Preparing for Trail – Part 4: Training

I am now roughly 1 month away from starting my adventure/dream at Katahdin in Maine!  AHHH!!  There is still so much to do!  Seeing as this will be my last post until I start hiking the trail, I wanted to end with an explanation of what we have been doing to physically prepare for the trip!


We started training for this trip quite some time ago.  I am a very active individual, involved in both ice hockey and soccer on a regular basis (up until the unfortunate end of the hockey season).  Both of these sports help keep my heart and lungs in shape. However, I still needed to supplement with various workout routines.


Working out on the Jacob’s Ladder

To start, Jess and I would attend a local gym 3 times a week, focusing on large muscle groups (such as quads, glutes, core, calves, etc.) for both the upper body and lower body.  We alternated between arms and legs, working on various machines and using free-weights.  We always did a warm up and did our best to do a cool down at the end (typically stretching of some sort).  Our warm ups included various machines such as the recumbent bike, elliptical, stepper machine, and my personal favorite, the Jacob’s Ladder!  I highly recommend finding a Jacob’s Ladder at a gym near you!  It is a fantastic cardio work out and I found it be very beneficial for hikers and backpackers!

T25On top of weight lifting, we also tried the T-25 workouts.  These are one of those exercise routines that you do at home for 30 minutes each session.  It is high intensity training focusing on various parts of the body.  We eventually discontinued these exercises due the videos’ heavy focus on calves.  We also felt we were able to do exercises that would compliment other areas of the body, the videos’ focused on, in a more specific and individualized manner.


This is the app we use.  If you purchase the full app, you get access to more advanced exercises.

As we progressed through our training, we have now started to heighten our exercise experience;  we are doing HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training).  We perform 12 different exercises, each for 30 seconds, and then give ourselves a 30 second rest between each set. We loop through this cycle twice, and let me tell you, that is one heck of a work out!  We both calculated our max heart rates and then used that information to determine our target heart rates, making sure to hit that range through these exercises.  For most healthy individuals, this range should be 60-80% of your max heart rate.  However, always consult with your local Physical Therapist or Primary Care Physician before beginning your own personal training!


So being in a gym or working out at home is all fun and good.  But nothing prepares you for hiking a long trip like going out, loading up your pack, and being out there on the trails!  We started by doing little day hikes, playing with our packs, determining which ones we liked, and which ones left us with bruised lower backs, sore shoulders, etc.  We hiked locally, starting trips that were 4 miles, then progressing to 6 miles, and finally reaching 10 mile days (only recently did we hit that mark).  We did little trails with small elevation gains/loses, and progressed to more difficult trails until we got to the point that overnight hikes were necessary.

This kind of training is often referred to as “shakedown hikes”.  You not only prepare your body for what is to come, but you also learn a lot about your gear, how to pack and unpack your backpack, as well as other tricks and skills that you need to survive 6 long months in the wilderness.

Below are some pictures from our several shakedown hikes.  To see all of my pictures, follow me on Instagram.  I will be posting all of my pictures from the AT on Instagram as well!


What did we learn?

1.) Choosing a packBlackDiamondPack

I cycled through 3 different backpacks before I finally found the one for me.   As I said in a previous post, what works for you, may not work for the next person, and visa versa.  I started with a Gregory pack that hurt my lower back and pinched my shoulders.  I then progressed to the LL Bean AT 50, which was better, but over time started to hurt my low back as well, and was a little small.   I finally landed, after some coercing by Jess of course, with the Black Diamond Onxy 55L pack. This pack is unique.  The hip belt swivels with your stride!  At first, I was not sure about this feature, and thought it would be uncomfortable, however it was fantastic!  I have taken it on several shakedown hikes and it has continued to fit me perfectly!  While this pack works great for me, I highly recommend you trying out several packs on the trails as well.  This will help you determine what will be able to withstand the high mileage with your body!

2.) Packing/Unpacking

I also learned how to pack and unpack my backpack.  Before I even stepped on a single trail, I practiced this skill (and it really is a skill!) at home.  My first trial took me hours and nearly falling over when putting on the pack, before I finally found the right way to pack my pack FOR ME.   It is not simply about just cramming everything in there.  You have to consider accessibility, weight distribution, and simply how it all feels.  The system I currently use is a large contractor garbage bag for the main section, and everything divided up by Ziploc bags for easier accessibility, and waterproofing of course.  After practicing at home, I stepped on the trail and did an overnighter, only to discover that I needed to resolve some of this packing a little further, move things around, and making items I did not originally think were needed, more accessible.

3.) Stoves and Fuel Sources

imageWe had decided on trying the cat food canister stoves (also known as soda can stoves).  A friend of mine had introduced me to this concept (thank you Mark) and I tried it out on the trails – and it worked like a charm!  I had done a lot of research online about this technique and found that HEET was a great fuel source (as was also recommended to me by my friend Mark).  I have since learned of the dangers of Methanol poisoning however, and will most likely switch to regular denatured alcohol since it is a little safer.  The problem with HEET is you have to be very careful not to get any on your skin AT ALL! While I was very careful and did not get any one me, I do not want to role that die and risk Methanol poisoning.  So, regular denatured alcohol it is!

4.) Hanging a Bear Bag

So, if you want a good laugh, watch someone that is inexperienced hang one of these things!  First, you have to find a tree with a “Y”, or “crotch”, in it.  I thought this would be relatively simple – HA!  On our overnight hike, I was running out of daylight and having a VERY difficult time tracking one down!  Once I finally found one, I tied my rope around a flat rock (roughly the size of my hand), and chucked the rock, aiming to get it through the “Y” of the tree.

First attempt = fail

Second attempt = success!  Through the “Y” the rock went!  The only problem is the rock REFUSED to drop down the other side (it was not heavy enough)!  So I had to yank it back through and switch it with a heavier rock.  Ok, lesson learned there!

After many attempts later, I still could not hit my target with the heavier rock.  The “Y” was pretty high in the air, and I was close to throwing out my arm trying to sink that rock through the “Y”.  Finally, I gave up and searched for another tree.

I was able to find one, but there was a lot of brush and lower tress surrounding this one, so hitting my target was a challenge (nature is just not accommodating to our simple needs – I jest).  Several attempts and boom!  I hit dead center of the crotch!

“COME ON!  That’s like hitting both posts and not scoring!” I hollered as Jess giggled in the background.

A few more attempts and I finally got the rock through that “Y”.  Now I had to remember how to actually hang the bag!  I used the PCT method (below is a great video that tells you how to use this method) for hanging my bag, but I still need to work out the glitches with the placement of the stick.  I could not figure that out on the trail, but I was able to make it work.

My only other fault during this lesson – I hung the bag over a small stream. Don’t worry, I did not lose the bag, but it did occur to me, after the fact I might add, that if any of my knots were to fail, that bag would be soaking wet in the river!  Oh well, another lesson learned!

5.) Tents and sleeping

So I had set up tents before, as and you  may recall, I had even set up the current tent I had in the snow back during the winter!  Ha! Boy did I learn a lot of lessons on that adventure!  Well, this time was much smoother.  No problems with the tent, and I even decided, given the weather report, that a rain shield was not necessary.  So we slept in our tent, away from the bugs, under the stars.

No, it did not rain on us that night, but I did learn one more lesson.  While I did pick a nice flat spot for the tent, with no roots or rocks to bother us, I did not realize this spot was on a slight incline.  Both Jess and myself had thermal pads to sleep on through the night.  That’s great!  Except when you sleep on a slight incline and you learn that your sleeping bag slides very nicely on those thermal pads!  All night long, Jess and I were wiggling and squirming our way back to the head of our thermal pad as we continued to slide down towards our feet.  We must have looked like 2 inch worms scurrying around all night long!

So, the whole point to this long, hopefully entertaining and informative post, is that you have to go out there and try things out.  You may learn similar lessons, or completely different lesson than I learned!  But it is better to learn these now, then when you are in the middle of the 100 mile wilderness with no way of reaching civilization for a period of time!

If you have any questions regarding specific training regimens that we followed, feel free to contact me.  And as always,

Happy Hiking!

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Comments 6

  • Gabby : Jun 24th

    This is sooooo exciting Jamie!! You’re definitely an inspiration and pushing me to go on some more hiking adventures before the summer ends! I’ve done T25 as well and it’s a great workout for the legs, but exhausting. I’m currently doing a boot camp-military style, Tony Horton workout called 22 Minute Hard Corps to get in shape for the wedding. Let me know when/if you hike through the Philly area, I’d love to get together again 🙂 Keep us updated, this is great! – Gabby

  • Jamie : Jun 24th

    Aw thanks Gabby! Glad you’re getting the chance to get out there a bit! When is this wedding!? Is it yours!? I will definitely shoot you a text whenever I can when we get close! You’re always welcome to text me as well. I’ll reply when I get service.

  • Steve : Jun 29th

    Any thoughts on using the P90X as preparedness training? I started it last week and it seems that it would work great.

    • Jamie : Jun 29th

      I am not as familiar with the P90X videos but I understand they are similar. Really, I think the best preparation you can do is hiking with your pack on. Any other exercise programs or routines you do will certainly help as well! I have heard some good comments on the P90X and some people that have not liked it as well. Try it out. If it is working for you, that’s great! Just listen to your body and don’t push through the pain!

  • Chip Clardy : Jun 30th

    Hey Jamie,

    I know that you are getting down to the nitty gritty details before leaving for the Trail and that your time is at premium. However, I just found and read your posts. I am very interested in the mail drop spreadsheet and recipes that you mentioned in your second post. I am planning a NoBo starting this coming March 5th. If you have time, I would appreciate your emailing them to me. I am sending you my email now. Thanks.

    • Jamie : Jul 1st

      Hey Chip,

      I just shot you an email with those spreadsheets and recipes. Enjoy and good luck on your adventure of a lifetime!

      Happy Hiking,


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