3 Powerful Tricks to Improve Hiking and Backpacking Fitness

By Tedi Searle, celebrated backpacking influencer, fitness instructor and trail runner.

Whether you’re seasoned at hiking and backpacking or simply excited for your first outdoor adventure in the wilderness, training your body and mind can help you stay safe, prevent injuries, and have a blast ‘out there!’ Here are my top three guidelines to get fit for your trip.

Hiking and backpacking requires endurance, strength, and mobility. Since backpacking itself is not a daily training method for most people, we’ve designed a 6-week training program to help you get in adventure-ready shape using the gym and tools most people have access to. We’re excited to help you train for the steep climbs and long exercise days–so you can enjoy the top trails in the U.S. National Parks and beyond!

It won’t take an entire summer of hiking to be in peak condition if you start now with our expert guidelines: cardio, functional exercise, injury prevention and recovery.

Hiking and backpacking fitness


Many backpackers and hikers don’t like to do cardio, but running does have its benefits.

  1. Build cardio endurance through bursts of energy to get up a steep hill or building the stamina to keep a pace. 
  2. Reach the outdoor state of mind get outside.
  3. Stay motivated on longer steeper climbs while backpacking. 
  4. Full hiking days won’t be as challenging.

However you do it, try to run each week for maximum gains in your cardiovascular health and endurance. You get bonus points for finding a running group or joining a program, which has the added benefit of a community to help you stay consistent and improve your hiking and backpacking fitness!

Functional Exercise

Hiking is what I call a ‘functional exercise.’ Hiking with a pack requires upper and lower body strength–the kind that running and hiking don’t prepare you for. The long burn of carrying a backpack up a mountain is most similar to functional time-under-tension exercises, which means keeping muscles under constant workload. You can build massive strength in a gym–or even without a gym–using weights and doing compound exercises that require holding challenging positions for an extended period of time!

Backpacking, most sports and even daily life require three types of movement patterns:

  • Forward and back or up and down (Sagittal plane)
  • Side to side (Frontal plane), and 
  • Rotation (Transverse plane).

Rotational movements are often overlooked in training programs. But for sport-specific exercise to be effective, movement in all three planes must be included. That’s why me and Melanie Webb, the founder of WebbWell , created a hiking and backpacking training program that targets all three of the movement patterns required by daily life and outdoor adventures. 

Injury Prevention and Recovery

Long hiking and backpacking trips come with aches and pains. The good news is that training muscles that are still sore doesn’t damage or slow the recovery process. In fact, being sore is just increased sensitivity from our body’s immune cells responding to inflammation and doesn’t impair our ability to train again. However, injuries and fatigue are a concern no matter what your athletic history is and especially for those who aren’t physically prepared.

Injury prevention and recovery starts with a solid warm up. We also recommend the application of Taoist advice of “yin and yang” to all exercise routines. That’s why we include 2 flexibility & mobility days into the backpacking program. While movement and activity support our physical fitness, we need the opposing force of recovery and relaxation to balance it out. Whether you prefer foam rolling, yin yoga (tension release practice with less movement), ice or Epsom salt baths to provide the relaxation you need, enjoying this time is key to keeping up the routine. 

Rolling with a massage ball, doing your favorite yin moves, or plunging in a cold river or lake will help you maintain mobility.

You’re REady to go hiking and backpacking

At the end of the day, the goal is to feel capable of completing your bucket list hiking and backpacking adventures. Whether you’re an athlete or weekend warrior, hiking and backpacking is going to be a lot easier and more enjoyable when you train to get outside and explore in Mother Nature’s Gym!

Woman wearing athletic attire doing a yoga pose in white salt flats against a sunset backdrop

About Tedi Searle

Tedi Searle, also known as The Endorphin Junkie on Instagram, is a 500 hr YRT yoga instructor pursuing her Ragnarian Immortal this year (12 Ragnar Races in one calendar year).

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