Whether it is thru-hiking, and weekend backpacking trip or day hike, covering more distance is not just about feeling that you achieved more, it also allows you to see more, get to more remote places and enjoy nature more wholesomely. Hiking 25 miles days is very doable under most 3 seasons conditions and allows for a good balance between effort and enjoyment. To help you get to the comfortable 25 miles days, here are a few tips and tricks:
This is probably the most obvious, but what does it mean? Before leaving on your trip, know (roughly) sunrise and sunset times. Aim to wake up half an hour before sunrise to allow for that slow morning, and stop for the day when sunset starts. When sunset starts, you usually have another 20-45 minutes of light. In the summer, this approach can get you up to 15 hours of walking time (unless very close to the poles) and in winter it can be 8+ hours.
Learn to set up and break camp quickly
If you are camping, know how to set your tent up and sort sleeping arrangements quickly. Before your trip, be comfortable with all your gear; practice by setting up and breaking camp 5-10 times in a row, and you will become very comfortable with it. If cooking, know how to use your stove, how to maximize efficiency and use a windscreen. When packing your backpack, pack sensibly to allow for fast camp set up and practice getting things out of the bag without making a mess.
This is probably the biggest time waste and most common practice that traditional walkers will not want to give up. The range of reasons for taking breaks is huge, but mainly it is to “stop and look at the view”. It is likely that the main reason you need to stop to look around is because you are putting too much effort in walking either due to being unfit or lacking practice/confidence. Once you are comfortably fit outdoors, work very hard to look around and enjoy the view as you walk, that way you don’t need the breaks and you will get to enjoy the trail all the time.
Eat and drink frequently on the go
If you are cutting down on breaks you will need to learn how to hydrate and fuel on the go. This is actually easier than you think: make sure you have a water source in an easily accessible pocket (or use a hydration bladder) and make sure you have easy-to-consume foods accessible, too. The most recommended foods are trail mix, energy/oats/protein bars, diced meat/cheese in a bag, crackers etc. Everything that doesn’t need cooking and can be easily packed can be munched while walking.
Easier said than done, but learning to walk more efficiently using ultra running techniques can really increase your daily mileage. Most people can walk 1-1.5 miles an hour, but increasing your speed to 2-2.5 miles an hour will make a huge impact. Practice fast walking in a flat area, just to teach your quads how to deal with the stress, and over time add weight (backpack) and then an incline. Cycling really helps with quad strengthening for faster walking.
Have clear segment goals
Instead of starting the day with 25 miles (or more) ahead of you, break it down into smaller goals: 5 miles to the next peak, 2 miles to the river bend etc. Time yourself on those segment to know if you are keeping up and have small rewards when finishing a segment: a chance to just stand and look for 5 minutes or a snack you are keeping as a special treat.
If you want to go far, you need to be lighter, both with your body and gear. Being healthy and fit does help a lot in moving for longer as you are carrying less weight, but having a lighter pack makes a huge difference. There are many schools of thought about pack weight etc, but if you can get your backpack (before water and food) to be around 10-15% of your body weight, you are in a good place. Aim to have your final carried weight, including food and water, 25% or less of your body weight, any more and it is just too heavy to be comfortable.
Have you heard the saying: 1 pound on your feet is like 5 pounds on your back? Well, it’s true. So start working on using lighter footwear to reduce leg, foot and back fatigue. Despite common conventional wisdom, using lighter, more flexible footwear (like trail running shoes) after practicing using will actually reduce injuries outdoors. Make sure you make the adjustment slowly, but using lighter footwear will have a huge impact on your ability to cover 25 miles a day.
Accept wet feet
Very controversial is the debate – waterproof shoes or not? As much as I like to keep my feet dry, I’ve learned that trying to keep my feet dry with waterproof footwear takes a lot of effort, time and energy; usually just to find myself with wet feet anyway by the end of the day (from sweat or a leak). Instead of spending 20-30 minutes on each water crossing or boggy area trying to find the best way to cross, just accept your feet will be wet and go for it. You will save a big chunk of time no longer debating water crossings. If it is really cold, you can pair your lightweight trail shoes with some waterproof socks for protection (just pack an extra pair of socks for the dry bits…).
Track time and progress
Have a watch and know your navigation. Knowing how much light you have, how long it has taken to walk each segment and knowing when to speed up or when you can slow down will help you walk 25 miles a day without constantly reaching camp in the dark. Having a GPS watch with tracking ability also helps in telling you some statistics about the walk like how fast you are moving, etc to get an even more efficient walk.
Use hiking poles
Beyond reducing fatigue and potential injury, using hiking poles puts you in quicker pace and allow you climb more easily. Many hikers and backpackers report feeling faster when using poles, either from reduced fatigue or better movement management.
Accommodate challenging conditions
You might be a strong walker or hiker who can easily keep a 3 mph pace, but even strong hikers slow down on a hard ascent or when they cross a snowy pass or a peak. When walking along a route with many variables and big ascents, it is important to accommodate for slower paces to calculate the right timing.
Putting into practice
Start by implementing all the above individually, not aiming for 25 miles days from the start, but sticking to your previous mileage while improving all the above. After practicing all or most of the tips, start increasing mileage gradually, allowing your body to adjust. This is true whether you are on a thru-hike or building up day hikes, weekend trips or longer section hikes.
The most important is to remember that doing 25 miles days over many days doesn't happen immediately and recovery time is important.