The Mental Game of Long-Distance Hiking

Why is Long Distance Hiking so Mentally Intense?

Long-distance hiking is mentally intense due to the extended periods of physical and mental exertion, isolation from the familiar, constant exposure to unpredictable and challenging conditions, and the need to sustain motivation and focus over long periods of time. Beyond having all essential hiking gear, it’s imperative that you're mentally attuned for the challenge ahead.

Strategies for Overcoming Mental and Emotional Challenges

Before the Hike:


Visualization can help you mentally prepare for the physical and mental challenges of a long-distance hike, and can also help you stay focused and motivated throughout the journey.

Here's how to use visualization to prepare for your hike:

  1. Choose a quiet place where you won't be interrupted.
  2. Close your eyes and take several deep breaths to calm your mind.
  3. Visualize yourself hiking along the trail, taking in the scenery around you.
  4. Imagine the sights, sounds, and smells of the trail, including the sound of your footsteps, the chirping of birds, and the rustling of leaves.
  5. Visualize encountering obstacles along the trail, such as steep inclines, rocky terrain, or inclement weather, and overcoming them easily.
  6. Visualize yourself feeling strong, energized, and focused as you hike, and envision reaching your destination with a sense of accomplishment.
  7. Repeat this visualization exercise regularly in the weeks leading up to your hike to help build confidence and mental preparation.



Goal setting

Goal setting can help you establish a clear vision for your long-distance hike, and can provide a sense of purpose and motivation as you prepare and embark on your journey. By breaking your goal down into smaller, achievable milestones, you can stay focused and track your progress throughout your training and hike.

Here's how to use goal setting to prepare for your hike:

  1. Set a specific goal for your hike, such as completing a certain distance or reaching a particular destination.
  2. Break your goal down into smaller, manageable milestones, such as reaching a certain point on the trail or completing a certain distance each day.
  3. Create a timeline for achieving each milestone, and establish a plan for how you will achieve it.
  4. Write down your goals and milestones, and keep them in a visible place where you can refer to them often.
  5. Use your goals to motivate and focus you during your training and the hike.
  6. Celebrate each milestone as you achieve it, and use it as a source of motivation to keep pushing forward.

Set Intentions

It doesn't matter if you are hiking in the snow, forest, or mountain. Setting intentions can help you establish a deeper connection to the experience of long-distance hiking, and can provide a sense of purpose and motivation during both the preparation and the journey itself. By aligning your actions with your core values and intentions, you can stay focused and connected to your purpose throughout the journey.

Here's how to use intention setting to prepare for your hike:

  1. Take some time to reflect on why you want to undertake this hike. What do you hope to gain from the experience?
  2. Identify the core values or intentions that motivate you, such as a desire for adventure, connection with nature, personal growth, or self-discovery.
  3. Write down your intentions, and keep them in a visible place where you can refer to them often.
  4. Use your intentions as a guide for making decisions during your training and on the hike itself. Ask yourself, "How does this decision align with my intentions?"
  5. Practice mindfulness throughout your training and on the hike, focusing on your intentions and being fully present it the moment.
  6. Use your intentions to stay motivated and connected to your purpose throughout the journey.



During the Hike:

Self Talk Strategies

Self-talk strategies can help you overcome self-doubt and negative thinking patterns, and can provide a powerful source of motivation and support during your preparation and the hike itself. By using positive affirmations and empowering statements, you can build confidence and resilience, and stay focused on your goals throughout the journey.Identify any negative self-talk patterns that you may have, such as self-doubt, fear, or criticism.

  1. Create a list of positive affirmations and empowering statements that you can use to counteract negative self-talk.
  2. Practice using positive self-talk during your training, and use it to overcome any challenges or obstacles that you encounter.
  3. Use positive self-talk during the hike itself to stay motivated and focused. Remind yourself of your strengths and past successes to boost your confidence.
  4. Surround yourself with supportive people who can provide positive feedback and encouragement throughout your training and hike.
  5. Use positive self-talk to celebrate your accomplishments and progress along the way.

World-renowned navy seal David Goggins popularised the Cookie Jar Method in his book Can’t Hurt Me, he describes it as a mental storage container for past achievements and failures that you've overcome. When times get tough and you feel like giving up, remember the success or failure which drives you to give that extra effort. This can be a handy tool to utilize at the right time.




Journaling during a long-distance hike can provide a powerful outlet for processing your experiences and emotions and can help you stay connected to your purpose and goals throughout the journey. By documenting your journey in real time, you can capture the memories of the experience and create a lasting record of your achievement.

  1. Use your journal to document your daily mileage, the terrain and weather conditions, and any notable events or encounters.
  2. Write about your emotional experiences, including your highs and lows, your fears and challenges, and any moments of joy or gratitude.
  3. Use your journal to reflect on your progress toward your goals, and to make any necessary adjustments to your plans.
  4. Write about the people you meet on the trail, and the relationships you form with fellow hikers.
  5. Use your journal to capture any insights or lessons you learn along the way, and to record any personal growth or self-discovery that occurs during the journey.


By using breathwork during a long-distance hike, you can improve your physical and mental resilience, and better manage any challenges or stress that may arise. Breathing exercises can also help you stay present and connected to your surroundings, enhancing your overall experience of the journey.

  1. Begin by practicing deep breathing exercises during your training. This can include diaphragmatic breathing or alternate nostril breathing.
  2. During the hike, use breathwork to regulate your breathing and manage any stress.. For example, use deep breathing to calm your nerves before a challenging climb, or to manage pain or discomfort.
  3. Practice mindfulness during your breathing exercises, focusing on the sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves your body.
  4. Use breathwork to stay connected to the present moment and to your surroundings, and to deepen your connection to nature.
  5. Consider incorporating breathwork into your daily routine during the hike, such as by practicing a few minutes of deep breathing before bed or during rest breaks.
  6. Experiment with different breathwork techniques to find the ones that work best for you and your needs during the hike.

Article By Ciaran Coughlan -