Get Fit on the Trail


Day hikes make great prep for your backpacking adventures by helping you build leg strength and cardio health. Leg strengthening is obviously important to sustain the repetitive movements of backpacking, but you need to balance it with upper body and core strengthening to be able to carry that heavier backpack. On your day hikes, you’re already working your legs – why not get your upper body and core done on the trail, too? Here are 8 great exercises you can do using a backpack for resistance to get fit on the trail. Start with a small, light backpack with the straps secured.


All exercises start as follows:
    • Chest open with shoulders retracted and depressed.
    • Keep abdominal contracted in.
    • Knees are soft.
    • Feet are hip width or wider.
    • Start slow and controlled, and build up speed and repetitions as successful.
    • Have fun!


Get Fit on the Trail


Squat to Twist
Targets legs, hips and core.
  • Push hips back into a squat position. Weight needs to stay on your heels.
  • As you stand up, shift your weight to your right leg.
  • Pull your left knee up as high as possible while twisting to the left. Your chest stays open.
  • Slowly lower the leg back down.
  • Repeat for 12-15 repetitions; switch sides and repeat sequence.
  • To make easier: modify by not going down as far into the squat or not balancing on one leg into the twist.
  • To make harder: stand on one leg the whole time (one-legged squat to twist).


Squat Toss
Targets total body.
  • Push your hips back into a squat position.
  • Powerfully push hips forward to stand up and toss the backpack in the air.
  • Pull your abs in 100% as you catch the backpack and lower back down into the squat.
  • This move is not about the arms – use your hips to power your toss.
  • Repeat sequence for 8-12 reps.
  • To make easier: don’t go down as far into the squat or don’t actually toss the backpack.


Chop & Lift
Targets total body.
  • Hold onto the pack sideways with arms straight.
  • As you lower into a squat, twist and “chop” the backpack towards your right ankle. Your weight needs to stay even on both legs with your chest open.
  • Come up to standing and rotate to the left as your lift the pack diagonally overhead. Your weight shifts to your left leg and you push your hips forward by squeezing your glutes.
  • Lower back down into your chop squat and repeat for 12-15 reps; switch sides.
  • Keep your abs in 100% – this exercise works the entire core.
  • To make easier: start with the pack close to the body and decrease your range of motion.
  • To make harder: keep arms straight throughout the entire exercise and increase your range of motion.


Back Row
Targets back.
  • Hold the backpack by a strap in one hand and stand in a staggered stance.
  • With your chest open and back straight, row your backpack up by pulling your elbow back towards your spine.
  • Slowly lower back down and repeat for 15-20 reps.


The next 4 exercises work smaller muscles, so you may need to lighten up your backpack.


Get Fit on the Trail


Upright Row
Targets shoulders and upper back.
  • Stand tall holding pack with both hands.
  • As you raise your elbows up, only go as high as you can without flexing your wrists or raising your shoulders.
  • Slowly lower and repeat for 12-15 reps.


One Arm Row
Targets shoulders and upper back.
  • Same as upright row, but more of a challenge with one arm.
  • Do 8-12 reps on each arm.
  • To make harder: Stand on one leg while performing rows.


Bicep Curl
Targets front of arm.
  • Hold pack with palm up as you bend your elbow.
  • Try not to let your shoulder drop as you curl.
  • Do 8-12 reps on each arm.
  • To make easier: Hold on to the pack with both hands as you curl.


Tricep Extension
Targets back of arm.
  • First, you need to make sure your pack is light for this exercise, or you can use your water bottle as a replacement.
  • Hold pack with palm up. Don’t let your elbow flare out to the side.
  • Raise arm up overhead and slowly lower back down as shown in photo.
  • Perform 8-12 reps on each arm.


As you get stronger, you can go through the first four exercises as a circuit (no breaks in between), take a 1 minute break and repeat the set 2-3 times. Follow the circuit with the last four exercises with the lighter pack. Increase repetitions (up to 25) and weight as needed.


*Consult your physician before starting any new exercise program.


For more hiking fitness tips from Joy, check out Off-Season Conditioning for Hiking.

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