If you haven’t been hiking long miles all winter, you may be dreading those first few long days in the woods. For most, riding a desk at a Monday through Friday job is a reality. The quintessential “weekend warrior” dreams and schemes all week about their next destination on trail. A relatively inactive or low mileage winter lends itself to extreme soreness after those first long days…the kind that has you holding on to the railing just to make it down a flight of stairs for the first few days back to work.

There are ways to mitigate some of that early season soreness and do better by your body as the days lengthen and the trail conditions improve. Regardless of whether the goal is to peak bag all weekend, complete a Pemi Loop, or simply hike for half a day on a Saturday, there are ways to make those activities a little easier on your body. Here’s what you can start to do today to get your body ready to absorb the impact of hiking.


In an age of step counters, most of us have walking data at our fingertips. Even smartphones are equipped with health apps that can give you a rough idea of how far you are walking on a daily basis (if you generally keep your phone on you). Devices such as a Fitbit or Garmin provide step counts. According to the Mayo Clinic, most Americans take between 3,000 and 4,000 steps per day. This only amounts to 1.5 or 2 miles per day! Think about your average weekend hike. My guess is it’s a heck of a lot longer than that, and isn’t flat. If you are only walking ten miles Monday through Friday, you are doing a great disservice to your joints and bones. Make a conscious effort to get in more steps each day. This may require a slightly earlier wake-up time, a lunch walk, or an evening jaunt. Either way, increasing the time spent on your legs will make you better prepared to absorb the stress of hiking.

Ice, rock, or plastic, mileage is mileage, and it all adds up. | Credit: John Lepak


Adding elevation to your weekday routine will prime your legs, especially those calves and glutes, for long hiking days with big elevation gain. You may be thinking to yourself “where?” if you live in a concrete jungle. If you don’t have access to a local hill (think fire tower, city outlook, or state park with a vantage point), then make your way to the gym and get on the step mill. Thirty to sixty minutes of climbing a few days a week will remind you of how hard those ascents can be and wake up those sleepy calves. If a gym membership or gym access isn’t available to you, stair repeats can fit the bill. A local school stadium or your building at work can provide a treasure trove of stairs. For an extra challenge, throw your pack on with some of the weight you will be carrying on your weekend adventures.

A DWR coating will keep you dry on shorter runs in the elements | Credit: Katharina Lepak


Running may not be for everyone, but I’m here to tell you it has space in your routine if your body will allow you to do it. Running does not have to be the kind of hell most people imagine it to be…there is no need to throw on your shoes and bust out three miles around the block with no training. You can however incorporate run/walk intervals into your weekly training to build muscle and strengthen soft tissue. Check out the Jeff Galloway method for insight on how to get started with incorporating running into your life. Running will increase your cardiovascular endurance, giving you a leg up so to speak when climbing and covering long miles.

Credit: Heather Cote


If running isn’t your thing or you are prevented from pounding the trails or pavement, consider adding cycling to your routine. This is an amazing way to increase cardiovascular endurance and increase strength without pounding on your joints. Attending spin classes or getting out on your old hybrid will add training volume with low impact. Spin classes add a high-intensity component and that sweat session feels so good. Gravel cycling is increasing in popularity and can be done with a hybrid or mountain bike if you don’t have the money to drop on a gravel-specific bike right now. Dirt roads are quieter and add a challenge for your legs. The work you do on the bike will translate to hiking.

Credit: Heather Cote


Basic strength training movements can do wonders for allowing your body to carry a heavy pack with a little less stress on joints and soft tissue. Thinking back to the “weekend warrior” lifestyle, it’s probably fair to say you aren’t carrying a 20-pound pack around all day at work. By incorporating basic strength moves, such as squats and lunges, you can be better prepared for summer backpacking trips. You can further enhance strength with single-leg isolation exercises. The act of hiking up a long ascent is like doing a single-leg lunge with every step. Give yourself an edge with strength movement by adding weight too. If you aren’t sure where to start and have a gym membership, inquire about a one-on-one session with a trainer who can show you how to safely execute these movements. Group training environments can provide coaches and reduce the stress of learning movements. Adding in strength training, even 20 minutes two days a week, will help your body become and stay more fit during hiking season.

Finally, start slowly when starting a new exercise regime. When in doubt, consult with your primary care doctor to ensure you are healthy enough to incorporate these types of workouts into your lifestyle. Be sure to also add in rest days, focus on hydration and fuel (much like you do on a hike!) and get sleep. If you start to develop a nagging issue or injury, stop and reset. Pushing through may very well result in an injury that takes you out of the hiking game all together. At the end of the day, the goal is to wake your body up and make those hikes a little less stressful with quicker recovery time. Small changes can give you big results this coming hiking season!