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Backpacking Fitness

3 Leg Exercises to Jumpstart Your Hiking Season

Strengthen your legs for early-season hikes, which often involve postholing in lingering snow up high and crossing run-off swollen rivers down low.

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Assisted Pistols


This squat variation demands balance and core strength, building stability to navigate thigh-high snow and turbulent waters.

Sets 3 Reps 8 (each leg)

1. Stand with your back to a chair or bench (or log) as if about to sit.

2. Standing on your right leg, push your butt back and hinge at the hips, keeping your back straight, as you lower yourself toward the chair. Simultaneously float your left leg (keep as straight as possible) out in front of you. Sit lightly and with control.

3. Immediately return to a single-leg standing position by engaging the core, pressing through your right heel, and straightening the right knee. Bring your left foot to the ground.

4. Complete all reps on one side before switching legs. Gradually lower the height of your seat until you can squat to your heels without assistance.

Hanging Knee Raises


This crunch alternative works the core to reinforce good posture and safeguard against back strain while postholing.

Sets 3 Reps 15 (each leg)

1. Hang from a pull-up bar with arms shoulder-width apart and legs together.

2. Keep shoulder blades down and core engaged; lift knees to chest. Hold for one second, then lower knees and straighten legs. Repeat. Rest one minute between sets.

Weighted Step-Ups


This exercise targets hips, quads, glutes, and hamstrings to build endurance.

Sets 3 Reps 15 (each leg)

1. With a medium-weight dumbbell in each hand (one that feels challenging but allows you to move continuously), face a plyo box that’s knee-high or lower. Bend your left knee and place the left foot on the center of the box.

2. Drive through bent leg to stand atop the box. Extend your hip flexors as you tap your right foot next to the left.

3. Keeping the left foot planted, step your right foot off and slowly lower it to the ground. That’s one rep.

4. Continue to step with one leg until all reps are complete. Repeat with opposite side.


After a tough day on the legs, Cofield recommends hitting the trifecta of recovery: soft-tissue work, compression, and elevation. “Use a therapy ball for self-massage to help relax the muscles,” she says. Elevate your legs with or without compression socks to decrease swelling and promote circulation. “The best way to recover is to utilize techniques that will offload the tissues and help with the removal of lactic acid that has accumulated as a byproduct of the muscular activity,” she says.