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Spring is the time of year when everything returns to life (and gets real muddy). Even though I like to hike year round, I need a little reboot when the snow thaws. This post covers some of the ways I physically and mentally prepare myself for hiking and backpacking. Be sure you get the green light from the doc before starting out on any training plan.
I’m currently training for a multi-day Spring Backpacking trip that will require some physical and mental strength. It’s in a remote wilderness area during the shoulder season in Minnesota, so I want to make sure I am ready to go so I can have have the best trip possible.
There are many great resources and options out there to help you on your way. It can be kind of overwhelming too. Here are 5 tips whether you are just getting started or need a few motivators to push your training further on the trail!
- Safety Basics
- Build Slowly
- Mix it up
- When out on the trail, always make sure you have a hike plan (tell someone where you are going and when you will be back), have sufficient water, and your 10 essentials including a basic first aid kit and sun protection.
- Know the risks you might encounter on the trail and prepare for them.
- If you are going on a remote hike or backpacking trip, consider taking a Wilderness First Aid Course to develop skills to keep yourself and others safe when emergency resources and cell phone service is limited.
- Plan a trip! Planning a trip that you can train for a few months ahead of time is a great way to build up to a goal and stay motivated. Looking for ideas? Check out the Trip reports, Day Hikes and Backpacking Categories in the navigation bar at the top of this page for ideas and this post for how to get out and stay out! Yay trip planning!!
- Join a challenge! If you need a little motivation, consider joining a hiking challenge. The Minnesota State Parks Hiking Club, 52 Hike Challenge, North Country Trail 100 Mile, and even the BSA Hiking Merit Badge can be used as a motivation to get out to new places with built in milestones to keep you going. Be sure to celebrate your accomplishments!
- Join a group! Connect with a community of people who are training for a trip, have a similar pace or a schedule that works for you. I’m a volunteer leader for Women Who Hike Minnesota and Thrive Women’s Outdoor Adventures Wisconsin and both are great ways to connect. Women Who Hike offers community groups in the US and Canada. There are many great hiking communities out there that you can test out online. Pick one and jump in!
- Broaden your definition of hiking. Walk every day. Take the stairs, take the long way, take the dog, park in the furthest parking spot, have a walking meeting and wear your backpack!
- Use your resources: I used to leave a weighted backpack at work and walk up and down the stairs in my office building over lunch- I took it as a personal challenge to keep my pace slow and steady, avoiding a sweat, mostly for the benefit of my co-workers. You can always bring a change of clothes if you want to totally go for it! Finding a good local hill to repeat is also a great way to condition yourself if you live in a low elevation area and are planning a trip that has more hilly terrain. My two local faves are the ski hill at Hyland Park Reserve (its brutal) and the Stillwater Stairs!
- Don’t wait for perfect weather or trail conditions. Beauty can be found anywhere, even on a rainy day. It’s a great way to test your gear and build resilience.
- Start slow: It’s important to listen to your body and give yourself time to BUILD strength and endurance SLOWLY to prevent injury.
- If you are new to hiking, see if you can build up to 3 miles in two weeks or so. Once you are comfortable with 3 miles, start adding weight to your pack and increasing mileage slowly to build endurance. I typically increase about a mile or so 1 per week and hit the daily mileage I will be hiking on my trip (with a loaded pack) a week or two before I leave. If you hike regularly and are not doing extremely long miles on your trip, you may already have a head start. Listen to your body.
- Add weight: Once I hit 5-7 miles, I start adding more weight to my pack. This will vary depending on what I am preparing for, but the goal is to build up weight slowly and goal to hike with my max pack weight for about 2 weeks before a trip.
- Tip: you don’t need to bring all of your backpacking gear when you are increasing weight (unless you want to!). It is sometimes easier to line your pack with pillows or blankets and then add canned food, hand weights, sealed gallons of water, rocks, etc!
- Tip: If you don’t have a luggage scale to weigh your pack, you can just hop on a bathroom scale and weigh yourself, then weigh yourself again wearing your pack – easy peasy.
- Keep it light: If you are planning a longer hiking or backpacking trip, a good rule is to make sure your pack weight doesn’t exceed 25-30% of your body weight (even less is better!).
- Here are a few lighter weight backpacking tips and a link to my original Superior Hiking Trail Thru Hike gear list. This link takes you to my more recent Isle Royale gear list… you can also have a peek at exactly what was in my pack in this video that I shot while I was on our Isle Royale Backpacking trip.
- Skills are light, fear is heavy.
Mix it up
- Walking is good for you, but it is also important to mix things up and keep those muscles guessing with other activities
- Also focus on building strength, cardio and balance
- Example: If I am training for a trip that I know I will be carrying a 25-30 lb backpack over 4-5 days, and a distance of 10-15 miles per day, I’m going to:
- Start training 2-3 months out, if it’s the first trip of the season and I’m not already conditioned
- Hike/walk 1-2x per week and build up to 4-5x per week
- Weight training: 2x a week
- going to the gym, gardening or lifting heavy things at home.
- Balance: yoga/core 1-3 times per week for balance & mental strength.
- Cardio: find some hills and stairs to build strength and endurance.
- Target areas: focus on strengthening my feet, knees and ankles because I’ve injured them and they need a little extra love.
- Write it down: if you are training for a specific goal, it’s a great idea to write down a training plan to keep yourself accountable and measure progress.
- REI has some great training articles to get you started
Last but not least, find places that you like to go! It’s great to challenge yourself to see new places, but if you find a favorite spot that is easy to access and means that you are more likely to get out on a regular basis – then keep it simple! Check out the Trip reports, Day Hikes and Backpacking Categories in the navigation bar at the top of this page for ideas!
Here’s a handy list of a few of my favorite local Minneapolis area trails.
3-5 + Miles:
- Elm Creek Park Reserve – 50 mi of trails, 3mi loop at Nature Center
- Coon Rapids Dam– 4 mi (flat)
- Fort Snelling– 5-7 mi (Bdote/Pike Island, Shell Lake)
- Minnehaha Falls – 3 mi
- Hyland Park Reserve-10 mi
- Stillwater Stairs + Bridge Loop – 10 mi
- Chain of Lakes-10.8 mi
- Fort Snelling State Park-11mi, Bdote/Pike Island twice then to Minnehaha falls.
- Elm Creek Park Reserve-11.25 mi Flat/long grades, some paved
- Afton State Park-13 mi (Hills/River/Prairie)
There are a ton of great adventures and gear out there…but slowly and steadily conditioning your body and mind is the best way to stay injury free and enjoy all that the trail has to offer!
For more trail tips, check out these posts from the archives:
- Backcountry Hygiene: How to Pee, Poop & Period Like a Pro
- Treat Your Feet! Foot Care for the Trail Part 1 & Part 2
- Tick Prevention on the Trail
- Gear Picks! Sun Protection
- Hikers Rash – what is is and how to hopefully avoid it
Got some favorite training tips and local hike recommendations? Post them here!