How To Train For A Hike

Tony Bristow
Tony Bristow

Hiking can be addicting and is one of those outdoor activities that you can do anywhere, anytime, and anyplace. Hikes range from an Urban Hike (walk around your neighborhood or City) to what is known as thru-hiking (several months at a time). Misty Marchione walks us through it.

This guide, How to Train for a Hike, is intended for the hiker that is planning to go on longer and more extreme hikes. Hiking can be intense on the mind and body and it is very important for both to be in prime condition before going. This is information you can use to start on your journey to a lifetime of fitness and enjoyment.


Evaluate your current hiking abilities.

Starting with a realistic evaluation of your hiking abilities will provide you with the information you need to target the training for your hikes. People get hurt when they overestimate their abilities and then hike without a proper plan. If you are new to hiking, then you definitely have a lot more to learn than someone who has hiked for 5 years.

What is your Technical Hiking Knowledge? You should not plan a hike that requires you to dredge across rivers, climb rocks, gather food or filter water if you do not have these skills.

You can always read books or take classes to get the information you need. REI has a Family Adventure Program which provides many different types of outdoor classes.

You also need to consider how you would deal with unforeseen situations such as getting lost or twisting an ankle. I know of a lady who broke her femur on a hike in the Grand Canyon. She had to be carried to a higher place in the Canyon before she could even be life flighted out.

My friend witnessed this and told me that now she always hikes with pain killers in her pack. I could not imagine the agony this woman suffered while she was waiting for help to arrive.

Lastly, enter into this training with a positive state of mind and have fun! Don’t beat yourself up and tell yourself how fat and lazy you are for never doing this before.

Give yourself kudos for even reading this post! If you are in a negative state, then training for the hike will not be as much fun.

Hiking should reduce stress, and improve your overall health and well-being. There are Saturday mornings where I want to sleep in, but I opt to go hiking instead. Once I get out there, I am so happy that I did.

Hiking-specific exercises for the Longer Hikes

To make progress in hiking, you will need to build up your physical abilities. If you are a beginning hiker, it is possible to prepare your body by starting out slowly. Keep in mind that success in one sport does not necessarily equate to success in hiking due to the different muscles used. You might be a great swimmer and have a lot of endurance, but this may not mean that you will be able to sustain hiking in the same manner.

All of these exercises, which emphasize both leg and core strength, can be done at home without the need of equipment.

Wall sit: This exercise is great for increasing quadricep strength which comes in handy during those steep descents. This one is especially beneficial for those with knee problems.

Squats: This exercise is great for all around leg strength and is one of the best leg exercises you can do. If you do have a history of knee problems, start with the wall sit and/or modified versions of the squat until your leg strength improves.

Crunches: Lower abdominals/core strength.

Calf raises: Will increase ankle and calf strength. The stronger your ankles, the less likely you are to turn or twist them when walking over uneven terrain. Also, stretch your calves after finishing the exercise

Leg raises: These are good for upper abdominals/core strength. To give your lower back support, place your hands underneath your buttocks, palms facing down.

Pushups/ Chin Ups: all excellent in rounding out your overall pre-hike strength program.

Need to Hike to train for Your Hike

This might be an oversimplification, but the best way to get fit for hiking is actually to hike. This ties into the Law of Specificity; in order to improve in a certain sport or activity, you must perform that activity. By going hiking, you get your body used to the exact conditions that will be required of you during the actual hike.

Walking on a treadmill does not simulate the adjustments in speed, frequent ups and downs, and uneven footing you will have on the trail. Even if you have the aerobic fitness down, the muscles such as your hamstrings, calves, and buttocks will need time to adjust to the uneven terrain.

Here’s the step by step plan

Step #1: Begin by going on 1-3 mile hikes 1-2 times a week on fairly easy conditions and without a pack.

Step #2: Little by little increase the length of your hikes in the above manner until you can go 9 miles. Be sure to include a daypack with snacks and drinks.

Step #3: Work on increasing the weight of your day pack by adding equipment and more food/drinks. This may require a bigger backpack. Steadily increase the weight of your pack until you can complete a 9-mile hike with a 22 lb backpack.

Step #4: From this point, continue to increase your distance, inclines, and the weight and size of your pack. With the right training, you should get to the point where you can carry 25-30% of your body weight.

Step #5: Start hiking with your backpack for consecutive days. Walking for a couple of days at a time is different from single day hikes with rests in between.

Try your best to train in the conditions that simulate your real hike just on a smaller scale. For instance, if you are going to go on a 7-mile hike on a fairly steep mountain, make sure you can hike 4 miles on flat terrain without a problem.

Then, start taking shorter hikes between 3-5 miles on mountainous and uneven terrain to get your body ready for the demands of the 7-mile hike. Every time you go on these hikes, you should wear your pack, and the same clothes, shoes and gear that you would on your intended hike.

Train on the Stairs- Last Resort

If you are not able to go hiking on a consistent basis, another option- although not ideal is to train on the stairs. One of my friends is preparing for a 50-mile hike on the Rae Lakes Loop in Kings Canyon National Park. Her routine is going to the gym 3-4 x’s a week; she wears a 25 lb pack and walks up and down the stairs (4 flights) and then will walk once around the track.

She then returns to the stairs, goes up and down and then around the track. She repeats this for an hour and a half. I know – this doesn’t sound like very much fun. However, this is a MUST to prepare for those longer hikes.

You are awesome, stick with it and you will see results

One huge benefit to hiking is that this is an activity that you can enjoy your entire life. Running, aerobics and other similar exercises can be very hard on the knees and joints. Hiking is very low impact compared to these and can be done at your own pace.

Hiking longer distances requires a mental and physical readiness that requires specific training so you do not get injured. Following these steps in this guide should give you a great head start.




jack-beckett is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival