How To Train For Long-Distance Hikes

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Long-distance hikes offer a unique blend of physical and mental challenges, stunning scenery, and a deeeeeep connection with nature. It’s a chance to unplug from the world and spend some dedicated quality time in nature. But before you lace up those hiking boots, it’s important to train for hiking long distances to prevent injuries and ensure your physical fitness is up for the mileage.

So buckle up, because in this blog post, we’re diving into the nitty-gritty of how to train for long hikes!

We’ll cover everything from getting your body in shape to finding your way without getting lost in the woods. And let’s not forget about picking the right gear —because nothing puts a damper on a hike like blisters or an ill-fitting backpack.

Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or dipping your toes into long-distance hiking for the first time, consider this guide your trusty sidekick. Together, we’ll conquer those trails and leave Mother Nature high-fiving!

The Importance of Training for Long Hikes

Training is absolutely essential before taking on a long hike because of the physical and mental challenges that come with such adventures. After all, long hikes are very different from short trails! 

Now, your definition of a long hike may vary, but here at Explorer Chick, we consider anything over 6 miles long. 6 miles will take the average hiker 3-5 hours, depending on fitness level, terrain, and the number of stops. And any backpacking trip is a long hike, because you’ll be hiking multiple days with a heavy pack.

But regardless of what you define as a long hike, endurance is the key. Long hikes demand hours of sustained effort, so having a strong ticker from activities like running or brisk walking helps you go the distance without burning out.

Strength matters, too. Uneven terrain, uphill battles, and schlepping a backpack all test your muscles. You’ve got to beef up those biceps and quads to handle the strain!

Also, focus and determination are your best friends. Long hikes can wear you out mentally, but training builds resilience, helping you power through fatigue and stay laser-focused on reaching your destination.

Mental toughness is a must. Nature can throw curveballs, but training gives you the confidence to tackle challenges and handle surprises like a boss.

Remember, injury is no joke. Skipping training leaves your muscles and joints vulnerable to strains, sprains, and worse. Training for long hikes strengthens your body and lowers the risk of painful setbacks.

Skipping prep can turn your dream hike into a nightmare. Fatigue, sore muscles, and frustration can suck the joy right out of your adventure faster than you can say “ouch.” And, in the worst of cases, cause potentially dangerous situations and injuries.

A group of Explorer Chick women on a mountainous hiking trail

Key Techniques

Here are the primary techniques you will need whether you’re training to hike Half Dome, planning an epic hut-to-hut backpacking trip, or just want to get in tip-top shape for hiking season.

1. Strength Training


Strength training is like the secret sauce of hiking prep, boosting muscle stability and overall performance on the trail. Here’s a few of our favorite strength training exercises:

  • Leg Strength: When it comes to conquering those steep inclines and rocky paths, strong legs are a must! Think squats, lunges, and calf raises—they’re like the Avengers of leg workouts, ready to tackle any terrain.


  • Core Stability: A solid core is your hiking MVP, keeping you balanced and upright like a champ. Planks, Russian twists, and mountain climbers are your go-to moves for strengthening those abs, obliques, and lower back muscles to carry your pack with ease (well, as easy as carrying a pack CAN be).


  • Upper Body Strength: Sure, hiking might be all about those leg muscles, but don’t sleep on your upper body! From hoisting that backpack to conquering trail scrambles like a ninja, a strong upper body is your secret weapon. Think push-ups, pull-ups, and rows—they’ll have your chest, back, shoulders and arms feeling like they can take on the world.

A woman doing a crunch while laying down

2. Endurance Building


Endurance building is like the bread and butter of hiking prep—without it, you’ll be wheezing like a deflated balloon halfway up the trail. So let’s get those hearts pumping and those lungs working overtime!

Several activities effectively build endurance and prepare hikers for long treks: 

  • Running: Strap on those sneakers and hit the pavement! Regular running sessions are like rocket fuel for your aerobic capacity, boosting stamina and endurance for those long hauls on the trail. Mix it up with intervals, hill sprints, and those long, slow-distance runs—they’ll have you powering through those hikes like a champ.


  • Cycling: Pedal power, baby! Cycling is the low-impact hero of endurance training, giving your heart and leg muscles a serious workout without wrecking your joints. Whether you’re cruising through the countryside or hitting the hills, cycling at different intensities and distances amps up your stamina for hiking adventures.


  • Progressive Hikes: Think of it like leveling up in a video game—start with the easy stuff and gradually ramp up the difficulty. Shorter, less challenging hikes are your warm-up, while longer treks over tougher terrain are your final boss battles. It’s all about building up that endurance one step at a time.


  • Weighted Backpack Training: Time to load up like a pack mule (just kidding)! Hiking with a weighted backpack will mimic the conditions you’ll face out in the wild and get your body used to carrying the extra weight. Start light and gradually add more weight as your fitness levels soar.

woman running in fall leaves

3. Flexibility and Injury Prevention


Flexibility isn’t just for circus artists and yoga enthusiasts—it’s a crucial tool in a hiker’s toolkit, helping prevent injuries, boost performance, and keep you comfy as you conquer those trails.

So let’s limber up and dive into some stretching exercises to help prevent soreness and stiffness.

Stretching Exercises for Hikers


  • Calf Stretches: Stand tall, face a wall, and get ready to feel the burn. Step one foot forward and one foot back, keeping those heels planted. Lean forward until you feel that sweet stretch in the back calf. Hold it like you’re striking a pose for 15-30 seconds, then switch legs.


  • Quadriceps Stretches: Stand tall, grab an ankle, and let’s get flexible! Gently pull that ankle towards your backside until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh. Keep those knees close together and hold the pose for the same 15-30 seconds. Then switch legs and repeat—because balance is key, my friend.


  • Hamstring Stretches: Take a seat and get ready to reach for the stars—well, your toes, at least. Sit on the ground with one leg straight out and the other bent, foot against the inner thigh of the extended leg. Reach forward like you’re trying to touch your toes, and hold that stretch for all it’s worth.


  • Hip Flexor Stretches: Kneel like you’re proposing to the trail ahead, with one knee down and the other foot flat in front of you. Gently push those hips forward until you feel the stretch in the front of your hip and thigh. Hold that pose like you’re striking a power pose in a superhero movie.


  • IT Band Stretches: Stand tall, feet hip-width apart, and prepare to unleash the stretch. Cross one foot behind the other and lean towards the side of the crossed leg, reaching overhead like you’re reaching for the stars. Feel that stretch along the outer thigh and hip, and hold it like a boss.

a woman lays on a yoga mat stretching her calf muscles

4. Balance Training: The Unsung Hero


Balance training may not get the same hype as strength and endurance, but let us tell you, it’s the unsung hero of hike prep.

Picture this: you’re trekking through the wilderness, dodging rocks and roots. Without balance, you’d be stumbling around like a newborn giraffe. Here’s a few balance exercises for hikes to make sure you’re steady on trail:

  • Single-Leg Stands: Channel your inner flamingo and stand tall on one leg. Keep those hips level, engage that core, and hold the pose like you’re auditioning for a statue role. Aim for 30-60 seconds of zen-like balance before gracefully switching legs.


  • Bosu Ball Workouts: Enter the Bosu ball—half stability ball, half magical balance enhancer. From squats to lunges to single-leg stands, this wobbly wonderland adds an extra layer of instability to your workout, turning every move into a balancing act worthy of the circus.


  • Balance Board Exercises: Step onto the balance board and get ready to rock and roll—literally. With feet hip-width apart, ride the wave of equilibrium as the board tilts in all directions. Add squats, lunges, and twists to the mix for a balancing bonanza that’ll leave you feeling like a gymnast on a tightrope.


  • Tai Chi and Yoga: Slow, controlled movements are the name of the game in Tai Chi and yoga. From tree pose to warrior III to eagle pose, these ancient practices strengthen stabilizing muscles, improve flexibility, and dial up your body awareness to ninja levels. Plus, they’re like meditation in motion—bonus points for zen vibes.

a woman doing yoga in nature

5. Mental Preparation


Long-distance hikes aren’t just about physical endurance—it’s a mental game, too.

  • Setting realistic expectations is key. Think of it like setting the GPS for your hike—being prepared for both highs and lows helps you navigate the trail with balance.


  • Visualize success. Picture yourself overcoming obstacles and reaching your goals like a champ. This mental rehearsal boosts your confidence and resilience when the going gets tough.


  • Stress management is crucial. Take deep breaths, practice mindfulness, and keep your cool even in challenging moments.


  • Stay positive. Positivity is your hiking superpower. Whether you’re facing a steep climb or a storm, maintaining a positive mindset, practicing gratitude, and building a sense of community with fellow hikers will keep you smiling through it all.


6. Nutrition and Hydration Strategies


Proper fueling and hydration aren’t just nice-to-haves—they’re a must in long hikes, keeping you energized and ready to conquer those trails. You’ve gotta have gas in the tank to go far! Here’s how to nail your nutrition and hydration strategy for long-distance hikes:

  • Balanced Diet: Think of your meals and snacks as a superhero squad—you need a mix of carbs, proteins, sugars, and fats to keep your energy levels up and your muscles fueled for the long haul.


  • Portable, Nutrient-Dense Foods: Lightweight and nutrient-packed snacks are your hiking BFFs. Trail mix, nuts, energy bars, and dried fruits are like tiny powerhouses of energy, keeping you fueled without weighing down your backpack like a sack of bricks.


  • Hydration: Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink? Not on our watch! Sip fluids regularly before, during, and after hiking to keep dehydration at bay. We love using a hydration bladder so you don’t have to stop to take a drink of water.


  • Electrolyte Balance: Electrolytes are also key for long hikes — we love packing electrolyte packs to add to a 1L water bottle (don’t put them in your hydration bladder unless you want mold…). Bananas, oranges, nuts, seeds, and salty snacks are also great for electrolyte boosts.

a woman holds up chickpeas hiking snacks while taking a break on trail

Choose the Right Training Plan

Choosing the right training plan is like picking the perfect playlist for your workout— essential for success and keeping those vibes high. Here’s what you need to know to craft your ideal regimen for training for long hikes:

Assessing Your Current Fitness Level


Before you lace up those sneakers and hit the trail, take stock of where you’re at fitness-wise.

Consider using self-assessment questionnaires, fitness tests, or even chatting with a personal trainer to get the lowdown on your current fitness level. This helps you tailor your training plan to fit your unique needs and goals.

Setting Realistic Goals


Align your goals with your fitness assessment and hiking aspirations. Think of it like choosing checkpoints along your journey—they should be within reach but still push you to grow.

Embrace SMART goals— make sure they’re Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This way, you’ll stay focused and motivated every step of the way.

Establish short-term milestones alongside your long-term objective. These mini-goals are like signposts on the trail—they provide clear benchmarks for progress and keep you moving forward.

Customizing Your Training Plan


Crafting the perfect training plan means customizing it to fit your unique needs, preferences, and schedule. Be flexible to adjust based on your progress and unforeseen challenges.

Incorporate diverse activities like strength training, cardio, and hiking-specific workouts to keep it engaging and effective. Variety ensures you’re prepared for any terrain.

So, customize your plan, stay adaptable, and mix it up to crush those hiking goals!

Incorporating Rest Days and Recovery Techniques


Rest days are essential for giving your body the chance to recover and rebuild.

Here’s how to make the most of them:

  • Embrace the Rest: Rest days aren’t a sign of weakness—they’re a crucial part of the process. Listen to your body and give it the rest it needs to recharge and recoup.


  • Active Recovery: Rest doesn’t have to mean sitting on the couch all day. Light activities like gentle stretching, yoga, or a leisurely walk can help improve blood flow and speed up recovery.


  • Recovery Techniques: Treat yourself like the hiking champion you are with recovery techniques like foam rolling, massage, and ice baths. These methods can help reduce muscle soreness and improve overall recovery.
  • Sleep: Don’t underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality shut-eye each night to support your body’s recovery process.

Gear Up: Selecting the Right Equipment for Long Hikes

When deciding how to train for long hikes, prioritizing safety and comfort is essential. Here’s how to choose the best gear to enhance your hiking experience:

Essential Gear


  • Navigation Tools: Invest in a reliable GPS device or map and compass to keep you on track during those long stretches of trail.
  • First Aid Kit: Pack a comprehensive first aid kit with essentials like bandages, antiseptic wipes, and blister treatments to handle any bumps or bruises along the way.
  • Appropriate Clothing: Choose moisture-wicking, quick-drying clothing layers to keep you comfortable in a variety of weather conditions. Don’t forget to pack extra layers for colder temperatures or unexpected changes in weather.
  • Lightweight Shelter: Consider bringing a ultralight backpacking tent or bivy sack for overnight hikes, providing shelter in case of emergencies or unplanned overnight stays.

explorer chicks camping gear

Hiking Boots and Socks


Invest in high-quality hiking boots specifically designed for long-distance hiking. Look for boots with ample ankle support, durable construction, and waterproof materials to keep your feet protected and comfortable mile after mile.

Pair them with moisture-wicking hiking socks to prevent blisters and keep your feet dry and comfortable throughout your journey.

A pair of hiking boots sitting next to a red backpacking pack in the forest

The Importance of a Good Backpack


Opt for a backpack specifically designed for long hikes, with features like ergonomic design, adjustable straps, and ample storage capacity.

Look for packs with padded shoulder straps and a supportive waist belt to distribute weight evenly and reduce strain on your back and shoulders during long days on the trail.

Test the backpack with weight before purchase to ensure it feels comfortable and stable during extended use.

Three Explorer Chick women wearing backpacking packs overlooking Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

Practical Hiking Skills and Knowledge

When it comes to tackling those long-distance trails, you’ve gotta have more than just physical endurance in your backpack.

You need a solid set of hiking skills and knowledge to make sure you’re not just safe but having a blast out there.

Here’s why mastering navigation, understanding weather and terrain, and knowing your way around wildlife is like having superpowers on the trail:

Understanding Weather and Terrain


Reading weather forecasts and knowing your terrain features is like having a crystal ball for the trail.

It helps you plan smarter routes and keeps you safe when the elements decide to throw a curveball. Plus, it’s handy for knowing whether to pack sunscreen or a raincoat!

Wildlife Safety and Etiquette


Encountering wildlife is all part of the adventure, but it’s important to know how to play nice. First, make sure you research ahead of time what kind of wildlife you may find and any important regulations around safety (i.e. in bear country, you may need to carry a whistle or bear spray, and you may need to secure your food in bear-safe containers).

As a general rule of thumb, if you stumble upon wildlife, keep your distance and respect their space to ensure everyone stays happy and safe.

Navigation Skills for Hikers 


Think of map reading, compass use, and GPS navigation as your trail-side toolkit. Without ’em, you might end up as lost as a sock in the dryer.

Mastering these skills means you can hike confidently, even in the most remote or poorly marked areas.

A POV shot of a hand holding up a paper map and compass in the woods

Building Your Support System

When it comes to conquering those trails, having a support system can make all the difference. Whether it’s the company of fellow hikers or the assistance of technology, building your support network is key. Here’s how:

Training with a Group or Partner 


Hiking alone (especially as a woman) isn’t for everyone, and training with others isn’t just about having a buddy to chat with— it’s about motivation, shared knowledge, and safety in numbers. Joining hiking groups or online communities can connect you with like-minded individuals, providing camaraderie and accountability.

Explorer Chick guides for women-only adventure travel groups. They are on a team retreat in Valley of Fire State Park

Using Technology and Apps for Training Support


Utilize apps to track your progress, access training routines, and even navigate trails with ease.

Apps with GPS tracking capabilities like AllTrails or Gaia GPS offer an extra layer of safety during hikes, allowing others to keep an eye on your whereabouts in case of emergencies. It’s peace of mind you can’t put a price on.

Pre-Hike Preparations and Checklist

Meticulous preparation is the name of the game. Here’s why pre-hike preparations and a comprehensive checklist are your ticket to a successful and safe journey:

Finalizing Your Route and Plan


Before you lace up those boots, it’s crucial to dot your i’s and cross your t’s. Finalize your hiking plans by considering factors like distance, elevation, and expected conditions. Having a clear plan, including start and end points, expected duration, and potential hazards, sets you up for success.

Don’t forget to play it safe—inform someone about your hiking plan for safety reasons. Provide details of your route and expected return time so they can sound the alarm if needed.

Packing Essentials: The Ultimate Checklist


It’s all about being prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws your way. Follow this comprehensive checklist to ensure you’ve got all the necessary gear and supplies:




Shelter (if backpacking)












Hiking Gear



Emergency Supplies


Now It's Time To Hike!

As you lace up your boots and set off on your hiking adventure, your health and safety should be your top priorities. Here’s how to keep yourself in tip-top shape on the trail:

Monitoring Your Health and Safety on the Trail


Keep a close eye on your well-being as you trek through nature’s playground. Watch out for signs of altitude sickness, dehydration, or injury, and listen to your body like it’s your best friend.

If you start feeling dizzy, nauseous, fatigued, or in pain, don’t push through—take action immediately. Whether it’s resting, hydrating, or seeking help from fellow hikers or park rangers, prioritize your health above all else.

Adjusting Your Plan as Needed


Flexibility is key in hiking. Be ready to tweak your plans on the fly based on trail conditions, your health, and safety concerns.

Remember, adaptability isn’t just a skill—it’s a necessity that ensures a safer and more enjoyable journey overall.

Now that you’ve got all the tools and know-how for a successful long-distance hiking adventure, it’s time to dive in headfirst. Embrace the challenge knowing that every step you take will lead to new horizons and personal growth.

Long-distance hiking isn’t just about conquering trails—it’s about the journey itself, the mental and emotional triumphs that come from pushing your limits, and the deep connection with nature that awaits you.

So strap on your backpack and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime. The trail is calling, and it’s time to answer!

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