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Long Hikes Call For Smart Breaks, Not Rest Breaks

Advice from 30,000 miles on the Trail

Simply taking an occasional rest break while dayhiking isn't enough. If you want to cover big mileage without physical stress, you need to take smart breaks.

Don't just perch on a rock for a few minutes while you sip water and nibble a chocolate bar. Give your body all it needs to fully serve you.

(1) The more comfortably you sit, the more your body relaxes. Deeper relaxation = higher quality rest. So bring a bum pad.

bum pad

It not only cushions, it insulates. Five minutes sitting on a bum pad is worth eight minutes sitting on bare, rough, cold ground. You can make a bum pad that weighs only two ounces and costs only a couple bucks. Buy a sheet of 3/8″ thick, closed-cell foam, then cut it into 16″x16″ squares—or whatever size suits your physiology.

Here's a 72″ x 20″ sheet of closed-cell foam for only $7.21: http://www.amazon.com/Texsport-Pack-Lite-Pad-72-20-Inch/dp/B0019KHLIY/ref=sr_1_5?s=sporting-goods&ie=UTF8&qid=1330788052&sr=1-5

Another advantage of a bum pad is emergency use. On a dayhike, should you ever have to bivouac due to injury or navigational error, a bum pad will reduce the misery factor considerably.

(2) Your leg muscles contract with every stride. Constantly contracting, they tighten and shorten. Flexible muscles allow long, fluid, powerful strides. So a smart break includes a few minutes of stretching. To stretch comfortably and effectively, you need to lie down. If you don't want to flail around in the dirt, you need a backcountry yoga mat. Not a typical, heavy, cushioned mat. But an ultralight sheet of nylon fabric.

backcountry yoga mat

A tent footprint from a tiny, one-person tent is ideal. It should weigh only about 2 or 3 oz, if you cut off the extraneous, webbing and grommets. And if it's anthropomorphic in shape (narrow at the head, broader at the shoulders, tapering to the feet), it won't be bulky. The MSR MicroZoid one-person tent footprint is ideal. Originally retailing for $35, you can now buy one for just $10: http://www.amazon.com/MSR-Microzoid-Fast-Light-Footprint/dp/B000A8C60Y/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1330787166&sr=8-1

Refuse to stretch? Averse to yoga? Think of it as a down-time tarp. Don't just sit on your bum pad during your smart break. Lie down for a few minutes, and relax completely. You're not likely to do that on the ground. But you will, if you have your down-time tarp in your daypack.

(3) Staying hydrated is critical for optimal athletic performance. Water is essential. But supplementing your water turns a rest break into a smart break. We recommend Emergen-C. It adds subtle flavor, which ensures you drink more water than you otherwise might.


Each packet contains 1,000 mg of vitamin C, zinc, quercetin and antioxidants to support your immune system; seven B vitamins, which boost energy naturally (no caffeine, no crash); magnesium to reduce cramping; and electrolytes to replace those you lose through perspiration. A packet of Emergen-C is virtually weightless. Bring four packets per person, per day. You can buy a box of 30 packets for just $7: Buy at Amazon



(4) Mid-hike refueling is very different than dining at home. Convenience, concentrated food value, and rapid assimilation are vital when hiking. That's why Power Bars, Honey Stinger Bars, Luna Bars, etc. are popular. You probably bring power foods like these on every hike. You should. We do, too.

super food

But we're increasingly turning to live, super foods for backcountry nutrition. The more we read about them, the more we're convinced they're superior. We recently discovered Navitas Naturals. In particular, we like their antioxidant superfood trail mix. Here's what Navitas has to say about it:

“Trail mix was invented by ancient nomads who were experts at creating portable, high-energy snacks that withstood weather and did not need cooking. This bag contains 100% goji berries, mulberries and goldenberies that are certified organic, kosher, vegan, and raw.

“This antioxidant- and nutrient-rich combination will give you energy through the day on your next outdoor adventure. The health benefits afforded by snacking on this nutritious blend are superior to eating any of these superfoods alone.”

It's remarkable how much protein these berries contain. Just one ounce of Navitas trail mix contains 19g of carbohydrate and 3g of protein. Protein is essential for rebuilding muscle.

A 4-oz bag of Navitas trail mix costs $6: Buy at Amazon

We hope at least one of these smart-break suggestions will help boost your energy, mileage and enjoyment on the trail, and ensure you return to the trailhead less depleted.

Walk on!