I hope this finds you all well and gearing up for a great summer. It seems like winter solstice has only just been and gone, and its already march. Spring’s right around the corner, and then summer will be underway! I’m enjoying the winter, but am ready for summer – warmer weather, sunshine, longer days, and flowers and green vegetation is always welcome! And, best of all, more backpacking!
One of the questions I receive most, especially this time of year, is how best to prepare for the coming backpacking season. The short answer is, it doesn’t matter – just do something – the fitter you are, the safer your trip is! However, I think a few specific things can help:
a) make it regular. Whatever your exercise regime, try hard to make it happen every day – not every second day, or 3 days a week – try to get something in each day – I suggest 30 minutes minimum, but whatever you can do – 10 minutes is better than nothing.
b) there’s no better exercise for backpacking than backpacking. Get a night out, if you can. Throw a pack on, and spend the night in the woods. It’ll help your fitness, and it’s good for the soul. Definitely do some good walking, with a backpack on .. start with, say, 20 pounds in it, and slowly add more over the months.
c) stretch, stretch, and stretch. Before and after exercise. Don’t stretch hard and hurt yourself, but stretch regularly.
d) weights are a great help, but you need to do a complete weight routine .. strengthening one set of muscles without working their complimentary muscles isn’t such a great idea. Get with a trainer if you’re not experienced in a gym, and have them help you get started. Explain what your goals and purpose are (eg, backpacking) and have them outline a routine that will work best for you.
e) hydrate. Drink plenty of water – getting into an exercise routine without hydrating adequately isn’t healthy, it’s dangerous. There’s no one set rule for ‘how much is enough’, but 2-3 litres/quarts a day is a good rough estimate.
Weights-wise, your quads will appreciate some work, but that means working your hamstrings too. And definitely work the abs – they’re the root of good health, in my opinion. Upper body strength is important, though you’ll be walking, you’ll be carrying upwards of 40 pounds on your back, so make your exercise well-rounded.
As the summer approaches, gradually increase the routine, and try to do some longer hikes, even day hikes, and carry some weight. Even if you run every day, 45 minutes or so, that’s vastly different to carrying a pack for 6 hours. And it helps a LOT to get used to having a pack on your back; dealing with off-trail terrain is hard enough, so the more comfortable you are with the pack on your back, the easier you’ll adjust.
Make certain your gear fits – blisters from ill-fitting boots will ruin a trip .. so take the time, during your exercise routines, to wear some of the gear you’ll be hiking in, and break it in. Trust me. More on this issue later.
See ya in the summer!
PS – Oh, the image above is of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, migrating across the coastal plain, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, Alaska.