In preparation for hiking around the entire Three Sisters Wilderness Loop at the end of this month, I’ve been preparing my body and gear for the two-day, long-distance adventure. When reading about hiking the loop, most sites refer to the total mileage being around 48-50 miles depending on which route you choose to hike into the main loop trail. After adding up the route on my Three Sisters Wilderness map starting from the Green Lakes trailhead, I added a total sum of 46 miles. I’ll see how accurate my map turns out to be after I track the mileage on my Gaia GPS app!
When it comes to training for long distance hiking, nothing beats long distance hiking! However, if you’re like me and work a job, have a business, and a family, it can be difficult to take the time on a weekly basis to log higher miles. Thankfully, there are ways to supplement the occasional hiking trip.
Strength training is my second favorite way to prepare for longer hikes aside from hiking. I prefer and recommend to my clients that they have a regular muscular strength and endurance circuit that they do 1-3 times per week NO MATTER WHAT THEIR GIVEN SPORT IS. Without regular signals being sent to your body to build muscle your body will atrophy and become more prone to injury. As we age our hormone levels naturally decline and so does our muscle mass unless we choose to strength train on a regular basis.
I recommend choosing compound multi-joint movements that will challenge all of the major muscle of your body when preparing for hiking. Even though most would think that carrying a backpack and walking is predominately lower body exercise, they’re mistaken.
“In the morning a man walks with his whole body; in the evening, only with his legs.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson.
When walking we swing our arms, we stand upright resisting the force of gravity, and absorb the ground reaction forces through our feet and up to our heads. Functional training will ensure you are using not only your major muscle groups but also your stabilizers and core which is essential for maintaining a stable erect posture, strengthening your connective tissue, and properly dissipating reaction forces through your kinetic chain.
Here is a list of my top 10 favorite functional exercises to prepare for long distance hiking:
1. Lunges– walking lunges 30, 50, and 100 reps in a row to build crazy leg and hip muscular endurance for incline and decline terrain. Use side lunges to recruit more inner thigh muscle. Do 10-15 each leg.
2. Squats– bodyweight and front squats using a Kettlebell. 30-50 reps when using bodyweight, 10-15 reps when using a KB.
3. Full Planks– create a solid core by having forearms and toes on the floor. Try alternating lifting one leg up and down without tilting your hips. Aim for 20 reps.
4. Side Planks– One forearm and knee down the lifting your top leg 15-20 times for more outer hip strength.
5. Bridges– Pulse bodyweight hip/glute bridges. Hold at the top and alternate straightening one leg at a time without letting your pelvis tilt. Aim for 20 reps of each.
6. Push-Ups– 10-30 push-ups with slow controlled movement.
7. Pull-Ups– 5-20 pull-ups with slow controlled movement alternating your grip for variety. Resist swinging your legs or moving your chin.
8. Deadlifts– use a KB for deadlifts or single-leg deadlifts. Do 10 reps each leg working on hinging at your hips and lengthening your hamstrings.
9. Leg Lifts– lie on your side in a straight line and lift your top leg 15-20 times without moving your core. Make sure to use varying angles of rotation at your femur, so your foot will be parallel with the ground, externally rotated, and internally rotated to work all fibers of the hips.
10. Calf & Shin Raises– use a step to slowly lower your heels to the floor then raise them up under control. Do 20-30 reps. Walk with your toes pulled up placing your weight on your heels to strengthen your shins for downhill hiking.
Perform a circuit like this 1-3 times per week depending on your current lifestyle and goals to prepare for long distance hiking.
In preparation for the Three Sisters Loop, I focused on daily walks with and without my pack to maintain a comfortable walking pace and to keep my joints lubricated. I also stretched regularly (see my post on how to maintain your mobility with an FST Home Routine) and made sure to get a massage when my body was telling me it was time. (When my hamstrings don’t respond to stretching or get an achy pulling sensation after deadlifts I know it’s time for a deep tissue massage.)
I also recommend hiking with your backpack on. Pick a longer distance hike to build your stamina, prepare your connective tissues, and to make any necessary adjustments to footwear, pack fitting, etc. It’s crucial to progressively build your miles when backpacking in order to allow your connective tissues (fascia) to respond and adapt to the new stimulus. This is especially important to prevent Achilles Tendon injuries, hamstring tears, patellar tendonitis/bursitis, and hip issues while out on your longer hikes. Learn more about Fascia here.
When it comes to supporting your connective tissues nutritionally while on the trail, I highly recommend a quality Bone Broth Protein Powder such as the one made by EpiGenetics or Ancient Nutrition. I take a scoop or two with me in a small Ziploc bag and mix some vitamin C powder in to promote connective tissue recovery, immune function, and gut health while on the trail. Simply mix with water and enjoy an all-natural bone and tissue building electrolyte drink!
My one higher mileage training hike was exploring the snow-park trails and roads to the North of Cascades Lakes Highway. My family likes to camp there because there are no fees, little to no people, and few mosquitos away from water sources. I awoke early at 4:30 am to eat and started logging miles by 5:05 am to accurately simulate the big adventure. I was unfamiliar with the area, so I made sure to take my map, compass, and GPS to track my route and to ensure I could find my way back. I wanted to log around 12-13 miles to make sure I felt good with my pack on and to adequately condition my hips and body. I ended up completing a 13-mile loop in 4 hours carrying a full Camelback and 4 extra water bottles for additional weight since I didn’t have all of my trail food with me. (I do recommend progressively adding mileage to at least 2/3-3/4 of the total planned mileage for your adventure to reduce the risk of injury and to properly prepare your body for the distance.)
Getting my gear together for this trip was fairly easy. I already own a comfortable-fitting backpack by Osprey. I purposefully purchased a smaller pack in order to force myself to collect smaller, lightweight gear over-time. I know there is a lot of good ultralight gear being developed out there, but being a budget-conscious shopper and REI dividend accruer, I prefer to slowly add gear to my collection without breaking the bank.
After checking on the Forest Service Website, which I also recommend when planning a long distance hike, I made sure my route was safely planned, GPS worked, and my 10 essentials were packed. Here is a picture of my gear laid out to get a visual of what I brought with. The Forest Ranger recommended microspikes or crampons for the trail since the Cascades did experience a higher than average snow fall over the winter. I tested my old propane/butane stove to make sure it still worked and set-up my single-person tent from Eureka to double-check that I had the set of poles and the right amount of stakes handy. I’m a huge fan of the Altra Lone Peak Polartec trail shoes. They offer a zero-drop heel-to-toe relationship offering natural Achilles lengthening as well as a wide toe box for your toes to spread. Once I felt the difference of high-miles in these shoes, I haven’t looked back. I also packed a lightweight Patagonia waterproof shell and a lightweight down jacket by Mountain Hardwear for protection and warmth.
With all of my gear ready, I did a short 2-mile hike to feel out the weight distribution in the pack and enjoyed 3 days of active rest walking, swimming, floating, and foam rolling before taking off for 2 days on the Three Sisters Wilderness Loop Trail.
See how the adventure unfolded Circumnavigating Three Sisters!