How to Improve Your Hiking Efficiency

me on the narrows mt baldyBy Heather

Everyone has their own unique hiking style. Mine is all about efficiency and making good time, but not necessarily rushing through the experience. That’s mostly because hiking is a huge time investment for me: My favorite trailheads are a good hour away, then factor in anywhere from five to 10 hours of hiking.

Essential vs. non-essential breaks

I recently learned about the concept of essential and non-essential breaks while hiking:

  • Essential breaks are for things like dealing with a blister or just stopping for a good rest to shore up your energy. They’re good breaks to take and you need them.
  • Non-essential breaks are breaks that you really don’t need but result from some sort of inefficiency. For example, needing to stop and get your sunglasses when they should have been within easy reach.

The goal, naturally, is to cut down on the non-essential breaks.

There are two primary ways to become more efficient: through the way you hike and your gear.

Let’s get to it.

Fuel up before you start

When I work out at the gym, I’m usually going on an empty stomach and it has never affected my performance much.

Not so with hiking. When you hike, it’s imperative that you start with a strong fuel base. If you start weak, it’s a tough hurdle to overcome. Hiking at high altitudes burns a lot of energy. This is not the time to think about dieting, but to truly shift your thinking to food serving as fuel. You need it to survive and keep going.

mac and cheese carb loading half dome

The night before a hike, I have a carb-y dinner, such as pizza or a burger and fries. In the morning, I start with a bunch of coffee (optional), and guzzle 32 ounces of water before I exit my car. About 30 minutes before the hike starts, I’ll eat an energy bar. By the time I’m ready to hike, I’m very strong, hydrated and totally ready to go.

From there, it’s all about consuming enough food and liquids to maintain that strength. You’ll be fine if you drink before you’re thirsty (peeing once an hour = hydrated) and eat before you’re tired.

Keep a steady pace

The more you can maintain a steady pace, the better off you’ll be. It’s tempting to rush through an easy portion of a trail and then attempt to keep that same pace when you get to a tough stretch. All you’ll do is wear yourself out and slow yourself down because of all the breaks you’ll take to catch your breath.

The best thing you can do for yourself is to start with a strong and steady pace and just keep it as much as you’re able to. You’ll need fewer breaks, you won’t get exhausted and you will ultimately be a faster hiker.

me wearing a fanny pack

Fanny pack

This summer, I purchased an Egogo bag (you can also just go ahead and snicker and call it a fanny pack, since that’s what it is). And then I watched my efficiency go through the roof. This one thing here has made all the difference.

Case in point: A few months ago, I climbed Mt. Baldy via the Old Baldy Trail from Baldy Village. The average time to do the hike is about 8 hours, and I did it in 7. That’s not because I’m super human, but because this bag is just so damn awesome!

Here’s what’s in it:

  • Sunglasses
  • Headlamp
  • Sunscreen
  • Hard candies
  • Energy chews
  • Energy bar
  • SPF lip balm
  • Pepper spray
  • Phone/GoPro

No more stopping and taking off the pack and losing momentum. Now I stop when I want to because I’m tired, and not for any other reason!

Use a bladder

Bladders are no secret, of course, but they make you more efficient by allowing you to drink as you hike. My Teton daypack came with a two liter one, and I love it.

Although a plastic taste has been a common complaint about them, bladders have gotten better in recent years and easier to clean. Look for a wide mouth one — they’re easier to air out. I usually crumple up a paper towel or two and place them in the bladder to hold it open and allow air to circulate.

jessie tom mt whitney hiking poles

Hiking poles

Hiking poles are knee- and life-savers on the downhills. I’ve used the Cascade Mountain Tech brand for a few years and I couldn’t be happier with them.

But they work on the uphills, too. Use your legs and push with your arms, and not only will you go faster, but you’ll conserve your strength and energy so you can go for longer stretches without needing breaks.

Those are my favorite ways to keep moving and seeing more of the outdoors.

If you’ve found a way to improve your efficiency, don’t keep it a secret!