How to train for backpacking

June is National Gate Outdoor Month. Here at MDA, we’re spending the next few weeks preparing you for your best summer outdoors with posts to inspire you to go into nature.

The couple backpacking through the mountains overlooking the sea.Today we are talking about how to train for backpacking. Let’s start with the most obvious question: what is backpacking? Backpacking is a multi-day hike where you carry all your gear on your back.

Say you’re going for a hike one day with water, food, and basic survival gear, but you’ll be back in your car the day you travel. Not that backpacking.

If you’re tracking across the country, but someone else is shifting your gear from one sleeping area to another, that’s not backpacking either.

In short, backpacking is basically a long journey that requires more gear and more detail because you will spend at least one night – but probably many more – camping out. I think backpacking is a kind of patient sport. Like any endurance game, you want to take training for your event. You probably won’t enter a half-marathon this coming weekend with minimal or no training. You Can, But it will hurt much less, and your chances of success will be significantly higher, if you take the time to train. The same goes for backpacking.

The good news is, if you already have a strong fitness base, you’re well on your way. Now you need to organize your training to get ready for your backpacking expedition. The details depend on how long you will be there, how much weight you will carry, your current fitness level and the type of terrain you will be facing. Nevertheless, the general principles remain the same. You need to prepare for:

  • Time on your feet
  • Carrying weight
  • Walking on uneven soil
  • Climbing (going up and down hills, stepping on logs, etc.)

Lower body strength is important, of course, but core, upper back and shoulder strength, ankle and buttocks strength and mobility, balance and of course stamina. Here’s how to get started.

Training for backpacking: Getting started

Before we move on to specific exercises, let’s start with some simple tips that you can use to prepare your body for the adventures ahead.

First and foremost, give yourself enough time to prepare. Plan a training tailored to your travel needs. Experienced, fit hikers will probably go out on a short one or two night trip with minimal training. If you sit down most of the time and plan a seven-night through-hike (point-to-point backpacking trip), you’ll need enough lead time — a few months or more.

Don’t just focus on strength or endurance. As I said before, but it repeats itself: proper training covers strength, endurance, mobility and balance. Imagine climbing a rock or a fallen tree, jumping over a rocky outcrop, crossing a river, and climbing over a loose rock. It’s about balancing on one leg and keeping yourself straight as nature and gravity conspire to pull you down. Can be invaluable training equipment for single leg exercises, BOSU balls, obel boards and the like.

Train at least some of you in the same gear you plan to use on your trip. Make sure your shoes do not cause blisters and that your sports bra does not disintegrate. Wear your backpack on short hikes.

Try to replicate the environment you are going to encounter. You probably won’t be able to do all of your outdoor training in exactly the same situations you will encounter during your adventure, especially if you are traveling to a different part of the world. That’s fine, but try your best to predict the factors that might affect your experience. If your trip takes you to the side of the hill, find the hill for training or plan to step-up a ton in the gym. Do you need training for hot or cold weather? High altitude? Humidity? The more extreme the environment, the more important it is to prepare accordingly.

Think of yourself as an athlete! Looking for the best ultralight gear, the advantages and disadvantages of different tents and sleeping pads are easy to weigh, but the most important part of your equipment is your engine — it’s you! (The second part of this series will talk more about gears and other considerations.) Be sure to check the fuel and hydration as the training progresses.

Exercise to prepare for backpacking

Below is a sample of the types of exercises you can use to get ready for backpacking, but this is by no means a complete list.

Walking, hiking, rocking

As a dedicated Mark’s Daily Apple reader, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that walking is great, full stop. Spending a lot of time on your feet is also one of the most important things to prepare for backpacking. If you haven’t already made a concerted effort to reduce your seating and include frequent movement and walking throughout the day, now is the time to start!

You will want to take some of these walks in nature. Voila, now you are hiking! Carry a weighted pack, and you’re rucking. Wailing in the woods is great, but also throw the rucksack to walk around the block or take your kids to school. (Mark has a dedicated post that is coming soon.)

Gradually increase the time, distance and how much weight you carry. Try hitting different terrain – rocky, sandy, muddy, level, steep. These can challenge your body in a variety of ways and can be great for strengthening your legs and ankles.

Go super primal while hiking: pick up logs and rocks along the trail, take them off for a while, then lower. Check out the idea here.

The primary essential movement

It’s not just a shameless plug, I swear! Primal Essential Movements, plus variations, perfect for getting ready for your big backpacking adventure.


After walking and hiking, squats are probably going to be your biggest ally. Do as much as you can – and do many different things Mix in sets of barbell squats, resistance band squats and goblet squats, to name a few.

Split squats, where one leg is in a lunge position in front of the other, also challenges your balance, so prioritize these as well. Even better, do a Bulgarian split squat where your hind legs are elevated.

To further challenge your balance, try a one-legged pistol squat or squat with one or both feet on an unstable surface like BOSU.

Push-ups and pull-ups

Walking for hours with a heavy backpack is no joke. You need to do the work on your shoulders, chest and upper back.

Working all day on the computer results in tight pecs, round shoulders and front head posture (Aka Technical neck). Carrying a pack can exacerbate these problems. This post and this post offer some solutions.

The board

Key strength is important for balance and keeping your pelvis and spine in proper alignment. In addition to the traditional planks, do side planks and exercise in this primal at-home core workout.

Let me put a plug for Pilates here. Not only sound education but his alertness and dedication too are most required. The glute bridges, for example, are a classic pilot move that is extremely useful for backpackers.

Step up

That’s exactly what it sounds like: step on things. Get in the gym box or stamp in your backyard. Climb the stairs or hit the stairs to the gym (check your heart rate if you want to keep it airy). For some high-intensity work, try Mark’s favorite, Versclimber.

Once you’re ready to add weight, wear a weighted backpack during a step-up for a fantastic workout.

If your campaign involves serious altitude gains, you can use this simple stair height calculator to plan some workouts that you need to exceed approximate feet / meter.


Plyometric exercises are incredibly effective and efficient for building strength and stamina, and they are great for those legs and ankles.

These may include:

  • Box jump where you can jump on a high platform using both legs
  • Ski jump where you jump from side to side (side to side)
  • Burpees with a jump to the top
  • The squat jumps where you descend into the squat and explode upwards as you stand

Or any number of options. These videos from the Marks Daily Apple YouTube channel give a lot of ideas:

Jumping Workout (Children)

Jumping Workout (Advanced)

15 barpiece option


There is no better way to logically target hamstrings. Make sure you use the correct form to avoid straining your back. Enjoy yourself with a variety of deadlift variations to keep things appealing — Romanian, sumo, hex bars, kettlebells — and again include one-legged deadlifts to work on balance and leg and ankle strength.

Heel sprint

We are obviously huge fans of running around these parts. Sprinting climbing for backpacking training has two distinct advantages: (1) lower risk of injury than regular (flat) sprints and (2) extra mountain work.

Okay, that’s enough to get you started. You already have a good chance of incorporating a number of these steps into your regular workout, which means you have a good foundation to build on. I will finish by mentioning Location of ancestral rest. These are not exercises on their own, but they create ankle and hip mobility, stretch and strengthen the lower body, and complement your workout by getting you out of a chair that does no good to your body.

That’s it for today. Stay tuned for the second part where we talk about gear and more. Get your sign out of this post today! And let us know in the comments where you would like hiking and backpacking.

Related posts from Mark’s Daily Apple

14 basic tips for good hiking

Cato on the Trail: What to pack for primal and cato camping, hiking and backpacking

Summer Survival Tips

Winter Survival Tips


About the author

Lindsay Taylor, PhD, is a senior author and community manager on primary nutrition, a certified primary health instructor and co-author of three Kito Cookbooks.

As a writer at the Marx Daily Apple and leader of the affluent Cato Reset and the Primal Endurance community, Linds’ job is to help people learn what, why and how to lead a health-centric lifestyle. Prior to joining the primary team, he earned his Masters and PhD. In social and personality psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, where he also worked as a researcher and instructor.

Lindsay lives in Northern California with her husband and two sports-obsessed sons. In her spare time, she enjoys ultra running, triathlon, camping and play nights. Follow her on Instagram @theusefuldish as Lindsay tries to work on maintaining a healthy balance with work, family and endurance training and, above all, fun in life.

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