I'm sure that most of you out there are in much better shape than I am, but there are probably also a few of you who may need a little help getting in shape for your next hike. The best way to get in shape for hiking is very simple: Put on a daypack and go hike!

But. if you don't have time to hit the trail as often as you would like, there are plenty of simple bodyweight exercises you can do that require little to no special equipment and can help you get into backpacking shape.

hiking exercises

Strength training is very important, and you don't even need to go to the gym to get a good workout! All you need is a little open space in your house or yard and a few light dumbbells (5-20 lbs depending on your fitness level). The workout I describe below will take about 45 minutes, and should be done 3 time a week.

Start with a gentle warm-up of arm-circles and stretching, followed by 25 jumping jacks and 15 bodyweight squats. From the list below, choose four exercises. You can feel free to mix and match these, as it is actually better if you don't do the same ones all the time. The ones you hate the most are probably the ones that are doing you the most good! If things get stale or boring, you can add your own exercises into the mix! Each exercise is to be done four times for one minute with 30 seconds rest in between. Try to push yourself to do as much as you can during those one-minute sets.

  1. Spiderman Pushups: Start in the normal pushup position. As you lower yourself, bring one of your knees forward to meet your elbow. Return your leg to the start position as you push up. Alternate legs every repetition.
  2. Isometric Pushup Hold: Start in the pushup position and lower yourself about halfway in normal push up motion. Hold yourself here for as long as possible, while focusing on keeping your body straight and stiff.
  3. Burpee (AKA Squat Thrust):Begin in a squat position with hands on the floor in front of you. Kick your feet back to a pushup position. Do the pushup. Immediately return your feet to the squat position. Leap up as high as possible from the squat position.
  4. Man-Makers: Start with a dumbbell in each hand. Lower yourself to the pushup position, like a burpee. Lift one dumbbell off the floor in a rowing motion, and return it to the floor. Repeat with the other arm. Return to your feet and press both dumbbells up over your head.
  5. Isometric Squat Hold with Punches: Lower your body into a squat position and hold it. Punch the air in front of you; alternating hands. Be sure to punch as hard as you can!
  6. Squat Jumps: From the squat position, push off the floor and jump as high as you can. When you land, immediately return to the squat position and jump again.
  7. Side Lunges: Start standing with your feet together. Take a lunging step with one leg to the side (keeping the other leg planted and straight), bending it at the knee and lowering yourself until the shin is perpendicular with the floor. Push yourself back up and return to the original position. Repeat to the opposite side.
  8. Step ups: Stand in front of any sturdy step that is at least 18-24" high (bench, milk crate, garden retaining wall, etc). Step up onto it (leading with the left foot) and then step back down. After 30 seconds, switch and start leading with the right foot. Use dumbbells or a higher bench if this one gets too easy.

Once you've done four sets of each exercise you've chosen, do a few sets of your favorite core exercises: Situps, Crunches, Oblique Crunches, Six Inches, Planks, etc. After that, you're done!

Don't forget, that walking is an integral part of the training process. If you can't actually get out on the trail, walk a mile or 2 around your neighborhood every day. For added challenge, carry a daypack filled with water bottles. If the weight starts to seem too easy, add a little more!

Remember, it's always a good idea to check with your doctor before starting a new training routine!

This post was written by former Trail Ambassador Dan Bortz.

September 01, 2013 — Brian Fryer