8 Exercises You Can Do With Just Your Backpack

Skip the dumbbells and the gym membership. This year, whip yourself into shape with nothing more than your backpack.

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It’s no secret that most backpackers would rather be outside than in the gym. That’s where this ultra-portable workout comes in: All you really need is your backpack, a little space, and the desire to climb higher, go farther, and see more of what this world has to offer.

If you’re ready to get started, grab a 30 to 50L pack, fill it with books, gear, or a few well-sealed water bottles (make sure your pack is well balanced), and put these moves to the test. To keep everything from jostling around during exercise, fill the excess space with a few heavy sweatshirts or a blanket — it won’t add much weight, but will keep your back balanced and steady.

The circuit takes 10 minutes to complete, so aim to cycle through it two to four times for a 20- to 40-minute workout. Do it several times a week in conjunction with short- to mid-range hikes ranging from 3 to 8 miles, and you’ll be ready to hit the trails for more challenging treks in no time.

Bear Crawl

Put on your backpack and pull the chest and hip straps tight. Start in a crawling position on the ground with your palms under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Press through your palms and the balls of your feet, lifting your knees off the ground. Crawl forward 10 yards, stepping forward with your right hand, left foot, left hand, right foot, bending your knees and hips as you feel comfortable, then reverse the movement and crawl backward 10 yards. Continue for 60 seconds.

Works: The entire anterior chain, including your quads, core, chest, and shoulders

Hiking benefits: Total-body conditioning

Squat Press

Hold your backpack straps at your shoulders with the pack positioned behind you. Press your hips backward and squat down as far as you can, keeping your weight in your heels, your knees aligned with your toes. When your thighs are at or below parallel to the floor, press through your heels to return to standing. As you stand, press your arms straight up over your head, lifting your pack upward. Lower the pack back to the starting position. Continue for 60 seconds.

Works: Glutes, quads, hamstrings, core, and shoulders

Hiking benefits: Great for developing leg strength for uphill climbs

Lateral Plank Walks

Put your pack on and pull the chest and hip straps tight. Set up in a push-up position on the floor with your palms under your shoulders, your arms extended, and your body forming a straight line from heels to head. Tighten your core, then take a step right with your right palm and right foot, meeting them with your left palm and left foot. Continue the lateral movement to the right for about 10 feet, then reverse the movement and step to the left, returning to your starting location. Continue for 60 seconds

Works: Hips, core, shoulders, chest, and triceps

Hiking benefits: A strong core helps protect your low back, especially when bending, twisting, reaching, or moving in unexpected directions

Deadlift Row

Hold both backpack straps in both hands at your thighs, your arms extended, so the pack is parallel to the ground. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, knees slightly bent. Press your hips backward and hinge forward in a deadlift, keeping your back straight and your core engaged, so your glutes and hamstrings control the movement. When your back is roughly parallel to the ground, bend your elbows and row the pack up to your torso, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Lower the pack, then squeeze your hamstrings and glutes to pull yourself back to standing. Continue for 60 seconds

Works: Entire posterior chain including hamstrings, glutes, core, and back

Hiking benefits: The glutes are the powerhouse of the body, so strong glutes make climbing easier to undertake, and a strong core and back make it easier to carry heavy loads

Step Ups

Put your pack on and pull the chest and hip straps tight. Stand facing a sturdy bench, chair, or a large, flat rock that’s about 12 to 36 inches tall if you’re exercising outside. Maintaining a tight core and good posture, step up onto the platform with your right foot, press through your heel, and as you come to standing, draw your left knee high in front of your body. Reverse the movement, carefully returning your left foot, then your right, back to the floor. Continue the exercise while leading with your right foot for 60 seconds. Then, switch legs and lead with your left foot for 60 seconds.

Works: Entire lower body — glutes, hamstrings, calves, and quads — as well as the core

Hiking benefits: Directly transfers to hiking up hills and climbing over challenging terrain

Pushup to Side Plank

Wear your pack and pull the chest and hip straps tight so it’s secure to your body. Set up in pushup position with your body straight, core engaged, and your hands positioned slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Bend your elbows and lower your chest toward the floor so your elbows angle backward at 45-degree angles to your body. When you’re just a few inches from the floor, press through your palms and return to start, but as you do so, shift your weight to your left palm and lift your right hand from the floor, reaching it toward the ceiling as you twist your torso. You’ll end in side plank, supported by your left palm and the outside of your left foot. Return to the pushup position, perform another pushup, and repeat the side plank to the opposite side. Continue the exercise for 60 seconds.

Works: Chest, triceps, shoulders, and core, especially the obliques

Hiking benefits: Core strength for carrying a heavy pack without placing undue strain on your low back, and upper body strength for a well-balanced body capable of lifting, pushing, pressing, and picking yourself up off the ground if you fall down

Lateral Lunge and Curl

Stand tall, your feet roughly hip-distance apart, your knees slightly bent. Hold one backpack strap in each hand, your arms extended downward at your sides, your palms facing forward with the pack perpendicular to the ground. Take a wide step laterally with your right leg, angling your toe slightly outward with your weight in your heel. Press your hips backward and bend your right knee, keeping your left leg straight, lunging to the right. As you lunge, curl your palms up to your shoulders, lifting your backpack (keep your upper arms close to your sides). Reverse the movement, lowering the backpack and pressing through your right heel and step back to the starting position. Lunge to the right for 60 seconds, then lunge to the left for 60 seconds.

Works: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, hip adductors and abductors, core, and biceps

Hiking benefits: Strengthens the inner and outer thighs to make lateral movements easier

Oblique Twists

Sit on the ground, your knees bent, your heels lightly touching the floor. Hold your pack between your hands at your waist. Keeping your torso straight, lean back until you feel your abs engage. From this position, twist your torso to the right, tapping the pack on the ground outside your right hip, then reverse the movement, twisting all the way to the left side. Continue for 60 seconds.

Works: Abdominals, especially the obliques

Hiking benefits: A strong core makes it easier to carry a heavy pack, and strong obliques make it easier to bend and twist while supporting a heavy weight