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training for backpacking/fastpacking
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Aaron LaLonde
(adlalonde) - F

Locale: Michigan - U.P.
training for backpacking/fastpacking on 03/13/2009 20:19:09 MDT Print View

Myself and a couple friends are looking to do a long backpacking/fastpacking trip in the early fall. We would like to really test ourselves over 2-3 days. We were thinking we would walk hills and run on flater terrain. We are shooting for pack weights around 20 lbs and we were thinking we would be moving for 10-12 hours a day.

I am curious about what a reasonable distance to cover is if we are all in 'marathon' shape. What kind of distance could we cover and have the same kind of completely exhausted feeling you get after running a marathon? 50, 60, 70 miles? more?

I have run several marathons and done tons of backpacking, but this would be the first time I will have combined the two. Suggestions and insights please.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: training for backpacking/fastpacking on 03/14/2009 12:37:22 MDT Print View

I'm a middle-aged woman. Last year on the PCT I hiked for 12 hours a day at a leisurely pace and managed to get in 24 to 27 miles each day with more than 20lbs pack weight. I've also known people who have hiked the Rim to Rim to Rim of the Grand Canyon in 48 hours or so, but I don't know how far that is.

So, it's pretty easy to get in a marathon every day, but whether you will feel "completely exhausted" is not certain. I did not feel completely exhausted. If I had, I don't think I could have done it every day for months.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Re: training for backpacking/fastpacking on 03/14/2009 13:26:48 MDT Print View

Thank you Diane for sharing that.
It's nice to know what the "mere mortals" among us can do.

Aaron LaLonde
(adlalonde) - F

Locale: Michigan - U.P.
thanks on 03/14/2009 14:25:12 MDT Print View

Diane, thanks for your thoughts. I am glad to know that my thoughts were at least somewhat reasonable.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: "mere mortal" on 03/14/2009 15:05:44 MDT Print View

Well, at the time I was a "mere mortal" in thru-hiking shape. You said you'd be in marathon shape. I don't think most people could up and walk a marathon every day without being in some kind of good shape. I don't think I could do it right now. I would have to build back up to it again.

As long as you are currently training, hiking up hills with heavy weight on your back and working on your cardio, then you ought to at least be able to put in 12+ hours of hiking each day easily, which ought to give you the miles. The big limiter will probably be blisters and things like that.

Ray Jardine has a really good chart in his old PCT Handbook. With 10 miles, 5 uphill and 5 downhill:

3mph flat (no uphill)
3mph flat (no downhill)
3.3 hours total

2mph uphill
4mph downhill
3.8 hours total

1mph very steep uphill
5mph very steep downhill (running, I presume?)
6 hours total

His point was that you can't make up for being slow on uphills with trying to go faster on the downhills. His other point was that it's not speed so much as it is a steady pace for many hours that will give you the furthest travel during your hiking hours.

So, if you train well for uphills with a pack on, you'll go a long way toward ensuring you have the capacity to make the miles you want in the hours you want to spend hiking.

Mark McLauchlin
(markmclauchlin) - MLife

Locale: Western Australia
Training Inside on 03/15/2009 01:46:59 MDT Print View


I am also training for an upcoming hike.

Easiest way for me was to purchase a treadmill, doesnt have to be expensive, and walk/run 10 Km every day.

To me its more about building up my cardio rather than lugging a pack around.


Robert Blean
(blean) - MLife

Locale: San Jose -- too far from Sierras
Re: Re: "mere mortal" on 03/15/2009 02:21:34 MDT Print View

I was intrigued by this -- it happens because what is important is the time at a speed, not the distance at a speed.

Looked at another way, for any given speed uphill, how fast do you have to go down to keep to the same total time? It is pretty easy to spreadsheet this, and it is instructive. A few values for the 10 miles @ 3 mph overall:

speed speed
uphill down
4.0 2.4
3.5 2.6
3.0 3.0
2.5 3.8
2.0 6.0
<=1.5 (not possible -- all time already used)

It seems clear that Diane is correct -- if you want to make time, the key is to go **uphill** very fast. Downhill will take care of itself.

Edited by blean on 03/15/2009 02:29:39 MDT.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Re: Training Inside on 03/15/2009 08:30:11 MDT Print View

Run, run, run, run, and run far!
And don't cheat, do plenty of climbing.
I think if you maintain good running fitness year round, you'll never have a problem hiking.

You don't have to be able to run marathons to hike 20+ miles in a day
if you CAN run marathons, 20+ miles in a day with a pack isn't too big of a deal.

One added benefit of distance running: teaching you to listen to your body for signs of bonking and therefor learning how to eat while active. I don't think you can gain this experience on sub-15 mile runs.

Aaron LaLonde
(adlalonde) - F

Locale: Michigan - U.P.
Re: Re: Training Inside on 03/15/2009 09:47:06 MDT Print View

Thank you all for the helpful insight.

Craig: If I am in marathon shape and you think 20+ miles a day with a pack wouldn't be too big of a deal, what do you think would be a big deal?

I suppose if I am thinking of traveling for 10-12 hours in a day then, as others have pointed out, the time becomes the limit for distance. We are at only the very beginning stages of planning this little adventure so it is great to get a lot of opinions and advice from people.

Zack Karas
( - MLife

Locale: Lake Tahoe
training for backpacking/fastpacking on 03/15/2009 10:03:39 MDT Print View

To answer your question about what kind of mileage you could cover in 2-3 days, well if distance is your goal and you really want to push yourself, then I would recommend hiking beyond 10-12 hours/day. I believe that you don't have to be the fastest hiker to cover the most miles, just the most consistent over a longer period of time.
When I go out for shorter trips like what you have planned and I want to test myself, I end up hiking 14-15 hours a day at about 3 mph (minus probably 1 hour of total breaks) and cover more miles than when I hike faster/shorter days. The biggest thing is to train yourself to be on your feet all day while wearing a pack.

Matt Lutz
(citystuckhiker) - F

Locale: Midwest
Marathon shape on 03/15/2009 10:07:58 MDT Print View

When I was in marathon shape last September, I did ~34 miles on a tough section of the Superior hiking trail over the course of 12 hours; base weight was around 8 lbs with full rain gear. All total was a 61.5 mile weekend, hiking was 30 minutes Friday night, 12 hours Saturday and about 9 hours Sunday. Finished a marathon two weeks after that weekend.

With a little better hydration management on my part, I could have easily done another 30+ mile day.

Trip report:

Other than just walking with a pack on, I believe long, slow distance running is the best exercise for backpacking. It is not incredibly difficult, but those who cover the most distance are those that are the most consistent with their pace. It will also teach you to eat and drink while moving and will teach you to monitor your body's physical systems. It will also teach you to manage your thoughts and control your urges to stop moving.

By long, slow distance, I mean mileages in excess of at least 15 miles at a time, and as you get in better shape, that number will creep up to 20 or 25, or more. By the time I am ready for my 50 mile trailrace in September, I expect to be running a 30 mile run on Saturdays and a 20 miler on Sundays, with max weekly mileage somewhere around 70-80.

Edited by citystuckhiker on 03/15/2009 10:11:38 MDT.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Re: Re: Re: Training Inside on 03/15/2009 10:11:18 MDT Print View

That's so hard to answer Aaron.

Elevation, terrain, all the other variables...Soak your feet on day two, don't treat them right, and blisters change everything immediately.

I did a 5:35 marathon yesterday morning (actually it was only 24.5 miles, but who's counting!)...90% on singletrack, lots of elevation loss and gain, lots of fairly rough terrain (rocky stream beds without much trail)- I walked the steeper uphills.
I felt about as good (or bad) at the end of it as doing 50K in the Sierra (including Forester Pass and Mt. Whitney) with an ~18 pound pack in about 16 hours.

But this is me.

I don't think you can undervalue the mental aspect that goes into logging big miles.

Training books/coaches will give all sorts of mileage formulas- I'm sure as a marathoner you're familiar- but I think you can easily toss all that out the window.
Prior to my marathon yesterday, I hadn't run over 12 miles in a month and a half. By any book or chart, I shouldn't have been prepared.
But mentally, I felt good and confident, so it went fine and I finished.

I have a friend that's an ultrarunner (100+ mile races) that inspired me to just go out and run big miles and forget the formulas.
I told him I was hoping to go out and do a marathon soon but was working my mileage up.
His response:
"Just go do it. Find a route that get's you 13.1 miles from home with no escapes. Then you have to do it. It's all mental. And if you trash yourself from being a bit underprepared, you'll be that much mentally stronger next time."

I think he's totally right. Who can ever really be prepared for 100+ miles?

(strong806) - F
Re: Mileage on 03/15/2009 10:12:37 MDT Print View

Keep in mind that road running and hiking use different sets of muscles. You need to incorporate elevation into training to reduce soreness on a hike. I found that my limitation is never fitness or being tired, but muscles and feet being sore and burning, which slows you down.

IMO, muscle fitness is more important than aerobic fitness. So run stairs at a stadium or do a treadmill with an incline that makes other people stare.

I recently did 20 to 26 mile days and I hike with one arm. I run 12 to 15 miles a week and consider myself only moderately fit.

Edited by strong806 on 03/15/2009 10:14:41 MDT.

Aaron LaLonde
(adlalonde) - F

Locale: Michigan - U.P.
Re: training for backpacking/fastpacking on 03/15/2009 10:13:46 MDT Print View

Good point about going for more hours in a day. This is my first trip like this, so perhaps I am still thinking more like a conventional hiking trip with longer breaks for eating and having several hours in camp at the end of the day to wind down, eat, and relax before going to sleep.

Matt Lutz
(citystuckhiker) - F

Locale: Midwest
Who can be prepared on 03/15/2009 10:14:16 MDT Print View

Dean Karnazes can be. Among other people.

I like the idea of getting a half-marathon route with no escapes. My runs are mostly on city roads where loops and escapes back to my apartment are many and close together.

That said, I get my route in mind even before I put on my clothes and shoes. I have a set idea of how far that route needs to be and how I am going to accomplish it before I step out the door. Mental preparation for long distances is crucial or you will bonk, mentally or physically.

I don't use a iPod or other mp3 player when running. I believe it takes me out of my element and distracts my mind from the tasks at hand. Unless you absolutely need it to maintain concentration or regularly hike with it.

From my understanding, many, many ultra runners walk up (or down) the hills in their courses. Although running does work a different set of muscles in a different way than hiking, you could take that to heart and walk/run up a long hill multiple times over once a week to increase your hill endurance. I will be doing this in preparation for my upcoming ultras.

Flyin' Brian Robinson ran up to 50 miles/week in preparation for his calendar year Triple Crown. The Artic 1000 folks did similar things. Skurka hiked 30+ miles per day and then did two ultras with fantastic finishing times with his only real training being his hike through Iceland. You can do it, too.

Edited by citystuckhiker on 03/15/2009 10:21:20 MDT.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Training on 03/15/2009 10:15:51 MDT Print View

I'll state the obvious -

"Don't Stop."

Again, do the math. A five minute break every hour will take an hour out of your day. And there aren't to many people who can stop for just five minutes.

Eat and drink while walking. Keep the camera at hand. Do your map work before you start walking and know what junctions and landmarks to expect.

Slow down if you have to, but a 1 mph pace is better than zero.

And yes, you will want to stop to take it all in. That's why I'm out there. Just be aware of frequency and duration. Try it for a day, see what you learn.

Edited by greg23 on 03/15/2009 10:30:05 MDT.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Re: Who can be prepared on 03/15/2009 10:23:59 MDT Print View

DK is pretty nuts, definitely prepared, but definitely mentally hard as well.
But for the non-freaks out there, I really believe in the idea that there comes a point that physical training goes out the window and you're running on will alone, whatever your relative fitness level.
If you're pushing mileage, at some point you have to go further than you've ever gone before... I think this is the mental realm.

Watch some of the Badwater finishes on Youtube though.
Even many of the repeat finisher-elite are completely trashed, dazed, spacing out, collapsing...

Aaron LaLonde
(adlalonde) - F

Locale: Michigan - U.P.
Re: Who can be prepared on 03/15/2009 10:30:56 MDT Print View

I agree completely, I never run with headphones, for the same reason. Our thought was to do just as you mentioned and walk up and down substantial hills and then run on the flatter terrain. We will be sure to incorporate big hills with packs on into our weekly training.

Matt Lutz
(citystuckhiker) - F

Locale: Midwest
Re: Re: Who can be prepared on 03/15/2009 10:35:36 MDT Print View

Badwater is in a whole 'nother class by itself. Something about running 135 miles through Death Valley to Whitney Portal in the middle of summer with only the support you can put together is a little nuts. There is a reason that race is invite-only.

I like the idea of going further than you've ever gone before. In Karnazes first book in his chapter about running the 50 miler, he states that somewhere after 30 or 40 miles he gets into uncharted territory for him (at that time).

I'm doing my first ultra (also a first trail race) in May and I'm really curious as to where that line of uncharted territory will come (or how many times it will come).

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Who can be prepared on 03/15/2009 11:01:31 MDT Print View

Just in case you missed these 2 great resources -


Kevin Sayers Site

And I second Craig's assertion that mental preparation is paramount. We talk ourselves out of stuff all the time. The left brain hammers us with all the stuff that can go wrong, pain, consequences, limitations, etc. But if you mentally train to dig deep, to remind yourself that you have trained, are ready, and are capable, you can get through those inevitable lows and onto the next checkpoint. It's mental.