A Newbie’s Guide to Successful Hiking and Backpacking

Did you know that every year, mountain rescue services come to the aid of many hikers who have succumbed to fatigue and physical exhaustion while on the trails? In fact, in Ireland, rescuers have reported more than 60 callouts for help in the first seven months of 2018 alone. To think that rescue missions as such not only require a lot of work on the part of the rescuers but also a lot of money, which sometimes is charged to the unfortunate hiker.

All these happen because many people make the mistake of underestimating how arduous hiking and backpacking can be. Trails can be rough, rugged, and steep, and if you’re an amateur hiker, you may get on a trail that is not appropriate for your physical capabilities. That can spell much trouble for you. Remember, hiking and backpacking are backbreaking activities that require a person to be in tiptop shape.

This article is meant to help newbie hikers like you prepare physically for their greatest adventure yet. Perhaps the first thing to keep in mind is to choose a trail that is suitable to your level of fitness. This means foregoing your plan of climbing Mont Blanc, which has an elevation of 4810 m, if you have never in your life gone up more than 1000 m.


Why You Need to Train

Earlier, we’ve established the fact that hiking is a strenuous activity that requires you to exert more than the usual effort. There’s no point in going up a trail and missing out on the beautiful landscape nature has spread out before you if you’re huffing, puffing, and suffering throughout your hike. Moreover, you’re least likely to get injured on the trail if you’re in good shape since your tendons, muscles, and ligaments will be strong enough to work sinuously to prepare you for the tough task ahead.

Just think; if you’re not physically prepared, one wrong step can prove to be fatal especially if you’re on a technically challenging trail. You can stumble on a stone while traversing a steep trail or reach out and grab a loose rock due to exhaustion.

Of course, aside from being in shape when you hike, you also need to protect your body with the right hiking apparel and gear. Here are a few suggestions on what you must wear when you hike, as well as some guidelines when choosing the best hiking footwear.

Why Activity-Specific Training Is a Must

As the old cliché goes, practice makes perfect. Thus, the only way to excel in hiking is to keep on hiking. The thing is not all trails are created equal, so you can’t expect each hike to be the same. There are flat trails and there are others go up several thousand feet. One time, you may hike with a heavy backpack to accommodate all the gear you need to bring with you while the next will require a lightweight daypack.

Hence, if you want to be an efficient hiker, you need to consider what kind of hikes you plan on taking and make sure to train specifically for those. For instance, taking on multi-day trails will mean doing day hikes while carrying a heavy backpack in order to train your leg muscles in carrying heavy loads. On the contrary, carrying a heavy backpack while you train will be futile if you rarely take on multi-day trails since the added weight will only make your legs stronger but not make you faster.

Nevertheless, activity-specific training are not for all hikers. It will be illogical to train for mountain hiking if you live in a flat country that makes regular mountain hikes impossible. This is where improvisation comes in.

Alternatives to Activity-Specific Training

When hiking is an impossibility for many hikers and backpackers, they make do with combined running and strength exercises. That’s because strength exercises tone and toughen up the muscles you exert when hiking while running exercises raise your heart rate, thereby improving your stamina during hikes. Even so, running and strength exercises are only supplemental to improving your fitness level; you will progress more rapidly if you hike. In fact, between a marathoner and an average hiker competing in a multi-day hike, the latter will emerge as victor since a marathoner is not properly trained to walk on rugged ground or walk while carrying a heavy load on his shoulders.

Ideally, you need to run three to four times a week if you want to get your body into shape for hiking. If you plan to hike on precipitous trails, prepare yourself by running on rough terrain. You will also do well to start walking at least once a week while carrying a weighted pack on your shoulders if you plan to do multi-day hikes. Don’t start with a full weight from the get-go. You should start with at least 5 kg first and gradually increase the weight once you feel yourself getting stronger. By increasingly upping the length and pace of your cardiovascular exercise, you are more likely to make progress with your training.

Aside from running, do strength exercises at least twice a week. Pay careful attention on your abs, legs, and lower back. As much as possible, choose nine variations of strength exercises, performing each one in three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions. Check out ExRx website as it contains plenty of strength exercises you can follow. Otherwise, you may want to try CrossFit or circuit-style workouts known to build strength, which is very necessary for hikers and backpackers.

Tracking Your Progress

It’s crucial to keep an eye on your cardiovascular exercises if you want to track the progress you’re making, and you can do that with a GPS watch that comes with a heart rate monitor. You will know you’re making progress if your heart rate continuously lowers while you’re hiking at the same speed on the same trail. To understand that better, try hiking on a nearby trail and measure your average heart rate. After three months, go back on that trail under the same conditions and hike at the same speed. If your heart rate is lower than it previously was, you’re on the right track. If not, it’s either you’re not training hard enough or you have overexerted yourself and need to train less.

Overtraining is not unusual, and the worse thing about it is you can suffer from serious lasting effects if you don’t keep your training under control. You will know you have overtrained if you always come up short in your performance, all the while having low energy and feeling lethargic. Chronic fatigue, weight loss, sleeplessness, depression, and irritability are also signs of overtraining. If you think you have reached that borderline with your training, wisely take several weeks off and just rest completely before you start back up with easy exercises.

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