Training for Hiking

At Ascent, hiking and backpacking are probably some of the most common activities people are training and it might be that time of year to add some more specific training into your routine.  

Technically, you do not need to train for hiking and backpacking. The human body is made to walk and with a little grit you will probably reach your destination. That being said, in my experience a little training can go a long way in decreasing chances of injury and increasing the enjoyment factor. 

To train for hiking you need to build a base fitness of strength and endurance, add some specific strength and skill training to reduce injury and increase confidence, and get on trail and start hiking.

Base Fitness

Our mission at Ascent is to help people develop and maintain a base level of fitness so they can participate in all the recreational and daily activities they enjoy year round. Our base fitness training includes a combination of strength, endurance, work capacity, mobility and core stability training. Maintaining a base level of fitness already puts you in a good position for hitting the trails. 

Hiking Strength

The closer you get to your goal the more you should focus on specific strength and skills for your adventure. For hiking that generally includes single leg strength, foot and ankle mobility and stability, balance and some climbing. 

Watch the video for some no equipment drills you can add to your training plan to increase foot, ankle, and knee pain resiliency.

Hiking Skills

On trail the demand for balance and moving on uneven terrain increases. Sometimes you may even find yourself having to use your hands to climb onto rocks or over logs. Here are some skills you can practice.


A common type of balance is crossing a narrow object like a log. A great way to practice this at home is by walking on a 2×4 or other handy narrow object.



The hand foot vault and basic climbing are very similar. The main difference is in vaulting you step over and in climbing you step on to. These can be practiced on a box, truck bed, retaining wall, bench etc.



Finally, occasionally on trails we are forced to hop rocks or jump down from a surface. Practicing jump landings and single leg hops will improve your skills and increase the strength required for downhill hiking.

Hiking Endurance

Finally, part of reaching the specific phase of training is actually doing the activity you want to do. For hiking this means more time walking: walking on hills, walking on trails, and walking with a pack.

This is how I suggest adding to your training load without causing an early season overuse injury.

  1. Start small
  2. Increase slowly
  3. Simulate your objective. If hiking isn’t available, find the closest substitute such as step ups with a pack. 

Below is an 8 week training plan example for a 20 mile backpacking trip with 4000 feet of elevation gain. This is a pretty typical profile for many popular trips in the Washington mountains and this plan assumes you already have a base level of fitness.

Week 1: Walk a total of 10 miles* 

Week 2: Walk a total of 12 miles.* With one day including at least 800’ per 3 miles.

Week 3: Walk a total of 12miles.* With one day including at least 1000’ per 3 miles.

Week 4: Walk a total of 14miles.* With one day including at least 1000’ per 3 miles.

Week 5: Walk a total of 16 miles.* With one day including at least 1500’ per 3 miles. 

Week 6: Walk a total of 18 miles. With one day including at least 2000’ per 3 miles or 1500’ per 3 miles with a backpacking pack.

Week 7:  Walk a total of 10 miles. With one day including at least 800’ per 3 miles.

Week 8: Do your trip

*Miles should be divided over 2-3 days with ideally at least one day a week on a trail.

If you have more time you can ramp up slower. Ideally you are not increasing your load by more than 10% week over week. If you start to have pain or aren’t recovering properly, scale back. 

Happy Hiking! And if you are a member at Ascent check out the hiking Group Me for trail friends. 

Start here

Book a free intro today so we can learn all about you, your goals and how we can help you reach them
Free Intro