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Hiking Training Plan for Long Distance Hikes

Everyone starts from somewhere.  If you have ever found yourself marveling at those who have completed the Appalachian Trail, or climbed the Cactus to Clouds Trail, or completed a Rim to Rim hike in the Grand Canyon, just remember – they started from zero at some point and worked their way up to achieving those long distance hiking goals.  You can safely assume they followed an intentional training plan to get there, which is usually the toughest and first hurdle to get through in training for a long distance hiking goal.  Where to start?  If you are searching for a simple, straightforward, realistic training plan for your long distance hike, you’re in the right place.  This hiking training plan for long distance hikes will walk you step by step through creating a continuous and supportive hiking training plan from the first step all the way to your final goal.  

 

Long distance hiking training plan

Disclosure: Below are some affiliate links-these are all products I highly recommend. I won’t make any recommendations on this page that I haven’t tested or personally used! Enjoy this hiking training plan for long distance hikes.

 

 

The Basics of an Effective Hiking Training Plan

 

One thing I have learned as a long distance endurance junkie (ultras, marathons, half marathons, long distance hikes, long distance cycling), is that there are a few overarching basics that are present in any training plan for a long distance endurance goal, including a hiking training plan for long distance hikes:

  • Step 1: Developing a Baseline
  • Step 2:Gradual and Intentional Hiking Increments
  • Step 3: Implementing Effective Cross Training
  • Step 4: Allowing for Rest
  • Step 5: Beneficial Fueling and Hydration
  • Step 6: Putting It All Together

All of these factors will show up on the hiking training calendar I will present later, so be sure to keep reading!  I know how much people love an actual, visual calendar!  But first, let’s talk about each of these individual parts.

 

 

Who is this Hiking Training Plan For?

 

Any beginner hiker who is new to the type of endurance / cardio training required for long distance hiking.  Or anyone who has experience but has taken a break and looking to get back into long distance hiking.  

 

 

Step 1: Developing a Baseline

 

If you are a beginner hiking starting from scratch, it would be foolish to assume you could walk up tomorrow and go from zero to hiking 10 miles.  Before you get into the nitty gritty of a targeted hiking training plan for your long distance hike, you NEED  to have a solid foundation.  This is what I refer to as your hiking baseline.  

 

  • Hiking Baseline = 30 minutes of sustained, moderate cardio, 3 – 4 days a week.

 

WHAT you are doing to develop your hiking baseline is not as important as HOW you do it at this stage.  The aim is 30 solid minutes of cardio, whether that’s biking, running, brisk walking, HIIT workouts, swimming, etc.  At a moderate effort level (think a 4 or 5 on a 1-10 scale).  Or another way of looking at this is you should be able to hold a conversation at this level.  And finally, you’re doing these workouts consistently throughout each week.

 

When developing your baseline, it is ok to take a break during your workouts.  Workout for 15 minutes, take a 2-3 minute break, and work out for another 15 minutes for example.  

 

To summarize:

  • 30 minutes of cardio
  • 3-4 times a week
  • Moderate effort level
  • Biking, running, brisk walking, HIIT workouts, swimming, etc. (sustained effort workouts)
  • Breaks OK

 

 

What should you NOT do while developing your baseline?

 

Don’t overdo it.  You don’t need to add extra weights, or start trying to hike with a fully loaded backpack or anything.  And don’t force yourself to do something you don’t like.  If you hate swimming, then don’t add swimming to your baseline plan.  The point is to stay motivated, so pick workouts that you will enjoy.  This will go a long way to also help prevent burnout.  Your goal is to develop consistency and foundation.  

 

 

Tricks for Developing Consistency

 

The #1 thing I recommend to clients as a part of all my long distance endurance training plans (half marathon, marathon, cycling, hiking, etc) is to develop a TRAINING CALENDAR.  I’ll get into this in more detail during STEP 6 below, where we put all of this together in a cohesive plan, but even when developing an initial baseline, get in the habit of having your calendar handy and PLANNING out your workouts and training days IN ADVANCE.

 

I literally do this exact thing for all my long distance endurance goals. 

 

  • Hiking the Rim to Rim to Rim?  I plan out my long hike days, short hike days, cross training days, and rest days 4 MONTHS in advance (at least, sometimes longer, like this year’s 24 weeks) on my calendar.  Here’s what WEEK 1 looks like on my own personal R2R2R training calendar:
Hiking training plan for the Rim to Rim to Rim hike
Week 1 snippet of my own personal Rim to Rim to Rim hiking training calendar

 

  • Running a Half Marathon?  I plan out my long run days, short run days, cross training days, and rest days 4 MONTHS in advance on my calendar.  My most recent half marathon was just last month, and here’s a little snippet of WEEK 1:
Half marathon training calendar
Week 1 snippet of my own personal half marathon training calendar

 

  • Hiking California’s Mt. Whitney?  Here’s what WEEK 11 looked like for me last year (unfortunately I didn’t win the annual Mt. Whitney lottery for this year, but I’ll keep trying every year):
Hiking training calendar for Mt. Whitney
Week 1 of my Mt. Whitney hiking training calendar

 

You get the picture.  I have every week of my entire training calendar scheduled out for the entire duration.

 

This may sound insane to some of you, but it is the BEST thing you can possibly do to stick with your plan, maintain consistency, and fight off the mental talk that will inevitably tell you to just train “when you have the time”  

 

You won’t.  Unless you set aside the time in advance.  Once you do, it’s amazing how other things tend to fall into place around your training.  

 

You’ll have access to an example hiking training calendar later in this post, but for now, I highly recommend you start PLANNING in advance.  Grab your calendar and a pencil NOW.  If you have a specific hike in mind that you are training for, start doing the mental math to count backwards to when you need to start training. 

 

For example, if you are wanting to hike the iconic Rim to Rim hike in the Grand Canyon in October (the best month to hike it), and you want to give yourself 4 months to train and 2 months to develop your baseline, then you need to start planning out your calendar in April.

 

***This is 2nd nature for some people, like myself, and a foreign language to others.  If you fall in the latter category, and know that this may be a hurdle for you to getting STARTED, I can help you with that.  I offer 1 time training calendar consults to develop a customized, individualized training calendar just for you.  Your strengths, your weaknesses, your preferences, your goals, all simplified into a handy calendar just for you.  You can take a look at this INTEREST FORM to get started if this is something that would be beneficial to you, and one less obstacle standing in the way of your goal.  

 

 

What are Some Additional Tricks to Maintaining Consistency?

 

  • Anticipate obstacles and pitfalls.  Plan ahead when you can and make adjustments when possible.  
  • Mix in new forms of beneficial cross training to mix things up and maintain interest.  
  • Enjoy a “destination” trail that is different from your regular local training trails.
  • Treat yourself to your favorite music, book, or podcast while you train.  
  • If you enjoy the head clearing of a solo workout, then go solo, and enjoy that time to yourself.  If you need the accountability of a buddy, then find a training buddy.  Know what motivates you.  
  • Set a small goal and reward yourself.  This could be completing all your cross training and practice hike days for the entire month, and rewarding yourself with a new workout shirt.

 

 

How Do You Know When You’re Ready to Move On Past Baseline?

 

  • When you can workout for 30 straight minutes without breaks
  • When you are consistently workout out for 3-4 days a week

 

 

Step 2: Gradual and Intentional Hiking Increments

 

Once your baseline is established, it’s time to add in those gradual hiking increments.  If you have a foundation of hiking, you can start there.  If you are a beginner, start low (think the hiking equivalent of 30 minutes sustained cardio at a moderate level).

For example:

  • If you have a recent foundation of hiking 5 or so miles a couple times a month, that should be your starting point for your hiking increments. 
  • If you are brand new, once your baseline is developed, you can hike for 30 – 40 minutes, which usually equates to around 2 miles.  So I would recommend a beginner start their first increments around 2 miles.  

 

 

What Do I Mean By Increments?

 

You should NEVER attempt to hike 2 miles one week, and 12 miles the next.  An effective hiking training plan for long distance hikes takes time to implement, and this is to help prevent injury.

Here’s an example:

 

Week 1:

  • Wednesday – 2 mile hike / Saturday 5 mile hike

Week 2: 

  • Wednesday 2 mile hike / Saturday 5 mile hike

Week 3:

  • Wednesday 2 mile hike / Saturday 6 mile hike

Week 4:

  • Wednesday 3 mile hike / Saturday 6 mile hike

Week 5:

  • Wednesday 3 mile hike / Saturday 7 mile hike

 

Yes, I do recommend doing a short training hike and a long training hike each week.  If you can only do 1, make it the long one, but two is best.  

 

*Wondering what this looks like as a visual?  Keep reading!

 

 

What About Effort Level on Training Hikes?

 

Once you’ve established that baseline, you should be able to up your effort level during your targeted training phase.  

 

Hike at 75% effort level, with as few breaks as necessary.  When you do break, try to limit it to 1-2 minutes.  Once you are able to consistently do that, up your effort level to 85%, then 90%, etc.  By the last few weeks before your hike, you should be at 100% effort level with minimal need to break.

 

Of course, there are a few notes to make about this.  If you are climbing up a consistent 2,000 feet of elevation gain, I don’t expect a continuous 100% effort the entire time without breaks. “Read the room” and listen to your body in those situations, while giving it as much as you can reasonably sustain.  

 

But if you are hiking a 2 mile long section of relatively low elevation gain, give it your all without breaking.  This should be the ultimate goal to work up to.  You’ll notice over time, that even with those more challenging, uphill sections of trails, once you are near the end of your training plan, you’ll be able to tackle even those portions at 75% effort.

 

Gradually.  Intentionally.  Incrementally.

 

 

Can I Jump Ahead on My Increments?

 

I highly recommend NOT doing this.  I know there will be some days where you are feeling so good you just know you could hike 10 miles instead of the 6 you are slated for, but resist that temptation.  Increments are beneficial in the long run.  You will have great days, and you will have off days, but stick with your plan (and your planned out training calendar).

 

Sometimes people don’t give themselves enough time to really allow for increments.  If this is the case, you may be able to find some wiggle room, but be honest with yourself and your abilities, and determine if maybe you should wait to tackle that big hike.  Nothing is worse than becoming a liability to yourself (or even worse, others), because you were not adequately prepared.  You also put yourself at a greatly increased risk of injury if you do not allow your body time to adjust to what it is learning to do.  

 

So if your permit to hike Mt. Whitney is in August, and it’s the end of June and you haven’t started training, seriously consider waiting till next year.  Which is a hard pill to swallow, as you’re not guaranteed to win that Mt. Whitney lottery again (and I would know – I have a 25% win rate).  But it’s still the right decision.

 

 

Step 3: Implementing Effective Cross Training

 

Once your baseline is established, and you are honing in on training for your upcoming long distance hike, it is time to put effective cross training into place.  This should be customized to benefit you the most, but also to benefit the type of hike you are after. 

 

I mentioned a few sustained cardio examples above that are great cross training options for long distance hiking:

  • Biking
  • Running
  • Brisk Walking
  • HIIT workouts
  • Swimming
  • Elliptical (plus other gym cardio)
  • Stair Climbing

 

At this stage in your long distance hiking training plan, your cross training should be BENEFICIAL to your hike.  A slow walk with your dogs is not a great long term option to help you prepare for the Cactus to Cloud hike, for example.  Yoga is great for a rest day, but not ideal as a regular form of cardio to help prep for climbing 6,000 feet.  A good deal of your cross training should focus on your lower body muscles, so there might be a problem if you’re doing bicep curls for cross training every day.  Make sure your cross training is relevant and targeted, and don’t be afraid to mix it up.  

 

Focus on:

Cross training that you’re interested in that ALSO is beneficial for long distance hiking training.  And keep in mind the type of long distance hike you’re after.  If there’s serious elevation gain, you’ll probably want to mix in stair climbing in some form, for example.  If there’s an environmental factor like exposure or heat or cold, you may want to mix in some practice hikes replicating those conditions.  

 

My own personal forms of cross training involve long distance biking, trail running, brisk walking, and HIIT workouts throughout each week.  I even have a free HIIT home workout routine that you can do from anywhere!

 

If you have access to a gym, then by all means use the cardio equipment there.  If you have a treadmill at home, great, just be sure to increase that incline!  No gym?  No problem.  Go for a trail run, do a HIIT workout, or hop on a bike.  To be clear, a leisurely bike ride around the block won’t cut it at this point.  You need to be on that bike for at least an hour, tackling as much elevation as you can.   

 

 

How Often to Cross Train?

 

You’re ready to up your cross training days to 4 a week at this stage.  Keep in mind that this allows for 2 practice hikes each week (short and long), and at least 1 rest day.  

 

 

How Long Should Each Cross Training Session Be?

 

Aim for an hour if possible.  If you have less time, go for a 30 minute run, for example, but give it 75% effort at least, with no breaks if possible.  You can also mix and match (30 minute run with 30 minutes of a HIIT workout).

 

 

Step 4: Allowing for Rest

 

Yes, you should have at least 1 rest day each week while you are intensely training for your long distance hike.  When I develop training calendars for my clients, I will also intentionally build in an additional rest day every couple of weeks, or swap out a practice hike on some weeks, to allow for a little extra recuperation.  

 

Rest is a critical component of a long distance hiking training plan. Ironically, there are some days you will be feeling so great that you really want to go for an extra hike or a run, but if it is your rest day, follow your plan.  Rest days are just as important as training days.  And they help reduce the risk of injury or overuse, which can derail an entire training plan, and in some cases, you won’t be able to come back from in time.  

 

 

Step 5: Beneficial Fueling and Hydration

 

This is an important part of endurance training.  It helps to keep you going, as well as recover.  Not only that though, it helps you learn what works for you and what doesn’t, so you know on the day of your hike.  You NEVER want to try something new the day of your hike that you haven’t already tried during your training hikes.  

 

I made the mistake once on a Rim to Rim hike of trying a new supplement for the 1st time the morning of my hike, because I heard someone raving about it.  It did NOT agree with me, and made for a miserable 1st half of my hike, in an environment where you really don’t want to be miserable.  As an experienced hiker and runner, this was a rookie mistake I shouldn’t have made, but I let my guard down.  Don’t ever try something new on hike day.  Practice with your fueling and hydration during your training hikes.  

 

*Not only should you be practicing with your fueling and hydration, but you should be practicing with your gear as well, especially in the latter portion of your training plan.  Start hiking with the gear you plan to use on hike day.  If you’re backpacking, do a few long practice hikes with a fully loaded pack.  

 

Here’s an article on the best hiking snacks and foods that may be helpful in starting out.  

 

 

Step 6: Putting Your Hiking Training Plan All Together

 

In order to make all the steps of a long distance hiking training plan work harmoniously together, it’s best to put them all together right from the beginning.  One of the biggest keys to success is to not just understand each step as a single part, but to see them as an overarching whole.  

 

As I’ve mentioned before, I will push having a targeted training calendar as the #1 thing you can do to increase your odds of successfully completing a hiking training plan for long distance hikes.  All these steps are parts of the training plan, but a training calendar is what really cements it together, and makes your hiking training plan straightforward, targeted, and cohesive.  

 

As promised, here’s a few weekly snippets of previous clients’ hiking training calendars that I have personally developed, with their input.  

 

  • Client #1 (training for a 24 mile long day hike):

Hiking training calendar example

 

  • Client #2 (training for a 22 mile long day hike):

Hiking training calendar example

 

  • Client #3 (training for a 24 mile long day hike):

Hiking training calendar example

 

As you can see, these hiking training plan weekly snippets are all different, because they were developed with each individual client, and they reflect their baselines, goals, preferences, strengths, and weaknesses, in addition to the actual hike they were training for.  

 

Want to see an EXAMPLE 16 WEEK Hiking Training Calendar?  

 

 

Why Don’t I Offer a DETAILED Hiking Training Calendar?

 

You can find generic hiking training calendars online, but there’s a problem with making this your ENTIRE blueprint. 

  • First of all, NOBODY really knows how long you need to complete the hikes you are after unless they have actually talked to you. 
  • Secondly, these generic hiking training calendars don’t take into account your PARTICULAR hike.  What distances will you be able to complete when following a generic hiking training calendar? If you are just wanting to go on a couple 5 mile hikes over the summer and want to get in shape to do that, then a generic hiking calendar can work for you.  If you have a targeted goal in mind, then a generic hiking training calendar probably won’t address everything. 
  • Lastly, these generic calendars won’t take into account what cross training is best for you.  Nobody can fill this in for you without talking with you first.  

 

A generic hiking training plan can be the skeleton of your plan, but if you want to fill in the MUSCLES, you have two options. 

  • Sit down with your calendar and create your own individualized hiking training plan that addresses the timeframe you need, the increments you need, and the cross training you need. 
  • Or let me help you with this first and crucial step.

 

***If you are interested in developing your OWN individualized hiking training plan for long distance hikes, you can visit my coaching services page or my FB page for more info on rates, details, and contact info, or just fill out this INTEREST FORM to get started!

 

You’ll get a training calendar developed just for you, with your input, that reflects your strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and goals.  You won’t just get a generic training calendar, you’ll get one that is planned out with all your cross training, weekly hiking increments, and rest days.  Plus extra things like taper week, which is a bonus topic not discussed in this article.  

 

So here’s that INTEREST FORM one more time…

 

 

Additional Tips for Your Hiking Training Plan

 

  • Don’t forget to warm up and cool down when training.  
  • Familiarize yourself with your hiking trail and logistics beforehand.
  • Have all the gear you need, and have tested it out prior – here’s a handy day hiking gear checklist and a complete backpacking checklist!
  • Always bring plenty of water!
  • Consider your diet during your hiking training plan, and eat as healthily as possible (think fruits, veggies, whole grains, and healthy carbs like sweet potatoes).  Check out this post for more ideas.
  • Listen to your body – if it’s telling you it needs an extra rest day, or that something is wrong, be sure to listen to it.  Don’t push through.  Just be sure to differentiate between your body and your mind talking.  It’s normal for your mind to talk to you by saying it would rather watch Netflix than go on a 12 mile practice hike, but that doesn’t mean you should.  But if your body is telling you it feels a twinge of pain in your right knee, listen to that.  
  • Get plenty of rest at night (and on your rest days).
  • You’re allowed to have off days (and you will).  
  • Track your training hikes with an app.  You’ll be surprised to notice over time that your pace is quickening, your breaks are shortening, and your splits are improving.  This is a great motivator to keep going on these lengthier hiking training plans.  
  • Incorporate activity into your dates, hangouts, family time, day to day schedule, etc.  Go on a bike ride date.  Ask a friend to join you for a brisk walk instead of a glass of wine.   Grab a carrier (like this Osprey Poco carrier that I LOVE) and bring your kid along on the hike with you!  Walk when you could drive.  Take the stairs when you can.  Look for opportunities.
  • Don’t forget the hike specifics of your trail.  For example, if you’re hiking long distance at an altitude of 14,000 feet, you are going to want to address acclimating.  You might want to arrive several days early to help with that process, and get some training hikes done at altitude.  Or if you’re hiking in a desert, you may want to look into how early you can start, and how early you can finish.  Don’t forget these factors.
  • Remember your goal.  It’s easy to lose track during the tougher days, but remind yourself it will be worth it.  

 

Additional Resources:

 

 

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Hiking training plan for long distances

 

Hiking training plan for long distances hikes

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