How to Train For a Hike: 17 Useful Tips to Elevate Your Trail Experience

I would say the vast amount of “hikers” out there do it fairly leisurely. They go about it when they can and usually don’t drive more than 30 minutes out of their comfort zone to their favorite spot. I use to be a casual hiker and there’s of course nothing wrong with it. Enjoy life while you can!

This article however is going to be geared to those that want to step up their game a bit (pun slightly intended) and genuinely want to know how to train for a hike, a tough one. It’ll be for those that want to set their hiking goals a little higher and a littler farther. I’m not a personal trainer by any means or dietician so these tips will be coming from my own personal experiences and what I’ve found to work for me as well as others.

Since I absolutely love hiking, I feel it’s the best way to experience nature, exercise your body and get away from the modern world. You can learn a lot about yourself while you’re out on a trail with nobody or nothing within miles (or kilometers) except the birds, bees, rivers and trees.

The more you do it, the more you’ll want to do it and the more you’ll want to challenge yourself. That means venturing deeper into the wilderness. In order to do so, you’ll have to get better at certain things. Embarking on a challenging hike requires more than just enthusiasm. It demands physical preparation, mental fortitude, and strategic planning.

In this article, I’ll suggest some steps you can take that might help you improve your overall hiking experience and capabilities. I’ll cover everything from pre-training considerations to specific exercises, nutrition, and gear recommendations as well as how to prepare your mind for that demanding trail. Hopefully after you’ve finished, you’ll feel like you have the knowledge to conquer anything and everything. Let’s go!!!

Pre-Training Considerations:

Most people assume that training for a hike is all about the exercises you do and what you do physically to get your body into shape. We’ll get there but before we do, let’s consider and review several other factors that should be mentioned. These can make or break your next adventure so don’t skip them!

1. Knowing Your Trail:

Before you take your fist step, you should do a bit of research. You’re going to need to know the trail’s elevation gain, distance, and terrain at the bare minimum as well as basic terminology. For a more in-depth guide, check out this article – How to Research Hiking Trails: Simple Steps You Can Take To Learn Your Next Route. For now, ask yourself these important questions –

  • Which type of trail will I be navigating?
  • What’s the difficulty level of the trail?
  • Are there any resources at my disposal that give specific insight on where I’m going?
  • How long will it take for me to complete the trail or hike?

The other big concern is the weather. When I was just getting out on the trails I use to get stuck in downpours all the time that seemingly came out of nowhere, and I didn’t bring a rain jacket. You can imagine how uncomfortable it was. You really need to understand the climate and weather conditions of the trail beforehand if you want to have an enjoyable experience. Here are set of common questions you should be thinking about –

  • What is the forecast? Is there a chance for rain or storms?
  • How hot or cold is it going to be for this time of year?
  • What is the UV index?
  • Will it be foggy or have low visibility?
  • Will it be exceptionally windy or will I experience other types of extreme weather conditions?

Don’t underestimate the value of doing a little bit of research. You should know exactly what you’ll be walking into!

2. Assessing Your Fitness Level:

Another thing you should do before you start asking yourself how to train for a hike is to know where you’re at now. In order to improve, we need to know what to improve on right? Be honest! You don’t want to run out of breath or be on the verge of quitting in a potentially dangerous situation. There are too many stories of seasoned hikers getting lost in the woods and not coming back. So before you go, test the levels of your –

Pacing: Go for a brisk walk, run, or bike ride and assess how long you can sustain the effort without feeling overly fatigued. This will give you a nice baseline that you can use to compare your future progress to.

Talking: Go for a walk or run with a partner and try to hold a conversation while you do so. If you can comfortably have a nice exchange while exercising, your endurance is likely in good shape but if you are struggling to breathe or think for that matter then you’ll need to focus on some cardio exercises in the future.

Bodyweight Strength: Start with squats, lunges, push-ups, and planks and see how many you can do before you need to stop. Are you surprised at the number? If you haven’t trained for a while, you might have lost some strength and this can come into play, especially with what you’ll be carrying on the trail.

Balance: The more difficult the trails, the more balance is required. One wrong step can be disastrous. In order to test this, stand on one leg for 30 seconds to a minute without falling or needing to grab on to something. Repeat on the other leg. How well did you do? If not too well, definitely look to improve on this.

Flexibility: The last thing you want to do is pull a muscle in the middle of nowhere so let’s see how limber you really are. Sit on the floor with legs extended and try to touch your toes. Did you do it? How difficult was it? If you struggled, then you’ll need to incorporate some forms of stretching into a daily regimen. For added difficulty try yoga poses like Downward Dog or Cobra.

Incline Endurance: Most, if not all, difficult trails have some sort of steep elevation gain so you’re going to need to know how well you handle steep ascents. Find a hill, or use a treadmill with an incline, to simulate an angled climb and see how well you do. If, as the kids say, the struggle is real, then you know this is an area that needs improvement.

Elevation Exposure: When I was on the Salkantay Trail in Peru, we went up to 15,000 feet (4600 meters) and boy did I feel it! If a future hike of yours involves significant elevation gain, you should also consider your tolerance to altitude. Shortness of breath and dizziness are common signs that you’ll need to put in extra training in order to avoid a future bout of altitude sickness.

Backpack Training: Last but not least, you’re going to need to know how well you carry a load on your back. 20 lbs now will feel like 40 lbs later. Grab a backpack and pack it with gear to simulate the weight you’ll be carrying during your future trek. How does it feel and how far can you go? If it’s too much too soon, then jot this down in your list of “What to Improve On” and go from there.

And of course you should always consider any pre-existing health conditions that you may have. If needed, consult a healthcare professional for advice on future trips.

3. Set Training Goals:

After you’ve done most, if not all, of the fitness assessments I just laid out, you should have a great idea on the problem areas that need improvement. What are your goals? Define them and lay out a plan to achieve them. Whether it’s conquering steep ascents, building better endurance, acclimating to higher altitudes or carrying more weight, you’ll need to know exactly what you want to attain.

Training

Now let’s get to the fun part! Exercising! The important stuff when you want to learn how to train for a hike. I’ll break it down into four parts: Cardio, Strength, Balance/Stability, and Flexibility. The four tenants of physical activity. Everybody is different so I can’t give a completely custom workout program, but I can give general tips that you can use to lay out a workout program for yourself.

4. Cardio:

Go For a Brisk Walk: Start with 3-4 times per week and see how you do. Each session should last at least 20-30 minutes. Once that’s a piece of cake increase the time to 45-60 minutes. You should be walking fast enough that your heart rate increases and you break a sweat. A simple stroll through the park won’t do.

How to train for a hike

Running or Jogging: I like to actually incorporate running and jogging with my walking to form more of a interval type of training but that’s just me. Try to run for 20-30 minutes twice per week without stopping. You don’t need to go go fast, but you need to form a pace that you can sustain the entire time. It could be as slow as a turtle, just as long as you don’t stop. You’ll be able to increase the speed soon enough. Just work on your pacing.

Cycling: If you can, go out for a 30-45 minute ride twice per week. Cycling is a great way to improve your endurance, especially when it comes to your legs and lower body. It’s also better in improving your stamina since you can go longer at a higher intensity without needing to rest due to the lower stress and impact on your bones and joints. Start with an easy flat route and work your way up to bigger and better hills that simulate varied hiking conditions.

Hiking Simulation on Treadmill: Not everybody has access to a treadmill but if you do, try and jump on it 2-3 times per week for a minimum of 15 minutes at a descent incline. You should be starting to sweat and fairly out of breath within 3 minutes, if not it’s set too easily. Increase the speed and incline level each week and you should feel a noticeable difference. If you don’t have access to a treadmill, find a set of stairs and do the same.

5. Strength Training:

Squats: This is a great body weight exercise that anybody can do. Simply stand with feet shoulder-width apart and lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Aim for 3 sets of 12-15 reps and work your way up from there. If you haven’t done them in a while, be prepared for pain the next day but know it’ll be worth it in the end! Hand in there!

Lunges: Another exercise that’s perfect for improving your lower body. Take a step out in front of you with one leg and lower your body until your bent knee forms a 90 degree angle with the ground. Shift your body forward and use that leg to propel your body back up to a standing position. Alternate each leg back and forth. Do this 3 times at 8-10 reps in total. You don’t want to overdue it in the beginning or you’ll not be able to walk the next day. Go easy!

Step-Ups: Think of these are walking up a giant staircase. Grab a bench or find a ledge that’s about knee height to your body. Take a step up onto it and lift the rest of your body over the obstacle, completely straightening your hips and knees and the top to complete one step-up. Step back down and switch legs. Complete 2-3 sets at 10-12 reps total. You should be feeling it before you know it! Pro tip – Try lifting your knee all the way to your chest for improved difficulty.

Calf Raises: You can do this on any ledge or curb. You also have the option of doing it with one leg or two. I would start with two. Balance yourself with your toes on the ledge and lower your body until your heels are beneath the plane of whatever you’re standing on. Do this 10-15 times and 2-3 sets. Expect a nice fiery sensation if it’s been a while.

Push-Ups: Now to the upper body. This exercise has been around since the very first Army boot camp. Lay down and face the ground. Lift your upper body up with your arms and fully extend until your elbows lock into place. Lower yourself back down until your stomach hits the ground and repeat. Shoot for 3 sets of 10-15 reps but don’t worry about the number. Focus on your form.

Pull Ups (Optional): These are tough, but do wonders for your upper body. Find a bar that you can hang from and grab on. Lift yourself up until your chin can reach the height of the bar and lower yourself back down. If you can do 5 of these you’re better than most. 3 sets and you’re golden! Pro tip – Pull up machines are great for those that struggle with their full bodyweight.

Planks: This exercise is ideal for strengthening your core. I highly recommend incorporating it into your workouts. Start in a push up position but lower your self down onto your elbows and hold it. Try not to move or slouch your body. Stay locked and hold it for 30-60 seconds. Do this 3 times and you should pretty wiped out. Increase the time or sets as you progress.

Bicycle Crunches: Lay on your back and lift your legs. Bend your knees until your thighs are perpendicular to the ground. Place your hands behind your head and interlock your fingers. Perform a sit-up/crunch until one of your elbows can touch the opposite knee. Return to the start and repeat with the other elbow touching the other knee. 20 reps and 3-4 sets should do the trick.

6. Balance and Stability:

Single-Leg Stand: You’re going to need more balance than you think you will, especially carrying large and heavy loads on your back. Start standing completely straight with your hands at your sides and lift one leg until your knee is directly out in front of you. Hold it there for 30 seconds or until you can no longer keep your balance. If you have to, you can raise your arms outward like a high wire act, but try not to. Do 3 rounds per leg for a total of 6 sets.

Heel to Toe Walk: If you are a member of the police force, or knows somebody who is, then this should be immediately recognizable. Stand straight up and place one foot directly in front of the other, touching heel to toe. Take a step with your other foot and do the same. Try and go for 20 steps without adjusting your balance or feet to compensate for a fall. Do 5 sets of this and you’ll feel like you just passed a tough sobriety test! Pro tip – Find a raised beam if you can for added difficulty.

Arm/Leg Position Raises: I’m sure there’s a fancy name out there for this one but I can’t seem to find it but they work wonders. Start in the push up position and raise your right arm up in front of you and simultaneously raise your left leg off of the ground. Hold this for 5 seconds and reset. Do the same with your left arm and right leg. Do 4 sets of 10 reps in total. It’s a fun one. You’ll feel this in places you didn’t even know existed! If it’s too hard, then do it from your knees as shown below.

7. Flexibility Training:

Leg swings: Stand straight up and swing your leg up and out in front of you, allowing it to go as far as it can. Once it is on its way back, let it swing behind you without touching the ground. Twist your upper body and swing your arms from side to side to counteract the weight shift. Do this 15-20 reps per leg and at least 4 sets in total. It’s harder than you think but you’ll get the hang (see what I did there?) of it!

Jumping Jacks: I know this might seem a little childish but they are actually pretty great to get your body loose and moving. Start standing with your feet together and hands at your sides. Jump up and swing your hands over your head while also spreading your feet out and landing on them. Jump back up and return to the starting position. Go for 25 reps and 3-4 sets. You should be pretty winded after you’re finished.

Side Bends: A great exercise to stretch and strengthen the obliques. Stand up spread your feet out past shoulder width. Put one arm on your side while lifting the other over your head and bend toward the side your hand is pointing to, going as far as you can comfortably go. You can either return back to the starting position and repeat or you can alternate by switching arm placements. Up to you. Start with 15 reps and 2 sets per side. This one seems innocent enough but you’ll be surprised when you wake up in the morning.

Nutrition:

8. Pre-Training Nutrition:

Everybody has their dietary favorites and/or restrictions so I’ll only give some general recommendations for this one. You can always substitute in your favorite type of fat, protein and carb. Some people actually like to train on an empty stomach so to each their own! However if you like to eat try some of these healthy options –

Meal Ideas:

  • Balanced Meal (2-3 Hours Before):
    • Grilled chicken or tofu with quinoa and roasted vegetables.
    • Salmon with sweet potatoes and a side of steamed broccoli.
    • Whole-grain pasta with tomato sauce, lean ground turkey, and mixed greens.
  • Pre-Training Snack (30-60 Minutes Before):
    • Greek yogurt with berries and a drizzle of honey.
    • Banana with a small spoonful of almond butter.
    • Whole-grain toast with avocado and a boiled egg.

Hydration:

  • Water:
    • Stay well-hydrated before and during your training session.
    • Aim to drink water throughout the day, and consider sipping on water leading up to your workout.

Sample Pre-Training Snack Ideas:

  • Greek Yogurt Parfait:
    • Greek yogurt with granola and mixed berries.
  • Fruit Smoothie:
    • Banana, berries, spinach, and a scoop of protein powder blended with water or milk.
  • Oatmeal with Nut Butter:
    • Whole-grain oatmeal topped with a spoonful of almond or peanut butter.
  • Rice Cake with Cottage Cheese:
    • Brown rice cake with cottage cheese and sliced pineapple.

9. During Training:

Now I usually don’t eat during a training session but there are some of us out there that do. Here are some of the more popular choices for you if you get a little hungry while you’re movin’ and grovin’ –

Timing:

  • For Sessions Under 60 Minutes:
    • Generally, water is sufficient to stay hydrated so stick to H-2-0 and you’ll be fine.
  • For Sessions Over 60 Minutes:
    • Consider consuming carbohydrates and electrolytes to replenish glycogen stores and support endurance. You’ll be able to get in a better and nicer workout so snack up!

Snack Ideas for Longer Sessions:

  • Energy Gels:
    • Provide quick, easily digestible carbohydrates.
    • Consume one gel every 30-45 minutes with water.
  • Sports Drinks:
    • Contain electrolytes (sodium, potassium) to replenish those lost through sweat.
    • Suitable for longer, more intense workouts.
  • Bananas:
    • Portable and rich in carbohydrates and potassium.
  • Dried Fruits:
    • Lightweight and high in natural sugars for quick energy.
    • Examples: Raisins, apricots, or dates.
  • Energy Bars:
    • Choose bars with a balance of carbohydrates and a moderate amount of protein.
    • Avoid those high in fiber, which may cause digestive discomfort.
  • Chocolate Milk:
    • Contains a blend of carbohydrates and protein, along with electrolytes.
    • Suitable for post-training sessions as well.

10. Post-Training Nutrition:

After a nice and/or brutal workout, it’s important to replenish those glycogen stores. Try and get some food into you within 30 minutes of finishing physical activity. It’ll do wonders with recovery and muscle repair –

Post-Training Nutrition Guidelines:

  • Carbohydrates:
    • Replenish glycogen stores depleted during exercise.
    • Examples: Whole grains, fruits, and starchy vegetables.
  • Protein:
    • Support muscle repair and growth.
    • Examples: Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, legumes, and plant-based protein sources.
  • Hydration:
    • Rehydrate by drinking water throughout the recovery period.
  • Electrolytes:
    • If you had an intense or prolonged workout, consider consuming foods or beverages with electrolytes to restore balance.
    • Examples: Sports drinks, coconut water, or foods rich in potassium (e.g., bananas).

Post-Training Meal or Snack Ideas:

  • Protein Smoothie:
    • Blend together protein powder, a banana, Greek yogurt, and a handful of berries.
  • Chicken or Tofu Salad:
    • Combine grilled chicken or tofu with mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and quinoa.
  • Whole-Grain Wrap:
    • Fill a whole-grain wrap with lean turkey or chicken, veggies, and hummus.
  • Quinoa Bowl:
    • Mix cooked quinoa with black beans, avocado, salsa, and grilled chicken.
  • Omelette:
    • Make an omelette with eggs, spinach, tomatoes, and feta cheese.

Snack Options:

  • Nut Butter on Whole-Grain Toast:
    • Spread almond or peanut butter on whole-grain toast for a quick and satisfying snack.
  • Cottage Cheese with Pineapple:
    • Enjoy a bowl of cottage cheese with fresh pineapple.
  • Hummus with Veggie Sticks:
    • Dip carrot and cucumber sticks into hummus for a nutrient-rich snack.
  • Trail Mix:
    • Create a trail mix with nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and a touch of dark chocolate.

Gear Recommendations:

This article is getting kind of long so I’ll go over a few things that are a must to focus on when you’re training. Invest in quality products and you should be good to go.

11. Footwear:

Not all hiking shoes/boots are the same and more often than not, you get what you pay for. This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Invest in high-quality hiking boots with solid ankle support. Another nice add-on is purchasing a nice pair of moisture-wicking socks. Believe me, you need to do what you can to prevent blisters!

12. Backpack:

Opt for a backpack with adjustable straps and multiple compartments. Make sure you are picking the right piece of gear for the job. You don’t need a 50L pack for a one day trip and a 20L will not do for a 5 day adventure. Make sure it fits well and distributes weight evenly on your back.

13. Clothing:

When you’re training for longer hikes, it’s important to wear the proper attire. There are plenty of great options out there but make sure you focus on tops and bottoms that have moisture-wicking base layers so you don’t end up chaffing or receiving a nasty rash. As I mentioned in the beginning of the article, always check the weather so you know what to bring along with you.

14. Trekking Poles:

Trekking poles are so underrated it’s criminal. Even if you’re an absolute beginner, I highly recommend grabbing a set of these to help you through your journey. They are incredibly useful in more ways than one. They provide stability and reduce strain on joints and are especially useful for challenging terrains and descents.

15. Navigation Tools:

It’s not a bad idea to have a tangible map, compass, and/or GPS device on you that isn’t your phone. You can even incorporate in your training regimen by turning off your phone and relying on the old school way of getting around. You can even turn it into a fun game! If you do, make sure you familiarize yourself with their usage well before a challenging hike. You don’t want to be really lost and not know how to get out of your situation intact.

Mental Preparation:

Sometimes we need to mentally prepare ourselves before we undertake a strenuous activity. These few techniques can actually enhance your performance. Check out this article for a more detailed explanation – How Imagery and Visualization Can Improve Athletic Performance. I’ll list a few of the main points below –

16. Visualization:

  • Positive Imagery:
    • Close your eyes and visualize yourself successfully completing the strenuous activity.
    • Imagine the specific movements, actions, and positive outcomes.
    • Focus on the sensations of accomplishment, strength, and resilience.
  • Mental Rehearsal:
    • Mentally rehearse the key steps and sequences of the activity.
    • Picture yourself moving through each phase with precision and confidence.
    • Pay attention to your form, technique, and the fluidity of your movements.

17. Mindfulness Techniques:

  • Positive Affirmations:
    • Pair positive affirmations with your visualization.
    • Repeat phrases like “I am strong,” “I am capable,” and “I can overcome challenges” to reinforce a positive mindset.
  • Confidence Boosting:
    • Build confidence by visualizing past successful performances or achievements.
    • Recall moments when you demonstrated strength, determination, and resilience.
    • Carry that confidence into the upcoming strenuous activity.

Whew… that was a long one! If you’ve stuck around this long, I thank you! A last few pointers. Remember to gradually increase the duration and intensity of your hikes as you go. Always test your gear, especially footwear and backpack, on shorter trails to make sure they are adequate for the undertaking at hand. Train on surfaces similar to your target trail, including uphill and downhill slopes, and of course enjoy the ride!

Learning how to train for a hike is a multistep process that goes beyond physical conditioning. If you focus on the targeted exercises, maintain a well-balanced diet, and invest in the right gear, you will elevate your hiking experience to a whole new level. Remember, successful hiking is a combination of preparation, determination, and a deep appreciation for the journey. Lace up your boots, train diligently, and embrace the trails with confidence. Your adventure awaits!

Author

  • James Ryan

    A seasoned hiker and adventurer who loves to travel and experience new things. An extrovert and creative at heart, James is most definitely a "People Person". He started this blog in the hopes of making somebody's day just a bit brighter!

Similar Posts