Preparing to Walk a Long Distance

Preparing to Walk a Long Distance

So you’ve decided to take a really long walk.

Funny enough, there’s something about taking a really long walk that some people find really exciting. It’s a physical challenge. It’s a way to get to know your surroundings, to think and observe. It’s a very personal activity. It’s also not the kind of thing most people are used to doing, and there’s even an element of danger and a chance of doing yourself physical harm.

Thankfully, you can mitigate those risks of danger, and minimize the chance of hurting yourself by being prepared before you embark upon a long walk. In this article I will outline the basics of that preparation. And in articles to come I will get into each of these topics in detail.


How long is long-distance?

Long-distance is a subjective term. It can mean something different to everybody, and it really depends on what you’re used to. I would define a long-distance walk as one which exceeds the distance any given person might normally walk in one day. For some people that might just be two or three miles, for others it could be ten. If you’re thinking of doing a walk that is longer than you’ve one before, you’ll want to keep some or all of this advice in mind.


Taking steps to get ready.

The single biggest thing you can do to improve your readiness for a long walk is to practice. You do this by taking several shorter walks before the long one. During these practice walks you’ll be strengthening your core muscles, legs and feet. You’ll be helping to improve your cardiovascular fitness and stamina. You’ll be able to evaluate the sock and shoes and clothes you wear, and the stuff you carry with you.

By making adjustments with each short training walk you’ll be able to figure out what you’re comfortable wearing while walking, and with that improved feeling of fitness you’ll also feel better during—and even after—your long walk.


What to wear while walking.

One thing I was surprised to learn during my first attempt at The Commute was that my very comfortable pants became very uncomfortable after walking in them for twenty miles. They chafed pretty badly. I learned later that this is a common issue with walkers, and runners too.

So there are two big factors that I’ve come to consider when planning my walk wardrobe: comfort, and weather. But mostly comfort.

I recommend dressing in lightweight clothing that can be supplemented with other layers as weather demands. I usually walk The Commute in early summer, when daytime temperatures can hover just below 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and plummet as low as 40 degrees in the dead of night. If I wear shorts and a t-shirt to stay cool in the day, I’ll also carry some light pants and a lightweight jacket to help stay warm in the night.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you decide what to wear:

  • Wear something you’re very comfortable in
  • Protect yourself from the sun
  • Dress to be visible to motorists (bright colors help)
  • Choose lightweight clothes you can wear in layers

And of course, take practice walks while wearing the clothes you intend to wear during your long walk. An outfit that works well for you during your long walk will contribute to a more comfortable experience.


Be like Cinderella: wear shoes that fit.

I’ve seen people walk 50 miles in sneakers, sandals, hiking boots, and running shoes; the exact kind of shoes you choose to wear almost doesn’t matter as long as they fit. The number-one reason that people drop out of The Commute before finishing is blisters, and a big contributor to those is having shoes that don’t fit properly.

Here are some tips for finding the right fit for your feet:

  • Choose shoes that are roomy: your feet will swell and expand after being on them for hours and hours. If your shoes aren’t big enough to accommodate that expansion you might find yourself getting blisters on the tips of your toes and the sides of your feet. Try buying a half or a full size larger than you would normally wear.
  • If you tend to sweat from your feet, look for shoes made from a very breathable material. Soggy feet can lead to chafed skin, to try to avoid that.
  • Keep the cushion in mind. As your feet become sore you may find yourself walking differently than normal without realizing it, as you unconsciously try to put weight on less tender parts of your feet. That difference in stride can put pressures on your skin in areas that are unused to it, and lead to blisters in unfamiliar places. A pair of shoes that keep your feet cushioned for the thousands of footfalls that occur during a long walk will help keep those unfamiliar strides from occurring.
  • Wear socks that wick moisture. Keeping those tootsies dry will reduce the risk of blisters.

And don’t forget to break them in. Wear them on your practice walks to be sure they don’t become uncomfortable a few miles into your walk.


Seymore’s not here. Feed yourself.

We walk short distances all the time and we hardly ever need to stop to drink water or eat a snack. But walking does burn calories, and it will make you sweat. Keeping yourself energized and hydrated is very important to your comfort during and after your long walk.

I like to pack some foods that are light and calorie-rich. Energy bars, nuts, little pieces of chocolate. Sometimes a good ol’ PB&J really hits the spot. When walking The Commute I like to pause every three or four miles to grab a bite from my backpack. Staying energized makes those long stretches in the night more bearable, and helps me keep my pace consistent.

Water is essential. Drink frequently, especially during the heat of the day. I like to carry awater-bottle in my hand and drink as I walk. You might find that you have to drink less at night, but keep drinking all the same. Keeping those muscles of yours well hydrated is one of the most effective ways to ensure you’ll have a speedy recovery after the exertion of a long walk. For a little extra boost, you can bring electrolyte gel or powdered sports-drink mix.


Take breaks.

Give yourself a little rest every once-in-a-while. While you shouldn’t dawdle, taking breaks gives you a chance to do some critical evaluation. Give yourself a little check-up:

  • Do my feet feel ok?
  • Am I too cold? Too hot?
  • Do I need to re-apply sunscreen?
  • Do I need to refill my water bottle?
  • Do I need to use the restroom?

And then, when that stuff is taken care of to your satisfaction, keep on truckin’.


Be safe.

It seems a little counter-intuitive to consider walking a dangerous activity, but there are things you might encounter out there which can cause you harm.

Walk with a buddy, or two. You’re less likely to get bothered by some rando-strango if you’re with a small group. And if someone happens to get hurt, then the others can get help immediately. So far, when walking The Commute, we haven’t seen anyone get an injury worse than some bad blisters. But if something worse does happen it’s good to know you’ve got someone there for support.

The most omnipresent danger you’ll face is from the sun. When that sun is shining down on you for hours at a time there’s a real chance of getting a bad sunburn. In addition to increasing your chances of getting skin cancer they can really hurt like heck and make you feel sore and tired. Cover your skin with light clothes and sunscreen to  keep from being burned.

The next-most immediate danger is from people driving cars. Try to maintain an awareness of where cars are around you. Every time you are approaching a driveway or a street, look to make sure no one is entering or leaving before you walk across. Even when it seems like your presence should be obvious to a motorist, assume that it isn’t; drivers may be checking traffic somewhere other than where you are, or might pull into an intersection before looking to see if it’s clear. If there’s ever an uncertain situation, let the driver go first. It may cost you a couple seconds but it could save your life.

To help make yourself apparent to motorists it’s helpful to add some bright colors to your wardrobe. When walking at night pin a small flashing light to your jacket or your backpack.

Lastly, watch where you’re walking. There are park benches, fire hydrants, street signs, lamp posts, and trees to contend with. Sometimes the sidewalks themselves become obstacles when they’ve falen into disrepair or have been pushed around by tree roots. Keep a bright flashlight with you for night walks through areas with inadequate street lighting.


Have help on speed-dial.

If you decide to stop a long walk, or you really can’t go on, you’re probably going to want a ride. Before you set out on your walk, make arrangements for someone to come and get you if you need it.

If things are worse than needing a ride home, dial 9-1-1.


Know your limits.

Even if you’ve done all the preparation work, and practiced, and feel totally ready to take-on a long walk, you might still come to a point before you’ve finished where you feel unsure about whether to continue your walk or throw in the towel. You need to know yourself and be honest about when it’s time to quit.

You might even be just a few miles from the finish, but if your blisters are bad, or your feet ache like crazy. Maybe your pace has slowed to a crawl, or you’re falling asleep while you walk. If you might hurt yourself or put yourself in danger by continuing, you must quit. Call your ride and go home.

It feels like you’ve been beaten but quitting doesn’t mean you’ve been defeated. It’s just a setback. You can try again, but not if you’re reckless with your health and safety.