Podcast Episode July 29, 2019

Episode 14 | Training for Backpacking




It’s no secret: the more physically prepared you are for a backpacking trip, the more you are going to enjoy yourself. But what are the most effective ways to reach optimal backpacking condition? That’s the topic of today’s BPL SKILLS SHORT: training.

After a brief introduction, Ryan and Andrew get right to it – covering some basics like living at sea level, training on stable vs. uneven ground, and trail vs. road running. After that, they talk about cycling, stabilizing muscles, core strength, upper body resistance training, nutrition, flexibility, injury and foot care, and body weight maintenance.

At the end of the pod, Ryan gives his suggestions for a very basic backpacking training plan.

If you are interested in a more in-depth training episode of the Backpacking Light podcast, let us know at [email protected]. There’s so much more to dig in to!

podcast 014 training for backpacking light


  • Living at sea level but training for a hike at say, +6,000?
    • Skyscraper stair climbing!
    • Stair climbers or inclined treadmill at the gym.
    • Ultimately, being in good shape is going to be more important than finding a way to acclimate to altitude.
  • What about strengthening the muscles in your feet and ankles and calves to deal with uneven ground?
    • Your foot and ankle muscles will develop just fine so long as you are putting miles in.
    • Be careful not to get your ankles too flexible!
  • Is pure cardio like street running or cycling helpful or sufficient for training?
    • Trail running > road running.
    •  Cycling is good for aerobic training.
    • Be cautious of repetitive motion and overtraining injuries.
  • How about stabilizing muscles in the back and core stability? Is there any reason to incorporate upper body resistance training into a regimen?
    • There are certain practical movements that might be useful.
      • Simple pulling or pushing motions.
      • Ryan’s Rambo-style ice-axe cage pull-up device
  • How important is flexibility? In muscles? In connective tissue?
    • Posterior chain flexibility is paramount.
    • Take it easy, take it slow. It takes a long time to develop flexibility.
  • How about pre-trip nutrition?
    • The better you are eating before a trip (nutritionally dense, good fiber, whole foods, fruits and veggies) the better your body will handle the nutritional deficits of an extended time spent backpacking.
  • One of the most common backpacking injuries is a stress fracture. Is there any way to train to avoid getting one?
    • Be patient in your training!
    • “There’s no such thing as overtraining, just under-recovery”
  • How about toughening up the skin of your feet? Is there a way to prep for wet feet?
    • You might consider having feet that are more malleable instead of less malleable.
  • How can someone find out what their ideal body weight is, and what are some strategies to achieve that number?
    • Ways to find BMI
      • BMI tables
      • Scans and professional devices at hospitals and gyms
    • Remember these are general guidelines and there are a TON of factors involved.
      • The best thing to do might be to think about what your weight is or has been when you’ve received injuries and try to stay under that.
  • Assuming you have an hour a day, what is the best combination of stuff you can be doing to get yourself towards your goal?
    • Ryan’s sample backpacking training plan.
  • Remember to let us know at [email protected] if you want a more in-depth episode!

If You Have Six Hours a Week to Train, Do This

  • Day 1 – 1 hour of high aerobic (within 5 bpm of aerobic threshold, AeT)
  • Day 2 – 20 min core resistance, 40 min general strength resistance (focus on quads, glutes), stay below AeT
  • Day 3 – rest
  • Day 4 – 1 hour of high aerobic
  • Day 5 – 20 min core, 40 min general strength (stay below AeT)
  • Day 6 – 2-hour fast hike with elevation (stay between AeT minus 30 and AeT)
  • Day 7 – rest

Ryan’s Basic Intermittent Fasting Protocol

  • Fasting days: 20 hour fast, 4 hour eating period (start the night before after dinner, end mid-afternoon)
  • Fast “about” every other day
  • Training on fasting days: strength/resistance morning before breaking fast
  • Training on non-fasting days: high aerobic, short or long duration
  • Short, low aerobic – either fasting or non-fasting days

Suggested Training Resources

Feedback, Questions, Tips?


  • Backpacking Light – Executive Producer
  • Ryan Jordan – Director and Host
  • Andrew Marshall – Producer, Host, and Editor
  • Look for Me in the Mountains – Music

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Home Forums Episode 14 | Training for Backpacking

Viewing 12 posts - 1 through 12 (of 12 total)
  • Author
  • #3604009
    Backpacking Light


    Locale: Rocky Mountains

    Companion forum thread to: Episode 14 | Training for Backpacking

    It’s no secret: the more physically prepared you are for a backpacking trip, the more you are going to enjoy yourself. But what are the most effective ways to reach optimal backpacking condition? That’s the topic of today’s BPL SKILLS SHORT: training.

    James Marco
    BPL Member


    Locale: Finger Lakes

    Thanks, Guys!

    Bryan Bihlmaier
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wasatch Mountains

    Thanks for putting together this podcast.  Obviously this is a very broad, and somewhat controversial, topic.

    I was most intrigued about training the skin of your feet to not absorb moisture, and help prevent blisters.  What ointments, waxes, or other products do you most recommend for this?  And it sounds like it needs to be applied daily, whether hiking or not, correct?

    Ryan Jordan


    Locale: Central Rockies

    Bryan – I usually apply it daily most of the year, because I’m at least running and day hiking (training) most of the year. Usually in the mornings on training days, and daily for 2-3 weeks prior to major trips.

    I use this.

    Bryan Bihlmaier
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wasatch Mountains

    Thanks. I use that same stuff for chafing when running and biking. It’s easy to apply compared to creams! I’m glad it works for your feet too. I’ll give it a try.



    Locale: The Cascades

    You can lift lots of weights
    You can go without cake
    You can do lots of squats without talking.
    But you do know my friend
    That really, in the end
    Backpacking ain’t nothing but walking.

    Instead exercise your mind
    And you know, you might find
    That your backcountry walks have new meaning.
    Slow down, contemplate
    All around you is great!
    At least that’s the way I’m going to be leaning.

    W I S N E R !



    Hear hear!

    Tom K
    BPL Member


    “That really, in the end
    Backpacking ain’t nothing but walking.

    Instead exercise your mind
    And you know, you might find
    That your backcountry walks have new meaning.”

    Words of wisdom delivered in vintage, irreverent Idester style.


    Scott Nelson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern California and Sierras

    Not at poetic, but I have found “Ready to Run” by Dr. Kelly Starrett to be really helpful for stretches and strengthening exercises to avoid injury.


    Steve E


    I’m really enjoying this podcast, which I discovered only recently, and just joined as a member. I’ve been pretty committed to lightweight backpacking for about 5 seasons now, been on trails my whole life, and I’ve learned more in listening to the few casts so far than I have in hours of listening to and reading other stuff. Very tight. Thanks!

    Regarding fitness for the trail, I always like to remind my fellow trail companions of the value of yoga for maintaining strength and flexibility over time. I’m no yoga freak — I’m a 58-year-old guy with seriously limited flexibility. Skinny and 6’3′. Can’t touch my toes and never will be able to. After years of mountain biking and trail running, I started a regular practice of yoga about 5 years ago (about the same time I started walking more miles with a backpack on). I wish I had been doing yoga all my life. My performance, comfort, and well being would have been in a whole different place. As I age, I find it has improved my walking comfort and endurance; my comfort in camp — just moving around, getting in and out of my tent, for example; and my recovery. In the mornings, I feel less stiff and sore for a shorter period of time. Yoga also helps my balance, which diminishes with age (evidently) — a huge safety benefit.

    So that’s my encouragement based on my experience. I attend periodic yoga classes, but mostly I use YogaGlo, an excellent video website. Even a 15-30 minute session of quality yoga goes a long way, and they have 100s of classes and programs that are dialed in for your needs. For example, I just searched for “hiking” and got “Post Hiking Stretch,” “Release leg, hip and back soreness,” “Cross training flow for athletes,” and, even, “Hiking Meditation.”

    Again, not promoting anything specific, just sharing a “best practice” that has been transformational for this old(er) guy who wants to stay on the trail for as long as he can!


    Tom K
    BPL Member


    Solvitur ambulando.

    Josh J
    BPL Member


    i would agree trail running is better than street but for those who live in flat land it’s better than nothing. you can still gain a great cardio base by street running as long as you stay below your aerobic threshold. you can also do muscular endurance work outs to condition your muscles as well. if you have great muscular endurance and cardio base (ie aerobic threshold is with in 10% of your anaerobic threshold you should be good) there was a 75yr who lives in Chicago who just summitted Everest….. all training being done in chicago…. it’s possible

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