By Adrienne Hall.

Your body is the most important piece of equipment you will use for backpacking. It needs to perform all day and transport a lot of weight that it is not accustomed to supporting. As in any physical activity, the better prepared you are, the more comfortable you'll be during a hike.
How long will it take to get in shape for backpacking?

Consider your present fitness level, the length of the trip and the type of trail you'll be hiking then dedicate as much time and effort to training as you think you'll need to achieve your trip goals.

  • At an average fitness level, you'll need to spend 30 minutes each day stretching and strengthening your backpacking muscles to prime your body for your next outing.
  • If you plan to hike 5 miles, spend the night, and hike out, you may only want to train lightly for 2 weeks to loosen your muscles. It will take at least 2 weeks to feel stronger and more fit.
  • For a longer trip, I suggest working through an exercise program for at least 6 weeks prior to the trip.
Stretch and strengthen major muscle groups.
  1. Stretching exercises: Hold each of the following stretches for 20 seconds and repeat each stretch twice.
    • Hamstrings: Stand with your feet together and bend over to touch your toes. Keep your legs straight but not locked, your back straight rather than curved lift your head slightly and look up toward your eyebrows.
    • Calves: Support your body with your hands and the balls of your feet. Straighten one leg at a time and feel a gentle pull along each calf.
    • Quadriceps: Stand on one leg and pull the foot of the lifted leg to your bottom. Push your hips forward and make sure your knees are next to each other - touching, if possible.
    • Lower back: Stand with your feet shoulder distance apart. Put your hands on your hips and rotate your trunk in a circle.
  2. Strengthening exercises: After stretching out, work each of the 6 major backpacking muscles groups with some strengthening exercises.
  3. Aerobic workouts: Condition your heart and lungs by biking, swimming, jogging or walking 30-45 minutes every other day.
As you get fit for backpacking, eating well is as important as exercise.

When you are getting your body prepared for backpacking, it is critical that you maintain healthy eating habits. There are some general pointers to keep in mind:

  • Eat carbohydrates before you exercise, even if it is just a bagel or a few crackers. You need to make sure that your glycogen reserves are stocked up and ready to fuel your body during the activity.
  • Eat carbohydrates within 2 hours after exercising to maintain a high level of energy. Otherwise you may feel lethargic and get discouraged because 40 minutes of exercise knocked you out for the day.
  • Drink water! When you are engaged in a rigorous exercise program, you should drink between 10 and 15 cups of water a day. If you do not consume enough water, your body will produce fat more readily, and fat is not going to help you climb any mountains.

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