Header image for Ben Pobjoy's Tips for Long Walks

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Hello! As I wrote last week, my new pop-up newsletter/walk — The Return to Pachinko Road — begins on May 14. Subscribe here if you feel so inclined (almost 3,000 people have already signed up — thank you!):


And, as I also mentioned last week, Ben Pobjoy — walker maximus++ — sent over a bunch of tips for my upcoming Tōkaidō walk. Here is his letter below. (With a few inline notes from me.) You can follow Ben on Instagram and subscribe to his great newsletter.

His background is pretty wild, too. From his about page:

At the start of 2015, I was morbidly obese so I learnt to walk in my early thirties. I slowly put one foot in front of the other and quickly lost 100 pounds in eight months. In doing so, I unintentionally found something else: total awe for the physical world and a growing appetite to move through it.

Whoa! ❤️❤️

Ben Pobjoy

Tips from Ben


I’m super pumped for your next walking adventure. I’ve done some comical back-to-back marathon adventures over the last decade (e.g. 9 marathons in 9 days in 9 different countries when I turned 40; 5 ultras in 5 different cities across Australia / Tasmania / New Zealand over some long weekend a few years ago; and then I think like 20 or so marathons in a row in 20 days one August in Toronto a few years back, etc.). I learnt a lot lessons doing these dumbo projects of mine, and I hope some of the following recommendations may be applicable:

(Note: I have no paid sponsors or formal brand affiliations. If I mention any brand herein, it’s just the honest truth.)


  • We’re prone to lean forward when we walk. Over long distances, this wreaks havoc on one’s lower back and hips. As such, ‘head over hips’ is something to be conscious of; better posture lessens hip pain (especially with a knapsack on). I do everything in my power to stay upright, and try to catch glimpses of myself in anything reflective when I walk (to ensure I’m maintaining good form).
  • Repeatedly pushing off of the ball of the foot the whole walk causes hot spots to develop over long distances. As such, my strategic stride involves raising my knee to move forward; using it like a piston. I then try to land with a soft heel strike over the first half of a marathon. As the walk goes into the second half, I then change my stride to land on the ball of my foot and then push off with my calf. I find that switching up how I physically move enables me to distribute the load of ‘wear and tear’, and thus be fresher / less busted the next day.
  • I do not use hiking poles ever, and avoid them for a few reasons; most people use the straps wrong (and thus break wrists when they fall), we have a tendency to clench them when tired (depleting energy / holding tension in the body), and we tend to lean on them when tired (and this ushers in bad posture).
    • Craig: Personally, I’ve found poles to be invaluable, but agree, most people hold them and use them improperly. Make sure your wrist strap technique is impeccable. Which also removes all tension from your hands. When doing descents with any kind of weight on my back, I am certain poles are 1000% saving my future knees. And over long, long walks, I love being able to get some upper body “workouts” in, especially in climbs. Mainly, I have fun with them! And use Leki carbon fiber marvels, which weigh almost nothing. FWIW, though, I’m not bringing any on this Tōkaidō walk; it’s pretty flat.
  • I’m 5’11” and 155 pounds. I have found my ‘maximum sweet spot’ for a knapsack should weigh no more than 1/5th of one’s body weight. Personally, when my pack gets to be more than 30 pounds, it is not fun, ha ha.
    • Craig Yeah, I aim for a base weight of ten kilograms or fewer, which can be a challenge with all my camera / computer / audio equipment!
  • When walking with a knapsack, I scan for things like monkey bars on kids playgrounds to occasionally hang from (30 seconds will do). This seems to help loosen my shoulders and decompress my back. I’ve done a poor job at developing core strength / upper body muscle because I’m not a gym or weightlifting dude. Rucking always leaves my shoulders achy BUT stretching like I’ve recommended really does help.
    • Craig: So good. This is a general life strategy for me. Walking or not, stretching out / opening my shoulders never fails to make me feel 10x lighter and relaxed. As for achy shoulders: I am maniacal about having a pack’s near-full weight rest on my hips (my packs need to have great hip belts), which alleviates most shoulder pain / stress.


  • My waterproof / dustproof Patagonia knapsack is the most important piece of gear I use. Whether I get hit with monsoon rains or fall into a body of water, it ensures that my tech and passports stay dry.
    • Craig: I’m looking forward to trying out this Durston Wapta on the Tōkaidō. 30L and supposedly fully waterproof. (I still use a Dyneema liner though; even the most “waterproof” of packs of mine have been thwarted by a full day of torrential rains.)
  • Yes, it’s a fashion faux pas, but I became a convert to the ‘bucket hat’ last year; especially performance ones that are constructed from thin and breathable dry fit-like material. The 360 degree brim covers my ears, and provides superior sun protection compared to a traditional cap.
    • Craig: Love a good bucket. Otherwise, a big, goofy Tilley works well, too, when you need more brim. Arguably, you can never have enough brim.
  • Punishingly, I’m a big fan of wearing long sleeve shirts and pants (both in dry fit-like materials). Shirts are always white to combat sun / for maximum visibility. Pants are always black to hide grime. Being fully covered prevents me from getting sunburnt AND just somehow seems to prevent nicks and scratches from brush or rocks (I find cuts tend to get infected when I’m in shorts and tees and thus covered in suntan lotion which is an oily magnet for attracting dust and grime).
    • Craig: Also a fan of long pants. But I do short sleeves, mainly, slathered up with good sunscreen (which tends to not be sticky / oily at all; I use Anessa as my go-to brand; it’s crazy expensive, but truly feels like putting on almost nothing.) If Japan was less humid, I’d also be a long-sleever.
  • I always have a whistle strapped to my knapsack strap. It is clutch for when I come into contact with aggressive / stray dogs, distracted drivers, and distracted cyclists.
    • Craig: Random aside: Walking poles can also be helpful for animals / dogs.
  • If it’s getting dark / there are curves in the road / heavy fog, then I strap on some reflective LED light pulsating straps; to the front of my knapsack and the back of my knapsack. If the conditions are terrible, I’ve sometimes added these to my wrists too.


  • Like you, I pre-tape my feet pre-walk. Personally, I separately tape every toe (around the toe, and covering the point of the toe). I then put tape under the ball of my foot on the sole as well as around my heel.
    • Craig: Whoa! Every toe!! That’s commitment. I do heels daily, and usually after a few days start to do big toes, but that’s often enough to be covered. I am in awe of your tape strategy. I find having a giant toe box helps keep the other toes mostly happy. But they’ll never be totally happy walking on asphalt all day, every day.
  • Historically, I always wore thin merino wool socks. However, the owner of Norda shoes directed me to use synthetic / super thin Near Earth brand socks last year. It was a game changer. The newer socks with the micro-weave technology are way more comfortable over the long haul versus merino which is micro-abrasive.
    • Craig: Ooooh, wish we could get these in Japan. I am a merino wool socks guy, and they seem to generally be … fine?


  • On long distance projects, I try to avoid all inflammatory foods; eating very little processed foods or foods with refined sugars. I have found this makes my joints less achy and prevents foot swelling.
    • Craig: It can be hard to go low-carb in Japan, and convenience stores aren’t known for their unprocessed foods. So I tend to be a low-dose-of-ibuprofen-every-night kind of guy, which, as far as I can tell, isn’t too terrible a thing to do, and I find it helps in recovery.
  • Trail mix is always clutch for me; non-perishable, calorically dense, space effective in the knapsack, edible in rain, and powers me from fats versus carbs (latter can be inflammatory).
  • I track what I eat on these types of grueling projects using MyFitnessPal to ensure I’m hitting all my macros. I walk with some supplements in tow to give my body what it needs, and smash stuff like curcumin to stave off inflammation. I’m pretty big on supplementation because of how much I ask of my body. Ha ha!
  • I try to eat as many whole foods and plants as possible. I unfortunately don’t eat much street food on these projects … which sucks … but I’ve never got diarrhea or food poisoning which is miraculous as I’ve done 75,000+ kilometers by foot across like 80 countries.
    • Craig: Yeah, I also tend to be extremely conservative when I’m doing big walks in unknown lands; folks I walk with gobble everything, and then end up puking during dinner. I’d rather skip a roadside slurp in exchange for gut placidity.
  • If I’m country hopping or moving through places with questionable water, I drink all water through a Life Straw. It may seem overkill, but I’ve never once been felled by stomach problems.
    • Craig: I’ve been using these BeFree bottles and really dig them (though I’ve only put a few dozen liters of water through them). They are sort of like Life Straws in bottle form (but perhaps don’t have the same quality of filter?).
  • I moderate my caffeine in-take with water to prevent headaches … my tendency is to always drink too much coffee along the way, ha ha.
    • Craig: I shamelessly live and die by roadside vending machine cold canned coffee!
  • I chew Nuun electrolyte tablets as I walk. If I drink electrolytes in liquid form I find I have to pee too often.
  • I try to eat a banana or two after every long walk for the potassium.


  • I try to sleep on the floor / tatami-style whenever possible. This realigns the body whereas sleeping on a cushy mattress cradles biomechanical maladaptations.
    • Craig: Soft mattresses really are hell. Thankfully they seem to be an old European inn / American thing, more than a Japan thing. (Even the business hotels in Japan, mercifully, err on the side of stiff mattresses.)
  • I stretch my hips before AND after long walks to prevent tightness / to maintain looseness. My ‘go to’ is sitting on the edge of a chair or bench (while maintaining perfect posture) as I cross a foot over the other knee and push down on the crossed knee to open up the associated hip. It doesn’t feel good but works.
  • When I wake up (and am still lying down), I always ‘write the alphabet’ with each of my feet twice; this keeps all the tendons in the ankle and foot loose, and maintains range of motion.
  • I tend to get lower / frontal shin aches (sometimes unavoidable when you’re walking far and long). To combat this, I sometimes apply Salonpas patches as needed.
  • I like to travel with a bar of tea tree oil soap to prevent stuff like staph infections or topical rashes.
  • I sleep with Correct Toes on when possible.

Let me know if you have any questions or concerns. I can obviously hop on a call at any time to clarify anything. Wishing you nothing but the best on your walk, and will be stoked to follow your dispatches!

Ciao for now,

Thanks Ben! A treasure trove of tips and inspiration up there. Once again: You can follow Ben on Instagram and subscribe to his great newsletter.

I’m off to do a little project in the north this weekend, and then to Kyoto to get ready for Pachinko Road Part II.



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