How to Train for Hiking


Spring hiking season is almost here! We know, we can't wait either. We've been counting down the days until our first hike of the season. While we were at it, we put together our tips on preparing for the spring hiking season in this article so you can start training for your first hike of the season, before spring even starts!

Woman Hiking

Training for hiking season

Why train for hikes? No matter the distance and elevation gain of the hikes on your list this year, you can only benefit by starting to train for them early! By training before your hikes, you’ll know exactly what skill level you are at, which areas you need to improve upon in order to complete that goal hike, and ultimately make hiking a more comfortable and enjoyable experience.

Training before a hike might also make you push yourself to set new goals for bigger, badder hiking routes! No matter what your goals are, make sure you’re pushing yourself without overdoing it. Making progress can feel amazing! But it should be achieved at a reasonable pace that works for your schedule and your body to avoid burnout or injury. One extra week of training before a big adventure is much better than an injury that could push your plans back for weeks or even months. Remember, listening to your body is more important than abiding by a training program. Always consult with your physician before intensifying your workout or training regimen so you can adjust the recommendations to fit your physical state.

 

Woman doing squats

Getting in shape

You don’t need any fancy equipment or a gym membership to get in shape before hiking season! A simple conditioning routine can help to prepare your body for any hike. Unsurprisingly enough, the best way to get in shape for hiking season is by hiking or walking. If you’re able to work in short, easy trails into your schedule, go for it (weather permitting, of course)! Can’t get out on the trails? No worries - even short walks around your neighborhood can help get your body ready for hiking season. If you’re preparing for a hike with elevation gain, try popping over to your local high school’s football stadium to walk the stairs. You'll also get your heartrate up and prepare you for any more intense situations on your next hike.

If you’re looking to kick it up a notch, you can work on improving your muscular strength before hiking season. There’s no doubt that some of the more difficult trails require some leg and core strength to conquer. Simple strength training exercises at home could help you get through your hikes this season! Squats, lunges, calf raises, and wall sits with or without weight are all great exercises to build strength in your legs. To improve your core muscles, you can do simple floor exercises with no equipment like crunches, planks, and flutter kicks.

 

Backpacking gear

Stocking up on gear

Sometimes gear can make or break a hike. Before you head out this season, check your gear from past years to see what you need to replace with newer, updated gear. Almost every hike will require a few basics like navigation tools, a pack, solid hiking boots and socks, a water bottle or water pack and reservoir, and clothes you can layer - we recommend clothing items made from an adaptable fabric like Merino Wool. By replacing the items you’ll use on every hike first, you’ll have all the basics covered for each and every adventure.

If you’re heading out for a longer backpacking trip where you will be camping overnight, you’ll need to bring everything mentioned above as well as a tent, sleeping bag and sleeping pad, and plenty of food (at the minimum). A knife, headlamp, and fire-making supplies could also help during an overnight trip. Every trip is going to be different – so make sure you prepare for the trip by planning ahead.

 

Man hiking

Conditioning for a long hike

If you’re planning a longer, thru-hike this spring, you should definitely prepare weeks in advance. A great way to work up to a long-distance hike is with a conditioning technique like the 10 percent rule. The 10 percent rule helps you reach your goals (and the summit) by planning a series of shorter, easier hikes that will collectively help prepare you for the end-goal trip. There are two main elements to train for when preparing for any hike: mileage or distance and elevation gain. This outline of the 10 percent rule allows you to train for both elements. We find that this tactic works best across 10 weeks (time to hit the trails!). Here’s how it works:
  1. Start your plan at the bottom (end of the trip) and work backwards. At week 10, you will want to be at your goal distance and elevation gain so you’re ready for the big hike.
  2. Each week before week 10, subtract about 10 percent of the total distance and elevation goal of the week after. If your hike doesn't have significant elevation gain, you can train for just mileage.
  3. Once your plans are written out, get out there and hit the trails each week, starting at week 1!
Here’s an example of this conditioning plan written out. Let’s say your goal is to hike Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. The total elevation gain for this hike is 4,863 over about 16.5 miles. So, if you’re planning to train 10 weeks before the big hike (on week 10), here is what your training plan could look like:

 Week

Miles Elevation
1 6.4 1,600 ft
2 7.2 1,800 ft
3 8 2,100 ft
4 8.7 2,400 ft
5 9.7 2,700 ft
6 10.8 3,000 ft
7 12 3,400 ft
8 13.3 3,800 ft
9 14.8 4,300 ft
10 16.5 4,800 ft


By increasing your mileage and elevation over time, you’ll build the strength and endurance needed to complete the goal hike. However, remember that this method is just a guide and should not be treated as mandate. You should tailor your long-distance training program to meet your skill level. For example, if you’re not able to hike 6 miles when you plan to begin the program, you might want to start training 12-15 weeks before your planned hike instead. Or vice versa - if you can easily hike 8 miles at your current skill level, you could start training 8 weeks before that big hike date.

Remember, you also should be keeping pack size and weight in mind when preparing for a long-distance hike. Try working up to training with the same size and weight pack that you will wear during the goal hike on week 10. A great way to increase pack weight over time is with full water bottles. If you over-estimate your pack weight during any given training hike, you can easily drink or dump out the water to lessen the load. By training up to your full pack weight, you’ll get used to the load and be prepared for the strength needed to carry your necessities throughout the big hike! If you choose to bring your exact pack during the later weeks of training, you’ll also be able to test out new gear, experiment with supply quantities, and make sure you’re not missing any necessities before your goal hike.

Whether you're planning a long-distance trek or a quick spin around the local trail this season, we hope the tips in this article help you get a head start on preparing for your adventures. Happy hiking!