How to Train for a Backpacking Trip


Bradee Felton

June 25, 2024

Have a backpacking trip planned but not sure how to train for it so that you can show up confident and ready? You’re in the right place. This summer I am doing a backpacking trip of my dreams – the Tre Cime Trek in the Italian Dolomites! Let’s chat about how I have been training and physically preparing as a long-time fitness trainer for this trek to better help you prepare for long backpacking trips, or more strenuous hikes in general!

First things first, let’s dive into the timing of my training. Giving myself ample time to build a solid foundation of a combination of strength and muscular endurance has been really important and that happens over a longer span of time. If you are wanting to go from couch to summit, give yourself at least six solid months of consistent training to make sure you show up to the trailhead feeling confident and strong. I personally have been in a consistent routine for years and it really helps when hiking/backpacking season rolls around – I can just make a few intentional tweaks and feel trail ready. All that being said, no matter where or when you are starting, something is always better than nothing and a little dedication and consistency really will make a difference. 

Now let’s go over equipment needed – for optimal results and preparation, some sort of heavy weight for compound moves is going to be crucial. Think barbells, kettlebells, and a variety of heavy dumbbells, plus cable machines if at all possible. In addition, some more moderate weights are also going to be really helpful as well as a cardio machine to implement aerobic training if you don’t have access to outdoor areas for jogging or incline walking. For a deeper dive into gym vs. at home workouts, check out my podcast episode linked here

Alright, now let’s get into the type of split I’ve been doing and the strategies behind it. All of the workouts can be done in the gym or at home, as long as you have the proper equipment available. I personally do a hybrid style split with two workouts in the gym per week and two at home.

For the two gym workouts, these are going to be more focused on heavy compound movements and upper body pull work. We want to aim for a rep range of 6-8 per exercise and 3-4 sets for each move. Think of movements like squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, etc that use a larger amount of muscles at one time. In addition to these heavy compound moves, we also want to make sure we work our upper body pull muscles – ideally with things like cable machines or TRX bands. These can look like different variations of lat pulldowns, cable rows, pull ups, and pullovers. Upper body pull days are really important for backpacking or hiking while carrying heavy packs because you want to have strong posture muscles while supporting the heavy weight you are carrying. 

For the two at home workouts, I focus more on moderate weights and a lot of single leg work plus core emphasis. The ideal rep range for these workouts are 10-15 reps per leg, and 3 sets. For the single leg moves, we want to incorporate a lot of step and lunge variations to mimic hiking movements and provide solid muscular endurance for the trails. Make sure you are doing some sort of step ups and step downs even if you have to use a chair or bottom step on stairs. Focus on slowing down the eccentric move, or downward motion, to make sure you are stable for downhill trails or stepping down and off things like boulders, rocks, ledges and steps.

If you haven’t already heard me talk about my love of NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis or overall daily movement) you should know that it is a staple in my exercise regime for so many reasons, especially leading up to hikes. I want my feet and joints to be conditioned so I prevent injury and discomfort that could lead to me turning back before I’ve reached my destination. In addition to my normal NEAT focus of about 10,000 daily steps, I also make sure to up my aerobic training leading up to bigger treks or more frequent and difficult hikes in general. I aim for 60-100 minutes of aerobic steady state cardio per week. This can be 1  hour long session, or 2-3 shorter sessions or things like jogging, incline walking, cycling, elliptical, etc.

Lastly, I make sure to hit the trails at least once per week for an actual hike. If you are able to, hiking at 8,000+ ft in elevation can really help aid in the aerobic conditioning so you are fairly prepared at any altitude. Any hike is always a win in my book, but if we are focusing on training for longer and more difficult backpacking treks, we want to aim for at least 2-5 miles, carrying weight if possible, with an elevation gain of about 700-1,500 feet. If you need ideas on trails, one of my all time favorite tools is AllTrails+.

girl smiling in fitness outfit

I hope this breakdown of the different splits and strategies I use really helps you feel confident in your training so you can show up to the trail feeling your best. If you still feel overwhelmed and would like some accountability, support, and guidance along the way, be sure to apply for our 1:1 Mountain Metabolic Coaching program. My team of coaches and I truly love helping our clients get strong and ready for the trails.

Happy + Healthy Trails,


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