Long distance Appalachian Trail backpackers almost universally agree that the best training for a backpacking trip is to do a lot of backpacking. Duh? I’m certain that this is sound advice, but I have two little problems that interfere with my implementation of that strategy.

  1. The first problem is that I live in Florida – The highest point in Florida is Britton Hill, which rises a whopping 345 feet above sea level. Even if it was located near the coast (which it is not) it would take a lot of ups and downs there to come even close to simulating the elevation gains and losses that I will experience on the Appalachian Trail. Besides, Britton Hill is an hour and a half drive away, which is not conducive to a daily workout regime.
  1. The second problem is that I live in Florida – Starting sometime around the 1st week in May, the temperature here climbs above 90 degrees during the day and stays there until around the 3rd week in October. Stir a little 90-100% humidity into the mix, and you have a recipe for heat index temperatures above 100 degrees for five months out of the year. I know that hikers have experienced conditions similar to the above on the A.T. this year, but not for extended periods of time. Dennis doesn’t do heat for extended periods of time either.

As far as I’m concerned, there is only one solution to the Florida problem, and that is a fully equipped and air conditioned gym. Luckily, I found a locally owned and reasonably priced gym near my house and I signed up in June. As a bonus, the membership allows me to bring Kate (or another guest) with me for no additional charge.

After doing considerable research, I developed a workout routine that, hopefully, will take me from cubicle to Katahdin. This routine focuses on core strengthening, leg/knee/ankle strengthening, stretching, and aerobic conditioning, utilizing a combination of treadmills, weight machines, and free weights. Once the weather cools off, I will supplement this routine by walking increasing distances with a fully weighted backpack and taking several overnight “shakedown” backpacking trips. Obviously, this plan will not exactly replicate conditions on the A.T., but at least it’s better than showing up with the hope that the trail will whip me into condition.

Cardio Exercises

For aerobic conditioning, I alternate my routine between a regular treadmill and a brutal torture device called a StairMaster Stepmill. In order to strengthen the muscles used for climbing uphill, I have the regular treadmill set for an incline of 15 degrees, and my baseline, at the time of this writing, is three mph for 60 minutes. My goal by the end of February is four mph for 60 minutes at 20 degrees. My current baseline on the stepmill is 200 stories in 60 minutes and my goal is 300 stories in the same time-frame.


Following a good warm-up on the cardio machines, I spend twenty or so minutes stretching. The stretches I perform focus on the calves, quadriceps, groin, and hamstrings muscles.

Weight Training

My weight conditioning routine is comprised of 17 exercises that are performed three times per week. My methodology is to perform three sets of each exercise with increasing weights that allow me to do 12 repetitions on the first two sets and to go to muscular failure on the third set. Once I achieve 12 repetitions in the third set for three consecutive workouts, the weight goes up. I usually split this workout into upper and lower body days with one day of complete rest per week.

Here is my exercise list with current weights:


Set 1 Set 2 Set 3
Abdominal Crunches 90 100 110
Back Extensions 100 110 120
Leg Curls 50 60 70
Leg Extensions 50 60 70
Calf Raises 160 180 200
Leg Presses 240 260 280
Chest Presses 75 90 105
Vertical Rows 100 115 130
Pectoral Flys 60 70 90
Rear Deltoid Flys 40 50 60
Shoulder Presses 70 85 100
Lateral Pulldowns 72 86 99
Dumbbell Lateral Rises 10 15 20
Dumbbell Front Rises 10 15 20
Curl Bar Upright Rows 30 40 50
Curl Bar Bicep Curls 30 40 50
Tricep Extensions 30 40 50


I’m not sharing these weights just to let the world know the embarrassingly bad shape I’m in. After all, I went for years where my only exercise routine consisted of walking between my workstation and the printer station. But I thought it would be fun to revisit this data at the end of February to see what (if any) gains the application of this program might have accomplished.

If you see anything I’m leaving out of my physical preparation that would help me to achieve my goal of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, please let me know in the comments below.