Before I get into this article, I wanted to set the record straight.
You cannot walk long distances without any pain. The longer you walk, the more likely you are to get pain. Pain could be a blister, a strain, or just muscle fatigue.
Also, I’m writing here about distances of around 20 miles and over, done on a single day, or multiple days of walking of around 10 miles or over per day.
What you can manage to walk each day, with our without pain will be hugely personal and will of course depend on age, fitness, conditoning and terrain.
So, you are here to discover how to walk long distances without pain.
The article, is based on my personal experience, and the advice i’ve learned from others.
Of course nothing beats your own experence, but as you continue through with your career in long distance walking you will of course figure out what works, and what doesnt work.
Walking pain free, is as mentioned very difficult over long distances, but with some preperation, it is possible.
Here is how to walk long distances without pain.
Socks feature top of our list of important things to limit your pain when long distance walking.
Consider this. Most of the pain you will experience will start in your feet, often because of a blister.
Good socks will allow you to get through to the end of your long distance hike blister free, and therefore feeling relatively comforable.
Muscle pains can be eased through effective rest, but a blister can carry with you for a long time and cause a significant amount of discomfort.
The first line of defence against a blister is your socks.
Not cheap socks from Sports Direct, or Decathlon, or ‘walking socks’ found in supermarkets.
Please for the love of all that is right in this world don’t use those.
No, i’m talking about merino socks.
Merino socks are superior over sythetic counterparts. Please, whatever you do avoid cotton.
Why? Well, they manage moisture better by moving it away from your skin, to the outside of the sock, while not leaving your feet too hot. Snythetic socks are less good at this, and will often have grids on them, or patches of thinner fabric to aid moisture management.
When moisture builds up in your shoe you get problems. First, your feet smell, second, your feet start sliding around in the sock and shoe, causing rubbing and hot spots which results in blisters.
Some merino socks may be mixed with synthetic fibres, such as nylon. These a are also fine, and often result in a lighter sock which is more breathable.
Think of it like this. Would you buy a new car and put on some budget tyres? Probably not, you would want a pair of nice tyres to go with your car.
The same applies for walking boots. Why spend money on good boots, when you have cheap socks which will cause you to get blisters anyway. You won’t regret the spend if you walk blister free.
In additon to a merino sock, consider a liner sock. Some hikers swear by them, as the liner can take the friction away as it will be the socks that rub together rather than your feet.
Foot care on the trail is one of the best ways to manage blisters over long distances.
You know I said you need merino socks? Sorry, you need a few pairs. Why?
On big days out, over 20 miles and beyond, you may want to consider changing socks occasionally and giving your feet some drying time. Talc powder or similar, and a small cloth is a great way to drive moisture out of your feet. Also letting your feet air for 10-20 minutes can reduce swelling, and fully dry them out.
Giving your foot a massage will also help to alleviate any aches and pains.
This is also a great time to apply tape, and compeed to any developing hot spots.
Hot spots will always turn into a blister if you continue to walk on them. Applying compeed before they develop into full on blisters will allow you to talk unhindered by a blister.
Moving away from blisters, and onto muscular pain, training is vital if you want to avoid pain, or too much of it when hiking.
That being said, for most of us walking trail in the UK, unless you are planning on putting in 15 – 20 miles of walking each day, training may not be necessary.
For an averagely fit walker who is walking the Hadrian’s Wall Path over 10 days, you will be fine with no training. Your fitness will build on the trail, even within this timeframe.
However, for longer hikers with big miles and big ascents, training is important.
I’m not going to go into the training here, as I am not qualified to offer this advice, nor do I want to. Instead, I would like to recommend the wonderful Elements Programme written by the very knowledgable Chase Tucker from Chase Mountains.
If you are like me and worried about being fit enough for your walk, a structured training plan is helpful.
You may for example be worrying that your fitness will cause injury, or the need to leave the trail early. Perhaps you have been out of fitness for a long time, and just need some support to get you back on track.
The course has everything you need to condition your body (and mind) for the trail, and is a fantastic post-walk training solution.
You can view the course here.
Stretching is that awful thing that you do at the beginning of any form of exercise which doesn’t really feel like you have done anything at all.
Stretching is however of great importance to your repertoire of anti-pain tools.
By stretching you keep your muscles flexible, strong and therefore healthy.
By conditioning our muscles to be more flexible, we maintain a healthy range of motion in the joints. Muscles which are not stretched actually shorten over time, which causes tightness. Walking long distances will only expose the tight muscles and cause you pain as the muscle is unable to fully extend, and therefore causes pain as its stretched repeatedly.
Yoga is of course a brilliant post walk form of conditioning. With the rise of video classes and fitness tech you don’t even need to leave the house to do yoga. Try Down Dog yoga for affordable and very good online classes.
Knowing your limits
Above all else, know your limits.
By this I mean, don’t expect yourself to be able to walk big miles without pain if you are just starting out. Choose miles which you know you can comfortably walk within a day, and fit your walk around that.
If you are planning on walking the Pennine Way, yet only have a week, consider breaking the walk into sections, rather than injure yourself with big miles your body isn’t conditioned to walk.
Like most good things in life, the fitness required for long distance hiking big miles over multiple days takes time, practice and patience to build up.
Be sensible, know your limits, and above all else, have fun.
How do I prepare my feet for long walks
There are a few simple things you can do prior to walking to get your feet in good condition for your walk. For example:
– Buy the right socks
– Clip toenails
– Break in your shoes
– Tape up ahead of time
Which shoe brand is best?
I want to tell you which is best. Honestly I do but it would be cruel and wrong for me to do so. I’ll tell you where not to buy shoes from.
Discount sports stores and supermarkets sell horrible walking boots. The price may look good, but you will soon regret it. Get to a good outfitter selling walking boots/trainers and get a professional fitting.
Failing that, buy a load of shoes online and see what feels good.
How much training should I do?
Walk as often as you can. Add some mobility training into the mix and you will be golden. But the key is to get those miles in!
What If I do get pain?
If you do get blisters, then it’s time to apply Compeed. If you can burst the blisters comfortably then apply a sterile wipe to a needle and give it a prod coming in from the side so as not to jab yourself. This will reduce pain after Compeed is applied.
If bursting a blister is not something you are comfortable with, just put your Compeed on. It will help to reduce the discomfort.
As for aches and pains, frequent stops and massaging will help.
Failing that, unless the pain is a show stopper, there reaches a point where you need to embrace it!