Conditioning for backpacking

Are you in shape for backpacking? If you exercise regularly, you may be ready for short trips and easy terrain right now. But if you don't get as much exercise as you'd like, set up a basic training regimen that wakes up sleeping muscles and works your lungs more efficiently.

This article has tips to get you started.

Getting in Shape for the Trail

The best way to train for backpacking is to mimic the activity as closely as possible. The amount of conditioning you need depends on your current fitness level and the kinds of trips you have planned.

Tip: Before starting any exercise program, consult your physician.

Best: Start Walking

  • Begin with shorter, less strenuous hikes with a daypack or light backpack. Nothing gets muscles ready for the trail better than the trail itself.
  • Gradually increase the length and elevation of your hikes and increase your backpack load.
  • As you begin to strengthen your lower body and improve your endurance, switch to longer, more challenging hikes. Loading your backpack with the gear and weight you are most likely to carry will help you become familiar with conditions you will face deep in the backcountry.
  • If you don't have a chance to hike the great outdoors as much as you'd like, try the next-best option.

Good: Hit the Gym

  • Try stair-steppers, elliptical trainers and climbing machines. These machines provide a great cardiovascular and strength workout. They isolate your lower-body muscle groups and help build endurance.
  • Consider step aerobics. Check out your local gym to see if they offer it. Or, do step aerobics at home with a bench and instructional video.
  • Lift weights. A backpacker does not particularly want to transport a huge upper-body mass on the trail. Still, a consistent, diversified weight-resistance program helps prepare muscle groups all over your body for the sudden jolt of day-long physical activity. Trained muscles are less susceptible to injury and strains.
  • Swim. A great aerobic workout, swimming is easy on the joints and good for the lungs and heart.

Good: Use the Resources Around You

  • Take the stairs whenever possible. Walking or running up and down stairs in your home, office or neighborhood on a regular basis is terrific pre-trail training. You can even mimic step aerobics by running up 1 step and then back down, repeating the motion.
  • Walk instead of drive. If you can perform routine chores by leaving your car keys in your pocket, do it. Walk to the library, the park or the store. Toss a weighted daypack on your back for a little extra benefit.
  • If you have a bike, start pedaling. Cycling is another good way to condition your legs and increase endurance.
  • Jogging is also a popular training option to get in shape for backpacking. But use caution if you're not already a runner, since jogging can lead to muscle strains that backpacking may aggravate.

Training Timeframe

How long does it take to get into backpacking shape? That depends on you. The better shape you're in now, the faster you'll be ready for a long-haul trip. Extra diligence and more lead time are also helpful.

Be patient and listen to your body. Aim to do some form of exercise at least 3 times a week for a minimum of 30 minutes each time.

Your efforts will be amply rewarded with a happier, more relaxed time out on the trail.

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