Training for Backpacking the Grand Canyon


The physical demands of hiking the Grand Canyon are in sharp contrast to those found in mountain climbing or hiking on relatively flat terrain. The first part of your hike will be a knee-jarring descent, and the climb out will come when your legs are most tired, all with a 25-45 pound backpack (exact pack weight depends on your body size and trip). And you’ll ascend into increasingly thin air as you near the rim at 7,000 feet, making it more difficult to breathe.

We cannot stress enough that the fitter you are the more fun you’ll have. We recommend you prepare for your trip with a training program that addresses your fitness needs and works well with your daily routine. Options include:


If you have access to hiking trails and a schedule to accommodate it begin walking and hiking in hilly/steep terrain. Nothing prepares you for a backpacking trip better than the activity itself!

Try to get out at least 3 days a week. Start with short hikes (1- hour in length) with a light daypack. From week to week build the length and difficulty of your hikes and gradually increase your pack weight until you’re comfortably able to hike 6-8 hours a day carrying the weight you’ll have on your trip. Unless you’re in great shape it is ideal to begin your training at least 12 weeks prior to your trip. Also be sure to use the boots you’ll have on your trip to break them in.


Rangers and guides agree that stair climbing is perhaps the most effective way to simulate climbing out of (and descending into) the Grand Canyon. Trails in the Grand Canyon are steep and continuous, with long sections of steps. The combination can take a surprising toll on hikers. Train by climbing up and down stairs with a pack for one to three hours each day three times per week. Find a place where you can climb many flights of stairs in a single go such as a stadium or tall building. Otherwise climb the stairs at your office, house, park, or neighborhood. Begin your training at least 12 weeks prior to your trip and gradually increase the weight in your pack until you’re carrying the weight you’ll have at the Grand Canyon. A variation for some of your workouts is to take an elevator to the top of a tall building and walk down the stairs rather than up and down. This will help build the strength you’ll need not just for descending but for going up as well.


If a hiking routine is not practical you can adequately train for your trip in the gym. Be sure to begin exercising 3 times a week at a minimum for at least 30 minutes each time. Gradually increase the length and intensity of your workouts during the time you’re training for the trip. A program that improves your cardiovascular fitness and strength in all muscle groups is best for backpacking.

Activities may include swimming, step aerobics, treadmill, bicycling, or elliptical trainers to name a few. Swimming is a great way to build endurance and cardiovascular fitness and is easy on the joints. A modest weight training program focusing on the muscles that support the ankles, knees, back, and shoulders is also beneficial.


There are many other activities that are easily incorporated into your daily life to supplement the above activities and build your overall fitness. Cross training is also important to strengthen opposing muscle groups and it helps to avoid overuse injuries. Some ideas include:

  • Bike to work or when running errands. Bike around town or on country roads outside of your town/city. Cycling is a great way to build endurance and strength in your legs.
  • Yoga and/or Pilates classes can build strength throughout your body while also improving your flexibility.
  • Intramural sports.
  • Walk to work instead of driving. Run your errands by walking and carry your groceries home in a backpack.
  • Jogging is another option, however if you are not a regular runner it can easily lead to injuries that backpacking may then exacerbate. Undertake a jogging routine with care.


Flexibility is an important part of training, remember to stretch before and after your workouts. For the week leading up to your trip cut your workouts in half to avoid arriving fatigued. Also for a 72-hour period before your trip commences, ensure that you are consuming sufficient amounts of sodium and fluids. Doctors agree that hikers increase the likelihood of experiencing heat-related problems if they are sodium depleted (e.g., follow a low sodium diet) or are dehydrated (due to travel or using diuretics such as coffee or alcohol).

Important note: Always consult with your physician before commencing with a workout program.

*Being physically prepared for your backpacking trip is solely your responsibility. Guests who must be evacuated from a trip due to improper physical preparation will not receive any refunds and may be subject to additional expenses related to the evacuation.