How to Train for Hiking in an Urban Environment

In the ideal world, we’d all live right next to a nature preserve with miles of glorious trails to explore. Unfortunately, that is not the case at all. Many of us live in urban areas without immediate access to nature or trail systems. How do you prepare your body for backpacking or hiking in the mountains if you’re surrounded by pavement?

While every city and person’s situation is different, here are some tips for finding ways to train your body for mountain adventures without spending hours in the car.

Take the stairs. All the time and at every opportunity. Even carrying the groceries up from the car. Better yet, take you pack with you shopping and carry everything upstairs in it. Stair climbing powers up your glutes and gets them ready to push you up mountains. If there aren’t stairs on your daily route, find a few flights in your building or office and do a few rounds at lunch or after work.

Carry your Pack. Similar to the above, look for opportunities to do errands on foot. Load up your backpack and head out. I often walk to the grocery store (2-3 miles r/t) and carry the groceries home in my pack. Even if you don’t have errands that require carrying things, you can still load your pack with your gear and go for a long walk around the neighborhood or city park/bike path.

Train at Home. It doesn’t take a lot of equipment to train your body at home. In fact, most strength training can be done with your bodyweight alone or using your backpack/gear. Simple moves such as lunges, squats, pushups, and planks can all be done even in small spaces. These isolating exercises help you build the musculature you need for a strong body on trail. If you have the time/space you can add a treadmill to get cardio training at home. If you work from home, or your employer offers it, I highly recommend a treadmill desk. Not only will it train your hiking systems, but also can alleviate many of the aches and pains of desk jobs.

Hit the Gym. If home workouts don’t motivate you, try joining a gym. Not only will you have access to stair machines, treadmills, and weights, but most offer classes in myriad activities. Cardio options can help you build the aerobic capacity necessary to put in the miles on trail. If you need more direction, many gyms have personal trainers on staff who can work with you to develop a program to help you meet your goals. You can also work with an online or non-gym based coach for additional guidance. (If you are looking for a holistic approach, you can check out the training courses I co-created with Katie Gerber specifically for backpackers.)

Find a Park. Nearly all cities have parks. Try to find one in your area that has some short trails or a bike path. These are great for getting that nature connection while you exercise. You may need to do a lot of laps with your pack on, but it can definitely go a long way toward making you feel more grounded and helping you achieve your fitness goals at the same time.

Remember, nature isn’t something that only exists “out there.” It’s all around us, even in the cities. Flowers burst through cracks in the sidewalk, birds hang out on the electric wires, the sun shines and rain falls. Turn your attention to the beauty that shines through. If you need inspiration, look no further than Liz Thomas’s “Urban Thru-Hikes.”

Heather Anderson

Heather Anderson

National Geographic Adventurer of the year, Heather Anderson—known as Anish on trails—became the second female to complete the “Double Triple Crown of Backpacking” in 2017. In 2018 she simultaneously became the first female Triple Triple Crowner and the first female Calendar Year Triple Crowner when she hiked all three long trails in one March-November season. Heather holds the overall self-supported Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the Pacific Crest Trail (2013)–hiking it in 60 days, 17 hours, 12 min, which broke the previous men’s record by four days and established the first female record. She also holds the female self-supported FKT on the Appalachian Trail (2015) in a time of 54 days, 7 hours, 48 minutes, and the Arizona Trail (2016) which she completed in 19 days, 17 hours, 9 minutes. Heather has hiked over 30,000 miles since 2003 including 14 thru-hikes. She is also an ultra-marathon runner and has completed six 100 mile races since August 2011 as well as dozens of 50k and 50 mile events. When not on an adventure Heather speaks regularly about her adventures and the lessons learned on trail. She is the author of Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home (chronicling her Pacific Crest Trail record). A second book is due out in early 2021.

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