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Whether it’s an EMP or a CME that does your car in, or whether you find yourself locked down with martial law or in a controlled area, even a war-zone, you need to be prepared to travel the old-fashioned way: by foot.
Foot travel is something that is easily overlooked. Everyone can walk – most of us have been doing it since the age of 10 months – yet when asked to perform a simple five-mile hike, many would struggle without adequate practice. There is more to traveling cross-country than simply taking off on a jaunt down the street.
Clothing and Footwear
When you’re traveling on foot, you need to remember that you’re going to be exposed to the elements, and chances are that if you’re really going to go on a long journey by foot, you are going to need to bring a number of supplies with you. If this is a distance hike through the woods, you’ll want to outfit yourself differently than if you were prowling through city streets scavenging for supplies, but the principles remain the same – you need to choose proper clothing, footwear, supplies and gear that will fit the situation.
For any kind foot travel, your shoes are the most important piece. High-top boots are preferable to standard shoes in most cases, since you’ll get added layers of protection on your ankles, as well as some support for uneven footing.
Waterproofing is an obvious feature in a good pair of walking shoes, but it’s possible to purchase any pair of shoes that you’d like and spray them down with a tent waterproofing spray like Nikwax. This will be less effective, but something’s better than nothing. You’ll want to check the tread on the bottom of your shoes before long journeys, or for trips when you’ll be traversing loose soils or treacherous paths. Like tires, when a shoe loses its tread, it becomes more slippery, and it’s easy to lose control.
One good option, especially for those in drier, rocky climates, is a type of shoe made by Vibram called Five Fingers. These are quite possibly the strangest pair of shoes you’ll ever lay eyes on, and they take some getting used to, but these are an ideal pair of shoes for any kind of hiking that involves climbing rocks or other sheer surfaces, or anytime you need to move quietly (these shoes are silent). The articulated toes allow you an incredible amount of grip on almost any surface. There are even people in the running community who swear by them as endurance race shoes, although they do generally caution new wearers to get used to these slowly. Not all styles of Five Fingers are waterproof, but the Bikila Evo is marketed for snow use, and has strong water resistance.
For clothing, consider compression socks and shorts as a base layer in any climate. These tight-fitting garments are now the go-to for athletes because they wick moisture, increase circulation, and can cause your body to generate heat faster in the areas that are compressed. This probably shouldn’t be your only layer, but it’s definitely a place to start, and they fit under any other piece of clothing you prefer. Many who make the switch to compression garments find that their muscles are less tired and achy the day after a major exercise which speaks to their usefulness on a cross-country hike or footrace.
One other consideration with clothing is to make sure that you’re covering your arms and your entire legs on any journey through forested areas, no matter the weather. Ticks and mosquitoes are a threat to your health, and the fewer exposed areas on your body they can find, the better off you’ll be.
Your backpack needs to be worn high and tight to your shoulders for the maximum leverage. Your back may be sore if you’re not used to carrying things this way, but it’s for the best. Slouching packs cause many more muscle aches in your lower back area. Pack enough that you can handle a variety of situations, but be aware that the more you bring, the more you need to move, and that can be a major detriment to your ability to handle longer distances.
How to Travel Long Distances
There are many variables to consider when you’re attempting a long-distance expedition by foot. The purposes and the scenarios you might encounter along the way, as well as the terrain you’re covering will all affect how your journey will progress.
If you need to stay hidden for instance, you’ll want to leave your flashlights at home even though you’re traveling in the dark. Staying towards the shadows, and progressing the long way around moonlit streets is essential. If you’re traveling across open areas, you’ll want to move from foliage to foliage, and you’ll likely want to stick to the outskirts of the copses of trees since you might make a good bit of noise stepping on fallen sticks and leaves that crowd the interior of these areas.
If you decide that you can walk on paths, more power to you. Walking uphill will put stress on your cardiovascular systems, so hopefully you’re in decent shape. Going downhill is where most people think they can relax, but of course, this is when most injuries happen. Shorter, more controlled steps are recommended, and if you are on steep inclines, it is generally recommended that you turn your feet sideways when planting to help your ankles find comfortable accommodation.
Rocky terrain is an obstacle that will require a good bit of experience. A fall or an injury in any less-traveled area can be deadly if you can’t get cell phone service (very common), and getting lost or finding your way into a predicament you can’t get out of is also a real danger. In these areas, an adequate map and compass is a must, as are good shoes, good fitness, and a good backup plan in case of emergency. This is the area where those Vibram shoes will come in handy – they’re lightweight, and can help you gain solid grip on surfaces. Bringing some rope or paracord is always a good idea, especially if you need to come back the way you came. Remember to set up your return routes ahead of time so you aren’t lassoing rocks on the way back.
Traveling for speed? If you’re going long-distance, then you need to practice light jogging for one minute, then walking for two, then jogging again. This can be especially burdensome with a backpack, but it’s the best method for getting to your destination with haste. Many beginners run until tired, but this will burn you out much faster, have you cover less ground, and it risks injury. If you can eventually work your way to an even amount of jogging and walking time, that would be a major benefit.
The question of water is a tricky one. You’ll need to balance your body’s need for hydration with your ability to handle taking on more water. One of the biggest mistakes I made early on was taking a dry mouth as a sign that I needed more water. Often, a dry mouth is simply an indication that you’re breathing incorrectly. Not only did I use water prematurely, but I also had a stomach-ache as I continued exercising with a full stomach. Learning when to drink and when to adapt is a key point of knowledge if you plan on seeing your journey through.
What You Can Do Now to Prepare
Long distance travel by foot is certainly a skill that must be practiced before it can be utilized effectively in a life-or-death situation.
There is really no way to simulate true traveling skills in a gym or in any sort of artificial environment like a treadmill. This may be good for preparing your body for repetitive physical exercise and exertion, you’ll find that walking soft dirt roads affects you differently than hard rubber surfaces. Pavement doesn’t give way the same way as the running track behind your local high school, and neither does dirt. Having a good basic level of fitness is essential, but a gym doesn’t do a good job of preparing you for life outside.
In order to best prepare for any kind of foot travel, you need to be out in your natural environment. If you are a city dweller, then you should be walking and running on pavement, while if you’re from a rural area, choose paths or locations that mimic the kinds of places you might be traveling towards or from.
The best way to find out if you’re prepared or not is to load up your bug-out bag and see how far you can get. Borrow a suggestion from Teddy Roosevelt, who was famous for getting up early in the morning, choosing a direction, and walking in a straight line, taking on any obstacles as they came. You can always set up with your significant other or a friend the plan that they’ll pick you up if needs be.
If you’re out of shape, or simply not used to carrying a backpack when you go on your outdoor adventures, this might be a real wake up call. Even as a local gym rat, the ability to take obstacles in stride, and to think how I would actually use my skills and equipment to cross shallow rivers, surmount shoulder-height boulders, and make my way up hills while carrying gear tired me out much faster than I anticipated. It also exposed many holes in my EDC and bug-out bag load-outs.
Doing the Teddy walk once a month has been a lifesaver. I’ve learned the local terrain quite well, found a new natural water source I hadn’t discovered before, refined my EDC and bug-out equipment, and practiced a few skills that had to this point been theoretical. I’ve also trained to go much farther, and even made it 11 hours of constant movement once, enough time that I burned through a cell phone backup battery while listening to audio-books (my recommendation). This is an excellent way to start preparing for the realities of off-grid living or WROL situations, and is an essential step for any prepper.