1. Invest in good boots and socks
On a thru hike, your feet are the number one most important thing and looking after them will make the biggest difference to the comfort of your journey. Investing in a decent pair of boots or shoes (what you take depends on terrain and preference) should, therefore, be a priority. My leather boots (Hanwag) were not cheap but they are comfortable, protect my ankles and, as long as I look after them, should last me a long time. You should also take with you 2 pairs of good quality wool hiking socks (I use Bridgedale).
2. Wear in your boots
This is a classic rookie mistake. You will want to wear your boots or shoes as much as possible before the trek to reduce blisters and other problems.
3. Pack as light as you can
Being able to spend a bit more helps here as ultralight equipment normally comes at a cost. Regardless though, the less you take, the easier it will be for you – it will be quicker to pack, you will have less things to lose and less weight to carry. Check out my kit list to give you an idea of what you might need.
4. Sleeping bags work better outside the stuff sack
This was a revelation for me! I threw out my stuff sack and just squashed my sleeping bag in the bottom of my rucksack. Not only does this take up much less space but it also saves so much time packing in the morning. I also ditched my Therm-a-rest stuff sack as well.
5. Waterproof your bag
Wet kit is never fun and usually leads to cold miserable nights. Waterproof bag covered are ok but I’ve found the most effective technique is using a large dry sack inside your bag that protects everything.
6. Test run all your equipment
Fit in at least 1 overnight test run of all your equipment. It’s a great opportunity to ditch useless kit that you don’t need and to fix any problems.
7. Fitness cam be gained as you go
Ideally, you will fit in some long walks and carry your (full) pack around a bit before you set off. If you run out of time to train properly though, don’t worry. I did not start the Israel National Trail in good shape. Sure, the first couple of weeks were tough, but, as long as you have a good basic fitness level, your body will adjust surprisingly quickly.
8. Laziness is your worst enemy
Everything on a thru hike can feel like too much effort sometimes – stopping to readjust an uncomfortable pack or shoes, making a proper meal at the end of the day, sealing everything properly, getting up in the night to put the outer of your tent on if it starts to rain, etc. It can be easy to cut corners but this can lead to disastrous consequences – blisters, pulled muscles, wet equipment, lack of energy.
9. Blisters are best prevented
I only got 1 blister the entire trip, thanks to learning how to prevent them. Firstly, good shoes and socks, and don’t forget to wear them in. If you are prone to blisters, also take a liner pair of socks, they work brilliantly. Another method that works well is rubbing a generous amount of Vaseline around the areas that rub before you put your socks on.
10. Take and give generously
The hiker community is amazing, as are the trail angels (people who help hikers). Don’t be shy to take people up on their generosity. I’m not alone in saying that the people I met were the highlight of my trip. Equally, be generous with others. Share food if you have it, help with advice or find your own way to give back some trail magic. It’s all part of becoming an active member of the community.
11. Always check the area after a break
When you pack ultralight, everything you have with you is vital, so losing something can be a real pain. Every time you stop for a break or leave camp, make a habit of doing a sweep of the area.
12. Learn the importance of food and water
Drink plenty in the mornings before you leave camp and in the evenings when you set up camp. In the day you want to be sipping water regularly (hydration bladders are great for this). How much you drink depends on how hot it is but you should be looking at at least 2 litres in the day. Food intake is also important. You want high calorie, high energy foods. Snacks should cover both sugars, for instant energy, and carbohydrates, for long term energy. Learn to love nuts if you don’t already! I also supplemented my diet with multivitamins.
13. Make sure you get plenty of sleep
On a thru hike, you will sleep a lot more than you normally do. You will likely set an alarm lots to make the most of the mornings. Make the most of easier days though and allow yourself a lie in to wake up naturally.
14. Don’t make your schedule too rushed and take regular breaks
As a minimum, most people take 1 rest day every week. The Israel National Trail is a tough trek, hot and with lots of scrambling terrain, so I preferred to take a day off every 5 days. On top of that, give yourself some contingency time so you can take an extra day if you are not in the mood, like the place you are staying in or get an injury. It’s not fun feeling too rushed. Start slow as well and give yourself a couple of weeks to get used to hiking before you start planning longer days.
15. If you think you need to wee – wee!
Especially at night. Never ignore the urge to wee. It’s cold and annoying getting up in the night but just do it. It will keep you up for hours, or keep waking you up, until, at last, you give in and realise you won’t be able to sleep until you’ve gone – it’s a camping thing!
16. Don’t compare
There will be people walking faster than you and people walking slower. Things you find easy, others will find difficult and vice-versa. Everyone has their own capabilities, experience, strengths and weaknesses. Hikers love to compare and it can be easy to knock yourself down. Learn to celebrate your own personal successes regardless of others.
Every evening I tried to do 15 minutes of stretching. It made all the difference, loosening up my muscles and making it easier to sleep and get going the next day.
18. Know what weather you are in for
Do some research before you go on the area and season so you can plan your outfit and gear accordingly. Make a habit of checking weather forecasts every week to avoid dangerous situations from heavy rain, snow or heat waves.
19. Know that it’s not all fun
Thru-hiking isn’t a glamorous montage of adventures and amazing moments. It’s a journey with highs, lows, good times and lots of tough times in between. It swings in roundabouts. I would have stretches where I was bored, fed up, tired and didn’t know why I was doing this. Then, suddenly, I would have a day where I felt completely alive and in awe of what I was doing. Be realistic and learn to look at the tough times as all part of the experience.
20. Find ways to tackle boredom
Walking 8-10 hours every day was sometimes boring. Being with other people helps pass the time but, often, I would find myself completely on my own. An iPod shuffle is a great hikers companion. As well as music, I downloaded a few podcasts and audiobooks. I can fully recommend giving singing out loud at the top of your voice a go as well and dancing if you are in the mood.
21. Hike your own hike
You will meet people along the way and it can be easy to end up following others and fitting in around their preferences. I learnt quickly to be comfortable saying that I wanted to walk on my own or that I wanted to camp somewhere different. As much as a thru-hike is about meeting people, it’s also about discovering your own journey. Walk at your own pace and follow your gut instincts. Make sure you spend some time alone. It’s those moments, being alone in nature, that I cherish the most when I look back on my experience.
22. Don’t have any expectations for the end
As well as being exciting and rewarding, the end came as a relief. Once the mixed emotions had passed, I had a strange anti-climax. Fitting back into a new life takes some adjusting.
Interested in doing the Israel National Trail? Find out more here:
An honest review of the Israel National Trail
A guide to the Israel National Trail
Israel National Trail: budget breakdown
24 pictures that will make you want to walk the Israel Nationals Trail
Israel National Trail: Kit List
My Israel National Trail Itinerary