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Backpacker Magazine – March 2014

Hike Like a Pro

How do you get good at hiking? Hike a lot. And we haven't met anyone who's logged more miles than Cam Honan.

by: Barney Scout Mann

Photo courtesy Cam Honan
Photo courtesy Cam Honan

Over the last 20 years, Cam “Swami” Honan has trekked 50,000 miles. The 44-year-old Australian has hiked in more than 50 different countries. And no, he didn’t win the lottery. Most years, Honan crams work into two- to three-month chunks of 70-hour weeks, exporting handicrafts from his home near Guadalajara, Mexico. He spends the remaining months in the field. Honan’s most recent long trek, from July 2011 to December 2012, was a North American tour de force—15,000 miles and 28 pairs of shoes. En route, he hiked 12 long trails, including the PCT, CDT, and AT. On the big three, he set a new Triple Crown record—236 days. With that much time on the trail, you can be sure he’s picked up a few tricks. Here are his top tips.

Hike at a Consistent Pace.
Sounds easy, but backpackers waste a lot of energy by starting too fast. Start slow, 1-2 mph (should feel easy), and then settle into a day-long, sustainable pace (2-3 mph for most hikers). Two tips to stay in the zone: short breaks (10 minutes max) and regular calorie intake (snack often). Whether you’re going 10 miles or 30, Honan says, “Aim to finish the day at the same pace you’ve been maintaining.”

Adjust your pack often.
There is no “perfect setting” for an entire trip. Every couple hours or so, make small tweaks to your pack’s harness, hipbelt, shoulder, and stabilizer straps. Alternate the load between your shoulders and hips.

Mix up your hiking stride.
On flat, well-maintained trails, using the same muscles in exactly the same way—hour after hour, day after day—is a recipe for injury. Try taking shorter and longer strides; get up on your toes, and then back on your heels.

Eat well.
On long treks (think weeks, not days), you need a steady supply of fuel. Honan aims to consume 4,500 to 5,000 calories per day on the trail. Even after weeks of 30-mile-plus hiking days, the 6-footer stays within 2 to 3 pounds of his 178-pound norm. “A hiker losing a huge amount of weight is a hiker who will soon be off the trail,” he says. Top snack: trail mix—with M&M’s, yogurt-coated raisins, or peanut butter-filled pretzels. Top breakfast: Granola or muesli with NIDO full-cream powdered milk. Dinner: dehydrated beans (he ate 120 pounds worth on his 15,000-mile trek).

Carry less water.
 This is a judgment call—you never want to get dehydrated—but savvy hikers try to avoid carrying more water (8 pounds per gallon!) than they absolutely need. Honan’s strategy: In dry terrain, where refill opportunities are far apart, drink at least a liter of water at the source before leaving. And then carry that much less. Of course, always err on the side of caution if you’re unsure of the next source.

Choose campsites wisely to boost warmth on cold nights.
Avoid camping in valley floors, where cool air collects. Look for sheltered spots under trees, which means less dew.

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Star Star Star Star Star
Jun 28, 2014

Interesting, food for thought.
I can never go without a camp stove though. Half the enjoyment of hiking/camping for me is cooking a nice breakfast in the heart of nature.
I can see the utility of an umbrella.
Personally I'll always favor a boonie hat over an umbrella.

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