John Muir Trail, Physical Preparation

March 17, 2017

With a plan and permits in place, it was time to start thinking about getting myself in shape and used to carrying a 40lb backpack. Given that I live in Minnesota it is hard to truly get in shape for hiking the JMT. My plan of action was to simply start doing 4-6 mile walks with my hiking boots on close to home, which is fairly hilly for Minnesota. These walks would usually have 500 to 600 vertical feet of climbing over 5 miles. These non backpack walks would be during April and the first part of May when we would be leaving for a bicycling vacation in southern France. When we had returned from France I would start doing hikes with a backpack load. My thinking was not to stress my back too much, and give myself more time to work on core strengthening. I also figured that I did not want to risk messing up two trips by throwing out my back carrying around a backpack before heading to France.

Typically during the winter I swim 3 times a week with a masters swim team, South East Metro Sharks, which gives me a very aerobic intense one hour plus of exercise. Other winter time exercising includes cross country skiing when there is snow, downhill skiing, and walking. I have never been a big fan of riding a stationary bike or using other indoor workout equipment. Luckily, 2016 was an early spring for us in Minnesota and we were able to get out bike riding in the beginning of March. Our early spring allowed me to log 26 rides (403 miles) before we left for France on May 8. During this time I was also able to log one to two 4-5 mile walks per week.

After a wonderful two weeks of touring and bicycling in France the more JMT focused training began.  I decided to start with 20 pounds of weight in my backpack to get used to carrying a backpack and see how well my backpack performed in case I needed to consider buying a new one. So I loaded up my backpack with the clothes I thought I would need on the trip, a sleeping bag, and bear canister with some miscellaneous stuff in it to get to a 20 pound load. My first backpack carrying hike was on June 2 at a local park near us, Battle Creek Regional Park.

Battle Creek park is a beautiful nature area with nice mowed and paved trails that are relatively flat, although the elevation gains on my hikes there were more than I thought they would be. The plan was to slowly increase the backpack weight week by week with a final goal of 35-40 pounds, which was my target weight for gear and food on our trip. My target was to do 2-3 backpack hikes each week in combination with my 7000 yards of swimming, and 50-100 miles of bike riding per week. The first few weeks were spent hiking around Battle Creek park and then I moved out to Afton State park since it has more vertically challenging trails. By the end of June I was up to a 32 pound pack and 7 miles. Very encouraging that my back and body were handling things pretty well.

As you can tell, Afton State park was a very nice and beautiful place to do practice hikes. Even though the elevation gain on the hikes was basically double what I could get at Battle Creek, it was a pale version of what was in store for me on the JMT. I was encouraged that I could avery near 4 MPH on those practice hikes and figured that would translate into 3 MPH on the JMT. Who the hell was I kidding, it turns out that 2 MPH on the JMT is really moving.

Overall, I believe that my physical preparation for the JMT hike was very appropriate. The high aerobic level of my swimming workouts served me will as I never did feel out of breath on the JMT. Biking was good for giving a less taxing on the body exercise, and the pack on hiking did exercise muscles that biking and swimming did not. This summer I will most likely repeat this phased approach that builds up to a 40 pound pack weight, but will try and seek out some more rugged trails for a few of the hikes someplace around here.

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Copyright 2017, Richard J. Moore

keywords: John Muir Trail, JMT, Backpacking, Hiking, Sierra Nevada

description: How I prepared physically for my John Muir Trail hike