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Thru-Hike Health: Backpacking Tips To Go The Distance

pacific crest trail hikers
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Hiking miles and miles every day with a pack on takes a physical toll. Our corespondents thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this year step back to talk about motivation, injury prevention, and general ‘wellness’ out there on the long haul.

thru-hikers on PCT

With roughly 400 miles of the PCT behind them this spring (and 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail logged last year), the ‘Packing It Out’ crew has developed a system to stay healthy and motivated while hiking 25+ miles each day.

Article written by Paul Twedt, a ‘Packing It Out’ founder.

When preparing for a thru-hike backpacking trip, people run, hike with a pack on, and train in many ways. But the truth is most things in life won’t prepare you for what the main event entails. Give or take a mile or two, we walk a marathon distance every day.

Not only that, we carry our lives on our backs along with whatever unknown amount of trash we find along the way. This weight plus the distance can wear you down.

stretching while thru-hiking
The ‘Packing It Out’ crew doing some pre-meal stretching

We do this for roughly 150 days in a row to accomplish our goals. It puts a tremendous amount of stress on the body, both physically and mentally. This is our choice; we are thru-hikers.

Think ‘MSC’ To Manage Hiking’s Physical And Mental Aspects

An imperative aspect of thru-hiking success lies in each hiker’s ability to cope with physical and mental challenges.

During our 2015 Appalachian Trail thru-hike, the Packing It Out crew learned that we could manage the not-so-trivial challenge of aches, pains, and injuries with what we dubbed Meticulous Self Care (hereafter referred to as MSC).

hiking stretches

MSC includes all yoga, stretches, self massage, physical therapy, and calisthenics that we incorporate into our daily routines for health, wellness, and self-improvement.

While MSC may seem to be primarily physical in nature, it is equally important as a mental stimulant.

Yoga, PT, Massages

Every day we strive to feel better than the day before. With the demands we put on our bodies, this requires a dedication to our physical fitness and flexibility.

Practicing varied yoga poses daily helps us to strengthen stabilizer and core muscles that keep our joints healthy as we walk.

As preventative measures, physical therapy exercises for issues such as IT band syndrome and plantar fasciitis help us push beyond our known weaknesses.

We use tools like a golf ball or racquet ball to do deep tissue massage and release trigger points.

Huge PCT Cleanup Begins: Goal To Remove 1,000 Pounds Of Trash

A group of four young thru-hikers heads north today from the southern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail on a mission to clean 1,000 pounds of trash off the classic American trail. Read more…

Winning The Backpacking Mind Game

Focusing our minds on our body posture and walking form engages our minds and helps us to feel pain free at day’s end. Maintaining positivity, learning new skills, and engaging in intellectual discussions are all a part of our MSC as well.

Keeping a positive mental attitude helps us to remain joyful and exuberant when we find challenges like large trash dumps along the trail.

pacific crest trail lookout

Learning new physical therapy exercises, as well as learning about the area we are passing through, keeps our minds from stagnating while helping us keep our bodies strong along the journey.

Our widely varied discussions — from business models or how t-rex hunted and ate, to how best to engage others in the Packing It Out stewardship ethic — all seem to encompass broader horizons when camped among the mountains and endless skies of the desert.

MSC For Life

In all, our MSC is more than just a daily routine done each morning, but really it encompasses a mindset towards a lifetime of health and well-being.

It begs the question, did my life prepare me for this thru-hike, or is this thru-hike better preparing me for the rest of my life?

–Follow the crew on our ‘Packing It Out’ page. To date, the group has hiked 400+ miles from the U.S./Mexico border to Ravena, Calif. Connect with Paul, Seth, and Chris on InstagramTwitter, and their blog.

pacific crest trail hikers

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