The best way to ruin a long distance trek is to not plan or prepare your body, clothing and hiking gear for it. Not only should be you be physically ready for the day to day activity, but all of your gear should be used, broken in and comfortable.
Boots: Of course, boots are extremely important, requiring correct fit and well-used to eliminate foot issues. My favorite boots are Keen Targhee III women’s hiking boots. They are immediately comfortable, lightweight (yet supportive), roomy in the toe box and waterproof. I buy a pair about once a year as they last about 350 to 450 miles depending on the terrain.
Clothes: Your hiking shirts, socks and pants must be worn on the practice hikes to make sure they fit well during use, rather than just look great in the fitting room. Recognize that you want to be comfortable and appropriate for the climate(s), but you don’t need to carry extra clothing to make a fashion statement. It is amazing what you can do without when you are carrying your entire month’s wardrobe and all hiking gear on your back. The daily chore of rinsing out your clothing is a small price to pay for a much lighter pack! You will be sick of your clothes after wearing the same thing every day (I do carry an extra shirt and an extra set of socks and underwear), but your back will thank you!
My favorite hiking pants are Kuhl Kliffside Convertible Pants. These pants are very comfortable with a little longer stride and a little stretch. The zippers are neat and smooth and the shorts length is perfect at just above the knee. My favorite feature is the zip pockets on each leg. I like to know that my pocket contents are safe and secure. The only improvement would be about an inch deeper pocket for longer phones. These pants can be rinsed out easily and dry quickly.
Columbia Hiking Shirts are great hiking shirts. They often have vents in the back and a secret pocket, are roomy for comfort, roll up sleeves and attractive.
Wearing one of my Columbia shirts, REI 40 liter pack, Kuhl Kliffside hiking pants.
Hiking poles are indispensable. My poles of choice are super light and strong Montem Ultra Light Carbon Fiber Hiking Poles , which I love! The cork handles are very comfortable and the telescoping shafts are easy to adjust. The price is the big shocker – almost half the price of comparable poles and exactly what I wanted. Whenever a friend picks up my poles, they are amazed with their light weight and cork handles.
Pack: I begin working on my backpack contents and organization several months before the actual trek, then begin carrying it on my practice hikes for the two months before the trip. If the pack is too heavy, what can I remove or substitute with a lighter equivalent? If the pack does not ride properly on my shoulders, I may need time to replace it, which can be time consuming – not to be done the week before the trek. A general thought for the contents: consider anything you are packing that is not absolutely necessary – and remove it. Carrying the pack during the practice hikes will encourage you to pack as minimally as possible. I have used the REI co-op 40 liter pack for the past two years. This is my third REI pack, and I have been happy with all of them as my understanding of packing has improved. The 40 liter size works well for the amount of gear that I now carry. I love the fact that it does not ride up close to my head, provides easy access to the interior, secret inside pocket, and includes stretchy outside pockets, great for storing items. Suggested custom improvements might be: loops on the top of the pack and somewhat larger side belt pockets.
Hydration system: After years of leaky, hard to open or close water carriers, I discovered the Platypus Hyration System. I use the 3 liter system and love it; just slide the bag open, fill and slide it shut. It is kind of like a huge ziplock bag. NO leaking!!!
Training: To be ready for the big day you must walk, walk, walk! And to help with this effort, include a few friends on the practice hikes – perhaps those who will accompany you on the actual trek – and any “wanna-be”s.
Previous winter: My training begins the previous winter, I walk whenever the weather allows, several times a week. These walks are without a pack and not particularly long: 3 to 7 miles.
Spring: Once Spring and better weather arrive the hikes lengthen to about 8 miles a couple of times a week.
May: Usually by May I get out my pack and start thinking about what I will need for my end-of-summer adventure. By the end of May I have gathered all components for the “pack build” and organized and packed the backpack, which is now ready to be included on my training walks.
June to End-of-Summer Trek Date: If you can hike close to the altitude of the planned trek, you will benefit. If you cannot hike “at altitude”, continual walking of any sort is the necessary ingredient to be ready for the challenges and fun of the trek. Note the longest days in the planned trek, and walk/hike at least that distance frequently. For many years I have spent my summers in the Northern California Sierra Nevada Mountains, south of Lake Tahoe. My Spring walking efforts prepare me to tackle these mountains during the summer, where these regular training hikes range from 5 to 16 miles at altitudes from 7200′ to 9600′ – often with other members of the Silver Lake Hiking Club. The goal is to be physically conditioned before the trek, which then becomes a safe, enjoyable walk, not a painful struggle.