Stephanie Boon hiking on the South West Coast Smiling at the camera.

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A finger post pointing to America, New Zealand, Iceland and Russia against a leafy background - but you don't have to go so far to plan your own walking challenge!

Walking Challenge? 10 Tips To Create Your Own!

On the last day of a challenge on the cliffs of north Cornwall. I'm looking at the camera with a big smile, wrapped up in winter walking clothes, including a bobble hat and thick scarf. It's a cloudy but bright wintry day

On the last day of my own 12 Days Of Christmas walking challenge 2022

Fancy A Walking Challenge This Year?

There are lots of organised events and walks to choose from of course, but have you ever thought about creating a walking challenge of your own?

You don’t have to walk across America or Iceland to enjoy a challenge (as epic as that would be!) because you can do it wherever you want and in a way that’s meaningful to you. And the satisfaction you feel because you’ve planned it from start to finish, big or small, makes it all the sweeter. Before we get into the nitty-gritty of planning though, here are a few more reasons to plan your own.

Why You Should Design Your Own Epic Walking Challenge

Create a walking challenge close to home - like a section hike on a national trail - the South West Coast Path with a sunny view over Falmouth Bay (daisy flowers are in the foreground and you can see St Anthony Head Lighthouse on a distant headland)

I’m lucky enough to be able to create a short (or long) challenge close to home on the South West Coast Path – what’s close to home for you?

Motivation And Inspiration

  • A custom walking challenge means you can do it for any reason you like, from training for a big hike or fitness, raising money for charity, to getting through the dark winter months (like I do close to home with my own winter challenge)
  • You get to decide how difficult you want it to be, whether you want to pound your local streets or hike somewhere remote like Cape Wrath
  • You also get to decide how far you want to go (a step challenge or a distance challenge), and how far out of your comfort zone you’re prepared to tread

Raise Money For Charity

  • When you design your own challenge you can support a charity of your choice (these might be much smaller and less well-known, but no less deserving charities than the ones we’ve all heard of)
  • You don’t have to pay a hefty sign-up fee or meet someone else’s targets
  • Your own walking challenge means all the money goes to the charity
  • You can design your own challenge to raise money for charity and still use their website and promotional material. Have a look at the South West Coast Path Association’s fundraiser hub for an example of what’s available if you fundraise for them, from downloadable logos to posters. (It’s an excellent charity for any walker and hiker too!)
Best Walks in Cornwall: heather covered cliffs near Zennor

Why not fundraise for a charity like the South West Coast Path Association who look after the UK’s longest national trail?

You Can Take On Your Walking Challenge Anywhere And Any Time You Like

  • Fancy taking on the national 3 peaks challenge, but don’t fancy hundreds of people around you? Then do it independently!
  • Want to do a long-distance hike like LeJog? This way you get to choose your own route and when you go
  • Maybe you’d prefer a virtual challenge or a step challenge you can do indoors at any time of year?
  • No organised walking challenge near home? No problem!

And of course, there are many more reasons to take on a walking challenge of your own. And I’d love to hear what yours are, so let us know below!

Next though here are 10 practical tips for how to go about it.

10 Tips For Planning Your Challenge

Land's End to John O'Groats white fingerpost with the sea behind

Land’s End to John O’Groats?!

First off get yourself a dedicated notebook (paper or digital) – the bigger the challenge, the more there is to think about and it’s best to have all your research and notes in one place. (I know this from experience: I was an ace ‘back-of-an-envelope planner’ but could never find the envelopes again. They probably ended up in the recycling…not recommended!)

If this is your first time planning your own challenge, keep it simple. Instead of planning a challenge that will take weeks or months, plan something you can do in a day or two or a simple step challenge, for example. Perhaps you could challenge yourself to walk a longer distance than you’ve done before, or climb a particular mountain. Whichever you choose you’ll be going through the same planning process for a bigger challenge, but a smaller challenge is much more manageable so you can spend more time focussing on getting ready for the challenge itself.

Wild Camping on Offa's Dyke Path. Woman seen from behind in the mid distance, standing with her arms on her head next to a low 1 person tent. There's a mountain range in the near distance and a big blue sky.

Maybe you could challenge yourself to take on your first solo wild-camping trip? (There’s a guide for that!)

1. What’s Your Big Idea?

Give it a name and write it on the front of your notebook. When you give your challenge a name it makes it real – amorphous ideas floating around your head have a tendency to stay that way. Also, when you give it a name it gives you focus, which makes planning much easier.

2. Motivation

You need to be really clear about why you want to do it, whether it’s testing your navigation skills or endurance, raising money, or losing weight. It should be something you’re passionate about or something that has deep meaning to you (what other people think doesn’t matter). This is because it’s the best motivation there is, and the reason you’re more likely to succeed.

3. Inspiration

Was there someone who inspired you to take on a challenge of your own? Why not let them know if you can – people love to share their experiences and they could become your number one champion, or give advice worth its weight in gold. Historical inspiration requires research (which is fun, honest!), so you could read all there is about a particular journey or person to feed your ideas.

 

2 Welsh ponies grazing on Hatterrall Ridge in the Brecon Beacons, with lots of hills behind. It's a sunny summer's day.

What kind of landscape inspires you?

As well as people, of course, the landscape can be a source of inspiration in its own right. Do you want to experience wilderness or solitude, explore new places, or get to know somewhere intimately? Wildlife might be the inspiration you need – seeing rare birds, seals, or orcas…

As for sources of inspiration, well, there’s so much so where do you start?! I go to YouTube, films, books on the subject, people I admire on Instagram, blogs, magazines, podcasts…These are worth putting in your notebook too so you can go back to them again and again.

4. Accountability

Think about how you’ll make yourself accountable. For example, will you walk with someone else so you can motivate each other, or enlist friends and family to spur you on? Another great way to make yourself accountable is to use social media: create yourself a hashtag or post ‘real-time’ photos so people can follow your progress.

The more people that know about your challenge, the better: don’t be shy!

5. Decide Your Route

Planning a route for a walking challenge might mean you have to update your map reading skills - a pub like this is a relaxing place to look to lay your map on the table over a cup of coffee! There are wooden chairs and and tables with people in the background in this comfy-looking bar traditional bar. It has stone walls, a low beamed ceiling with lots of small coach style lights hanging from them.

Planning your route somewhere comfortable is highly recommended!

 

Are you planning to take on a challenge other walkers and hikers have done before? If this is the case there are likely to be GPX routes you can download. Try OS Maps, Komoot or The Long Distance Walker’s Association, or search for specific challenge names like the Yorkshire Three Peaks or Mark Moxon’s Walking Land’s End to John O’Groats for his suggested route.

If you’re planning your own route give yourself plenty of time to pore over maps – and make sure you understand them. Decide what kind of route you want to tackle: point-to-point, circular, pathless terrain, high routes, etc. OS Landranger maps are ideal for planning longer routes, and the Explorer series is perfect for detail. Also, apps like the OS Maps App make it really easy to plan a route online, including distance and time, which you can then save and download or follow on your phone.

6. Do You Have The Right Skills?

'The Navigator'is carved into a granite seat on the South West Coast Path - a great long distance walking challenge

Do you need to update your navigation skills?

Navigation might be something to consider depending on the nature or difficulty of your challenge – have you got the skills you need? Would a short course help? Maybe a walking guide is what you need? (You can find qualified leaders and guides on the Mountain Training website – I’m qualified to take you on lowland walks too!)

Fitness is often at the heart of a challenge – are you fit enough to tackle the mileage or terrain, or carry everything you need? It’s worth thinking about the specific type of fitness you’ll need too, whether it’s aerobic fitness, endurance, or strength. How far ahead will you need to train? Perhaps a couple of weeks of walking longer distances will be enough, but maybe you need time in a gym or the opportunity to walk in similar terrain to your challenge.

Being prepared is key to success.

7. Safety

A moody sky over big green, Welsh hills with forested slopes and tall pink spires of rosebay willowherb in the foreground.

Weather can be a serious safety issue in remote or wild places

Make sure you’re competent to walk in the area you plan to go. What do you need to keep yourself (and possibly others) safe? Here are a few things to think about:

  • Are you fit enough?
  • First aid kit (and possibly a course)
  • Specialist equipment (spikes, ice axe?)
  • Dangers of the terrain (cliffs, tides, rock falls, etc)
  • Weather (keep an eye on local forecasts)
  • Whistles, personal alarms (useful if you have an accident, or are walking solo)
  • High viz if you’re walking on roads
  • Head torch if you’re walking at night (or in case you’re out unexpectedly late), etc

8. When Will You Go And How Long Will You Take?

It’s much easier to plan ‘backwards’, as counterintuitive as that sounds. What this means is that you start with your endpoint in mind: ie the day you want to finish. Then you work backwards from there by estimating how many miles you’ll do in a day and therefore how many days you’ll need to complete your challenge. And once you’ve got that you can work out your start date. If you’re planning to walk a number of back-to back-days, this is easy to work out, but here’s a very simple example: you want to finish on the 5th of August; you’ve decided to walk 75 miles and you’re challenge is to do it in 3 days. Therefore you’ll start on the 3rd of August.

A tough, near vertical set of step up the side of a cliff, seen from the opposite side of the combe.

A challenging climb on the South West Coast Path

If you’re planning a much longer challenge, like hiking the 630 mile South West Coast Path, for example, you use the same principle: decide your end date and how many miles a day you’ll walk, which gives you the length of time you’ll need from your end date. On a long hike, you might find it easier to break it down into sections. This makes it easier to take into account varying terrain, where you might take longer on more difficult sections, or where you might want a day off, etc.

It’s much the same principle for a 24-hour hour challenge. Your equation might look something like this: decide how far you’re going to walk minus allotted time for sleep, rest, eating, etc, which will give you your number of actual walking hours. Then you divide the number of hours by the number of miles to give you the average number of miles per hour you’ll need to walk.

Depending on where you’re planning to do your challenge you might also need to factor in travel time and overnight stays.

9. Gear: What Do You Need?

This is a crucial consideration! If you’re planning a treadmill challenge, will you do it in a gym, at home, at a friend’s place? What access hours will you have? Do you have the right shoes, clothes, access to nutrition and water, etc.

You’re likely to need more equipment for an outdoor challenge: eg clothing (wearing and spare – appropriate for the weather and terrain), footwear, rucksack, waterbottles/bladder, water filter, walking poles, first aid, maps, compass, etc. And if you’re planning a multi-day challenge which includes camping, you’ll obviously need far more, including your tent, sleeping bag, cooking stove…and you’ll need to be fit enough to carry it all. (If you’re new to backpacking check out my Wild Camping Guide)

10. How Will You Celebrate Your Achievement?

Celebrating a walking challenge with mulled wine on a camp stove (to drink out of a pink enamel mug!), with delicious treats like cheese, crackers, grapes and a small tart, with star chocolates of course!

Small challenges could end with a celebration camp meal for one!

There’s nothing worse than finishing a challenge without a fanfare!

You’ve just achieved something amazing and you should bask in the glory, whether you do it alone or with others.

If you’re on your own perhaps you could take a bottle of champagne with you (it’s a popular choice for the top of a peak), or go for a slap-up meal and a pint in the local pub. Maybe you’ll treat yourself to a massage, or a stay in a comfy hotel…

Celebrating with others is a great way to get friends, family and supporters involved. You could arrange a ‘welcome party’ at the finish, a night out, or a celebratory drink together – perhaps there’s a way to thank them and show your appreciation for their support?

And don’t forget your followers on social media – finishing photos, personal thanks and so on.

Whatever you do, give yourself some time to celebrate, wind down and let it all sink in.

It really is worth giving it as much thought as you do for the rest of the challenge. After all, it’s the one thing you’ll always get on an organised challenge, and there’s a reason for that: fun, acknowledgment, appreciation – and a big incentive to do it all again!

I'm all smiles, leaning forward slightly onto a walking pole and wearing a heavy backpacking rucksack on my back. It's a chilly November day but the sky's clear over a turquoise sea, with just a few fluffy white clouds floating by

See my extra resources for planning a long-distance challenge

More Resources

For bigger challenges and hikes check out my resources page too. These are the resources I regularly use from national park websites to places to stay and transport links.

Do you have any other tips to share with us? You know the drill, leave a comment below! Also, if you have any questions feel free to ask away, I’d love to help.

And finally, if you’ve found this guide helpful why not support me and buy me a coffee to help me write the next one! And don’t forget that sharing is caring – click the button to help make 10 Mike Hike easier to find,. Thanks my lovely!

Happy Hiking

Stephie x

Where Next?

If you’re a beginner hiker you might find this a useful guide: The Absolute Beginners Guide To Hiking And Walking Gear or this series on bivvy camping (useful if you’re planning an overnighter for your challenge). My national trail guides give you everything you need to know for a long-distance hike in the UK too. And if you’re in the southwest you might enjoy some of these shorter walks and day hikes (with gpx files). Enjoy exploring!

 

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