Getting Ready for Desert Hiking

desert hiking

Nankoweap – Grand Canyon

Interested in desert hiking and adventure travel? Backpacking and hiking trips are one of the most thrilling ways to get in touch with nature and see the world. From canyon ravines to spectacular cliffs, you’re about to embark on a journey of a lifetime. But before you pack your bags, lace up your hiking boots, and hit the trail, there are a few things you can do to better prepare yourself.

In this first of a three part series focusing on getting ready for desert hiking, you’ll find everything you need to get in good physical condition, strategize for the trails, and pack your bags appropriately (no high heels or business suits on these trips)!

No matter whether you’re scheduling a quick camping trip with the family or a weeklong trek through one of the world’s natural wonders, this tips will help you set off on the right foot.

Getting in Shape for Desert Hiking

Backpacking in the desert is a physically and mentally demanding experience. Regardless, anyone in good physical condition can have an enjoyable trip in Arizona’s climate. To pull off a trek, such as hiking the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim or trekking to the bottom of this colossal gorge, you have to get serious about training. Ideally, you will want to train at least three months before your big journey begins.

To help you get in shape, here is a recommended three-pronged exercise program:

Part 1: Cardio Workouts

desert hiking

Rainbow over the Esplanade – Grand Canyon

Since few of us are fortunate enough to live close to and train in the Grand Canyon, for instance, the best preparation is to seek out local hiking areas to gear up for the rigors of hiking. Pick a trail, hill or park close to home and use this as your training ground. A thirty-minute hike three or four times per week is adequate for your midweek workout. Aim to fit in a hike of at least two hours on the weekend.

Here are a few extra tips to get you in shape for your excursion.

Load your pack

Start with a twenty-pound pack at the beginning of your training preparation three months before your big outing. Every two weeks, increase the weight in your pack five pounds until you reach a pack weight of 35 to 40 pounds. This great training will not only increase your stamina and lung capacity, but will strengthen your leg muscles and core.

Trail running

Trail running is fantastic training for hiking and because it’s intense, making it ideal when your time’s limited. Besides building your cardiovascular conditioning and endurance, running on trails strengthens bones and your muscles, feet, ankles, and knees for hiking. It also trains your body to manage uneven terrain, reducing the risk of injury.


arizona waterfall photography

Deer Creek Falls – Grand Canyon

On training hikes, practice moving at a stronger pace. This will increase your speed on a long hike.
Work gradually up to a hike that’s at least two-thirds the distance of the big Grand Canyon trek you’re training for. In the week prior to your hike, it is recommended to taper off your workouts so that you’re just maintaining; therefore avoiding possible fatigue.

You can also build endurance by walking or biking on your local errands. Get in the habit of doing this regularly and you’ll earn yourself bonus time on the trip.

Variety of activities

Worried you’ll get bored? Don’t! Cardio workouts can entail a variety of activities that accelerate your heart rate for a sustained period of time: vigorous walking, bicycling, swimming, Nordic skiing, and using cardio machines in the gym. If you do any of these activities on hills you will increase the intensity. Mixing up activities not only helps avoid boredom, but it also protects you from overuse injuries associated with doing one activity a lot.

Whether you are new to hiking, an experienced backpacker looking to visit a new environment (the desert, the canyons), trying a new activity like backpacking, climbing, or canyoneering, or a parent thinking about taking her family on an adventure that will be new for them in some way, consider these helpful guidelines in this and future posts.

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Contact Southwest Discoveries today to speak directly with a tour guide. Ask questions, get details, and learn more about what awaits you on one of our tours of the Southwest.


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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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