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Backpacking Fitness

Get Stronger and Faster With Loaded Pack Training

You don't have to spend hours and hours on the trail to get prepared for your next big hike. It's more efficient to train with a loaded pack.

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Training with a pack on might seem obvious, but it’s a commonly overlooked part of trip preparation for backpackers. Most hikers will hit the trails more as the trip gets closer, but this approach often lacks structure and won’t protect you from injuries as well. To make sure your next trip isn’t a total sufferfest, add loaded pack training into your training plan.

There are two main ways to approach loaded pack training: walking around your neighborhood with a loaded pack on, and weekly training hikes to prepare for the big adventure. These might sound similar, but key differences separate these workouts. Both loaded pack training methods will make you stronger and increase your endurance.

Follow This Rule

With loaded pack training and increasing miles, always progress slowly and avoid big jumps in weight or distance. Making jumps too quickly in weight or distance will open the door for overuse injuries that can derail training and trips. So, add roughly 10% more weight and distance each week to allow for a safe and easy progression. Increasing too much too quickly only makes you more susceptible to injury, and you won’t have as strong of a base.

Also, choose a pack weight that is comfortable to start with. Work realistically with your starting fitness level. If you’re unsure about weight, then you should start with 10 to 15 pounds and adjust as needed.

Loaded Pack Walks

Laying a foundation for strength and endurance with a heavier pack is the goal for this workout. Each week, increase the pack weight by following the 10% rule but keep the walk between 45 minutes and an hour. Walk at a normal pace around flat ground (such as your neighborhood) and focus on nose breathing. Also, one to two loaded pack walks per week is ideal. For this workout, the pack weight should be heavier than the weight used for the training hike.

A progression for this workout might outlook something like this:

Week 1: 24-lb. pack
Week 2: 26-lb. pack
Week 3: 28-lb. pack
Week 4: 30-lb. pack

Family with small children hiking outdoors in summer nature, walking in High Tatras.
Only add weight to your backpack in 10% increments every week. (Photo: Halfpoint via Getty Images)

Loaded Pack Training Hikes

If your next trip requires more pack weight and a longer hike, then you should train with a 12-week progression plan. One loaded pack training hike per week is the goal here. The process is relatively straightforward and easiest to lay out starting from the end goal at week twelve. Remember to increase your weight and mileage by no more than 10% each week, so you should calculate what you can expect at your trip, and work backward from there. The most challenging hike should be at least two weeks before the trip begins; this lets your body fully recover before the trip starts. Also, every fourth week should be a “deload” week. That week’s hike will be half the distance and pack weight of the previous training hike.

For example, if the goal is a 30-lb. pack and 14 miles, a breakdown might look like this:

Week 1: 5-6 miles, 14-lb. pack
Week 2: 5-6 miles, 16-lb. pack
Week 3: 5-6 miles, 18-lb. pack
Week 4: deload at 50% weight and distance

Week 5: 7-8 miles, 20-lb. pack
Week 6: 8-9 miles 22-lb. pack
Week 7: 9-10 miles, 24-lb. pack
Week 8: deload at 50% weight and distance

Week 9: 11-12 miles, 26-lb. pack
Week 10: 12-13 miles, 28-lb. pack
Week 11: 14+ miles, 30-lb. pack
Week 12: deload at 50% weight and distance

Lee Welton is a physical therapist assistant and personal trainer in Southeast Idaho. He thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018 and has trekked through the Dolomites in Italy. He can typically be found hiking and exploring the trails in Idaho and Wyoming. For more information, videos, and resources from Welton, visit trailsidefitness.com.


From 2022