Glacier National Park Hiking Tips: Preparing For Your Multi-Day Glacier Park Hiking Adventure

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Preparing For Your Multi-Day
Glacier National Park Hiking Adventure
Through the years, while hiking in Glacier National Park, we’ve seen a lot.  And having hiking every trail in Glacier Park, and some dozens of times, we’ve seen a lot of situations in the back country with overnight backpackers.  What we mainly see are Glacier National Park visitors thoroughly enjoying their Glacier Park hiking adventure in the remote back country.  These hikers are having the time of their lives and are stunned at the incredible beauty that Glacier Park has to offer.

However, we’ve also seen hikers that “bit off more than they could chew” so-to-speak, and chose a Glacier National Park multi-day hiking trip that was far longer and harder than their physical condition would allow.  This is when a potential nightmare begins….

“The First Mile Smile”
Initially every overnight backpacker in Glacier National Park is eager and has plenty of energy.  We call this the “First Mile Smile”.  No matter what physical condition they are in, when they are standing at the trailhead with their overnight backpacks on, everyone is laughing and smiling and eager to begin their Glacier National Park multi-day hike.

As time goes on, and as the trail miles begin to add up, that’s when the true physical condition of the hiker begins to be revealed.  If a particular hiker thought he or she was in better shape than was actually the case, the only hope is that the hiker did not choose to go on a “marathon multi-day hike”.  Otherwise that hiker is in for a really miserable time during the second half of his or her backpacking trip in Glacier National Park.

Get In Shape
The way to avoid this nightmare is to get yourself in adequate physical condition before you begin your multi-day hike.  Now that sounds like an obvious thing to do, but it’s actually trickier than you might think.

What a lot of Glacier National Park multi-day hiking adventurers do is all winter long they run on the local gym’s treadmill or stair stepper, and get in absolutely incredible cardiovascular shape.  What they don’t do is build the proper muscle strength in their legs, back, shoulders and arms to be able to climb 2,400 vertical feet in 3 miles to get over a pass, and then hike down 1,400 vertical feet to get to the next Glacier Park backcountry campground… And then do something similar the next day, or the next 2 or 3 days… all with a backpack on their back.

And many hikers think weight lifting during the winter months in addition to their cardiovascular training will do the trick.  Well, in most cases it unfortunately does not.  Why do we say this?  Because we’ve tried to do this and it just doesn’t cut it.  It has been our experience that the only truly effective way to physically prepare ourselves for an extended multi-day Glacier National Park hiking trip is to actually hike on some local hiking trails with our overnight packs on, with the same amount of weight that we’ll be carrying during our overnight trip into the backcountry of Glacier National Park.  And of course the steeper the trail, the better.   By actually hiking with an overnight pack on our backs on our local trails, this builds the CORRECT muscles in a way that no other gym machine can accomplish.

Get Your Feet “Trail Ready”
By taking hikes along local trails, this also gets our feet “trail ready”, because they will get used to the “pounding” and the weight on them.  At the same time, our boots and feet are getting to know each other.  And by the way, “hot spots” on a hiker’s feet usually do not show up until they are hiking up a steep grade, where all that weight begins to put pressure on a hiker’s heal.  Without this weight and this incline, the hot spot might not reveal itself.  And we all know what happens with a “hot spot”.   The impending blister that is developing can spell disaster when you’re only halfway through your hiking trip.  We’ve literally seen hikers barely able to walk because their blisters were so bad.

So if a hot spot shows up during your training, do what it takes to get rid of it, whether it’s a different sock or liner, or even different boots. You CANNOT afford to get a blister during your multi-day hike… it will more than likely completely ruin your trip.

The Living Room Test: “That’s Not So Bad”
Often times hikers preparing for their Glacier National Park hiking adventure will load up their pack in their living room prior to leaving for Glacier Park, and walk around the living room, and maybe bounce up and down a few times and say “That’s not so bad” regarding the weight of their pack.  The potential problem arises AFTER you’re tired and worn down.  That is when 1 pound seems to turn into 10 pounds.  The bottom line here is that you need to pack as light as possible, yet still bring the important essentials.  The lighter the better… this can make or break your Glacier Park hiking adventure.

“Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew”
If you don’t take anything from this article than this next Glacier Park hiking tip, then your time spent reading this blog was worth it.  When hikers are looking at the incredible back country trails of Glacier National Park on a map,  it’s easy to get a bit over zealous and plan a hike that is too long.

On the map, those mountain passes are really easy to hike over.  You don’t even get tired.  But in real life, the passes of Glacier National Park can be extremely tiring and can wipe out a hiker’s strength in no time.  It is not uncommon to gain 2,500 vertical feet and lose 1,500 vertical feet in a single day, if not more.  Furthermore, some of the hikes require this type of vertical elevation gain and loss three or four days in a row!  Again, the hike is really easy while looking at a map versus actually doing it.

Therefore, don’t go overboard.  A classic example is on the Stoney Indian Pass Trail.  Often times hikers will look at this hike on the map and notice that instead of ending at Goat Haunt, they could see a lot more country if they instead headed to Fifty Mountain and then hiked south along the Northern Highline Trail to Logan Pass.  This adds over 25 miles to their hike, and they have to first hike out of the Waterton Valley by climbing over 3,480 vertical feet in 3 miles, and that’s just the beginning.

Probably 7 out of 10 times, if you could talk to these Stoney Indian Pass hikers who chose to extend their hike, they would tell you that “Everything was going great until we began heading for Fifty Mountain.”  If they would have simply ended their multi-day hike at Goat Haunt, they would have had nothing but wonderfully positive memories of their Glacier Park hiking adventure.  But instead they ended up so tired and worn out that the experience turned into a negative one.

We’ve seen these unsuspecting hikers coming from Fifty Mountain after they first hiked the Stoney Indian Pass Trail, and they were so exhausted we thought they were going to drop to the ground at any moment.  They were literally taking a step every 20 seconds, and were staring at the ground.  Let’s just say that they were not having a good time.

So the bottom line here is please remember that you don’t get tired looking at a map.  So make sure you are choosing the right Glacier Park hiking trip that best suites you.  And if you’ve been “cooped up” all winter and could only go to the gym, then don’t choose a “marathon hike” because you will more than likely have a negative experience.

Final Thoughts
The bottom line is that Glacier National Park offers some of the best hiking opportunities in the world, and if you prepare yourself physically, and make sure your boots fit properly, and your backpack isn’t too heavy, and you don’t pick a hike that’s too long, then you will have the time of your life and you’ll keep your “First Mile Smile” the entire hike.

For a list of our Favorite Multi-Day Glacier Park Hikes, click here.

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