Wilderness Sports Conditioning
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Hiking, Backpacking & Trekking Training Program Development
Program Development Factors
Hiking, Backpacking & Trekking require cardiovascular endurance (via aerobic training), strength endurance (through strength conditioning), and hiking-specific training (via going up hill with a pack). Being in strong physical shape is one of the most important prerequisites for success on a trip. The five major fitness qualities your general training should focus on are:
Fitness Levels need by Training component
The chart on the right indicates fitness qualities needed for Hiking, Backpacking and Trekking compared to baseline health. By comparing your current levels of fitness with the needs of hiking you can better prioritize your training. The Outdoor Athlete book has quite a bit of detail on how to test your levels of fitness for each of the components along with measures that can help you evaluate where you need the most work for your sport.
Additional Training Considerations
Sport Specific Training: If you only train each specific fitness component above separately you will have far less success than if you include sport specific training sessions. As part of your regular training for hiking you will want to include activities that closely resemble hiking.
In practicality this means finding a way to go up hill with a pack. Good options will include hiking steep outdoor trails, gradually increasing your pack weight on each outing (no more than 10% per week) until you are at your target pack weight. If you live where it is relatively flat, go up and down stairs, short hills or train on an inclined treadmill or elliptical or whatever variable terrain you have access to. For more options read our Flatland Training article. During your training, you should be planning to progressively ramp up your pack weight, duration (time or mileage), and speed of weekly training hikes to give you hiking-specific conditioning that cannot be matched by any other sort of training.
Skill: Within your regular training, if your sport requires specific skills, you will need to devote ongoing time to develop and maintain them. For hiking, backpacking and trekking, such areas requiring skill development might include:
Hiking Training Program Priorities
The top priority in your training plan should be the hiking specific training. Work into your schedule a way you can go uphill with a pack a couple of times a week. One time should be a multi-hour hike. The other one could be an in town (hill/stairs/gym equipment) hour long pack session. Back-to-Back Pack Training can be very helpful if you are planning on participating in multi-day trips.
Many people drawn toward hiking have a more extensive background in aerobic training rather than strength training. For those people, strength training would be the next priority. Full body strength training (see hiking strength training for more specifics) 2-3 times per week should help you see noticeable improvements. Adding in 5-6 flexibility movements for areas that tend to get tight following the strength will be beneficial. For individuals that lack normal range of motion 4-6 stretching sessions per week may be needed.
Finally, add in non-pack aerobic training. Modes of training where you are supporting your body weight on your feet (elliptical, inclined treadmill, step mill, running, etc.) will have more carryover to cross-country travel than other modes. One weekly interval training session can be helpful especially for higher altitude trips.
Below are pages that will provide detail on each of the items discussed above and will help you develop your own training program.
Program Development Specifics
Pack Carrying Tips