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Christian Denniston
(cdenniston) - F
Physical Training on 07/24/2012 20:11:01 MDT Print View

Looking for some information on training routines for backpacking/hiking. I want to prepare for a long distance hike and was wondering what resources or tips people might have on training aside from just getting out and hiking. Thanks!

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Physical Training on 07/24/2012 20:13:48 MDT Print View

The best training for backpacking is to go backpacking in your chosen terrain.


Patrick Fitz-Gibbon
(campingtrail) - MLife

Locale: western nsw
Fitness for backpacking on 07/24/2012 20:28:28 MDT Print View

If like myself you happen to be stuck in flat country then backpacking is not going to be the best training for you especially if you plan to head somewhere a bit steeper.

If possible do plenty of leg exercises to build muscle there, good ones are squats, lunges and deadlifts(make sure you do these correctly or you risk injury)
The other thing I like to do is some form of interval training, a combination of skipping, running and if possible bike riding.
The other thing is to put on a pack and hike so you can get used to that even if you are in flatter country
For what its worth if i lived in steeper country i too would just put a pack on and go hiking for that would be the best way to train.:)

a b
Re: Physical Training on 07/24/2012 20:28:54 MDT Print View

I trained for my long distance hikes (PCT09 CDT10 AT11) by hiking with exactly the same pack and gear i used while on the trails.
(That is to say; I did not overload the pack beyond what i intended to carry)
Training with your intended pack and gear gets you attuned to the stride you will develop for THAT EXACT WEIGHT.
This becomes important when you consider you will be hiking 14 hours a day everyday for 4-5 months. (you may not think you will.. but you will)
It also gets you comfortable with your "system".
Figuring out how to hydrate yourself while hiking, where to carry snacks at the ready, your sock and shoe system, etc.

Training for a Long Distance hike
Months before my hike:
I hiked 20 miles every weekend in the San Mateo hills using the steepest elevation gains i could find.
After work during the week I walked in the evening carrying my pack an hour or so.
After every training hike I stretched my calf muscles.

Two weeks before my hike:
I stopped all training but continued the calf stretching routine.

I know you asked for "other" training than hiking but honestly, me and all the fellow long distance hikers i met trained for hiking with a pack, by hiking with a pack.

Once you begin your hike i think it is wise to heed the advice i got from a fellow LD hiker named PI.
He said: "You will get strong really fast on a thru hike, your muscles and endurance will develop before your tendons and ligaments are ready for the sustained effort. Take it easy."

I think PI was right. Many of the early injuries i saw in folks were stress injuries after they began to smash big miles too early.

Even though I was in superb shape before the PCT I restricted myself a bit the first 700 miles.
The result was no blisters, no stress injuries or fractures, and a pretty dang lucky set of hikes.

My advice is to train before your hike. Even train hard. But take it easy once you finally get on trail until you get your trail legs.
What PI said was true for me. i felt invincible after the first two weeks and was able to hike 14 hours a day after the first month easily.
But I think tempering it a bit saved me from overdoing it and maybe getting injured or a stress fracture.

Oh yea, your feet might hurt for a long time after your first thru hike is over. Mine and many of my friends feet did hurt a few months post hike. (kinda a low throbbing sensation that came on after we STOPPED hiking)
It goes away.
In fact, just like a veteran hiker told me, the pain never returned after my first thru.

Edited by Ice-axe on 07/24/2012 20:46:53 MDT.

Todd T
(texasbb) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Just do what you can do on 07/24/2012 20:33:07 MDT Print View

I load an old pack with bricks (~50 lb) and hike up and down the little 800-ft "mountain" just 3 miles from my house. I do it 2-3 times/week, usually with only enough time to do it once each time (1.2 miles one way). So I put myself on the clock, try to beat yesterday's time. It works wonders for building up my wind and ability to recover after exertion. I also play basketball during my lunch hour 3 times/week.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Just do what you can do on 07/24/2012 20:40:10 MDT Print View

Bricks are tough. If you get halfway out on your training course and get an injury, you still have to haul the bricks back.

Easier is to carry some number of gallon jugs of water. Then, if you get an injury, you can just pour out most of the weight to get home.


drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Physical Training on 07/24/2012 20:55:28 MDT Print View

Go walk. Get your feet toughened up. Walking fast is great for toughening the feet, and teaches your body the mechanics of walking quickly. I find that if I can do flat town walks near 4 mph avg without a pack, I can PCT section hike at over 2.5 mph with a pack including time for breaks. That's not a breakneck speed, but it's enough to easily do 20 mile days. My training hikes/walks are rarely more than 10 miles, or about half or slightly less than what I'd hike on the trail.

Feet are by far the most important thing for me. I can deal with sore muscles. They're not a big deal at all, however, blisters and plantar fasciatis are very unpleasant.

Walking trails is great too because it introduces varying pavement and rocks that will strengthen your ankles, and also give you a chance to learn how you want to approach and leave bigger check dams (steps). I also focus on my ankles since I hurt one a couple years back, and it's my limiting factor on long walks. Trail walking helps a lot, and so does balancing exercises at home. I mentioned the mechanics of walking. I learned from my training that I tend to stride in such a way that puts strain on my injured ankle, so part of my training is learning how to undo that tendency.

I do free weight squats and dead lifts, so I don't find climbing hills and mountains during training to be very beneficial. I do hike hills and mountains, but that's more because I live in a place where they are all over the place. I may start training at a hill near my house though. Someone either here or on PCT-L mentioned how walking downhill puts strain on the shins as it tries to stabilize the foot when the back of the heel hits the ground.

Really though, it's just walking. If all you do is walk a few miles around your neighborhood at 4 mph a few times a week without a pack, you'll probably do very well on the trail.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
trail running on 07/24/2012 21:38:29 MDT Print View

if you can't hike and are pressed for time, trail running will do a good job preparing one physically for a long hike- it strengthens all of the small accessory muscles and tendons (as well as the large ones), improves your balance and strengthens your core

obviously it will improve your aerobic capacity and increase stamina and heck you just might like it :)

Andrew McAlister
(mcalista) - F
Broaden your training on 07/24/2012 22:33:48 MDT Print View

I agree that putting on a pack and hiking is the best training you can do. But it shouldn't be the only thing you do. Including some other forms of training as well will give better results than hiking alone.

Firstly, strength training should be part of your overall training program. Leave 48 hours between ST sessions (which implies 3 times per week). Great moves for hikers include:
* squats (works the quads and glutes, and are awesome for powering up steep slopes)
* planks (works most of the core muscles, and build back strength for supporting your pack all day)
* calf raises - do them barefoot to give your feet and ankles more of a workout, as well as just the calves, which helps you to stay balanced on a rough and uneven trail. If you can graduate to single leg calf raises, this really helps the balance aspect

Secondly, do some High Intensity Interval Training. Sprint for 30 seconds, then recover at your normal pace for 90 seconds. Repeat. Sprinting doesn't have to mean running (although that is probably the best form given the context of hiking) - you can 'sprint' on a bike, or an elliptical, or whatever. 1 or 2 HIIT sessions per week is plenty, and because you can probably maintain that intensity for only 10-20 minutes at a time, they are a very time-efficient workout

HIIT is absolutely the best way to increase your VO2Max - which is important to hikers for 2 reasons:
1. It will allow you to go up steeper slopes faster
2. A higher V02Max allows your body to get more of its energy from fat, rather than carbs. As fat has 9 calories per gram, and carbs and protein just 4, this will allow you to lighten your food load.

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
Not bricks - encyclopedias! on 07/24/2012 22:33:52 MDT Print View

To train I hike local hilly trails with encyclopedias in my pack.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
water on 07/24/2012 22:46:36 MDT Print View

hike with water in yr pack ... you can always dump it out ...

Christian Denniston
(cdenniston) - F
Great Stuff on 07/24/2012 22:51:42 MDT Print View

Lots of great information. The main reason for saying things other than getting out and backpacking is because I live in the city and between work and school time available for getting out on the trail is limited. The terrain where I live (central ohio) is essentially flat and quite a bit different from the environment where I will be going on my long-distance hike. I have been cycling for quite a few years which helps, but good preparation for steep ascents and descents is something I have yet to accomplish. Trail running is something I have been interested in but haven't attempted.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Physical Training on 07/24/2012 22:56:17 MDT Print View

Biking is good, you end up using a lot of energy in a short amount of time. Try biking every day and hiking on the weekends.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Physical Training on 07/24/2012 22:57:39 MDT Print View


a b
Re: Great Stuff on 07/24/2012 23:05:38 MDT Print View

Not to worry about living in flat country.
A very well known hiker friend of mine (dare i say celebrity?) lives in Kansas and has accumulated 14,000+ (oops now 16,180) trail miles on the Triple Crown trails and elsewhere.

What really counts is not where you put your feet.. but where you place your heart.

(Train the body as best you can but don't forget the spirit in the process.)

John Donewar
(Newton) - MLife

Locale: Southeastern Louisiana
Re: Physical Training on 07/25/2012 04:54:50 MDT Print View


Matt got it right. "Not to worry about living in flat country".

I live in Southeastern LA. It's flat and below sea level. This is the complete opposite of the AT where I do my long distance hiking.

Ken mentioned stairs. Around here we have drawbridges that are about 35 or 40 feet in elevation above the waterway below. I'll walk from my house to the bridge and do a few quick ups and downs on the stairs before walking back to the house. Yes there is traffic noise and exhaust fumes. You'd be correct in saying this is not my favorite.

I also use the Mississippi River levee as a long distance training walk. The scenery is a little better and the breeze from the river is cooling. Again I walk to it from the house and return the same way. I train the way I hike, carrying a pack and if it rains, it rains. The same thing happens on the trail.

My favorite is my local (tongue in cheek) state park. It is a 90 minute drive from my house with a 5 mile hiking looped trail and 14 miles of horse trails. It has about 200 feet of elevation change and a lot of PUDS (pointless ups and downs). But these are great for getting some hill work in while living in a fairly flat area. I mix up the training walks there by using the hiking path and horse trails as they intersect with each other at various points.

I try to do a weekly long distance training walk and I try to get to the park one or two times per month.

Use your imagination. Do you need something from a local store? Grab your day pack and walk to pick it up and walk back home.

FWIW turn down the rides that will be offered to you while using the last suggestion. It happens to me all the time. ;-)

If you cut your own grass use a push mower. Look at the yard work as resistance training, a.k.a. hill work, for your hiking.

Party On,


Edited by Newton on 07/25/2012 06:31:42 MDT.

Q Smith
( - MLife

Locale: Texas Hill Country
goal based - using altitude on 07/25/2012 12:38:18 MDT Print View

goal: be able to handle most single trails (2,500')

my workouts:
- job 4 to 5 miles daily (cardio), 1 hour
- climb 150 stair master floors M,W,F with 40 lb vest (trunk,leg power), 50 minutes

this prepares me for a full pack, clothing, food and 2 gallons of water (gotta carry water in Texas and lots of new mexico).

latest trip was Mc Kittrick ridge camp ground and back out in guadalupe mts. 2,500' up, 14 mile round trip, 6 hours, no problems.

55 years old, 15 pounds overweight...


Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
stairmaster on 07/25/2012 12:45:40 MDT Print View

this evil device does work, we have one in our gym that is circa 90's- no one uses it, everyone uses an elliptical, bike or treadmill

shouldn't say no one- as I use it, I've asked other folks why they don't use it- too much pain is the usual response :)

never thought about a weighted vest, that would certainly up the pain factor :)

Clayton Mauritzen
(GlacierRambler) - F

Locale: NW Montana
Re: stairmaster on 07/25/2012 12:53:15 MDT Print View

Heavy squats and lots of time on the stairmaster worked for me. Just make sure that you get enough cardio off the stairmaster. I should have done traded some days for running to strengthen my cardiovascular system. But my legs were well suited for a summer hiking in GNP.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: Re: stairmaster on 07/25/2012 12:57:56 MDT Print View

Weight Training, heavily based in Powerlifting: Squats, Deadlifts, Overhead Press, Chins, Bench Press. Four times per week.

Cardio: Rowing (the defacto best cardio exercise) 3 times per week for 30 minutes and 6500m. Bike twice per week for 30 minutes - intervals.

But I don't just do this for backpacking. I do it for several other activities.