How to Train for a Backpacking Trip – a Tips and Advice Guide

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The fitter you are, the more fun you have on the trail. There is no doubt about it. There is a direct correlation between the smile on your face and how much you are able to handle the backpacking trip you are. But what do you do if you are not in shape? In this piece, How to Train for a Backpacking Trip – a Tips and Advice Guide, you will learn all about how to ready your body for the journey ahead.

You’re an Athlete Now, It’s time to Make a Schedule

When I was wrestling at my peak, I trained twice a day, five days a week on non tournament weeks and four days a week on tournament weeks. I would get up a 5:30 AM and drive to the gym to life weights until 7:00 AM and then head to school. It became a habit and part of my routine. Because I made it a routine, my body did not even blink when I ended up getting up that early.

You need a similar routine. Life is a lot easier when you are in a routine. If your trip is three months out, you have more time than someone who has a trip one month away. You should tailor your workout schedule to the amount of time you have before your backpacking trip. I recommend waking up early in the morning and exercising before anything else.

How you start your day sets the tone for your life. Days on the trail will be early coupled with early bedtimes. You do not have to get up as early as I did, but morning exercise will wake you up for the day. I did my weight lifting in the morning because I knew I would not do it any other time of day. Other people and things would consume my time.

For most people starting off, I recommend a six-day exercise schedule. You can see it below. It sounds intimidating, but you do not have to go all out. Start slow and build up momentum. On Mondays and Wednesdays, you have a 40 to 60 minute strength training workout. Before each lift, do 5 to 10 minutes of light aerobics to warm up your muscles. This could be body lifting exercises or weight lifting at the gym.

On Tuesday and Thursday, you have 30 to 60 minutes of a cardio workout. This can be biking, running, and short intensity calisthenics. Ideally, it is a mix. After each workout, stretch to release lactic acid.

On Fridays, you have a 20 to 30 minute walk around the neighborhood. It is meant to be light and flat. On Saturdays, you do your main workout, a day hike through a state or national park with plenty of hills and valleys. You start off with something light, about 5 miles or so and then pick up steam to something longer like 10 miles. It is not uncommon to do 10 miles a day backpacking, but you want to be comfortable with 15 miles before your trip.

Also, the workouts should be the first thing in the morning. Set up your workout clothes so they are accessible to slip on in the morning. If you won’t do that, then I recommend sleeping in your workout clothes. The morning is when your willpower is the greatest, so that is why I recommend that time of day to train for the backpacking trip. It will wake you up and will guarantee that you work out.

You need to think of yourself as an athlete. It may be difficult because you have been telling yourself otherwise for years now, but the mental shift matters. If you call yourself an athlete, you force yourself to take care of yourself. You go from eating out each week to planning your meals to get the nutrition your body needs. You wake up early and work out.

For me in my own life, I am planning a five to six-day Spring Break backpacking trip. It is quite a ways away, but I am still training. I take a weekly hike like in the schedule. It is usually not more than four to five hours long. It can, of course, vary in length. The point, though, is that I have made it a part of my regular routine. I do not even blink when I load up all my gear to set off for the hike.

The Top 3 Exercises to Prepare Your Body for the Journey

Weighted Backpack Day Hikes – a Mandatory Ingredient for Your Backpacking Trip

You are going on a backpacking trip. Nothing will prepare you for it better than some weighted backpack day hikes. It is your closest preparation tool to the actual backpacking trip. Depending on the length of the trip, you could be carrying a pack that weighs anywhere from 25 to 50 lbs (11 to 22 kg). You want to start small. For your first weekly trip, carry all the gear you would carry for a day hike, nothing too extreme.

In the second week, you want to add ten pounds of weight. If you do not have access to a dumbbell or a plate, that is okay. Pack ten pounds of gear into your backpack. It should a bit heavier now. Do not worry though. Your legs and shoulders will grow accustomed to the extra load. Once you have done that, add ten pounds the next week. Keep adding ten pounds until you reach at least 75% of your expected backpacking trip carry load. That is enough to prepare you for the trip. You can, of course, do a full backpacking weight for your final weighted backpack day hike.

Find Some Stairs and Go Up and Down on Them

It’s okay. Sometimes you just are not close to nature. Work and family obligations pull at you, demanding more of your time. I have been in the same position. I bet you that there are some stairs nearby to you though. When backpacking, you will encounter a lot of hills and valleys. A good set of stairs will replicate those challenges. If you have a local gym you can go to, then use the stair master there.

Lunges Increase Your Leg Strength

You need strong legs for backpacking. Each day presents miles of hills and valleys, parading before you like the Macy’s Day Parade. It is quite the challenge for those with chicken legs. Lunges, though, increase your leg strength. To start off, do them unweighted. But as time goes on, carry plates in each of your hands or a weighted backpack slung on your back. This exercise will be sure to increase your strength.

Training Gear, an Essential Ingredient for a Successful Recipe

For any backpacking trip, you will need gear. To train for a backpacking trip, you need a different set of gear, but not too different.

A Backpacking Backpack, You Will be Sure to Need It

If you are backpacking, you better have, well, a backpack. No great backpacker has ever left home without one slung on the backside. It is necessary. I recommend the Teton Sports Scout 3400 backpack because it is, above all others, for beginners. For three-day trips, it is a perfect pack. Customers rave about its quality. When you get it, you will be able to use it on your day hikes no problem.

Another backpack to consider is the Gregory Denali 100. This bad boy can handle, well, 100 Liters of gear. If you are planning a longer backpacking trip, then this is one for you. Check out my review on it here. I originally bought it at a REI Garage Sale and it has paid dividends all the way through. It is a Mountaineer’s dream backpack to say the least. Whatever you throw at it, the pack can handle.

Hiking Boots, You Better Break Them in Before Your Trip

When backpacking, you will spend all day on your feet. There is no question about it. For this reason, you need a good pair of boots to protect your gams. With a solid pair on your feet, you will be hiking up those hills and roaring down the valleys in no time flat. Save your gams and make the journey easier.

Not All of Us have the time to Train, so Let’s Put on Some Ankle Weights

It can be hard to make the time to work out. I have been down that road. School and work has eaten up my time like toddlers and birthday cake. You know there won’t be any leftovers. Ankle weights are an excellent option. You can wrap them around your calves and train, building your leg muscles in the process. When you strap them on, you prepare your body for the backpacking trip ahead.

Mental Training – the Overlooked Sister to Physical Training

When you go backpacking, your body is not the only thing that is tested. Your mind is also pushed to its limits. Between the body and mind, the former will always follow the latter wherever it leads. You can be in great shape, but you won’t go very far if you do not have the spirit of mind to see your body along its way.

For mental preparation, envision yourself finishing and backpacking through the wilderness. This strengthens your mind and prepares you for what is ahead. It will be tough. You cannot understand what it is like to dig a hole and go poop outdoors until you have done it yourself. It is next to impossible to know what it is like to endure blistering cold for what seems like hours on end until you get the fire going. When you imagine these experiences and similar ones like them though, you prepare what lies ahead.

Be sure to swallow your pride. There are a lot of people out there with super big egos. I can see them from a mile away because they want to make themselves known. At the same time though, many people are in need. They need help to go through the challenges that they face and the big ego people will not help because they are self-centered. A backpacking trip will put you through some, frankly, gross and dirty things at times. This is what many people do every day. It is okay. You are now just one among many. If they can go through it, you can do it too.

I like to compete. It feels good to grow and better myself, but backpacking is not a competition. On a backpacking trip, no one is racing against each other. It is a steady walk through the wilderness. In fact, you have a better, more memorable journey when you slow down and appreciate each and every moment that passes you by.

My 5 Top Tips for a Great Trip

If you are looking for the essence of this article, then here it is. It is the TLDR.

  1. Change your habits and watch the positive accumulate. If you have not backpacked before, it is scary. You are on your own in the wilderness for days on end with no technology. You build up to that though. When you have the strength to do a weekly hike and work out on a regular basis, a three-day backpacking trip does not seem so far-fetched because you have done similar things to a trip before.
  2. Go to the gym. I like the atmosphere of the gym. It is designed just for exercise, nothing else. It is a great environment to train because there are other people there who also want to get in shape. You will make friends who push you.
  3. Mental training, prepare yourself for adversity. I have talked a lot about physical training, but not too much about the mental. In short, if you have a strong mind, you can overcome anything. For most people though, it takes time to get to that level. You will build your mental will when you exercise and hike. It is harder, though, to prepare for pooping outdoors when a breeze surprises you. Be sure to read up on some backpacking stories, so you are not surprised by what awaits you.
  4. Stretch after every workout and save yourself some leg pain. Some exercises I listed are strenuous, making you walk like a gorilla and pushing your body. Stretching is needed to release the lactic acid in your muscles after a deep workout.
  5. Wear the shoes you plan to wear when you backpack. As I said earlier, your feet will be sore after a long day of backpacking. You need broken in foot wear so you do not have bleeding blisters on your feet. That just leaves a bad tasting memory in your mouth. Break your boots in and save yourself the headache down the road.

Get Started Today and Change Your Life

When you start preparing for a backpacking trip, you revolutionize your outlook on life. You decide to stop settling for less and start taking more risks for what really matters in life. So what do you say? Are you going to live more and train for what the better life you deserve? Start hiking this weekend and watch the magic follow you.

If you have any thoughts, questions, or think I missed anything, please comment below and remember to share the article. Thank you so much and I hope you make it a great day!

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4 Comments on “How to Train for a Backpacking Trip – a Tips and Advice Guide”

  1. Hey Alex, I have always been interested in hiking but I’m up there in the years now. I was carefully reading your article and wondering if this is something that I can do in my 60’s with diabetes and having to lose about 30 pounds. It seems almost like a boot camp. But I would still like to get in shape and try it. Do you think it is something for me?

    1. Rob, I am glad to hear you are interested in hiking. The way I think about it is this; if you can walk, you can hike. It is as simple as that. Backpacking is nothing but a multi day hiking trip. Your first one can be as short as one night. It is totally doable in your 60s.

      For the “boot camp” (it’s not too intense) schedule I showed you, I would not change one thing about it. The only difference is that, when you are out of shape, you will be going slow and steady in the early and most critical stages, doing nothing that would hurt you or leave you gasping for air. When someone is out of shape and tries to lose weight, they often do not get back in shape because they overreach at the beginning.

      I know you can get in shape for a backpacking adventure. It may take some time to get to that level, but it is all about consistency. It is essential for weight loss. I hope this answers your question.

      Thank you for your question and I hope you make it a great day!

      1. Hey Alex, I appreciate your feedback and your advice. I wasn’t sure it was doable for me, but now I know that I am thanks to you. It makes total sense and I love to be outdoors anyway. I need to turn things around because I’d really like to give this a go. Thank you so much 🙂

        1. I am glad to hear my advice was helpful Rob. It is good to know you plan to make positive changes in your life.

          Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

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