How you can start long distance walking safely for steps and miles

Long-distance walking allows you to get most of your steps and your daily recommended exercise in one efficient block of time. For people who love walking and seasoned walking pros, a good long walk may be an enjoyable part of your daily or weekly routine. While you’re seeing the local sights and getting active, you’ll be burning calories and strengthening your legs at the same time.

Long-distance walks do take you farther from home, and require more planning, preparation, and gear than a quick 5-minute walk around the block. To keep your longer walks enjoyable, you’ll need to manage your walking pace, keep up your stamina and know when it’s time to head home. Today, we’re here to share some smart long-distance walking tips so that you can take walks that last hours safely and enjoyably.

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Why take the effort to go on long walks?

Couple taking a long walk in the countryside

While short walks are a great way to fit steps into a busy day, you’ll burn more calories and get in more steps and miles by walking longer distances. There’s nothing magic about it – you can get the same amount of steps in through twelve 5-minute walks or one hourlong walk for fitness, but if you have the time and the stamina why not get those steps all in at once?

Walking for long distances has some other benefits as well. You only need to prepare your gear and clothes, do your stretches and warm-up and cool down once. This can mean more time spent walking at a brisk pace, or more time for walking intervals if you like to do them. Between the time you take deciding to walk, stopping whatever you’re doing, completing your walk, then cooling down and getting back to your normal activities you can save time by getting more steps in that one session.

Long-distance walking also allows you to get out farther into nature, and explore more interesting areas than a short walk around the office or around the block. You can find hills to walk up and down, as well as other varied terrain to make walks more challenging.

Difficulties from long-distance walking

Athletic woman looking tired after a walk

There are benefits to shorter walks over longer walks. Longer walks are more tiring, so the fatigue of walking for a long time can offset the energy-boosting benefits of your walk. It also takes a certain level of stamina and endurance to walk nonstop for an hour or more, so beginners may need to start with shorter walks before even trying long walks.

You’re more likely to get sweaty or need to change on longer walks, and your walking gear (walking shoes, clothes etc) becomes more important the longer you walk. You might be able to get by walking 5 minutes in your work shoes, but try it for an hour and you’ll be dealing with some painful feet!

It’s also tougher to find the right walking route when walking long distances. You can always walk laps around your block or your office, but that can get boring after a while. These issues often do not come up with shorter walks, as you’re done before things can get boring.

Finally, you’ll probably need more gear and preparation for long walks. If you’re walking around your office, you probably won’t need anything at all. For a 2-hour walk across the city, you’ll definitely want to take at least a few things with you.

Long-distance walking tips

Woman getting ready for a long walk in the city

Choose the right gear

The first step for safe and comfortable long-distance walking is to pack the right way – efficiently. This may sound silly until you’ve tried to walk for a whole hour carrying a water bottle and your phone by hand. There are certain items you want to take on a long-distance walk, but they shouldn’t weight you down or leave you unbalanced. Here are some things to take on longer walks:

  • Water Bottle
  • Phone
  • ID/cards
  • Light backpack, armband or walking pouch
  • Jacket/sweatshirt (depending on weather)

The traditional way to pack everything evenly is to carry a light backpack or a large waist pack. Backpacks are the easiest to balance out because everything is stored along the flat of your back. If you have a half-full water bottle or a book to read on a break, you can fit them in most backpacks and still carry the bag comfortably. To pack light, you can use a waist pack or other device that has space for the things you need. You can also try a hip band or pack (check out our friends at hipS-sister)!

Make sure your phone is safely secured on your person, just in case. You probably don’t need your entire wallet, because it will weigh you down and it’s just another piece of gear you need to account for. All you likely need is your ID, a single credit card or bank card, and a small amount of cash. If you plan on making stops along the way, you can add membership or discount cards fairly easily.

If you plan on making stops along your route (like stopping halfway for coffee), you may want to take a light book, e-reader or something of that nature. Make sure that your bag or pouch can fit it comfortably if you do go this route. Consider leaving bulky objects at home, and using your phone to pass the time.

Hydration

Make sure to take water with you on long walks, especially if you’re in hot conditions or if you tend to sweat more. For walks under an hour, you probably don’t need a sports drink or electrolyte beverage. Water will give you all the hydration you need. If you’re planning an extremely long walk (or you expect to sweat a great deal), you may want to make your own flavored electrolyte water or dilute a sports drink with water to keep your energy up. 

Plan Your Routes

Urban explorer looking at a map

When you’re going for a long walk, it’s important to know where the route will take you. You’ll want to be aware of hilly areas, difficult terrain, and places you can stop and take a rest. Some areas of your town will be more enjoyable and perhaps safer to walk than others. Pull up the Google Map of your neighborhood and consider the route you plan to take. Consider the time of day and foot traffic, and whether you’d like to walk in less crowded areas or bigger streets with more people. You may want to spend most of your time looping around or through parks or you may have specific sights you enjoy seeing along the way.

You can also use Pacer’s Routes function to find routes in your area. Here are some tips on picking a great route:

  • Plan a long loop that takes you back home
  • Set landmarks or milestones where you will decide if whether to keep going or cut your walk short
  • Consider walking the same (or close to same) loop several times to gauge your stamina
  • Avoid risky or unfamiliar areas
  • If you get lost, make sure your phone is charged and consult online maps

One great tip is to consider which streets you will be crossing as you go. Keep a count of the streets, learning the names in order as you go. Judge how long a walk you want to take by the streets you pass and learn which street it’s time to turn back on. Plan your route by the street grid in your neighborhoods to make an interesting loop out and back, always knowing exactly where you are. And if you ever lose your way, navigate home with your phone.

You can also plan walks to specific locations, like your favorite park or cafe. These long walks can become an enjoyable routine and a reward unto themselves.

Know Your Neighborhood

Walking together in a neighborhood

It helps to know where you’ll be as your walks get longer. We could tell you to stick only to areas you know but, most of us could stand to know our home towns a little better. Walking is a wonderful way to become familiar with nearby neighborhoods and shopping areas. Here are some fun goals you can use to motivate you to walk longer:

  • Go Sight-Seeing
  • Learn your local street names and map by heart
  • Find your favorite landmarks and scenic places to walk nearby
  • Learn which areas to avoid (due to difficult terrain or safety concerns)

Learn every local street on the grid by name and relation to the other streets. Know which cross-streets can take you on a new but similar route, and how to route home from any given location. You’ll be delighted just how much about your town and about dead-reckoning navigation you can learn just by taking longer and more exploratory walks each week.

Know Your Stamina to Avoid Overdoing It

Female jogger giving thumbs up

Understanding how far and how fast you can walk comfortably is important when planning a long walk. It’s important not to walk too far out so that you’re exhausted with a long way to walk home. Remember that you’ll need to walk home (unless you have an alternate plan), so make sure you have enough energy in reserve. It’s easy to walk too fast and too far at the start of a walk when you’re feeling great, only to realize that you can’t keep up the pace while you’re still far from home.

This is why planning a looping route – a circuit – is useful. You’ll take yourself home without having to think about ‘turning back’. For those long-ranging adventures, the best time to turn around is when you just start to feel yourself getting tired. Ideally, you’ll head back even before you notice the physical signs of fatigue. Check your body signals at each significant crossroads or landmark to decide if it’s time to turn back.

When you are just beginning to feel heavier and when your feet start to pulse, it’s time to turn back. Do an about-face if you’re on a long single road or loop around to take a slightly different road back home. Make sure you’re heading home by the time your feet are throbbing and you get that deep satisfying exhaustion of long-term exercise.

Eventually, you may learn your stamina and plan your routes perfectly.

Have a Backup Plan

Woman tying shoes and taking a break during a walk

Make sure you have a way to get home (besides walking) in case you end up walking too far, get tired, or get injured or sore from your walks. This may be as simple as calling a cab or ridesharing service. In that case, make sure your phone is fully charged.

If the area near your house isn’t great for walking, consider driving to a different location, taking a walk, then driving home. Or you can use public transportation if it’s convenient in your neighborhood.

Regardless of your plans, make sure to have an emergency contact you can call if anything goes wrong. While unlikely, you want to be prepared in case you slip and fall, sprain an ankle, or exacerbate a health condition. You can use Pacer’s Live Tracking function to share your location with a loved one in case anything happens. See Pacer’s Routes feature for more details.

Long Distance Walking Tips – Summary

We’ll wrap up with a collection of helpful long-distance walking tips that you can remember quickly and easily when planning your next long walk through the neighborhood.

  • Carry only what you need in a light, balanced way
  • Make sure to hydrate and bring water
  • Wear the right shoes
  • Plan sight-seeing routes
  • Learn your neighborhood by heart
  • Avoid difficult terrain or risky areas
  • Know when it’s time to turn around
  • Know how to navigate, call for help, or order a ride home

Last but not least, have a long hot bath or shower when you get home. Wash off the sweat and allow your muscles to relax in the heat. This, combined with drinking plenty of water, will help you reduce soreness and be ready to go for another long walk tomorrow.

Get Pacer!

If you haven’t downloaded the Pacer app yet, download Pacer for free (on mobile)! You can also check out our website (mobile or desktop) or follow our blog for more great walking and healthy lifestyle tips.

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