Hiking is an amazing way to get a workout in, get out in nature, and experience beautiful places that are otherwise inaccessible. While hiking essentially boils down to prolonged walking, it can be quite demanding when you are carrying a backpack, hiking uphill, or scrambling over uneven ground.
Fortunately, there are easy steps you can take to improve your hiking stamina and prepare yourself for a successful adventure. Here they are…
10 ways to increase stamina for hiking:
1. Prepare Your Feet For Hiking
Your feet are your most important tool when you are hiking, and nothing can ruin a hike as quickly as painful or sore feet. Prevent pain and blisters by investing in some high-quality hiking boots or shoes as well as a few pairs of socks that are made specifically for hiking.
While it might seem ridiculous to spend in the neighborhood of $20 on one pair of socks, your feet will definitely thank you on the trail. Hiking socks are made to keep your feet dry all day, which prevents blisters and hot spots.
Make sure that you break in new hiking boots or shoes gradually before you embark on a long hike. Wear them around town for a few days when you first get them or take shorter walks. This helps make sure your shoes are the right size and will help prevent blisters on the trail.
If you do get blisters while you are hiking, stop as soon as you notice and lance the blisters. This is an unsavory process, but unless you lance them, the blisters will just continue to get worse. Once all the fluid is drained, cover the area in Moleskin, sports tape, or duct tape. If you know you are prone to blisters and hot spots, you can also tape up problem areas preventatively, before a blister forms.
Finally, strengthen the bones, muscles, and tendons in your feet. This helps prevent injuries like stress fractures and plantar fasciitis. Walking barefoot over uneven surfaces like beach rocks or sand helps strengthen your feet structurally and toughens your skin to lessen the chance of blisters.
There are also a few exercises that target your feet specifically, like calf raises. Calf raises strengthen not only your calf muscles, but also your ankle tendons and ligaments, and your feet. Plus, they help improve your balance.
“Towel grabs” are another good exercise for your feet: stand or sit with a hand towel or shower towel flat on the ground in front of you, then use only your toes to pull the towel toward you. This targets the muscles and tendons in the arch of your foot, which can help prevent pain on the trail.
2. Breathe More Efficiently
This is a big struggle for me personally, as I get out of breath quickly on uphill hikes. Luckily, I’ve found some things that help. Strengthening your muscles (especially the big muscle groups in your legs and your glutes) and doing cardio workouts a few times a week will increase your overall stamina and also allow you to intake oxygen more efficiently, which keeps your muscles working stronger and longer.
Practicing mindful breath work a few times a week is another way to increase your lung capacity. Finally, doing yoga or some light stretching can help loosen up the muscles surrounding your lungs and rib cage, which will allow you to breathe more deeply and take in more oxygen per breath.
3. Eat Quality Energy Foods
The best foods to eat before and during hikes are chock full of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats, like oatmeal, eggs, nuts, lean meats, and pasta. Depending on the length of your hike, it may not be practical to pack perishable foods, but be sure to look for lightweight, calorie-dense options.
Fueling up in the morning before you begin hiking is super important for maintaining your energy throughout the day, but it’s also critical to bring plenty of snacks and drink water even when you aren’t yet feeling thirsty. You can burn up over 500 calories per hour hiking, so make sure to stay fueled up to prevent exhaustion.
4. Lose Some Extra Body Fat
Excess body fat is essentially just weighing you down on the trail, making your leg muscles and glutes work harder than necessary. Conveniently, hiking is a great way to lose body fat so by hiking more, you will develop muscle mass and shed extra fat.
Lifting weights a few times a week is another great way to put on muscle, which is itself an excellent fat burner. Strength training with weights also helps prevent muscle loss when your body is working hard in a calorie deficit, as is frequently the case on long and intense hikes.
To read more on how body fat percentage and consistent training affects the body in endurance events, here’s a study that goes deeper into the topic: Marathon performance in relation to body fat percentage and training indices in recreational male runners. – Journal of Sports Medicine
5. Lighten Your Pack Weight
Your backpack weight can have a huge impact on your stamina. In fact, packing too much weight is probably the number one mistake that new backpackers make. Sleeping systems and water are the heaviest and bulkiest items in your pack, so do your research on R-values and warmth ratings to ensure that you can carry the bare minimum amount of gear for sleeping while still staying cozy all night.
Plan out your water needs so that you can filter water at a stream or spring along the way whenever possible, and carry a collapsible water container rather than a heavy hard plastic water bottle.
6. Full Body Weight Training
As I mentioned in the few of the previous tips, weight training can help you not only with burning off extra fat but also with taking in oxygen more efficiently and improving your lung capacity. The more conditioned your muscles are, the less hard they will have to work at hiking. They will stay oxygenated longer and you won’t reach the huffing and puffing stage as fast.
Weight training can also prevent injuries on the trail since it helps strengthen joints and ligaments as well as the big muscle groups. This can be the difference between rolling your ankle but catching yourself and a hike-ending ankle sprain or fall.
7. Hike More!
As with anything, practice makes perfect. Hiking more will help increase your stamina and strengthen your muscles. The more you hike, the easier it will be to crush out increasingly longer and harder hikes. Consider hiking with a weighted vest on for extra conditioning.
Even if you only have time for a walk around the neighborhood after work, wearing a weighted vest can take your training regimen up a notch, helping you build stamina even faster.
8. Cross Train
While the best way to prepare for hiking is to actually hike with a pack on, cross training with other sports and activities can help prevent monotony and be a fun way to keep your muscles in good shape in the offseason. Swimming, skiing, running, and cycling are all excellent options that incorporate cardio and strength elements.
These activities will build your aerobic conditioning and strengthen your joints as well.
9. Condition Uphill Hiking Muscles
Hiking uphill works nearly every group of leg muscles: your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, glutes, and hip muscles, plus your abdominal muscles get involved. Doing exercises that target these muscle groups specifically will improve stamina as well.
We have also put together a list of exercises for hiking muscles with helpful instructions: How to Get in Shape for Hiking: Training, Tips and Exercises
10. Work On Your Mental Strength
Mental stamina plays a huge role in hiking and can definitely impact your physical stamina. If you start the day with a bad attitude and an “I can’t” attitude, chances are you will struggle on the trail, feel tired quickly, and generally have a bad day hiking. Fortunately, mental strength can be trained and developed just like physical strength.
Affirmations can be helpful for banishing negative thoughts, especially when you are panting and sweating your way up a particularly miserable steep trail. Repeating a positive mantra can help you feel strong and power through the toughest parts of your hike. Some examples of affirmations are as follows:
- “I’ve trained and fueled my body for this, and I will crush it.”
- “This type two fun is worth the struggle.”
- “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”
- “My legs are going to look so great after this hike.”
Affirmations can be silly like that last one, but anything that takes your mind off your immediate suffering or re-frames the activity in a positive light can be majorly helpful!
Visualization can be another useful tool. Imagining yourself at the summit of your hike or at the top of the hill you are climbing and the incredible views that you will soak in will motivate you to keep going.
Goal setting – Finally, set goals for yourself along the hike. Creating small goals and rewarding yourself for reaching them makes the difficult parts of a hike go by faster and seem more achievable.
If you are on a long incline or feeling unmotivated, pick a landmark ahead or set a goal to hike for a certain number of minutes without resting. Your reward can be simple, like a five-minute breather when you reach your goal or a tasty snack. Then pick another goal and start again.
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Cat is originally from Seattle, WA but has traveled around the US and Canada full-time in a self-converted school bus with her boyfriend Aaron since April of 2018. She enjoys rock climbing, paddleboarding, hiking, and generally being outdoors!