Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Running is Good Backpacking Conditioning

I've been very busy ever since returning from hiking in the Red River Gorge and haven't been able to post much other than video and written reviews of gear that I tested on that trip. The next few weeks won't be much better, unfortunately, so stay tuned for new articles when I can get the chance. For now, I'll be doing a quick post about backpacking and hiking training and how running can help you in the long run (no pun intended) on the trail.

Wolverine Terrain Mid Waterproof
Coming up in April I have planned a 12 hour attempt of the 38.5 mile Waterloo-Pinckeny Trail here in Michigan. I have, of course, been training for this extensively over the last month keeping myself on a very regular running schedule. You will see it argued, especially among those who are setting off on the Appalachian Trail, that the only good conditioning for backpacking is backpacking. Thus one school of thought is to simply hit the trail and do short days for the first few weeks while you gain the muscle and conditioning necessary to pump out long days on the trail. There are a few problems with this.

For those of us who are not planning to be doing months of continuous thru hiking, a weekend backpack for an unconditioned body will do nothing more than make one sore and miserable. Even on a long journey, the first few weeks will be slow and miserable. This is why I advocate running as a great training exercise for hiking and backpacking.

Running allows one to adhere to a rhythmic schedule, develop and maintain great cardio, get the legs ready for strenuous use, and keep ones self healthy when you're not on the trail. It allows you to get outdoors to train, running takes minimal time and produces good solid results. You don't need gym memberships or special equipment. It really is a universally achievable conditioning tool to keep hikers and backpackers motivated and fit for the trail.

A lot of people will argue that running doesn't use the same muscles as backpacking. Well here's the real truth: running keeps the legs strong and used to strenuous exercise. While it may take a few days on the trail to develop the trail specific muscles for carrying the pack, the legs and your cardiovascular system will thank you for already being conditioned to running.

Try trail running, it's the same as hiking except you put out a lot more effort and get faster training results.  If you're tight on time, running or trail running will deliver the results you need. You can trail run a few miles a week for a total time of less than two hours a week and get in shape. It would take days of hiking to do the same thing. It's really an economical and time saving solution to trail conditioning.

My Pearl Izumi isoSeek IV WRX Trail Runners
If you're looking for trail running (or any running) shoes, I can whole heartedly recommend our partner Pearl Izumi. I have their Peak XC shoe which is by far the most comfortable and breathable trail running shoe I've ever worn. It has been accompanying me on my recent training runs for the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail. When the weather is wet (often this time of year in Michigan) I rely on Pearl Izumi's IsoSeek IV WRX trail runner. It's a water resistant (just don't stand in the puddles and you'll be fine) shoe that doesn't fit me quite as well as the Peak XC but is still a great shoe. Bear in mind that shoe size and fit will be different for everybody but head on over to Run Like an Animal and look at Pearl Izumi's running shoes for your training.

Pearl Izumi isn't your thing? Try some of Wolverine Footwear's new 2011 trail runners.


  1. I hear the North Face has some good trail running races around the country, endurance challenge's i think they call them, have you ever done one of those?

  2. I have not done an endurance challenge. I'm still trying to fill my running shoes (so to speak) and work up to some of the more extreme running.

  3. I'm looking for a nice trail to run few miles in near future. But can't find one nearby. I also lack time. I would also would love to experience hiking and bag packing. And may be staying a night in the woods. That would be exciting and frightening as well.


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