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Sometimes life gets in the way of meeting the goals we want to meet…some things don’t seem realistic in the moment, but that doesn’t mean you should let the time pass you by! Learn something new, take a baby step, or build on your basics. Just keep moving forward!

 

keep moving forward

Goal Setting

 

To round out this series on fitness for backpacking, I thought I would offer you a little bonus post on nutrition for the trail.

Good choices for trail foods are:

  • lightweight
  • do not require refrigeration
  • are nutrient dense
  • may or may not require cooking – while either can work if you bring a stove, this is a factor to consider!

Some of the parameters you might look for in your day-to-day food might be a bit different when hiking or backpacking. Your needs for calories, carbohydrates, and sodium are higher when you are active (especially if you’re carrying a pack). Don’t worry if some of the foods you eat are higher in these nutrients than what you normally eat. Here is a list of ideas for meals and snacks while hiking or backpacking:

 

Breakfast

  • Oatmeal – Portion oatmeal, dried fruits, protein powder, cinnamon, and brown sugar into individual packets or zipper plastic bags.
  • Breakfast bars – Homemade or store-bought bars that contain whole-grain carbohydrates and protein can be great options. Oats, nuts, seeds, honey, and dried fruits are all good potential ingredients. Here is a recipe for homemade breakfast bars that I’ve made before and enjoyed!
  • Instant Breakfast Packets – While these are probably not sufficient by themselves to prep you for a day of hiking, you can mix these packets into your oatmeal, coffee, or water for some added carbohydrate and protein.

 



 

Lunch

  • Wraps – Whole-grain tortillas with peanut butter and a banana or a pouch of chicken with spinach are easy to whip out for a quick lunch break.
  • Hummus “plate” – Depending on how long you’re hiking, you can sometimes get away with some crunchier veggies (carrots, broccoli, cauliflower) in your bag for a day or two. Toss in some pita bread and a container of hummus and you’ve got a nutritious and delicious no-cook meal.

 

Dinner

  • Pasta- Particularly if you’ve hiked all day, do not fear the carbohydrates! Pouches of pasta sides are convenient and easily cooked with a camp stove. Add a packet of chicken or tuna or some slices of summer sausage for protein, and toss in some dehydrated veggies.
  • Beans and rice – Find a mix of rice and beans to which you can add some dry ranch dressing or onion soup mix and some dehydrated veggies. Boil it up!
  • Freeze-dried backpacking meals – These guys can be super-light and very convenient, but sometimes expensive. Watch to make sure they have the right amount of calories, carbohydrates, and protein for you after a long day on the trail. Unless you’ve been sweating a lot throughout the day, aim to keep the sodium under 40% DV.

 



 

Snacks

  • Dried fruits – These make excellent snacks, loaded with carbohydrates for energy and are quite light with all of the water dehydrated from them. Try dried peaches, strawberries, kiwis, or bananas.
  • Trail mix – Sorry to state the obvious, but this high-calorie, high nutrient density snack is really in its element in the out-of-doors.
  • Harvest Snaps – These crunchy puffed snacks made from peas, lentils, and other legumes have carbohydrate (important when hiking), protein, and a decent amount of fiber. Plus they are very light!
  • Whole grain crackers – Light and nutritious, these help provide necessary fiber and energy.
  • Jerky – Buy it or marinate and dehydrate some yourself.
  • Treats – Pack a little something to treat yourself after a long day of hoofing it! Choose individual packages of a favorite cookie or candy to enjoy around the campfire.

 

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Hiking/Backpacking

Stretches for hikers

 

Are you getting excited to hit the trail yet? I know I am! Every sunny day gets me one day closer to our first backpacking trip! We’ve covered endurance and joint stability so far, and today we’re going to talk about flexibility. While by no means is it necessary to be gumby to enjoy a day on the trail, working on your flexibility can help you hike with less soreness and risk of injury. As an added bonus, performing these stretches after a day of hiking may prevent or lessen muscle tightness the following day.

 

The primary muscle groups that are going to benefit from increased flexibility in this case are: hip flexors (on the front of your hips), glutes (buttox), quads (thighs), hamstrings (the backs of your upper legs) and calves. If you are carrying a pack, we’ll toss in your upper and lower back, and pectorals (chest) as well.

 

I’ll show you 4 stretches that will catch each of these muscle groups. You want to hold each stretch for 30-60 seconds, 1-3 times a day. Press gently into the stretch until you feel tension but not pain. As you sit in the stretch, take deep breaths. You’ll often feel your muscles release some tension after 20-30 seconds and you’ll be able to go a little deeper without pain.

 

Hip Flexors, Quads, & Calves

Stand with your feet hip width apart and place your hands on your hips or against a tree or wall for balance. Step your right leg forward into a lunge position. Bend your right knee, press your left hip forward. Keep your left leg as straight as you can and press your left heel toward the ground. You should feel this stretch in the front of your left hip, down into your left thigh, and in your left calf. Hold for 30-60 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

 

hip flexor and calf stretchhip flexor and calf stretch side view

 



 

Hamstrings & Glutes

Stand with your feet hip width apart and place your hands on your hips or against a tree or wall for balance. Step forward with your right foot. Keeping your right heel on the ground, bend your left leg and shift your weight downward as if you were going to sit down. You should feel this stretch in the back of your right leg and in your right buttock. Hold for 30-60 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

 

glute and hamstring stretch

 

Upper & Lower Back

You can do this stretch standing or on all fours. Placing your hands on the ground or on your knees, pull your stomach muscles toward your spine and round your shoulders and back. You should feel this stretch in between your shoulder blades and around your spine. Hold this stretch for 30-60 seconds.

 

back stretch standing

back stretch kneeling



Chest

Standing with feet hip-width apart, reach both hands behind you and interlock your fingers. Roll your shoulders back and press down into your fingers. Keep a slight bend in your arms to avoid locking your elbows. You should feel this stretch in your chest. Hold for 30-60 seconds. If you are not able to clasp your fingers together behind you, you can press your arm against a tree or wall behind you to stretch it.

 

chest stretch

 

And that’s it! Four simple stretches to help improve your backpacking experience. Consistency is key with flexibility – try to do these exercises daily (or several times daily, you overachiever, you). It only takes 5 minutes!

 

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Hiking/Backpacking

physical therapy for hiking and backpacking

 

When you’re out on the trail, there’s a good chance you’ll be dealing with some unstable or uneven ground. Between sticks, rocks, and roots, there is quite a bit of potential for strained or sore joints. Your knees and hips can run into trouble with instability, but there’s good news. The endurance training plan from my last post will strengthen and stabilize these joints. No need for anything extra – I love an efficient training program! There is another joint, however, that could benefit from a little extra attention.

 

The most likely victims of instability on the trail are your ankles. Since they allow movement in multiple directions, they are usually less stable and can be susceptible to strains and sprains. On my first overnight backpacking trip, this completely snuck up on me. Fortunately I didn’t sprain my ankle, but carrying my pack and hiking on uneven ground for several miles caused my ankles to be sore for months afterward. In fact, I used some of the exercises below to help regain my ankle stability.

 

This routine shouldn’t take you any more than 5 minutes. You can do all of the exercises You’ll need a resistance band for this quick ankle routine.

 

Front-to-Back Stability

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Hook the resistance band around the ball of your foot and hold the ends of the band in your hands. With controlled movements, slowly press the ball of your foot away from you. Slowly return to the starting position. Repeat this exercise 15 times on each foot.ankle flexion exercise for backpacking

 



Left-to-Right Stability

2. Anchor your resistance band around the leg of a heavy table or bookshelf. Sit on the floor with your legs perpendicular to your anchor. Loop the resistance band around the inside edge of the ball of your foot. Keeping your leg still, rotate your ankle to point your toes away from the anchor against the resistance of the band. Slowly return to the starting point. Repeat 15 times on each foot.

3. Repeat this exercise with the band looped around the outside edge of your foot. This time you will rotate your ankle the opposite direction to move your toes away from your anchor.

lateral ankle exercise

 



 

360-degree Stability

4. Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Hook the resistance band around the ball of your foot and hold the ends of the band in your hands. Slowly turn your ankle in a clockwise circle 15 times. Repeat in the other direction. Repeat both directions on the other foot.

ankle rotation exercise

 

You can complete this 5-minute routine anywhere from 2-3 times weekly to 2-3 times daily. The more often you do it, the more stability you can build in your ankles.

 



 

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How to Train for Hiking and Backpacking: Endurance

Hiking/Backpacking

 

The sun is out and it’s time to think about getting out and enjoying the beautiful outdoors! In this post, we’re focusing on hiking and backpacking! Whether you’re a brand new hiker or seasoned backpacker, a little preparation can make your time on the trail easier and more enjoyable. We’ll kick off this series with a focus on endurance. To start, begin training at whichever level is currently a challenge for you.

 

Level 1: Beginners

 

hiking and backpacking

 

If you haven’t been walking in a while, that’s the place to start! Begin by walking at a moderate pace for 5-10 minutes as a warm up, then pick up the pace to a quick, comfortable clip. Go for short walks, gradually working up to at least 20-30 minutes. Begin with 2-3 days per week and increase to a goal of 4-5 days weekly as you become more fit. When that becomes easier, move on to level 2.

Side note: This is also a great time to train your feet – wear the shoes you plan to hike in! Word to the wise, don’t remove your calluses. They are your friends!

 



 

Level 2: Current Walkers

 

endurance for beginners

 

 

If you already walk regularly or if walking is a piece of cake, it’s time to up the ante a little. Literally – go up! Add incline into your walks to work different muscles and to add a cardiovascular challenge. You can do this by adding hills or stairs into outdoor walks, increasing the incline on your treadmill, or walking up stairs. If you have a flight of stairs in your house or in your community, walking up and down them can help build up the muscle groups you’ll need for safe hiking.

Stair mills or stair stepping machines can also work well here, but do not neglect the importance of training yourself to go downhill. Most often, the majority of soreness we experience after hiking is from walking down, not up! Incorporate more ascents and descents into your training and you’ll find your time on the trail much easier. Again, I recommend wearing your hiking shoes. Sometimes inclines help you find friction points that weren’t there on flat ground! This can help you prevent disastrous blisters on the trail.

When you become trained for inclines, move on to level 3.

 

Level 3: Seasoned Hikers

fitness for hiking

 

If you’ve hiked or backpacked regularly in the past, or if you’ve worked up to training on hills or stairs, it’s time to add an additional challenge by carrying weight. Even if you are only planning to hike, not to backpack, training with weight can help your muscles and endurance grow stronger to make long-distance hikes easier.

If you are planning to hike with no pack (or a very light pack), you may choose to train with ankle and wrist weights, since they will prevent adding stress to your spine and make regular hiking easier; however, a backpack will also serve this purpose. For you backpackers, it’s time to get your pack out. Add some weight – dumbbells, soup cans, books, rocks – and go for your training walk. Continue to include the inclines from level 2!

Optional: If you are planning a long-distance backpacking or day-hiking trip, gradually extend the length of your training sessions. You don’t necessarily need to train for as long as you may be backpacking, but the farther you go, the fitter you’ll be!

Stay tuned for the next post in this series on training for hikers and backpackers – joint stability!

 



 

Disclaimer: While I am an exercise professional, I have not been hired as your exercise professional and I am not familiar with your individual health. As always, check with your doctor about your specific health situation before beginning any new exercise program.

 

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Archives

prevent hiking injuries

 

In the Pacific Northwest, we are finally getting our first glimpses of Spring sunshine (between uncharacteristic snow flurries). The combination of cabin fever and warm, bright sunshine makes me antsy to get outside again. Hiking and backpacking are common and beloved activities in this area (and many others), but the beginning of the hiking season can be difficult and sometimes risky. Both beginning and seasoned hikers, having been cooped up all winter, may experience fatigue and muscle soreness and are at increased risk of injury if their muscles aren’t prepared for the activity.

I decided to spend these last few weeks of cold weather prepping myself to safely and confidently hit the trail. I’m putting together a training guide for you to follow along. There are a handful of areas to train to be in your best shape for hiking/backpacking – even beginners can benefit. In this series, we’ll cover:

 

Endurance

Hiking and backpacking can be major endurance exercises, depending on the elevation and length of the hike as well as the weight you are carrying. We will discuss how to train based on these factors so that you can experience the beauty of nature without fire in your lungs.

 



 

Joint Stability

This is a big one and it can be easy to miss. I know it caught me off-guard on my first overnight backpacking trip! Carrying a pack is an extra challenge on all of your weight-bearing joints, but consider the added challenge of roots, rocks, and unstable trail and you’ve got a recipe for sore or sprained ankles. I’ll address how to best prepare your joints to effectively prevent injuries.

 

Flexibility

It certainly doesn’t take a gymnast or a yoga master to hike. If you can walk, you can hike! That said, loosening up tight muscles can make hiking much easier and prevent strained muscles. On top of that, some more advanced trails contain creeks/rivers, large logs, and other obstacles that are much more easily tackled with a little flexibility.

 



 

I’ll probably toss in some bonus tips for on-the-trail nutrition as well. Check back soon for the nitty-gritty on training for fun, safe hiking and backpacking!

Hiking/Backpacking

exercise programs to meet your goals

 

Sometimes starting a new exercise plan is overwhelming. One nice thing about being more active is that you have a lot of options, but that can also be a struggle. Many people are confused about what types of exercises they “should” do and how they should do them. This post will give you some tips on selecting exercises and making a sustainable (and dare I say, enjoyable?) exercise plan.

Keep in mind that any new exercise plan should be approved by your doctor, particularly if you have any chronic diseases or injuries. Use this form to guide you as you plan to safely increase your physical activity.

What are your goals?

Ultimately the exercises that you choose should be guided by your health goals. While being physically active is beneficial for overall health, choosing the most appropriate and specific exercises will help you achieve your goals most efficiently.

  • Weight Loss – Start out any new weight loss plan by focusing on simply moving more than you move now. Once that becomes a habit, then increase the cardiovascular challenge by spending more time with your heart rate up. Finally, add in strength training to build muscle mass. This extra muscle will use up energy, increasing your metabolism.
  • Endurance – To increase your endurance, start by gradually increasing the amount of time you spend with your heart rate up. In this case, you’re not looking for very intense exercise, but a moderate challenge that you can sustain for longer and longer bouts of time as you train. Then add in strength training, focusing on more repetitions (10+) and lower weights.
  • Strength – Begin by focusing on your form – ask a trainer or friend (or watch in the mirror) to ensure you are performing the exercises safely and effectively. Gradually increase the difficulty, focusing on fewer repetitions (6-8) and higher weights. Focus on muscle balance – if you train one side of your body (for example, your chest), you must also train the other (your upper back, in this case). If you train biceps, be sure to also train triceps. This helps to protect your joints from imbalances that can lead to injury. Make sure to incorporate the recommendations for flexibility into any strength training plan as well.
  • Improved digestion – Yes, physical activity can improve digestion! Moderate cardiovascular exercise can improve circulation to your intestines, helping your body break down and absorb food more efficiently. Another significant factor is stress – stress can wreak havoc on digestion! Consistently performing stress-reducing activities like prayer, yoga, Tai Chi, or meditation can play a huge role in improving digestion.
  • Improved health markers (blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.) – While it varies based on which lab values you’re targeting, most are improved with combinations of cardio and strength training, even without weight loss; however, reducing excess body weight is linked with improvements in blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure.
  • Flexibility – This is a great goal if you’re wanting to improve or maintain movement in your joints and prevent injuries. Anyone can benefit from maintaining flexibility. The key here is consistency. Stretch your muscles and joints regularly. Whether you use yoga, standing stretches, or wall stretches doesn’t matter as long as you are gentle and consistent.

 



 

Enjoyability

This is so, so important to an exercise program. If you detest doing a certain type of exercise, do not plan on or expect that you will do it consistently. That is a great way to set yourself up to either quit or be miserable. Bear in mind that the first few weeks of any exercise program will be difficult since you are not yet trained for the exercise, but I’m not referring to difficulty here. I’m talking about enjoyability – if you hate to dance, don’t join a Zumba class. If you can’t stand being on a cardio machine, don’t commit to a treadmill. Find methods of exercise that you actually enjoy.

 

Sometimes that looks like building a little more intensity into the movements you do in everyday life. For example, if you love to garden and be outside, use a push mower, shovel by hand, or cut your own firewood. If you like to watch television, ride a stationary bike while you do or – one of my personal faves –  take a drinking game designed for the show you’re binge-watching and exchange the shots for exercises. These tasks will incorporate fitness into aspects of your life that you do enjoy.

 



 

Accessibility

Ask yourself a few questions: Do you have the equipment or space to do this activity? Will you need a gym membership? Is there a realistic time in your day to set aside to do this?

If the basic logistics aren’t there, find something more accessible. If all else fails, there are hundreds of workout videos on Youtube for any type of workout you can think of. No fees, no membership, no travel, and no need for fancy exercise clothes (unless you want them).

 

Taking all three of these factors into account can help make sure that your exercise program gets you where you’re trying to go in the most enjoyable way that is realistic for your life. Fitness isn’t always fun and there aren’t too many people who are super jazzed to do their workout every day always, but a little thought and planning on the front end can make a huge difference in the long run. If you find yourself stuck or confused, find yourself a certified fitness professional to help you out. Finding a way to make it work is worth it!

 



 

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