7 Backpacking Exercises to Help You Become a Stronger Hiker

Hot days, cool nights, and vast skies with stars dotting its black canvas. Summer time beckons for us to get outdoors -- and stay outdoors. Planning a backpacking trip is the perfect way to do just that.

There's just something so magical about sleeping under the stars; something so primitive about being the only ones around for miles. It's also a very rewarding feeling to make the trek out to your campsite, set up camp, and then make the hike back to civility.

backpacking exercises

However, that last one also takes quite a bit of strength and endurance.

Hiking 9, 12, or more miles without anything on your back is tough stuff. Then add a 25-50 pound pack on your shoulders, and it gets quite a bit tougher.

In order to make it a successful trip, and not to mention ease up your aching muscles and joints, it's important to be in appropriate backpacking shape.

backpacking exercises

The unique activity of backpacking combines two attributes of physical fitness: endurance, for logging all of that mileage on foot, and strength, for carrying quite a load on your back. Backpacking exercises can help you get in better shape so you can hike farther and reach more stunning views.

First, let's cover endurance, because it's the simpler of the two concepts. To increase your endurance and make your mileage on your trek a little easier, I simply recommend mimicking your trip!

Start small, in regards to both mileage and load. If you're going to be hiking 12 miles on your backpacking trip, slowly add on mileage to your hiking each weekend to build up to nine or ten miles.

backpacking exercises

Then, start adding load to your endurance training. However, I don't think it's necessary to train with a 50 pound pack on your back.

Now, let's talk strength!

Backpacking puts strain on the core, the upper back, the shoulders, and the legs. Naturally, it's important that all of these muscle groups are strong and prepared.

However, it's also important to work on muscular balance when training for a backpacking trip. When backpacking, it's easy for our posture to suffer, caving inward at the chest, allowing both our upper and lower back to take quite a beating. I've put together a few backpacking exercises designed to work the muscles used most while backpacking.

The exercises below will not only help strengthen your core, back, shoulders, and legs, but also focuses on those postural muscle groups to promote muscular balance.

1. Forward Lunges - 3x15 Right & Left


Lunges are a great bodyweight exercise that can mimic hiking up large steps on the trail.

backpacking exercises lunges

Set Up: From a standing position, take a big step forward with one foot, allowing both knees to bend to 90 degrees. Make sure to push through the front heel, and not allow the knee to go past the toe.

2. Overhead Press - 3x10


Overhead presses will strengthen those shoulders, making it easier on your body to support your packweight.

Set Up: In a standing position with dumbbells slightly above shoulder height, push the dumbbells overhead. Make sure to keep your shoulders down away from your ears.

3. Lateral Raise - 3x10


Lateral raises strengthen the hard-to-target medial deltoid (the middle part of the shoulder cap.)

backpcking exercises lateral raise

Set Up: Lead with the elbows as you pretend to scrape the floor with your knuckles on the way up, stopping at shoulder height, then lowering.

4. Push Up - 3x10


Push ups are a full body exercise, but they primarily target the chest, shoulders, and abs.

Set Up: In a high plank position, lower down until your arms reach a 90 degree bend, keeping your abs braced. Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder width, with your elbows coming to about a 45 degree angle to your rib cage at the bottom of the movement.

5. Back or Goblet Squat - 3x15


Squats build strong legs, which will definitely help you out on your backpacking trip. Bonus: back squats have you moving the load across the upper traps, which will also build core strength and stability.

backpacking exercises back squat

Set Up: Set up safely for your back squat in a rack, with the barbell across your upper traps, and your feet about shoulder width apart. Push your hips back as you bend at the knees, lowering into your squat. Push through the entire foot to return to standing.

6. Prone Dumbbell Row - 3x12


This rowing variation targets the posterior deltoids, as well as the rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, and teres muscles. This not only builds a strong back, but also supports those postural muscles, which helps with muscular balance.

Set Up: Lying prone (on your stomach) on an incline bench, hold two dumbbells in your hands. Contract the upper back muscles to draw the shoulders back, while the elbows bend, and the dumbbells come to about your rib cage. Squeeze, and return to starting.

7. Medicine Ball Twists - 3x15 Right & Left


A strong core is essential for just about every sport, but especially for backpacking. In order to support the back -- and the weight of your pack -- having strong abdominal muscles is crucial.

backpacking exercises medicine ball

Set Up: Start in a seated position with your knees bent and feet on the ground. Extend your arms in front of you as you lean back slightly. With control, twist from side to side, using your transverse abdominis and obliques to move you and the medicine ball.

What backpacking exercises do you incorporate into your fitness routine?

Team Sierra blogger
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