Welcome to our second installation of Ask a Pro, where guides from Wildland Trekking, offer professional advice for life on the trail.
Your plans are made, you’ve studied the map, and you’re gathering gear for your big backpacking trip. Perfect, right? Sure—so long as you’re also fit and strong so you can enjoy the trip.
Getting in shape for a big backpacking trip can be intimidating. But it’s worth it. You’ll always get the maximum amount of enjoyment out of any hiking adventure, whether a day hike, multi-day trip, short distance or long, if your body is ready.
Knowing where you are at physically and dedicating yourself to a well-suited training routine that works for you, your body, and the type of trip you are taking will ensure you get the most out of your trip, recover faster, and prepare more quickly for your next trip.
Let’s focus on a few simple exercises you can do as well as some tips to prepare for a backpacking trip.
In general, begin your training 2-3 months before the start of your trip.
First, study the details of your trip: elevation, mileage, terrain and length of trip. Next start to hike on similar terrain, slowly increasing your backpack weight to the amount you will be carrying.
Start with shorter hikes (3-4 miles) with milder elevation (400-700 feet) 2-3 times a week. On at least one of those days per week, you should increase your mileage, elevation, difficulty of terrain, etc. For example, long hikes (7-10 miles) on hilly or mountainous terrain are ideal.
The goal here is to build a foundation and prepare yourself for the conditions—mileage, elevation, terrain— you may experience on your backpacking trip.
Once you have a strong foundation, begin to load your pack up to 25-30 lbs on those longer, one day per week trips.
Build up slow to avoid injury and allow rest a week before your trip to recover and start your trip fresh!
To enhance this hike training, work in a routine that includes 30-45 minutes, 3-4 times a week of a mix of strength-training, stretching and cardio.
Take a yoga class or mix in some of the simple exercises outlined below. Keep a calendar or reminders to keep on your training and track your progress by keeping a log.
And always keep your weighted backpack near! Your body needs to get used to carrying extra weight and you should wear it when you can, even at the gym (who cares if people stare at you?)!
I spend a lot of time building up mileage and getting used to weight in my pack to help prepare for any backpacking trips. However, I also spend a lot of time on stretching, strength-training and intentional cardio workouts to keep in shape.
It is important to have a strong core and lower body to help with balance on rocky or uneven terrain and reduce injury during those longer trips in the backcountry.
Here are some exercises I use regularly to keep my body physically prepared:
- Step Ups or Reverse Steps Ups
Quadricep muscles are a key player in hiking! Having strong quads means you can crush those uphills and, even more importantly, those downhills. Steps Up onto a box, stair, platform or a Stairmaster machine at your gym can be done to increase strength for the up hills.
Start by facing the step up surface and choose the appropriate height of the step up for you. Push up on one leg to standing position on the surface, slowly lower yourself, and then switch legs. Do this 10 times per leg, 2-3 times.
A Reverse Step Up helps with your eccentric contractions that take place in your thighs when going downhill. If you know the terrain on your trip features a long descent (like in the Grand Canyon), start by facing away from your box, stair or platform (also remember to choose the appropriate height for you) and start with both feet on top. Lower one leg down until the heel touches the floor and push back up. Alternate between legs.
A simple plank exercise can do a lot all in one exercise. It can strengthen your core, shoulders, arm and legs for your backpacking trip.
Start in a push-up position, with forearms on the ground. Keep your back and legs as straight as possible while paying attention to keep your core and glutes engaged. Hold and breathe for as long as you can. Planks get easier after a while, so just listen to your body!
- Lunges or Hip Press
Strengthening and stretching the hip flexors are important for backpacking, as well as keeping a healthy lower back. Backpacking loads much of the weight on your back and hips, which can tighten those hips and cause stiffness. Lie on your back with your arms to your side and bend your knees with feet flat on the ground. Push your hips up through your heels to form a straight line through your back. Keep those glutes tight. Raise and lower to work out your hips, glutes and lower back.
Any variation of forward or walking lunges to open the hips and strengthen the lower body is great as well.
While your hiking training is contributing to your cardio building, I like to engage in any activity that really gets my heart and breathing going! I personally like to mountain bike or run, indoors or outdoors, for 30-45 minutes straight at least once or twice a week.
Mikaela Ray is a hiking and backpacking guide for the Wildland Trekking Company. She is currently using her very own getting in shape advice to prepare her to hike the Arizona Trail. Follow her @mtnbikemika