By Ryan Lisson
What are some good methods to prepare for hiking if you’re a beginner?
At face value, it doesn’t seem like it would take a lot of effort to prepare for hiking. It’s basically just walking outside, right?
Yes and no. True, hiking can be as simple as taking a stroll through your neighborhood park. But it can also be as detailed and involved as a multi-day backpacking trip through a wilderness area.
Since you’re here, let’s assume you just want to learn the basics. Here are some great ways you can prepare for hiking if you’re a relative greenhorn or are just getting back into it.
How to Physically Prepare for Hiking
There are several key exercises that will help ease the transition from couch potato to hiking trail beast. Start performing these exercises now so that you’ll be ready to venture out in spring weather!
Squats – Your quadriceps and hamstrings are obviously the movers and shakers when hiking, so strengthen them by doing weighted squats. Fill your backpack with various weights, increasing in 10-pound increments, and squat down until your thighs are parallel with the ground. Push back up and repeat.
Core – Doing any kind of core work (crunches, sit-ups, planks) helps to stabilize your body. If you suddenly lose balance on the trail, a strong core could make the difference between taking a nasty spill and recovering quickly.
Pushups – This classic exercise strengthens your chest and triceps, but it also stabilizes your core. Being able to control your torso helps while hoisting your backpack and navigating tricky trails.
Lunges – Practice lunging uphill and downhill if possible, but even if you only have your living room, lunge away to strengthen your legs for climbing rocky trails. Try walking lunges instead of static lunges to work your hips well.
Step-ups and Step-downs – Step up onto a chair or bench, alternating legs, with a backpack on. Start with body weight, and then increase weight by adding weight plates or gear in 10-pound increments. Then step down onto the following side. Turn and complete several more reps.
Calves – Calf raises will strengthen your calves, but balance is also very important while hiking. Stand on a pillow on one leg, and try to stay in that position for a minute. When this becomes easy, close your eyes while balancing. This strengthens your leg’s stabilizer muscles and can help prevent rolling your ankle.
Strategies to Prepare for Hiking
Endurance – Short distance hikes are obviously the best way to get your body used to the specific demands of hiking. Initially, set a goal to get outside once a week and take a short walk. Carry a backpack with you if you are able to. Increase your endurance gradually by adding additional days or increasing the mileage.
Layers – Especially important while hiking for winter camping, ensure you are layering your clothes to prevent sweating too much. Eventually you’ll cool off and you could face hypothermia.
Boots – Make sure you break in your new hiking boots by wearing them on your short walks. If you show up at the trailhead with new boots and go tromping for miles, I guarantee blisters are in your immediate future.
Variation – Mix up your routes often so you can adapt to new conditions. If possible, locate some hills nearby to climb as part of your training. Find a trail with lots of turns and variability to keep your body moving in different ways.
Eliminate excuses – Try to do shorter walks (e.g., before or after work) near your home so you have no excuse to not go out. Once a week, however, find a forest or wilderness area to go explore on your weekly longer hike. A sense of adventure will keep you interested for the next week.
Nutrition – Make sure you always bring adequate water, and some snacks if it’s a longer hike. You need to stay hydrated and fueled to keep your body moving.
Stretch – Before venturing out, warm up your body a bit by doing some jumping jacks or one of the exercises mentioned above, to prime your muscles. During and after your hike, take stretch breaks to keep your legs and back limber and allow the lactic acid to be flushed out.
Armed with these tactics, you’ll be in full-on beast mode on the trail this summer.