How to train for a hike
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How to Train for A Hike: Complete Step by Step Plan

There’s nothing quite like standing on the top of a mountain or in the depths of a canyon.  Or completing a multi day backpacking trek or a 25 mile long endurance day hike.  But how do you get there?  The reasons for hiking are many, as are the rewards, but the basics of a hiking training plan remain the same.  Learn everything you need to know for how to train for a hike with this complete step by step plan!

 

How to train for a hike

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 guide on how to train for a hike – any hike!

The Basics of How to Train for a Hike

 

Not all hikes are the same, and no one hiking training plan is the same either.  There are lots of factors to consider, most importantly building endurance, strength, and stamina, while proactively preventing injuries, overuse, and burnout.  The important thing is to create a realistic plan for you that you will be consistent with.  Here are some guiding steps for creating your own plan for how to train for a hike!

 

 

What are Your Hiking Goals?

 

Your hiking goals should help determine how to train for a hike in your specific situation.  

 

Are you hiking to lose weight?  Then training for a hike should also include long term commitments to nutrition and other forms of cardio cross training.  You don’t necessarily need to worry about the specific amount of elevation gain you’re getting or acclimating to environmental elements.

 

Are you hiking to build a foundation for more consistent hiking long term?  Building a good foundation of moderate and consistent weekly hikes is a good way to go, but you don’t need to be overly aggressive with your training.

 

Are you training for a particular hike, like a high altitude, high elevation gain, or iconic long distance hike, like the Grand Canyon’s Rim to Rim hike?  Then you will want to replicate and focus on the specific elements of your goal hike.  For altitude hikes, you’ll want to acclimate.  For high elevation gain hikes, you’ll want to incorporate lots of climbing days.  For long distance hikes, you’ll want to focus on gradual mileage increments over time. 

 

There are many other types of hikers and hiking goals out there.  Which one are you?

 

Training for hiking in the Grand Canyon
Hiking in the Grand Canyon

 

 

What Kind of Hiking are You Training For?

 

As mentioned before, how to train for a hike largely depends on what kind of hiking you are hoping to do?

 

If you just want to get out more on your own local trails more regularly, then your hiking training should largely be molded by your local trails.  If you live in Colorado and plan to hike more mountains, you’ll want to train by acclimating to higher altitudes, as well as really targeting leg days!  Tackle plenty of big climbs, and supplement with cross training days that include stair climbing (like running stadium stairs, or using the elliptical or Jacobs Ladder at the gym).  

 

If you are planning to tackle exposed, flat, desert hikes, then you can hone in on pace and speed, as well as acclimating to heat.  

 

If you are after certain long distance hikes, then you’ll want to emphasize full body conditioning, including stamina and endurance for sustained output, as well as pace, stamina, and nutrition.

 

If you are after a particular one time hike, then that should determine your hiking training.  Training for a one time hike is different from training for a long term lifestyle change (though one can influence the other).  Regardless of what kind of hiking goals or what kind of hike you are training for, you should always start with developing a baseline foundation.  

 

Hiking 14'ers in Colorado
Hiking 14’ers in Colorado

 

 

Getting Started

 

Knowing where you are currently is important.  You cannot expect to have never hiked a mile, and start hiking 10 miles on your first go. Before you start training for a hike, realistically assess  your current foundation, and if you don’t have one, begin by developing that.

 

 

Developing a Baseline Foundation

 

Every endurance event, from training for a long hike, to training for a half marathon, should start with having a baseline foundation.  A solid foundation is necessary to BUILD on.  A solid foundation will hold up to the additional “weight” you add to it over time.

 

What does a baseline foundation look like for hiking?

  • Being able to perform moderate, sustained cardio for 30 minutes, 2-3 times a week.

 

This could be a 30 minute moderate hike.  Or a moderate 30 minute bike ride.  Or a moderate 30 minute trail run.  Or a moderate 30 minute HIIT workout or strength training workout.  Better yet, make it a combination of these – develop a baseline foundation by completing 30 minute moderate hikes as well as 30 minutes of other moderate forms of cross training.  

 

When is it time to move on and BUILD onto your baseline foundation? 

  • When you are consistently doing 30 minutes of moderate and sustained exercise (hopefully including moderate hikes) 2-3 times a week, comfortably.  If this is still difficult for you, then keep building.

 

Once you have your baseline foundation, you can build onto it appropriately, based on the type of hike or hiking training you are after.

 

For example, if you are planning to hike the 21 mile long Mount Whitney Trail in California, once you have your baseline foundation, you can start building on to it by increasing your weekly mileage in gradual increments, as well as engaging in targeted cross training 3-4 times a week.

 

Did you know I offer 1:1 Coaching Plans for the Mount Whitney hike?

 

 

Knowing What’s Available to You

 

In order to train for a hike the most effectively and efficiently, it’s important to know what’s available to you.  This includes researching trails and being familiar with them.  Do they suit your needs, or will you need to “compensate” with other forms of training, like cross training?

 

For example, if you are planning to hike the Cactus to Cloud Trail, but you live in flat Florida, you’re going to want to figure out a plan for getting in that climbing practice.  Whether that’s running loops on the biggest hills you can find, or climbing your office stairwell on repeat, or doing Jacob Ladder workouts at your gym.  

 

Be sure you know what’s available to you, and what you can build a realistic hiking training plan with that you will stick with.  

 

Now let’s get into steps to take when creating your hiking training plan.

 

 

Researching Training Trails

 

What trails will you train on?  Take some time to investigate which trails will be best for your purpose.  Apps like AllTrails and Hiking Project are good examples of where to start researching.  Check out the ratings, the elevation profiles, the exposure, and the distance.  Replication is important, especially if you are training for a specific hike in particular.  

 

 

Establish Your Timeframe

 

Even if you aren’t after a specific hike, and are maybe just looking to start a more consistent hiking lifestyle, you can still give yourself a timeframe to accomplish that goal.  Timeframes will help keep you committed and accountable, and when it comes to goal setting, measurable is key!  Witnessing progress is important, so set a goal for your own timeframe.

 

If you are after a particular hike, especially a seasonal hike (one that is best during summer, or one that you can’t hike in the winter due to road closures), then you’ll want to think backwards and determine where you are now, and how long it will take to get ready for that particular hike. 

 

Generally speaking, for most challenging hikes, several months (12-16 weeks) minimum is a good place to start, though it may require longer to build a baseline foundation first.  On the other hand, some hikes out there need a full year or more to train for.  Do your research, and be sure to allow for a realistic timeframe.  But regardless, set one!

 

 

Creating a Hiking Training Calendar

 

This goes hand in hand with establishing a timeframe.  Creating a hiking training calendar is the #1 thing I can recommend for reaching your hiking goal and staying consistent.  If you plan to hike “when you have time” there will always be something that comes up.  

 

So grab your calendar and start filling in those dates ahead of time, in advance, today!  You’d be amazed once training is scheduled in on a visual calendar, how things that come up tend to be able to be worked around your hiking training.  

 

What does a hiking training calendar actually look like? 

Here’s what an example of a Rim to Rim hiking training calendar looks like.  Below you can see the training days for short and long weekly hikes, cross training days, and rest days.  All scheduled out 4 months in advance.  And this is just one example.

 

16 Week Rim to Rim Training Schedule
16 Week Rim to Rim training schedule

 

Get a FREE training calendar HERE!

 

Below are a few weekly snippets from hiking training calendars I have developed with clients.  You can see that each one is individualized for that particular client’s needs, including the best forms of cross training for them specifically.  If you are interested in 1:1 coaching to help develop an INDIVIDUALIZED hiking training calendar that’s tailored to YOU, fill out this INTEREST FORM to get started!

 

 

Consistency

 

Commit to consistency.  That’s where a training calendar comes in really handy.  However you go about it though, progress and growth are almost entirely dependent on consistency, so be sure you are realistically able to do that when training for a hike.

 

 

Gradual Increments

 

Always progress with gradual increments.  Whether it is the distances of your hikes, or the amount of elevation gain you are tackling, or the intensity of your cross training workouts.  Don’t ever go from 0 to 100 overnight.  That is a recipe for injury.

 

Another reason to know your timeframe, and be sure that it allows for safe, gradual growth over time.  That’s how you keep that solid foundation on which to build.

 

 

How to Train for a Hike With Cross Training

 

Regardless of your hiking goals or the kind of hike you are training for, cross training should be a part of your plan.  

 

Especially if you don’t have access to a certain characteristic of the hike you are training for (elevation gain, distance, etc.).  Cross training is not only a whole body approach to keeping your muscle systems and entire body working in harmony to stay strong and prevent injury, but it is also a way of compensating for a factor you don’t have access to.  

 

As mentioned before, an example of this is not having high elevation access or high elevation gain hikes.  If this is the type of hike you are training for, you’ll want to find ways to get in some climbing otherwise. 

 

When it comes to strength training workouts, what exactly are some of the best exercises you can do to train for a hike?

  • Squats (throw in some single leg and jump squats too)
  • Planks (and side planks)
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Lunges (variations including forward, backwards, and side)
  • Step Ups
  • Bridges

This FREE at home HIIT workout “path” allows you to customize an effective 30 minute hiking training workout!

 

 

How to Train for a Hike at the Gym

 

The gym is a great place to train for a hike!  Of course, nothing beats training outside on actual trails, especially if they replicate the type of hike you are training for, but it can be a huge advantage to know how to train for a hike at the gym.

 

If you are training for a long distance hike, cardio at the gym can be beneficial.  Running is a great form of cross training for long distance endurance hikes, and every gym has a treadmill that can be adjusted for incline (great for elevation gain practice as well).  If there’s a lot of climbing involved in your hiking training, ellipticals or Jacob Ladders are great tools to use.  If you need a low impact form of cross training, use the gym pool!  There are a lot of possibilities on how to train for a hike at the gym.  And don’t forget, you can do a high intensity interval workout or strength training workout at the gym too, with or without added weights.

 

 

Don’t Forget Rest 

 

Rest often is overlooked because it is not as glamorous, but it is extremely important.  There’s a whole science to why rest days are crucial, but the bottom line here is to take them!  At least 1 a week, possibly 2.  

 

While you may think you’ll get more out of a training hike, rest actually makes you a stronger hiker.  So you are progressing even when you rest.  Don’t skip your rest days.  Include them on your hiking training calendar.  At least one rest day a week after your biggest training hike is a good idea.

 

Rest days don’t have to mean sitting on the couch and not moving all day.  Active recovery can take many different forms:

  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Short walk
  • Easy spin on the bike
  • Foam Rolling
  • Stretching
  • A good night’s sleep!

 

 

How to Train for a Hike at Altitude

 

Assuming a high altitude hike contains lots of elevation gain, you’ll want to get your body ready for that specifically.  If you have high elevation gain / high altitude trails to train on, by all means use them!  Natural replication is the best thing!  If you don’t, make sure that you get the practice in elsewhere by running stadium stairs, or climbing the Jacobs Ladder.  Throw in some HIIT workouts and hiking targeted strength training that includes lots of sets like lunges, squats, step ups, planks, and mountain climbers.  

 

Besides the physical preparation, you’ll want to build in the time to properly acclimate to high altitude prior to your hike.  Again, if you have it available to you, it’ll be much easier to acclimate slowly over time.  If you don’t, then you will want to give yourself a few days prior to a high altitude hike to acclimate by spending a few hours each day prior at high altitude, doing some light, easy cross training.  A short, easy 2 mile hike, for example.  Any type of time spent at high altitude can help acclimate.

 

For high altitude hikes, you will always want to be aware of the signs of altitude sickness, and know what steps to take if you experience them.  Most cases of altitude sickness occur over 8,000 feet, so take this into account when training for your hike.  Altitude sickness can vary from person to person, but some of the common symptoms are headaches, loss of appetite, fatigue, nausea, and dizziness.  If you begin to experience these symptoms, you will want to descend immediately!  

 

How can you help prevent the symptoms of altitude sickness?  

  • Hydrate consistently, before and during your hike.  
  • Avoid alcohol consumption.
  • Get plenty of sleep leading up to your hike.  
  • Fuel appropriately before and during your hike. 
  • Give yourself adequate time to acclimate at elevation. 
  • Painkillers can help with some symptoms like headaches.
  • Descend!  This is the most surefire way to alleviate symptoms of altitude sickness.

 

Training for a hike at 13,000 feet
Hiking at 13,000 feet in Nevada!

 

 

How to Train for a Hike with Elevation Gain

 

You always want to train for sustained output in proportion to your hike distance, regardless of the amount of elevation gain.  But when there is a healthy dose of uphill, you’ll want to train appropriately.  Target the legs and lower body with plenty of sustained climbing.  Whether that’s tackling actual trails with several thousand feet of gain, or utilizing stadium stairs, ellipticals, or Jacob Ladder workouts.  Or both.

 

And don’t forget easy hiking exercises you can do from anywhere – HIIT routines and strength training that targets the muscles needed for climbing, including moves like squats, lunges, step ups, planks, and mountain climbers.

 

Training for a hike with elevation gain
A successful solo hike of California’s Mt. Whitney and its 6,000+ feet of elevation gain and 99 switchbacks!

 

 

How to Train for a Hike with Elements

 

If your hiking comes with certain environmental elements, like intense heat or cold, you will want to replicate these conditions when you are training for your hike.  Do this safely by acclimating slowly and in gradual doses, and always be prepared with the right gear for the environment you are training to hike in.  And as always, a big part of dealing with elements is fine tuning your hydration and fueling plan.  Know what hydration system you will utilize that will allow you to proactively and consistently stay hydrated.  Know what fuels work best for you, and for intense or longer hikes, make sure that you are replacing electrolytes as well as fueling with nutrient rich foods at least once an hour.  

Check out this list of the best hiking snacks for your next hike!

 

Hiking in Greenland
Hiking in Greenland

 

 

How to Train for a Hike with Long Distance

 

With or without elevation gain, long distance hiking training plans should target sustained output over a long period of time, as well as pace.  It’s about training your body to go, go, go!  You’ll want to go about this by gradually increasing your hiking mileage over time, as well as targeted cross training aimed at building and maintaining stamina.  If there is elevation gain and climbing involved in your long distance hike, then make sure to address that as well with targeted cross training days or replicating on actual hiking trails.  But whatever you do, if you are planning to hike 25 miles in one day, make sure that you actually train your body to do just that in practice.  

 

 

How to Train for a Hike with the Right Gear

 

Below are a few recommended items of hiking essentials.  This is not an exhaustive list!

 

  • Environmental Protection:
  • Snacks:
  • Emergency/First Aid Kit:
  • The Right Layers:

 

  • Navigation:

 

  • Emergency Shelter:

(Another option is a SOL Bivy for emergency shelter)

  • Personal Items:

 

  • Fire

 

Hiking essentials checklsit

Get your hiking essentials checklist below – plus #11!

*Want this checklist as a handy download? 

Get your own printable day hiking checklist here!

 

If you are backpacking, your backpacking essentials checklist will look different than a day hiking essentials checklist!

 

Whatever you go with, make sure that you use the gear you practice with.  Don’t try anything new the morning of a big 30 mile hike.  Make sure that you have invested in GOOD, QUALITY hiking gear, as your gear can literally make or break you!

 

Particular hikes may require a specialized gear checklist to deal with environmental elements, for example.  Like this Grand Canyon gear list that addresses the specifics of hiking in this desert environment.

 

Consider the specialty gear you may need for your particular hike.  Trekking poles are a gear item that help many hikers traverse steep uphills and downhills, by relieving some of the impact on the knees.  Depending on your terrain, you may be better off with a trail runner than a traditional hiking boot.

 

 

How to Train for a Hike with Hydration and Nutrition

 

Don’t skip this step, especially in the days leading up to a big hike.  You should start eating nutrient rich, healthy carb loaded meals in the days leading up to a big hike.  This list of the best foods for endurance athletes can help with inspiration!  Be sure to top off your carb stores before you big hike.  

 

The same goes for hydration – you can’t just chug a bottle of water before a big hike and call yourself adequately hydrated. You need to up your water game in the days leading up to a big hike, as well as during.  

 

Also, consider supplements for hikes in high heat or full exposure, for example.  Salt tablets are a must on all of my Rim to Rim hikes in the Grand Canyon.  Other hikers prefer electrolyte powder supplements like TailwindLMNT or Liquid IVNuun tablets are another classic favorite.

 

Besides hydrating during your hike, you will also want to fuel the right way.  Regular snacking is especially key on intense or longer hikes, where you’ll want to snack at least once an hour.  

Check out this guide to the best hiking snacks!

 

 

Additional Support

 

  • Think long term – let your hiking goals help make you a year round athlete.  So even if you are only after a one time hiking goal, aim to keep consistently hiking year round to enable you to tackle other goals built off that foundation!
  • Look for excuses – to take the stairs, to walk instead of drive, to train with friends, etc.
  • If you are training for a hike that involves backpacking, then practice with weight! A pack with 75% of the anticipated weight of the real deal is a good thing to get used to during your hiking training.  
  • Check out these articles about common hiking related injuries, and how to avoid them:

 

 

  • Personal Coaching – If you would like 1:1 coaching to help create an individualized hiking training plan for you, then fill out this INTEREST FORM to get started, or check out all the coaching plans I offer.  We’ll assess where you are, where you want to be, and the steps necessary to get there.  1:1 coaching plans include determining strengths and weaknesses, schedules and preferences, timeframes and training calendars, gradual mileage increments and rest days, the best cross training for YOU, and trail specifics.  Here’s that INTEREST FORM to get started!

 

 

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