Backpacking is a physical activity, with all the talk of packing and gear and planning you might forget that you actually have to hike, sometimes up difficult terrain and at high elevations. If your plan is to “couch to thru-hike” you’re gonna have a bad time. Even for shorter hikes, it’s a good idea to get some training in so that your first few days on the trail aren’t excruciating.
There are four areas that I focus on for my backpacking training – elevation, endurance, strength, and mobility.
Being able to acclimate and adjust to high elevations is important if you are going to be hiking high mountain passes. Altitude sickness sucks, it can show up in the form of headaches, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue. It’s caused by a sudden decrease in oxygen that your body is not used to and basically sort of shocks it. Luckily you can head to lower elevation if you start to feel sick and it’ll clear right up. To train for elevation and get acclimated you should go to high elevations, ideally hike or do some kind of physical activity. Then come down to lower elevation to rest.
Elevation training also means having the strength and endurance to go up and down in elevation. You might feel like you’re in awesome shape running on flat land, but once you are on a steep incline you might not feel so great. Running hills and doing day hikes that have a good amount of elevation gain and loss are the perfect ways to train.
You’ve got to be able to keep going even when it’s hard. Endurance training is any kind of physical activity that takes place over a long period of time or a long distance. Things like long runs or day hikes are perfect for endurance training, as are HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts.
Strength training sometimes gets a bad rap with images of bodybuilders and excessive muscles, but it’s really important for backpacking. Carrying your backpack, keeping balance on uneven terrain, and hiking all day requires core, leg, and upper body strength. You don’t have to be a superhuman but you don’t want your core, back, and shoulders crumpling under the weight of your pack. I used to go to a CrossFit-y type gym because I honestly needed someone to tell me what to do for strength training. But since lockdown, I’ve been using the Nike Training App for at-home strength workouts and I really like them.
You want to be able to move right? Yoga, pilates, and stretching will increase the range of motion in your joints and also help with your balance. You want to feel nimble and balanced on any tough terrain and increasing your mobility is the key. Activities like yoga are also good for keeping stiffness and tightness away both when training and on the trail.
My Weekly Backpacking Training Schedule
Monday: Strength and Endurance – Go for a short walk or run and do a strength workout or do a HIIT workout
Tuesday: Endurance – Medium length run
Wednesday: Rest or yoga
Thursday: Strength and Endurance – Go for a short walk or run and do a strength workout or do a HIIT workout
Friday: Strength and Endurance – Go for a short walk or run and do a strength workout or do a HIIT workout
Saturday: Endurance and Elevation – Day hike or long run
Sunday: Rest or yoga
Keep in mind I am a runner so I tend to lean pretty heavily on running for my endurance and cardio training. But if you are more into Zumba or biking or something pretty much all cardio is going to be good for endurance so do the types of exercise you enjoy.
So when should you start training? This really depends on what kind of shape you are already in and how long and strenuous your hike is going to be. In general though I’d say start training between one and three months before you hike.
If you’re going to be hiking a really high elevations spend a couple days before you start near the trail head going up to high elevations to acclimate.
Check out the rest of the Backpacking 101 series below for all the best info on how to have an awesome backpacking trip!
Backpacking 101: Gear
Backpacking 101: Clothes
Backpacking 101: Food
Backpacking 101: Planning
Backpacking 101: Packing Your Backpack
Backpacking 101: All My Secrets
Like this post? Pin it!