The Best Place to Train for a Thru-Hike

How do you train for a thru-hike? I think this has been answered by many a blog post already and most of them say the same thing. The best way to train for a hike…is to hike! It’s that simple.  

But it’s not that simple.  

You see, you need to replicate the conditions you’ll be in as closely as possible. For instance, on the Appalachian Trail, I’m going to be climbing up and down mountains day after day in some of the wettest conditions I’ve ever experienced. I can’t really replicate those conditions in my home state of…

(cue the trumpets!)  


Western Kansas, photo courtesy of wahoobgn

(Trumpets frack and the men slowly lower their instruments in disappointment.)  

 So another location would be preferable, if possible. Keep reading. 

Dial in the gear. 

I know. This is everyone’s favorite part. That’s because it’s the easiest part, so don’t get too excited. Hopefully, you’ve been working on this for a while and have a good idea of what your gear is going to look like. Training for a thru-hike has very little to do with gear and more to do with carrying it. So dial it in, strap on the pack, and get used to the weight. And if you’re not happy with how it feels, make adjustments while you’re still in your comfy home.  

Avoid Overtraining. 

It’s easy to do too much in the training window and either injure yourself or burn yourself out, removing all the gas from the fire that’s needed once the real journey begins. Thus, know when too much is too much.  A great majority of injuries on the trail happen when people do too much too soon. So I’m taking the approach of starting with low miles and building up slowly, being sure to stretch every day. 

My Training Plan and Place

It just so happened that my husband got his month-long sabbatical right before my thru-hike began. And he chose to spend it in…

(Cue those trumpets again.) 

New Zealand!!! 

Milford Sound, Photo courtesy of Pedro Pzekely

Yeah, how’s them apples, trumpet players?

It should be perfect. Unlimited mountains filled with rainy days to push my body and gear to the limits. But let’s face it, I probably won’t be aware that any training is happening. I’ll be on cloud 9 the entire time. We’ll be trekking (or tramping, as kiwis call it) through New Zealand for one month straight. New Zealand has an exquisite backcountry hut system. But we’re not using it most of the time. We’ll be those poor souls in the tents next to the huts, staring at those people with nice warm beds and shelter from the elements. I’m hoping that will prepare me in some way for this thru-hike since I don’t plan on using the shelters.

Brewster Hut, Photo courtesy of Alastair Smith

Would strength training and cardio have done me some good for the last 3-4 months? Probably. But I’ve been busy staring at pictures of trails in New Zealand! Can you blame me???? It’s the equivalent of pornography for hikers.

Now tell me, if you could train for a thru-hike anywhere in the world, where would you train? Put it in the comments!

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Comments 9

  • KittySlayer : Feb 7th

    Never underestimate the advantage of training in your backyard. A great place to test gear and skills with the opportunity to bail out and try again tomorrow if necessary. Particularly helpful for testing the cold weather limits of your sleep system. Besides it will give your neighbors something to laugh at.

    • Jamie Bone : Feb 12th

      I can’t resist an urge to freak out my neighbors. That’s for sure!

  • Ruth Morley : Feb 8th

    You’ve hit the mail right on the head with NZ. I’ve been there and did some great day hikes. And don’t beat yourself if you end up sleeping in those huts. You’ll learn how to camp on the AT.

    And I do agree with the previous comment that it is also very good to train in your own backyard. I’m sure that you have a lot of stairs you can use and perhaps join a gym that has a mountain climbing machine. For me in Ohio, one corner of our state has some good mini mountains which I have used for training for Colorado. But certainly, New Zealand takes top prize.

    • Jamie Bone : Feb 12th

      Hey Ruth, Thanks for the comments. So far, it has been perfect. I’m getting in shape. My feet, legs, calves, etc are throbbing. Most gear is working. So we’re on track 🙂

  • Marcus Shapiro : Feb 9th

    New Zealand will be perfect. Unfortunately the majority of hikers don’t have ‘perfect’ in their locale and can’t travel for training due to work, etc. Train vertically on stairs, hills and treadmill incline. Train horizontally on flat if that’s all you have available. …HIIT training anytime you have altitude to deal with.

  • Woodpecker FKA Soggy : Feb 10th

    Nearest stadium stands, with pack weight! Start with empty pack and only water bottles and add items as you improve. Don’t run up them, just slow and steady. I hate gym machines and prefer outside training. Don’t exceed 20% of your *ideal* body weight +10 (cause the BMI calculators are FOS.

    • Jamie Bone : Feb 12th

      Hey Woodpecker, Good tips! I also prefer outside training. I will use this info in the future. – Jamie

  • marsh : Feb 11th

    Maybe things have changed since I tramped in New Zealand but thirty years ago the whole idea behind the huts was to concentrate usage in a small area. I do not recall seeing any flat spots or tent sites around the huts I slept in. In most of the places I hiked the bush was so thick you would need a machete and a shovel to pitch a tent. But don’t worry. It is still steep enough and wet enough to prepare you for the AT.

    • Jamie Bone : Feb 12th

      Hey Marsh, you’re right about that. The bush is very thick and there are not many good tent sites. I like what NZ has done to protect their land with the hut system. And yes, MORE than steep and wet enough, my friend.


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