5 Conditioning Tips For Backpacking, Long Distance Hiking

Whether you are backpacking or long distance hiking, it is important to be physically prepared. With the snow thawing, backpackers are more eager to hit long distance trails which means it is now more important than ever to condition your body to safely and successfully complete your trek. If you exercise regularly, you may be ready for short hikes and easy terrain. However, even with an adequate workout schedule you may not be conditioning the parts of your body that need it most. Here are 5 conditioning tips to help you prepare for your next backpacking or long distance hiking adventure.

Please note: Before starting any exercise program, consult your physician.

1. Start Hiking

The best way to train for backpacking is to mimic the activity as closely as possible. The amount of conditioning you need will depend on your fitness level and how long/difficult the trip you have planned will be. As a basic rule of thumb, begin your training by taking shorter, less strenuous hikes with a daypack or light backpack. Gradually increase the length and difficulty of your hikes and increase your backpack load.

With your lower body strengthened and your endurance improved, switch to longer, more challenging hikes. Load your backpack with the gear and weight you will likely carry with you to familiarize your body with the conditions it will face deep in the backcountry. If hitting the trails isn’t something you can do regularly, try the next-best option.

2. Workout at the Gym

Many people suggest focusing on your lower body at the gym when it comes to hiking, however your upper body shouldn’t be ignored either as it will be helping support your backpack. For a full body workout, swimming is a great option and is also easy on the joints. Aerobic training is also advised. This could include incline and decline walking, low-intensity runs, and hiking outdoors. Most training plans recommend walking or jogging at least three times a week with one long hike on a Sunday, increasing in time and distance as your training progresses.

3. Build Your Muscles

As mentioned before, focus on growing every muscle group on your body. For your lower body, focus on cardiovascular machines that involve some sort of climbing component. My go-to is the Stair Master, but elliptical machines and treadmills also have the capability of making you feel as if you are walking uphill with the right settings. Have a trainer at your gym or a friend who is well versed with the equipment show you how to set the equipment for you to walk at an incline. Practice this 3-4 times a week, increasing your distance and difficulty each week. Basic exercises such as squatting, dead lifting, and lunges will also help your lower body muscles grow and develop.

For your upper body, focus on weight lifting exercises that will build you back, shoulder, and arm muscles. A combination of free weights and machines will help you build muscle in these areas. For specific exercises or a customized routine plan, check out free online resources at bodybuilding.com. Here you can find a free fitness plan based on gender/fitness level as well as watch training videos on a variety of exercises.

4. Use Nearby Resources

Training for a long distance hike or backpacking trip can be as simple as utilizing the resources around you. The beauty of modern architecture and suburban living is there are a number of different outdoor features that can be used for free as part of your training plan. Here are a few tips for maximizing your neighborhood while also helping prepare for your long distance journey:

  • Stairs: Take the stairs whenever possible instead of the elevator. Walking or running up and down stairs in your office, home or even neighborhood par on a regular basis is great pre-trail training — and even better, it’s free!
  • Walk: Instead of driving to the local market to pick up some milk, walk instead. If you are within a few miles of your work, walk instead of drive. Toss a weighted daypack on your back for added benefit.
  • Bike: Live too far away from work or your local market? Use your bike instead. Cycling is another great form of cardio and helps to condition your legs and increase endurance.
  • Hike: Don’t feel like going to the gym after work? Hit the best outdoor gym there is: a local hiking trail. Encourage a few coworkers to come along and you won’t even feel like you’re training for a long distance hike.

5. Practice Yoga

If you are anything like me, you often neglect stretching as much as you should. One of the best ways to ensure you get your proper stretching in, avoid stress, focus an hour solely on relaxation and breathing, and physically prepare for a hike is to practice yoga. In fact, hiking and yoga go hand in hand according to Eric Kipp, who started Hiking Yoga four years ago with 90-minute yoga-plus-hiking excursions in the San Francisco Bay Area. Eric says, “There are lots of hikers who are tight as piano wire and lots of yoga people who are really out of aerobic shape.” Yoga helps regular hikers become more flexible, limber, mindful, and aligned when they hike. And hiking provides great lung capacity and overall-conditioning to yogis who tend to focus solely on aerobic mat practice.

Yoga also doesn’t need to be confined to just the trails. Bring some of the stretches you’ve learned to the great outdoors. Before going to sleep, perform the child’s pose, cat and cow, inverted pigeon, and half bridge to relieve tension in your back, legs, and upper body. The deep breathing will also help you prepare for a restful night of slumber. Your sleeping bag will serve as a great alternative to a yoga mat.