Bushwalking Fitness | Pt 3 Getting Fit for a Multi-day Hike in Mountainous Terrain

Do you need to prepare for multi-day hike, when you will be carrying a heavy pack, in mountainous terrain with long days? Are you a little overweight and a little unfit? Is you endurance and cardiovascular fitness lower than you would like? Want some ideas on how to improve these?

 Disclaimer: I am not a fitness trainer and hence the ideas I give here are from my personal experience, from my own research and from advice I have received from qualified trainers. Please consult you doctor and qualified fitness trainer before undergoing any intense fitness program or adopting the ideas I have outlined.
What fitness improvements will I need?

You will need to strengthen your leg joints and back, strengthen quadriceps (thighs) and improve aerobic fitness, agility and endurance.


  • cardiovascular fitness 80%
  • motor fitness  20% : strength, power, endurance, agility, flexibility

When should I start training?

Ideally you should start improving your fitness 6 – 12 months beforehand, although an intensive program with a personal trainer can produce significant improvement over a much shorter period of 6-8 weeks, but may only reach 80% of what is  achievable over a longer period.

What sort of training will I need?

“Mountaineering is primarily an aerobic activity. Strength is important for lifting a pack, but it is more important to build up your aerobic fitness level and stamina for long climbing days. Aerobic fitness can only be improved over months – so start your training program now.” Fitness for Mountaineering (Alpine Guides)

As you come close to the time for your climbing trip try to use a few weekends to load up with a 7-10 kg pack and walk all day (8 hours), up and down hills, if possible, to work on endurance.

 It is universally agreed the the best training for any activity is to train by doing the activity. If you want to climb mountains, then train by climbing mountains. Unfortunately, not all of us have mountains near us, so we are forced out on to the roads and into gyms.

“Look for types of exercise that improve aerobic fitness. Anything that uses your legs and raises heart rate increases stamina: walking (with intent), stair climbing, jogging, mountain biking, step machines, ski machines, rowing machines are all useful. Try exercise that most resembles climbing. Hill running is effective because it is weight-bearing and strengthens bones.” Fitness for Mountaineering (Alpine Guides)

If you are going to be wearing a heavy pack, start wearing a pack early in your training  at least once a week and perhaps as many as three and gradually build up to your eventually carrying capacity.  If you are going to require endurance with long days and heavy loads train with this in mind.

Bushwalking, along narrow rocky tracks, over tree roots and along rocky ridges, with a high level of exposure, requires a high level of agility so don’t ignore balance exercises. Of course if you train in rough terrain you will by necessity be practising agility as you train.

Any training you do however should include a warm up and warm down and incorporate stretching and rest days, which you should use to recover by exercising at 50-60% of your MHR* ( maximum heart rate) which can be calculated by taking your age from 220.

Many people believe that interval training, short periods of intensive effort interspersed with more moderate levels, is very effective and often much more effective than just increasing the volume of your training. They suggest that you start interval training 3-4 months into your program and use this method once or twice a week in the last two  months.

In general, the intensity of your exercise needs to be in the range 65-85% of MHR.

How many sessions a week do I need.

 Aerobic fitness will require 4-5 sessions a week of 30-45 mins each.

The following program, provided by my local gym,  may or not be suitable for  you.  It is based upon my personal requirements, based on age and fitness level, my goals and my trainers personal preferences. I am sure there are many other alternatives.

My goal is to be able to walk into a hut over mountainous terrain carrying a 15-25 kg pack, and then carry a 15 kg pack for up to 12 hours while climbing 1300 m up then down i.e equivalent to Mt Aspiring in NZ or Mt Blanc. A high level of agility will required to cross crevasses, scramble up some steep snow ramps (40-60°) and perhaps climb up and over steeper rock with a high level of exposure.

The program includes:

3 sessions hill climbing
1 Pilates session to help strengthen my lower back and core
1 interval training (cardio) session to build up endurance
1 weights session to build upper body strength.
1 rest* day per week

The cardio session includes:

  • bike: interval training session,  level 7, 1 min at 75-80 rpm, 30 sec at max rpm
  • treadmill: 6 kph at 9% grade, gradually build up grade as fitness improves, 3-5 reps, no rest

For Strength and toning:

                                             Sets  Repetitions Weight

  • Chest Press                  3         10               40
  • Lat Pulldown                3         10              40
  • Leg Press                     3         10               60
  • Triceps Pushdown     3         10               30
  • Bicep Curl                 3           10               30
  • Front Raise                3           10               5 kg
  • Lateral Raise             3           10              4  kg
  • Lower Back                           100
  • Leg Raise                  3            20

How will I know if I am fit enough?

You should be able to hike 300 m uphill in less than an hour with a 12 kg pack.

Read other posts on fitness I have recently written.


RMI Training Recommendations ( pdf download)
An RMI Guide Shares his Views on Training (pdf download)
Training for climbing, trekking and skiing…. ( IcicleUK.com)

  Creative Commons License This article by Bush Walker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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