Dawn view across the Appalachian ridge.

Quick & Efficient Training for Backpacking & Hiking

Get fit with just two core hikes per week!

Alison and I use this common sense, 2-day-a-week training program to prepare for hiking 30+ mile days on the AT. But it’s also excellent training for the John Muir Trail, PCT, CDT. This Quick and Efficient Training for Backpacking and Hiking works equally well for shorter, less intense trips. And it always keeps in mind that fun is the first priority of any trip!

Busy Lives Require Intelligent, Time Efficient Training

We all know pre-trip training is hugely important to the success and enjoyment of our next trip, but… Let’s face it, most of us don’t have hours and hours of spare time each week to train for a hike or big trip. As such, we need to train intelligently and efficiently—getting the maximum training benefit with the least amount of training time. With this Quick and Efficient Training for Backpacking and Hiking you can be physically prepared for your next big trek with as little as two core hikes per week — One Longer and Hillier Hike on the weekend and One Shorter and Faster Hike midweek.

Finally, It’s good to remember that your first goal on any trip is to enjoy yourself. Good training helps with this as well.  1) Training helps you enjoy the hike. Not under the physical and psychological stress of being overwhelmed with the effort of hiking, you are more relaxed and fully present to appreciate your surroundings. 2) Training makes trips possible with limited vacation time. Many of us do not have two to three weeks to leisurely do the John Muir trail or a long section of the AT. Being in better shape and able to hike faster and complete a long trip in less time may make the difference between doing a long backpacking trip or not.

Quick and Efficient Training for Backpacking

Good training makes even 30+ mile days fun, even over “the rocks of Pennsylvania!” The team grinning ear to ear at the historic or traditional mid-point on the AT, just a few miles before you enter Pine Grove Furnace for ice cream!

Overview of the Training Plan

No fads. No gimmicks. This is just common sense use of tried and true professional training techniques. It is essentially training your body over 8-12 weeks* to hike the daily distance you intend to hike, over the terrain you will hike in, carrying the weight of your backpack. Our training consists of just two conditioning hikes per week; one evening hike after work and a longer weekend hike that still has us back before 2:00 pm allowing ½ of a precious weekend day to do other things.

* Start when you can and do what you can — something is always better than nothing!  But optimally, you should start training in earnest at least 8 weeks before your trip. Prior to that, it really helps to start with a good base of moderate walking, jogging, biking etc. and thus already have basic aerobic and joint muscle conditioning. If you do not have this base, a 12-16 week progressive build-up to pre-trip hiking fitness may be more appropriate.

Quick and Efficient Training for Backpacking

Alison descending from the crux of the GR20 in Corsica, considered “the toughest long distance trek in Europe.” Good training, and a A Light Pack (see our gear list), made all the difference to our enjoyment of this rugged and difficult trek!

The Training Plan

First and foremost, do what you can! Any walking is better than no walking and no training program is perfect. The more miles (feet-on-ground) you accumulate (even if it is on local sidewalks to your workplace) the better off you are. Don’t let perfection stop you from doing whatever you can!
  • Your core training is hiking/walking with a pack. While running and biking, etc. are all excellent cross training; build aerobic conditioning, strengthen joints and muscles; nothing prepares you to backpack like hiking with a pack on your back! Specificity, specificity, specificity.
  • Wear Your Backpack (or a daypack). Work up to having that pack loaded to 75% (or more) of the anticipated pack weight for your trip. Tip: weight vest (see table below) is an even faster way to load up.
  • Train on terrain similar to what you’ll hike on. If your trip will be on hilly and rocky trails, train on the steepest and rockiest trails you can find nearby (like we did in the Sugarloaf example below). If your trip is in the sandy desert, train back and forth on a local beach.
  • Think creatively on this one. On the super hilly and rocky GR20 we met two fast and fit hikers from the Netherlands — one of the flattest places on the planet. They had trained for the GR20 with heavy packs in sand dunes and in building stairwells. It worked! They were rockin’ the route.
  • Hike in the shoes (e.g. light trail runners like Altra Lone Peak Shoes or Brooks Cascadia or socks (thin is better) that you intend to wear on your trip. This is the key to not getting blisters or other foot maladies on your trip.
  • Note: if your hiking will be at over 8,000 feet, having good aerobic conditioning will take some of the sting out of the lower oxygen levels at altitude. That is, you won’t be as out of breath. This is more efficiently done by running, biking, stairmaster, etc. vs. walking. (Important – this will not help with altitude sickness. There’s no correlation of aerobic fitness to reducing your risk for altitude sickness.)

Gear to Make Training Easier & More Effective


IMPORTANT | Training in the exact shoes and socks as you’ll use on your trip is critical for foot comfort and no blisters!

Altra Lone Peak Shoes | 21  oz| The most popular hiking & backpacking shoe! Light, huge toe room, comfortable! The best “training aid” you can get.
Brooks Cascadia | 25 oz |  Formerly the most popular UL hiking & backpacking shoe. Still great! A bit snugger fit than Altra.
Darn Tough Vertex 1/4 UL Socks or SmartWool PhD Light Mini Socks | 1.8 oz | Thin (UL or light cushion) wool sock are best for comfort and blister protection. Size your shoes accordingly.
RUNFast/Max Pro Weighted Vest 20/40 lb or 10 lb Weight Belt. While loading up your backpack is best, these are much easier and faster to use, reducing prep time and increasing on-trail training time.
Cascade Mtn. Tech Carbon Poles | 15 oz | Incredible value at $35!  Our personal favorites. Equal to the best poles but one-third the cost!
REI Flash Carbon Poles | 15 oz | Stiff, light, travel-friendly, won’t break off-trail/rough terrain (readily available)
Suunto Ambit3 Peak GPS | Our favorite for cost, long battery life & ease of use. Admittedly not necessary… but it has long battery life & greatly simplifies tracking mileage, hiking speed, & especially elevation gain & loss stats (a pain to get by other methods).
Budget! GAIA GPS App (iOS/Android) App turns your phone in to one of the best GPS/Fitness Trackers available. Only $16 with exclusive Adventure Alan discount. Likely the least expensive way to track and monitor your training progress. It’s also the best backpacking GPS out there! Read more here…
See more Tools and Equipment that we routinely use to track our training.

Make Your Trip Even Better | Lower Your Pack Weight

Look at our top ranked 9 Pound Full Comfort Lightweight Backpacking Gear Checklist. This will give you lots of ideas on how to shave weight out of your pack. A 9 pound pack is all you need to be happy, safe and warm. So, if you want to lower your pack weight but retain all the convenience and comfort of “traditional” backpacking, look no further than this Lightweight Backpacking Gear List. This Backpacking Gear is suitable for most backpackers on most 3-season trips in the lower 48 and even trips world-wide.

Lightweight Backpacking Gear Checklist

The Weekly Training Schedule

This is the weekly training routine that Alison and I use to prepare for our big backpacking trips. This routine uses our limited training time to best advantage. Ideally, each week we do:

  1. One Long and Hilly Hike on the weekend,
  2. One Shorter and Faster Hike midweek
    and
  3. Supplement this with Other Training: running, biking, Stairmaster, uphill treadmill, swimming etc. as the spirit moves us.

1. Long and Hilly Hike on the weekend

The goal of the long weekend hike is to build up to hiking the same distance and elevation gain and loss as your anticipated longest/hardest hiking days (maybe by increasing mileage and elevation by 5-10% per week as you get fitter).

Quick and Efficient Training for Backpacking

Our weekend long hike and the foundation of our training: Sugarloaf Mountain is 40 minutes away, giving us more hiking time & less driving time. Our “creative” route on the mountain allowed us to build up to hiking our target of 30 km with 1500 m of elevation gain and loss (19 miles & 5,000 ft) in around 6 hours. To get that much elevation gain, we did the Mountain Loop (green) trail 4x at the start of our hike. [We used CalTopo, the best route planning tool available to plot our route and calculate distance and elevation gain.]

  • We don’t live in Colorado (Rockies) or California (Sierras), so we did our best to find terrain “similar” to the GR20 within an hour drive from our home . If you live near something like Longs Peak, by all means hike there!
  • In the above example our goal was 30 km hiking with 1500 m of elevation gain and loss (19 miles & 5,000 ft) in around 6 hours hiking time—about what we believed our hardest days would be.
  • You may need to be creative with local features. Remember the Dutch hiking up and down building stairwells? E.g. doing multiple laps up and down a small ridge to meet your elevation gain and loss goals. In the example above, we did the Mountain Loop (green) trail 4x at the start of our hike to get in 1000 m or 3,400 ft. elevation gain.
  • Consider working up to hiking about 15-30% faster than you intend to hike on your trip. This will, in some way, compensate for hiking back-to-back long days on your trip. We averaged about 5.0 kph (3.1 mph) on our Sugarloaf hikes. [On the actual GR20 we averaged between 2.2 to 2.7 mph most days.]
  • For your training hikes, log your average hiking speed, total distance traveled, and elevation gain and loss. This will be your key indicator of progress and a measure of your physical preparedness for your trip. Use this information to make realistic estimates of how far you’ll go each day on your trip and plan logistics. You’ll be surprised how accurate your predictions will be!
  • Find a partner to go with or these long hikes may get stupefyingly boring! Alternatively you can listen to Audio Books (our favorite), Podcasts, or just do a walking meditation.

Finally, consider taking a two or three day weekend backpacking trip a few weeks before your trip. This will give you back-to-back trail day conditioning and give you a pre-trip opportunity to shake out gear. See our: Benefits of Early Spring Backpacking article.

While loading up your backpack is best, and costs the least… weight vests and belts are much easier and faster to use, reducing prep time and increasing on-trail training time.

Training with the same backpack and weight as you intend to use on your trip is the best and least expensive BUT… it can be cumbersome and time-consuming to pack your backpack with the same weight as for your trip. Yes, people have used a combination of gear, towels, duct-taped bricks, water bottles, bags of flour, canned food etc. to mimic what they take. We find that a 10 lb Weight Belt or the RUNFast/Max Pro Weighted Vest (can be loaded in increments up to 20 lb or or 40 lb) are faster and easier to use (especially for midweek hikes) and give you the same training benefit. [Just make sure you do a few long hikes with your actual backpack before your trip!]

2. Shorter and Faster Hike midweek

For our Weekday Shorter and Faster Hike, we focus on hiking fast over easier terrain (laps in a local park, up and down in the hilly section of town, etc.). This develops leg speed and gives us the ability to opportunistically “crush” easier sections of trail, gaining valuable time and distance. This also adds feet-on-ground conditioning time each week.

We try and cover as much distance as we can in about 2 to 3 hours. This allows us to fit the hike in before or after work. (See example hike below)

3. Other Training

  • Stairmaster is a great training tool! It is a fabulous and time efficient workout that builds essential uphill hiking muscles and aerobic capacity—it can be done in crap weather—or in the dead of winter. It’s a core element of our training. Work up to doing 45 minutes to an hour (or more) alternating between steady pace and faster intervals. I try to do 3,000 to 4,000 ft vert (283 to 377 floors) in a workout. For those doing trips at altitude, this is a great opportunity for low impact hiking specific aerobic conditioning. (Note: Stairmaster is not a complete tool since it does not condition you to hike downhill—arguably just as important as going up. On your long weekend hikes you will need to ensure that you also train your legs to go downhill, sometimes steeply. And stairmaster does not simulate sloping/uneven trails and randomly varying step heights. Only up and down hiking trails can do that!)
  • Stairwells in tall buildings are also excellent midweek or lunchtime conditioning, especially since you go up and down.
  • Fast walking on a steeply inclined treadmill is also good and time-efficient uphill training. Also consider wearing a pack or a weight belt on the treadmill.
  • Trail running is a great way to aerobically condition yourself, and to develop the eye-foot coordination to miss rocks, tree roots, holes, and other difficult terrain. This does not need to be fast running at all. Slow jogging, even walking steep hills as necessary is just fine! [Some accomplished trail runners may do a lot of long runs for their trip prep, that’s fine. It’s just not our thing.]
  • Alison and I also swim and bike during the week, but mostly from long-standing habits as triathletes. Not sure that these are the best training for backpacking, but they probably help some (or do whatever aerobic activity floats your boat.)

Tools and Equipment for Monitoring your Training

Quick and Efficient Training for Backpacking

Old school tools still work! For free you can get trail miles from signs or paper maps and use your own watch for timing. With these you can record distance hiked, your average speed (and possibly elevation gain/loss) for your training hikes. Photo right is my favorite $35 basic solar wrist watch for hiking.

  • The Gaia GPS App on a smartphone (in tracking mode) is our favorite way to log essential information from our training hikes—distance hiked, speed, and elevation gain.
  • See How to use the iPhone as the Best Backpacking GPS for more information on how to use your iPhone/Smartphone as an excellent tool for training, hiking & backpacking.
  • Or you can use a GPS watch to record time, mileage, and elevation gain/loss on your training hikes. Good GPS watches are available for around $100. A basic Garmin is just fine.
  • For free, use old school tools to get trail miles and elevation gain/loss from paper maps or trail signs and use your own watch for timing. My favorite basic watch for hiking is this $35 solar wrist watch.
  • Use CalTopo or gmap-pedometer.com (free) or Map Pedometer (free) to plan your training hikes and calculate hiking distance and elevation gain and loss (or you can use paper maps if you have them.)

Monitoring your Training Hikes (distance, speed, and elevation gain)


Gaia GPS in tracking mode is our favorite way to log essential information from our training hikes—distance hiked, speed, and elevation gain. It only uses about 2% battery life per hour on my iPhone 6+ so it easily handles even a day long hike with battery to spare.

Gaia-tracking-screen-1200

Gaia GPS iPhone App data screen from Our Weekday Shorter and Faster Hike: Out of our front door we can do the whole 10+ mile hike after work (hike takes us about about three hours ad we get 1,300 – 1,5000 ft of elevation gain). Also See This Post for more information on how to increase battery life on a smartphone.


gps-700

While not necessary and expensive… a Wrist GPS is nice if you can spare the $. It has far longer battery life than using a smartphone to track. And it greatly simplifies tracking mileage, hiking speed, and especially elevation gain and loss stats (which are a pain to get by other methods). My favorite is the Suunto Ambit3 Peak GPS (Amazon) or Ambit3 at REI.

Tools to Plan Routes for Your Training Hikes or Your Next Big Trip!

We use gmap-pedometer.com or Map Pedometer, both free, to plot our route and get distance and elevation gain. Both automatically route along many common trails near you. But CalTopo is an better and far more sophisticated tool, perfect for both planning training hikes AND also planning the route for you next big trip!

Below is an example of our standard 10+ mile “Shorter and Faster Hike midweek.”

rock-creek-hike

A hiking route planned out with gPed. It automatically routes along trails giving you distance and elevation gain.


Parting Shot

Quick and Efficient Training for Backpacking

Training works! Hiking a high ridge on the tough GR20. We did 3 High Alpine stages in a single day. And our training enabled us to do the whole GR20 in ½ the normal number of days.

And It’s Not All About Speed – Training Has More Important Benefits

It’s good to remember that your first goal on any trip is to enjoy yourself. Reading the following conditioning regimen, you might wrongly assume that we are focused on blazing through the landscape—barely taking time to view and appreciate the wondrous terrain passing through. Quite the opposite, we propose that properly conditioned for a hike, you are more likely to enjoy yourself and appreciate your surroundings.

1) Training Helps You Enjoy the Hike

Not under the physical and psychological stress of being overwhelmed with the effort of hiking, you are more relaxed and fully present to appreciate your surroundings. In addition, the ability to move quickly (when you want) gives you far more options to get to that perfect campsite, have some extra time for a side trip, take more photos, go for a lunchtime swim, bag a peak, or even take a midday nap!

2) Training Makes Trips Possible with Limited Vacation Time

Many of us are short on vacation time. We do not have two to three weeks to leisurely do the John Muir trail or a long section of the AT. Many of us struggle to get a squeeze a longer trip into a single week of vacation. Being a better conditioned and able to hike faster may make the difference between doing a long backpacking trip or not.

Disclaimer

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on the these links, a portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you. I do not receive compensation from the companies whose products are listed. For product reviews: unless otherwise noted, products are purchased with my own funds. I am never under an obligation to write a review about any product. Finally, this post expresses my own independent opinion.

48 replies
  1. James Lantz
    James Lantz says:

    Thanks for the article. Any advice if you are at near sea level and you need to train for high altitude? I know aerobic exercise is very important but any other advice will be great. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      James this is accurately covered in the training post:

      Note: if your hiking will be at over 8,000 feet, having good aerobic conditioning will take some of the sting out of the lower oxygen levels at altitude. That is, you won’t be as out of breath. This is more efficiently done by running, biking, stairmaster, etc. vs. walking. (Important – this will not help with altitude sickness. There’s no correlation of aerobic fitness to reducing your risk for altitude sickness.)”

      Wishing you good training and a great trip. -alan & alison

      Reply
  2. Ryan H
    Ryan H says:

    Just wanted to point out real quick that your “View CMT Carbon Poles” button points to the wrong shortcut – takes you to the weight vest. (The text hyperlink earlier in the section is correct.) Coincidentally, these are the trekking poles I own, so I’m glad to hear they have endorsement from a seasoned hiker!

    Reply
  3. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    Hi Alan,

    Do you track heartrate and recovery time with a heartrate monitor or do you find pacing and elevation suffices for your needs? I’m considering using an HRM for training but it seems more popular with runners and haven’t heard of many backpackers using it to train, so not 100% if I should or not.

    Thanks,
    Jeff

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Good Q Jeff, since this is hiking, I am generally not at a very high heart rate. As such, I do not track it for hikes. Not a fan of wearing the hrm belt and wrist hrm (e.g. fitbit aren’t accurate enough to be worth the effort). BUT when I am running, on the bike, or stairmaster I do track HR altho I generally look at the data after the workout. On bike I am tracking power, when running I am mostly focused on perceived level of effort on hills, and starmaster I am looking at my climb rate (thousands of feet per hour). Hope this helps, -alan

      Reply
      • Jeff
        Jeff says:

        Hi Alan,

        Do you supplement these hikes with any upper body workouts, or any other form of strength training?

        Thanks and regards,
        Jeff

        Reply
  4. Russ t
    Russ t says:

    Hi , this article has great advice and tips . Ive done a few weekends camping but only managed 10miles a day max before i am exhausted. Was hoping to do a trail soon but think i will postpone as i think 15miles a day is an important distance goal, and as you say be fit enough to enjoy and keep safe . So im out everyweekend now long hikes. I read recently on internet ??! Seemed legit, That a US army study suggested you did not gain too much extra by doing more than 1 long hike a week ,just increase that 1 long hike in distance and weight gradually, so i think your philosophy is bang on . Regards

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Steven, that is a very personal decision. Obviously more aerobic training and/or stair-master would be a big help. As a guess, two aerobic workouts would complement the hiking well. FWIW Alison exercises 6 days a week and I exercise 7. Hope this helps, -alan

      Reply
  5. Nathan Knarreborg
    Nathan Knarreborg says:

    Just to add to some of the comments on how to add weight to your backpack. I find adding water to my pack to be effective and comfortable to carry. I also like the ability to dump some weight while on the trail if needed and practice “Leave No Trace”. I’ve tried filling dry bags (with the roll top) but they leak at the seams. I’ve also added water bottles or additional hydration bladders, but I like to carry up to 20 lbs to prepare for backpack season so I’ve found ModGear’s water weight to be the best. It was too expensive to put 3x 3 liter hydration bladders in my pack just for weight. The 9L water weight is well sealed and has markers so I can easily adjust the weight on the trail without guessing or trying to convert liters to pounds.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Thanks Nathan. That does sound like a good way to add weight to your pack. And graduated weight measurements for the bag would be useful. Wishing you a great hiking season. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
  6. Micah
    Micah says:

    Alan,

    I find your posts immensely useful even as an experienced backpacker. I found out the hard way too that to get conditioned for a hike, you need to walk!! I come from a weightlifting background which, as you might imagine, has little translation to long days of hiking. In fact all the “extra” muscle mass is really a metabolic liability. I’ll be employing a similar approach to yours to prep for the Foothills Trail this spring. Keep on being the undisputed heavyweight champ of un-pretentious lightweight advice!!

    Reply
  7. Joe in CO
    Joe in CO says:

    Need to get in shape for some tramping in New Zealand. Looks like we have a 14 mile 2500+ foot gain day ahead of us. I’m putting together a training plan to get us from our current “6 mile-1000 foot gain” dayhikes up to that shape in 6 weeks. As you suggest, we will be doing everything we can to reduce pack weight, getting a very early start that day and will pace ourselves. Lots of great ideas here. Thanks!

    Reply
  8. PStuart
    PStuart says:

    I like Phil Werner’s tip of a 25-lb charcoal bag. Easy to load in the pack and a more even load distribution than bricks or sand bags.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Yup, if you want a 25 pound load that works well. Agreed that it’s less of a pain in the ass than adding load weight by many other methods. And it’s certainly inexpensive and easily available. Tho if you want to carry less than 25 lbs, or redistribute in another shape, there is the opening the bag and handing the charcoal. My training loads are usually between 12 and 22 lbs. And for that I like the ease of the weight vest. I can quickly add or remove weight in 4 lb increments.

      No right way tho. All good options. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
  9. Hunter Hall
    Hunter Hall says:

    Hey Alan,

    Love your site. Skurka turned me on to it, FYI.

    As for training, how do you best combat the intense drainage feeling after an intense 1-3 day trip with lots of mileage and elevation loss/gain. Think Rae Lakes loop from Inyo in 3 days, or one 10K peak in the San Bernadino mountains a day for 3 days? 4K-5K gain each day.

    Typically I try and just load up on electrolytes and water prior to, during, and after the hike, but I still feel hungover and dazed for about 2-3 days after. Normal? Thoughts? Physically fine otherwise…

    Thanks for any insight.

    -H

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Good Q hunter. First I don’t think that nutrition and hydration are likely the cause. Please see The Best Hydration – Drink When Thirsty. My beast guess is that this is a training and alititude issue. The training you can handle by doing long hard days on the weekend. I have been know to do two laps up and back on the blue ridge for around 6-8K gain and loss. As for the altitude you’ll need to get into as good aerobic shape as you can. Stair master is good as is running hill repeats or just a hilly trail run. After that there really isn’t anything to do but go with the flow. If you do a 30 mile day with a lot of el gain and loss you are gonna be hammered. Finally, it will help if you can get even a few days at altitude (day hiking?) before you go into hammer mode with a pack on. That will take some of the sting out of the acclimatization alto it will take about 7-14 days to fully acclimatize to the High Sierra. Hope this helps. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
  10. Alice
    Alice says:

    Hey there, I live in a completely flat area and at sea level, so I can’t do these hilly hikes to train. What can I substitute?

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Alice, Good Q. You do have a number of options.
      1) Stairwells on any multi story building. Multiple laps up and down is good. 2) Stadium stairs. Ditto. 3) Stair-master at a local gym, there is a conversion from floors to elevation gained [94 floors = 1,000 feet of elevation gain]. 4) Treadmill at a local gym. Put it on something like 10% to 15% grade and whatever speed you can hold. Don’t hold on with your hands or you’ll defeat the uphill purpose of the workout. 5) if you can get to a sandy beach, walking in sand with a reasonably heavy pack is also a good resistance workout [although not specifically directed at your uphill walking muscles]. I learned this from some dutchmen training for the Alps. They would go out and hike sand dunes with their packs on. Hope this helps. Good luck training and have a great year trekking. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
  11. Lexie McGrane
    Lexie McGrane says:

    Alan,

    I am planning a trip to Glacier National Park in just 5 weeks and need to be in better condition to hike 10+ miles each day. What is the best training regimen I can use in such a short time? Thanks!!!

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Lexie, my advice is to do what you can but don’t over do it. That is don’t try and speed up the training progress as your risk of injury goes way up. Getting injured is the last thing you want to do before a big trip! So whatever your training plan would be for 12 weeks, I would do weeks 1 through 5. Week 6 will be walking in Glacier. And week 7 can be for when you get back.

      And if you are not as fit as you intended to be: 1) have a realistic hiking plan based on your ACTUAL fitness, 2) get early starts and hike at a steady pace, minimizing long stops and other “wasted time,” and 3) and most important enjoy yourself! That’s the reason you’re going in the first place. Have a great trip, -alan

      Reply
  12. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    This is a GREAT article! Thank you. When I am not backpacking, I keep my pack loaded with a 40-pound bag of rock salt and hoist it whenever I get the chance. My driveway is hilly so even walking the dog keeps me backpacking-ready!

    Reply
  13. Paul
    Paul says:

    Last year’s hike ended early when the climbing on a section of the CT left me ready to quit. This year I started in November at the gym doing basic lifting-bench,squat and deadlift. I’m also going to a local stadium once a week to climb stairs. This & bike commuting have been my conditioning for the winter.

    Reply
  14. Karl
    Karl says:

    Just out of curiosity: How many times per week do you, on average, do the “Other Training” that you mention in the “The Weekly Training Schedule” section?

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Karl, Alison and I train on average about 5 to 6 days per week. So 2-3 “other trainings.” Note that walking is super important for hiking. In the past, when I was an athlete training and competing at a national level, I found out the hard way that you need to train for walking if you intend to hike. Otherwise, even though you are in fabulous shape, you’ll get incredibly sore walking long distances with a pack on. Hope this helps. All the best, -alan

      Reply
  15. Dustin
    Dustin says:

    Great write up. I’m also in DC area and plan to hike the MD section the AT over a weekend in April. Just the article I needed to get me excited for training.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Dustin,
      Sorry for the late posting of your comment. I am just back in the US after two weeks in remote areas of country and with absolutely no internet whatsoever. So glad yo found the article useful. Have a great hike this spring! All the best, -alan

      Reply
  16. Matt Haigh
    Matt Haigh says:

    Last summer at 61 I completed a 500 mi section of the PCT that included the JMT. I have an excellent fitness base from cycling but have not carried a pack in 25 years so I was a little intimidated, to say the least. I figured my best bet was to just start walking with weight so 4 months prior to departure I backed off on the cycling and began carrying my pack. Started with 15 lbs ( which hurt) and added a few lbs every week till i was up the 30. Only did 3 to 6 miles/day but I did it every day and I live at low flat elevation. Gotta work with what you got. The hike was an amazing success! Little to no physical issues. My milage average (12)was not high but I was in no hurry. The biggest factor in my success was a low pack weight, 12lbs base with bear can, so thank you Alan for your excellent gear advice. I’m now officially addicted, planning another 500 mile PCT section this coming summer. As Wayne says its easier to stay in shape than get in shape I still carry weight 3 to 5 days a week.

    Reply
  17. Anne in Colorado
    Anne in Colorado says:

    I’ve been playing with the current rucking fad for training. One way they add weight is using bricks wrapped in duct tape to soften the corners. A standard brick weighs about 4.5 lbs and they’re small enough that if your pack is handy you can put a couple in to weigh it down and you’ve spent $5 instead of the cost of a weight belt. The concrete caps are even more price efficient than bricks and fit nicely in a 20 liter day pack. (I put an old towel and a piece of anti-fatigue mat left over from another project in the bottom of the pack to better center the weight.)

    Reply
  18. Wayne Hobbs
    Wayne Hobbs says:

    Now that I’m over 60 I find it’s easier to stay in shape than to try to get in shape. So I hike locally and regularly with the equipment I’ll use on the trail. For the past 2 1/2 years I walk / hike about 120 miles per month. Even still trails often push my limits and only my strength of will allows me to easily push through those long elevation climbs. Great article. I have the AT in my cross hairs.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      > Even still trails often push my limits and only my strength of will allows me to easily push through those long elevation climbs…

      Got that Wayne! Many of us end up there more often we like. Goes with the territory. Have a great year hiking. -alan

      Reply
  19. Andy Duncan
    Andy Duncan says:

    I enjoyed reading your article and have incorporated much of your plan into my own training this season. I use a GPS to keep track of my progress and I can feel my endurance increasing. In the past I tried to hike everyday, but your system works much better. Thank you!

    Reply
  20. Russell
    Russell says:

    Best article I’ve read about this topic for us “average” backpackers who have neither the time nor the ability (nor interest, frankly) in becoming ultra-endurance athletes just to get and stay in shape for a trek. Many thanks!

    Reply

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