For daring travelers unafraid to hike to parts unknown, backpacking offers the thrill of a lifetime. Hiking for days into rugged terrain not many humans venture to is an adrenaline rush for us. And we know others share our passion for adventurous multi-day hikes.
While many dream of wandering into untamed nature, preparing for such a journey isn’t easy. There is lots of planning, packing, and logistics that go into a backpacking expedition. For those unfamiliar with multi-day hikes, training for backpacking can be a daunting task.
That’s why we wanted to create this guide to show you how to efficiently train for your backpacking trip. Using our personal experiences, we’ve gathered tips to train your body, pack your backpack, use your gear, and plan your route. When you’re learning how to prepare for a multi-day hike, just follow this guide for the needed skills.
Our hiking background
During our adventures, we’ve completed several multi-day hikes that pushed us to the limit. Probably our most brutal was a 7-day trek in Australia. It was scorching hot, and there were barely any shadows for shade. Cause we were drenched in buckets of sweat, we had to drink 3-4 liters of water a day.
And with no taps around to refill our bottles and water bladders, we had to filter water from sources like rivers and natural pools. We also had to carry our tent, sleeping gear, and food supply on our backs the entire expedition. The bright side is that your backpack gets lighter each day on these intrepid treks, as you slowly consume the food supply.
Closer to home, we’ve embarked on many adventurous day hikes in beautiful destinations such as Iceland and the Faroe Islands. These treks had their own challenges and made us stronger hikers once conquered. It’s always exhilarating to find strenuous hikes near our home country, and Europe has its fair share of trekking utopias. We were inspired to create a list of the greatest hikes in Europe to share the best day and multi-day treks on the continent.
Whether it’s mainland Europe or down under in Australia, we can’t get enough of backpacking. These multi-day hikes give us a sense of freedom, and it’s awe-inspiring to see places only tough adventurers can reach. Daring to wander through the middle of nowhere for days? Count us in!
How to train for backpacking
Nothing is more foolish than lounging around for weeks or months, then suddenly departing for a trekking expedition. Your body won’t be prepared for the exercise, and you likely won’t be able to complete your routes. If you had high expectations of seeing dramatic scenery, you’ll be bummed if you can’t get there.
That’s why disciplining yourself to train for your trip is the first step to have an unforgettable adventure. If we hadn’t trained for our 7-day hike in Australia, then we’d be stranded ducks in the Outback. Here are some of the methods we use to physically get ready for any trekking vacation.
Walk a TON of stairs
For any strenuous hike, you can expect constant elevation change. Ascents leave you gasping for air, while descents can be brutal on the knees. The best way to train for backpacking trips with steep climbs is to walk stairs. And we mean A LOT of stairs. Get off the flat terrain of the city sidewalk, ditch the elevators, and hit the stair master. Nothing replaces the real shebang of mountainous terrain, but climbing stairs is great practice.
Practice hiking with a backpack
When you’re trekking through the wilderness, you don’t have the luxury of leaving your stuff at home. To reach your next campsite, you must carry all your belongings on your back (unless you’re prepared to dish out money and pay someone to haul your stuff). That’s why it’s critical to familiarize yourself with hiking with extra weight on your back.
While you’re still being a city slicker, walk down the sidewalk with a book bag filled with belongings. Maybe some clothes, a few books, or even carry your groceries home from the store. Walk around with a packed backpack everywhere you go, and you won’t notice a thing on the trail.
Strengthen your legs
Your legs need to be strong on the trail and able to withstand hours upon hours of strenuous activity. If your muscles aren’t strong or have zero endurance, then there’s no way you’ll finish multi-day treks. Before your trip, find the easiest way to work out your leg muscles near your home.
You can lift weights at the gym, jog around the park, or do some plyometrics inside your house. Find a consistent routine to workout your leg muscles to get them ready for the physical exertion of the trails.
Build your balance & core
Don’t underestimate the importance of having good balance and strong core muscles on your expedition. You’ll be trekking on rugged, uneven terrain that’ll surely knock you off gait many times. If you can’t balance yourself when that happens, it’s easier to stumble and fall on the trail. And that could potentially lead to a serious injury. The absolute last thing you want is to get hurt!
When you’re training for backpacking, we suggest ending your prep workouts with balance and core strengthening exercises. Some quality core exercises include planks, leg raises, and flutter kicks. To improve your balance, try one-legged stands, one-legged squats, or side leg raises. There are tons of other exercises but find a routine that works for you to boost your balance and core muscles. It goes a long way to prevent nasty falls and injuries while you’re hiking.
Check out the video below for a complete core home-workout without equipment!
Training for backpacking: How to pack your bag
It’s not all about getting in shape to go backpacking, but you also need to know how to pack your backpack. Not many backpackers consider this but placing your gear the proper way makes the journey easier. When you efficiently pack, you’ll increase storage space and maintain the correct weight distribution on your back. You’ll have better balance and more control of your backpack when hiking the trail.
While there’s no one correct way to pack your bag, finding what works for you takes practice. Take it from our experience; it may take a few different layouts to find the right fit. To make packing easier, here are some things to remember. If you need extra guidance, check out our in-depth guide on how to pack a backpack.
Separate your backpack into zones
The first thing you should do is lay all your gear in front of you to ensure nothing is left behind. If you’re not sure of the essential items for backpacking, then check out our Packing list for multi-day hikes. Once you have all your gear, remember these guidelines when packing your bag:
- Large, bulky items only needed for camp go in the bottom
- Heavier gear you might need while hiking goes in the center
- Essential trail items go on top
- Other essentials (like your water bottle) can go in side pockets
- Always pack your bag horizontally and balance the weight distribution
- If one side feels heavier, rearrange your gear inside the backpack
What works for us is packing our bags and walking around for a couple of kilometers to judge its comfort.
Adjust the straps
If you have the proper backpack, you’ll notice it has straps that fasten around your body. Backpacks made for multi-day treks usually come with shoulder straps, a chest strap, and a waist strap. Finding the right fit can be annoying, and it takes some adjusting to see what’s comfortable for your body. Remember these tips for a more comfortable fit with your straps:
- Start with the waist strap to build a sturdy base and limit shoulder pain
- Tighten the shoulder straps forward and then downward for a snug fit
- Don’t pull the shoulder straps too tight
- Clasp your chest strap below your collarbone
There’s no perfect fit, and it may take a few adjustments to move the weight to different pressure points. Once you find the strap adjustments that fit your body type, it removes unnecessary strain.
Don’t forget water
This should be a no-brainer, but always have a designated spot for your water bottle. Water is sometimes heavy to carry but you want it accessible at all times.
How to train with your gear
It’s pointless to have all the right gear for backpacking when you don’t know how to use it. When setting off on a multi-day trekking expedition, it’s crucial to learn how to use your equipment to survive. You’ll be carrying your temporary home on your back, and it would be a disaster not knowing how to arrange it. When we learned how to prepare for a multi-day hike, we practiced these basic skills around the clock.
Setting up your tent
The first item of business is pitching your tent, and you shouldn’t embark on a multi-day trek until you master this skill. Whichever tent you prefer for your hike, practice setting up and packing your tent many times. We can’t stress this enough! You DO NOT want to be exposed to extreme conditions at night. Learn how to pitch your tent like the back of your hand to stay safe on your adventure.
Cook meals on your gas stove
Just like putting the roof over your head, you must know how to prepare food when backpacking. A travel-sized gas stove comes in handy on the trail when you want a nourishing meal at your campsite. But when you don’t know how to operate a gas stove, your food options will be severely limited. Before your trip, buy food you plan on eating during your hike and practice cooking it on your gas stove.
Learn how to use your water filter
If you’re considering a multi-day trek, then you can forget about finding drinkable water. When you’re hiking in the backcountry, there’s no treated water or bottled water available. A functional water filter is a necessity to treat the water you find in streams, murky ponds, muddy puddles, or other nasty sources. There are often harmful bacteria, parasites, and chemicals in the water, and the proper filter or purifier is a lifesaver. Literally!
Before you venture into the wilderness, read the instructions on your water filter and practice using it. Incorrect usage of your filter can lead to a serious illness on your backpacking trip. And when you’re far from civilization, it’s a situation you don’t want to be in.
Know how to use a multi-function tool kit
When you’re on the trail, some of your gear will inevitably break. Unless you know how to fix it on your trek, broken gear can be useless until you access better tools. If you want items to last for the long haul, then knowing how to use a multi-function tool kit is a game-changer. Although we don’t recommend breaking your gear, you can use something already damaged to finetune your skills.
Trekking poles – to bring or not to bring
This will depend on the type of hiker you are and if you need extra support. While trekking poles are essential for some hikers, others function fine without them. When you’re learning how to train for a multi-day hike, test yourself on a moderate or hard day hike with and without poles. If you don’t need poles or hate using them, then scratch that off your packing list. It’s only wasted weight when you pack trekking poles while you don’t use them.
Training for backpacking: How to prepare your route
Scouting your desired route and having an idea of what to expect is another essential skill for backpacking. If you’re clueless about what type of terrain you’re hiking, then you won’t know what to pack. You also want to know what resources are available since that can determine the weight of your backpack. When preparing a multi-day hike, make sure you answer these questions before you pack.
Research the terrain
The first thing you should do is figure out what type of terrain you’ll encounter on your hike. How much elevation change is there? Are there slippery rocks? Do you have to cross water? These are only a handful of questions you should look up about your desired route. If you can find public reviews about your specific trail, that’s even better.
How’s the weather
The weather forecast at your hiking destination will play a huge role in what clothes you pack. Check the monthly forecast for your destination to get an idea of the temperature, amount of rainfall, humidity, snowfall, or other factors that will alter your packing list.
Is water available
Are there clean water sources on your route every day of the hike? If not, you need to bring a water filter to make dirty water drinkable.
Can you use GPS
Some multi-day treks are connected enough to have GPS routes that you can download to your phone. If this is available for your backpacking adventure, then we suggest taking advantage of the technology. But sometimes you don’t have that option and must navigate the old-fashioned method. That means breaking out a map and compass to find your way on the trail. If you’re unfamiliar with those tools, then add them to your training for backpacking checklist.
Can you sleep in a hut
If you don’t mind spending extra cash, some multi-day routes have huts available to rest your head. For extremely strenuous trekking expeditions, huts come in handy when you want to pack lighter. It’s also good to know when there are no huts and your hike requires a tent.
Can you buy food
Backpacking burns lots of energy, and having enough food is essential for a safe adventure. If food is available to buy while you’re hiking, then you’ll save lots of room in your backpack. For isolated multi-day hikes away from everything, it’s critical to pack the right amount of food. The last thing you want is to run out of food when you have no energy.
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We love to hear from you
Thanks for checking out our guide to efficiently train for backpacking and hiking. Hopefully, this has provided the information you need to properly prepare yourself for your trekking adventure. If you have backpacking experiences or other tips to recommend, please leave a comment below.
Don’t forget to check out our destination pages to see our favorite places to hike. For more travel tips and inspiration, check out more of our travel tips.