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How to Train for a Trekking Adventure

I love exploring our world on my own two feet be it via backpacking, mountaineering, climbing or hiking. On any given weekend (occasionally sliding into Monday), you can find me high on a peak in the North Cascades or 30 miles deep in the Hoh Rainforest. This passion for the outdoors stretches into wild places across the globe and some of my favorite trips to design for our travelers involve trekking to Machu Picchu or hiking in southern Patagonia.


Sunrise in Glacier Peak Wilderness. Photo courtesy of Nick Drake.

Physical challenges in the outdoors are exhilarating, reaffirming and impactful, but for your memories to be ones of breathtaking vistas and natural wonder (not gasping for breath and feeling faint from exhaustion) you need to be fit enough to enjoy what you are doing. Here’s what I do to train for my own adventures, tips that are sure to have you fit and ready for your trek in South America, Jordan, Africa or beyond!


Traversing the Tatoosh Range, opposite Rainier

1.) Do what you’ll do: 

This may sound like obvious advice, but many people think that their normal routine in the gym or going to yoga twice per week is enough to ensure they are in shape to trek. It’s not. You are likely somewhat fit but there is no substitute to slapping on a pack and hiking uphill when hiking is exactly what you’ll be doing for several days. Not only does this strengthen the muscles you’ll use the most, it also helps you familiarize yourself with potential discomforts associated with the activity and take precautions (like purchasing inserts for your shoes) to alleviate pain down the road.

Work your way up to comfortably being able to hike 10-15 miles at a time, interspersing longer-distance hikes with shorter, steeper ascents. A fast hiker on a moderately steep slope will average around 1,500 vertical feet/hour. Any trail with an elevation gain of more than 800 feet/mile is steep. Look for hikes that have a gain of about 3,000 feet and aim to cover between 1,000-1,500 per hour, depending on the steepness of the trail, weather and if you are carrying weight.


Happy Hikers in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

 2.) Combine Aerobic with Anaerobic: This is great if you are already fairly fit but want to push yourself to the next level. If you like to run, mix in short interval sprints with a longer jog. If you work in an office building, squeeze in some sets of stairs during your lunch break, alternating between walking and running them. Biking to work? Pedal as hard as you can for 45 seconds at a time, every few minutes. Anaerobic exercise not only develops stronger muscles, it helps improve cardio-respitory fitness and increases the body’s ability to  rid itself of waste substances like lactic acid. This decreases muscle fatigue and can prep your body to be physically active in an environment where less oxygen is available (such as high altitude treks in Peru or Bhutan.)

3.) Strengthen the Core: Your core is your powerhouse. Yoga, plank exercises, leg raises and all manner of crunches work your upper and lower abs. You rely on your core more than you think when ascending steep sections of Inca Trail, putting on a backpack or maintaining balance across a rocky stretch of Patagonian pampa.


Weight for training hikes can take many forms...
Weak core = getting stuck on the trail

4.) Add Weight: Ask any backpacker or climber– nothing feels quite as good as shedding your heavy pack at base camp to explore on day hikes or push for the summit free from the burden of an extra 40-50 lbs. While most of our adventures don’t require you to carry your own gear, you will likely have a day pack for some clothing, water, camera and personal items weighing about 10-15 lbs. Add on 20-30 lbs during your training regime (either on the trail, while walking or running stairs or just anytime you set out for a walk) and you’ll be amazed by how fit you feel on your trekking trip in South America when only carrying about half of that weight.



5.) My Fitness Routine: I don’t prescribe to a strict workout regime but try to do something active each day to maintain the level of fitness I’ve achieved. Trail running or biking 3x week combined with 3 weekly sessions of ‘Yoga Sculpt,’ a blend of plyometrics, weight lifting and power yoga, are good preparation to tackle any climbing or mountaineering project over the weekend. If you are just beginning to train, focusing  on activities like hiking stairs or trails with weight may be more advantageous to accelerate your progress and then can be scaled back once you reach a certain level of comfort and ability. I don’t have any formal training in exercise science but do live a very active life and think it is important to keep your workouts dynamic, diverse and fun! If you have any concerns before starting your own training regime, be sure to speak with your doctor or a physical trainer to design a program that is right for you.

Your mountain-loving South America travel expert,

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