How to Train For a Backpacking Adventure

It’s summer which hopefully means you’re planning your next adventure! We’ve got some exciting moderately strenuous to strenuous Shoestring Adventure trips coming up like the women’s Half Dome adventure (strenuous), all-gender Half Dome adventure (strenuous), Yosemite Glen-Aulin adventure (moderately-strenuous), and the Grand Canyon South Rim adventures October and November (strenuous).

Whether you’re joining one of our exciting adventures or planning your own exhilarating backpacking trip, now’s the time to start training so that you can enjoy your adventure to the fullest!

Below are some areas you should focus on. Keep in mind that you know yourself better than any of us do so take it easy and don’t push yourself right off the bat! Check in with a doctor or trainer if you have questions or have specific aches/pains.

Anaerobic Conditioning

If you’ve been in the middle of a tough climb and you’ve felt your muscles yelling at you to stop, then you’ve experienced what it’s like to have a build up of lactic acid. The best way to combat the build up is to increase your threshold. The only way to do this is to do some interval training. If you’re planning on trekking 10 miles or more per day, then spending two to three days a week cardio training is recommended.

  • Spend about 5 minutes warming up at low-moderate intensity (about 30-50% of your maximum) – either running, walking, or by doing lunges
  • Run at high intensity (80-90%) for 60-90 seconds and then spend about two minutes recovering (walking) and repeat for 20-40 minutes – if you have access to a track you can do fartleks which involves running the straightaways and jogging or walking the curves
  • Alternatively, if you have access to a staircase, bleachers, or an incline, run up for two minutes and then walk back and repeat
Photo by Julie Hotz

Prepping for the Pack

If you’re already exercising 3-5 times per week, keep it up and add some weight on your back (or do what you can to simulate it). Your legs and heart might be ready but carrying a heavy pack can make the physical activity of hiking more demanding than you’re used to. The added weight on your back changes your center of gravity and could put more strain on your muscles.

  • Start out with a daypack that weighs about five pounds and hit the trail, with every hike, add more weight to the pack
  • Hit the gym and start squatting – grab some dumbbells and do 8-12 reps for 3-4 sets, spice up your squats by doing squat jumps (not sure how to do a proper squat, check out this website)
  • Do some resistance training such as step ups, heel downs, or rotating upward chops – this can be combined with cardio workouts but be sure to do the resistance training first (check out this REI article for more guidance)
Photo by Julie Hotz

Increase Those Miles

If you’re a runner and have ever trained for a half or full marathon, you’ve probably devoted some weekend days to long runs. Training for a backpacking trip is no different! You need to spend some time on your feet and on a trail of some kind in order to build up your strength.

  • Devote one day a week or one every other week to a long hike
  • Start out small and over time increase the elevation, distance, and weight of your pack – aim for being on a trail for 2-5 hours
  • Wear the boots you’ll be wearing on your trip so that you get used to them
Photo by Mike Struna

Have fun training and don’t forget to build in recovery days. If you find that your muscles are overly sore or strained, take a break and try swimming or another low-impact exercise. The time you put into training will definitely pay off, I promise!

More Resources

  • Hiking Half Dome with Shoestring Adventures (or on your own)? Outbound Collective has curated a list of exercises specifically for Half Dome prep!
  • Train Smarter – Backpacker Magazine put together a six-week exercise plan
  • How to Get in Shape and Train for Hiking – Includes specific training recommendations for day hikes, backpacking trips, and mountain hiking
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