plan all my hikes, I find that shorter hikes that aren’t overly long or complex just tend to happen and in most cases I typically finish at lunchtime to avoid the heat of the day. However, when I start talking about long distance hikes over multiple days I am very much a creature of habit and my days, in most cases blur, regardless of the changes to the environment they tend to look the same. Now let’ s get back to the information and why knowing what your typical day looks like.

Most of us don’t have the luxury to spend an endless amount of time on a hike and sometimes even if we do the weather conditions may set a time limit that we have to work with. The days get shorter, the snow sets in, or the heat becomes extreme. If you are planning on doing 20+km days, day-in-day-out, then keeping track of your days and distances travelled becomes an important consideration. In this article we look at a typical day on a multi-day hike and break it down from waking up at the start of the day to going to sleep and the days end. While the overall structure of a day will be similar for everyone the specifics will be unique to each of us.

So, what does a typical long distance hiking day look like for me?

Context

Over the years I have have used the following criteria to work out what a day on the trail looks like for me:

  • I like to average around 32km per day
    • This distance is purely arbitrary and based on US long distance hiking circles where 20 miles (32.2km) is considered to be a good daily average for long distance hiking
    • My daily range varies between 20-45km depending on how I feel and the terrain
  • I work on an average walking pace of 3.75km per hour
    • Sometimes this is slower, sometimes faster, but this average speed includes meal and rest breaks throughout the day and works well for me
  • I like to average a rest day every approximately every 6.5 days
    • This is more because I record, edit, and produce a podcast on trail where internet signal allows
    • The may range between 4-8 days and is often based on getting and internet signal if thats even possible

Go to Whoa

Here’s what a typical long distance hiking day looks like for me based on my own personal set of criteria:

Morning

5:30am Time to get up

  • My usual wake up time in the real world is around 4:30-5:00am I’m an early to bed early to rise kind of guy. I sit in my sleeping bag, make a cup of tea, eat breakfast (uncooked) do some social media even if I have to post it later, and record some audio for the podcast
  • Start packing my gear and get out the days food for on trail and getting ready to go. If there are other hikers around I try to leave this as late as I can so as not to disturb them
  • Tape my feet. I will tape judiciously for approximately the first week of a hike as no matter how fit I am my feet aren’t used to doing 20+km day in day out. Foot care is crucial to a successful long distance hike
  • Activate my Garmin inReach just as I leave and send a wake up message to my wife Gill. I’ll us my phone if I have signal

7:30 Start walking

  • I know how long it takes to to get ready in the mornings (90 minutes), but I just tend to dawdle so without fail I always leave about 20 minutes later than planned, regardless of what time that is
  • I’m a morning person and get into the ‘zone’ very quickly in the mornings, powering along

9:30am Morning tea time

  • Without fail I have morning tea (by morning tea time I need to stop and ‘eat food’) around 9:30. Even if I don’t look at my watch I know its 9:30am because I start to feel a strong need to eat. I will snack as I walk but I like to just have a short sit, usually only stopping for about 15 minutes
  • I’m a real creature of habit here and I like sitting on a log to take a break. I will start looking for an appropriate sitting log (dry, semi shade usually and about chair height). If I can’t find a log I’ll opt for a flat rock, if I can’t find a flat rock I’ll try to find a piece of dry raised soil on the edge of the trail
  • If my tent fly is wet because of the dew or rain from the previous night I will get it out and hang it on a low branch or bush to dry it out

9:45am Walking again

  • I try to maintain my average walking pace depending on the terrain I will walk faster in the morning. If the conditions allow I tend to walk at a faster pace of around 4-5km per hour. What this means in reality is that by around midday I have usually walked around 17-20km, more than half the day’s goal
  • I’ll continue walking until sometime between 12:00-12:30pm

Tea break own a raised soil area just of a management trail

Lunchtime

12:00-12:30pm Lunch break

  • I’m not so rigid on my lunch breaks stopping somewhere between midday and 1::00pm. Its more about finding the right site to sit
  • Except on very rare occasions I will only take around 20-30 minute for lunch. Lunch is always cold, never cooked. Somedays I will just eat peanut butter for lunch; its packed with calories
  • If the weather is good I may take my shoes off and air my feet and socks
  • Again I’ll use this time to dry my tent fly if need be

Lunch Break on the Hume and Hovell Track. This time it’s a suitable rock

Afternoon

12:30pm More walking

  • I do tend to slow down in the afternoon when compared to the morning but thats more of a phycological factor knowing that I have less of my allocated distance left to do
  • Where possible I like to set up camp and eat dinner while its still light so depending on the time of the year I’ll typically start looking for a campsite from around 3:45pm onwards. I tend to stop walking at around 4:30pm at the latest. At this stage I’m looking for a camp site that is flat, protected, has access to drinking water, won’t get waterlogged during the night, and not under dangerous trees
  • Typically I don’t stop for a snack break in the afternoon unless it’s been a very demanding day. I just prefer to get on with it!

At Camp

4:30pm Set up camp

  • Set up my tent
    • Everything that I have in my tent has its home. I know exactly where things are because they always go in the same spot
  • Have a protein drink to allow for muscle regeneration
  • Fill up my water bladder/filter
  • If I’m using a cathole for my toilet needs then this gets dug. I prefer to do this before the need is urgent!
  • Dinner! I eat really early when I’m on trail, often eating at around 5:30pm
  • Social media and blogging catch up which involves writing up what happened for the day and recording for my podcast
  • Hang my food if need be. While we don’t have to worry about bears in Australia we do have to worry about mice, native rodents and the occasional possum that comes looking for your food. If possible hang it out of reach
  • Get my next days food pack in an easy to reach location
  • If I am having overnight oats for breakfast then I’ll soak them ready for the next morning
  • If the weather is warm I’ll wash socks and underwear
  • Daily wash (see my Bathing on the Trail routine)
  • Charge any electronics that need it
  • Send a message to my wife Gill on my Garmin inReach letting her know where I am

Nighty Night

7:00pm Time to go to bed

  • This is where the other half of early to bed early to rise comes in. More often than not I’m camping by myself so will be in my sleeping bag around 7:00pm. This doesn’t mean that I get 10.5 hours of sleep and as someone who operates on an average of 6 hours sleep a day I will wake up regularly throughout the night
  • If its really cold I will get rid of my dirty hiking clothes and put the dry clean stuff on. If not then I’ll strip off my outer clothing

Across the day

There are always things that I do throughout the day that don’t neatly fit into my schedule above. Some are very specific to me. These include:

  • I will eat every hour on the hour to maintain constant energy levels and prevent bonking. This may only be an energy/nut bar, some dried fruit or nuts. Again I’m a creature of habit as my first snack of the day is around an hour after I start walking is always a pack of Sesame Snaps. I will spread the pack out over about 20 minutes
  • I will always carry water with me preferring to cope with the extra weight and only top up along the way if need be. Often I’m hiking in locations where water isn’t always guaranteed and while it may look clean its not always. If I am drawing water as I go I will always filter
  • Monitor navigation as I go
  • Social media posting. As a blogger I can only post if I have signal and on some of the more remote hikes this isn’t often so I will check internet/phone signal if I am approaching a town or a high point on the trail. I have usually looked at the Telstra coverage maps prior to the trip. If the signal is good I will stop for up to 30 minutes to post
  • On my long trips I am recording material for podcasts as I go throughout the day. At least once a week I compile all this material and edit an episode. If I can I try to do this when I’m in a town with reliable internet signal. If not its in my tent and can take around 3 hours

Variations

Over the duration of a hike lasting a number of weeks I will try to do at least one night hike. This requires me to check the moon cycle prior to leaving and work out the best option. The majority of my hikes are in wintertime so ideally I want a full moon as close to 5:00-6:00pm as possible so I can just extend my day. In most cases I have finished walking by around 6:30pm at the latest. On my Bibbulmun Track hike in 2018 I did two nights of walking finishing at 6:30pm each time.

My rest days are to allow me to rest physically, catch up on food consumption, catch up on social media and the podcast, to have a nice hot shower, and to do some clothes washing. I may get into a town around lunchtime and if this is the case I’ll end up with 1.5 days off but typically I’ll end up hitting town about mid afternoon. Many hikers will use this as a chance to resupply their food but with the exception of gas resupply I always post my food ahead having very specific tastes.

Final thoughts

I’m pretty consistent with my hiking days and for a number of years this hasn’t varied regardless on the hike. This reduces the need to stress out each day to work out what’s happening and it means that I can just get up in the morning and go though my typical day.

When I’m long distance hiking I’m often doing so solo and this allows my body goes into autopilot and allows me to think ‘deep thoughts’ without distraction which is a luxury in our fast paced modern world.

As mentioned this is my schedule and my schedule alone so use this as a guide and work out what works for you. In other words Hike your own hike whatever that may be.

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