Getting Ready for Desert Hiking – Part 2

hiking Grand CanyonBackpacking and hiking trips are one of the most thrilling ways to get in touch with nature and see the world. In part two of “Getting Ready for Desert Hiking, you’ll find everything you need to get in good physical condition and strategize for the trails.

Core and Balance Exercises and Stretching

Core fitness is important for strength, endurance, balance, and stability. It is critical to feeling strong throughout a long hike or run. A strong core helps your body carry a pack—even a light hydration or daypack—conserving energy in the large muscles of your legs to forestall fatigue, and avoid back pain or muscular injuries.

Core training doesn’t require a huge daily time commitment to achieve noticeable results. Three to five days a week, try exercises such as planks and slow bicycle crunches. These are great for strengthening. If you work out in a gym, you can incorporate these exercises into your resistance workout. Fifteen minutes of core work at a time is sufficient.


best hikes in ArizonaDaily stretching or yoga will provide your muscles greater range of motion and more strength. Yoga loosens you and allows you to engage the full range of motion in your muscles. This alleviates the tightness associates with carrying a pack on an all day trek.

An example of a great yoga position is the inverted pigeon. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Keep your feet flat on the ground and put your right ankle over your left knee. Slide your right arm through the space made by your legs and clasp hands beneath your left thigh. Gently move your knee straight in towards your chest. Hold this pose for five seconds.

Other good yoga moves are the various tree poses and lunges. Research these online for instructions and examples. You may even want to join a yoga class for more motivation and ideas!

Resistance Exercises

Postpone muscle fatigue during your hike in the Grand Canyon with resistance exercise, lifting weights or doing body-weight exercises such as squats, pushups, dips, and pull-ups strengthens muscles. These exercises provide you power for ascending with a pack on. Do resistance exercises two or three times a week for an hour, developing a routine that targets all of the major muscles.

backpacking Grand CanyonIn the gym, do at least two exercises focused on the legs. Leg lifts and hamstring pulls are excellent ways to increase strength. Your sets should be long enough to temporarily cause you to breathe hard. Body-weight exercises can be done in succession without a break in between. For example, 20 squats and 20 lunges back to back are effective.

Trail Strategies for Desert Hiking

The best trail strategy is to start early. Nothing will sabotage an ambitious plan like a late start. Plus, you want to take advantage of the cool hours of morning and exert less in the heat of afternoon.
Pace yourself so that you can keep some energy in reserve.

Break up a big day mentally into a series of shorter hikes, identifying where you’ll take rest breaks, to make the total distance feel more manageable. You don’t have to follow a rigid schedule, but having some idea of when you want to reach key spots along the way will prevent a much later finish than hoped for.

Take a ten-minute break every hour and elevate your legs over your heart. This will help alleviate fatigue in your legs and pump toxins out of your body. Manage your rest time wisely; you can only push your pace so much.

Move more efficiently by not wasting time while breaking. For example, don’t all stop just because one person needs to stop briefly and plan rest stops where you can refill water. Pack a small first-aid kit to deal with the most likely issues, like blisters and cuts. To prevent blisters on long days, you may want to place duct tape over your heels, which eliminates the friction that contributes to blisters.

Have Fun!

Training and packing should be fun and the payoff will be satisfying and rewarding. Don’t make the training itself a misery to endure, an exercise program that you dislike is one you will quit. Find time in your day, preferably early morning, which fits into your lifestyle and schedule. You will look forward to it and find it invigorating, which will motivate you. Make it a habit and, in time, you will find that you feel better physically and that it reduces the stress in your life. And having a goal on the horizon that you’re getting ready for, such as hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim, provides a powerful motivation for many people.
Happy trails!

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About the Author
Mitch Stevens has been leading hiking and backpacking outings throughout the southwest for over ten years. As a Sierra Club hiking leader, writer and photographer, he has promoted the enjoyment and conservation of our remaining wild lands. Born and raised in New York City, Mitch came to discover the great outdoors and fall in love with Arizona’s special places. Through his countless trips across the state and region, Mitch made it his mission to encourage fellow hikers and enthusiasts to protect the beauty of the desert. Now, he continues to embrace his fascination with the desert beauty by creating and leading multigenerational tours throughout the southwest. His experience coupled with his passion for the great outdoors make him a unique tour guide and outings leader.

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