Pack Training: Legs, Shoulders, and Mind

You stalk your prey for miles of uneven and dangerous terrain, make sure you are on the right side of the herd so they don’t catch your scent, maneuver so you can get a clear shot, and make the kill, but that is only half the battle. Now you must harvest your kill and descend whatever terrain you were on with an added eighty pounds of fresh meat on your back, likely doing all of this in the thin air of high altitude. Did you train for that situation or did you think carrying the extra weight wouldn’t be all that bad? After ten miles your shoulders feel like the straps of your backpack are ripping through them and your legs are shaking uncontrollably. This could have been avoided if you trained for it.

Similarly for backpackers, if you expect to pack in fifty pounds of gear to a remote location in the heart of the Backcountry without ever carrying a pack in your life, you may have a rude awakening when your body simply gives out.

Packing uses nearly your whole body, however a strong training foundation for your legs and glutes is going to be what makes or breaks your experience. A strong shoulder foundation is also key to carrying any load on your back.


Yesterday I began my training. After a grueling leg day in the gym, I refueled and strapped on my weighted vest to hit the trail. So many of us get caught up in only exercising at the gym or not even exercising at all that we forget why we train, so we can perform when we are outdoors in the wilderness, where it matters most!


Bakcountry athletes must be strong both mentally and physically to perform at their upmost potential in often times harsh conditions. Part of being strong mentally is knowing what to expect. That is why rather than doing extra time in the gym yesterday, I hit the trail to get a feel for the real thing. There is no substitution for hard work, and doing the right work is just as important. You can continue to do squats and lunges in the gym, and it will no doubt strengthen your muscles, but it isn’t going to show you what to expect when you are trudging your gear back through intense terrain. Don’t get me wrong, I believe the gym is necessary for building an athletes physique, however we must practice exactly what we want to excel at if we want to excel at it.

Sounds so easy right? Then why are so many people ignoring the fact that they simply don’t train by doing what they plan to do, they train some other way. It seems to easy to be true. Train for what you want to do simply by doing it. If you want to go on a four day backpacking trip, start by putting a rock in your pack, strap it on and start walking around your backyard! It is going to give you the most accurate representation of what to expect and that will make you mentally tough when you are beginning to feel tired on the trail. It is better to know what you are getting into now than when your twenty miles in and don’t think you’ll be able to make it back without being carried by your buddy.


Then of course there is the physical factor that the more frequently you pack and hike, the more your muscles you use for those activities are going to develop. It is like any professional athlete, muscle memory from working the same muscles over and over again is going to fine tune your movements so you can perform your best out there, whether it be on a hunt or in a cross-country race. We all know a mistake in the wilderness is more costly than that of a pitcher on a field or player on the court, it can be fatal. Preparing our bodies to be able to withstand the pressure we expect from them is our responsibilities.

I’m not going to sit here and write weekly motivation for you to get up and put in some work, that is your job. If you want to be a top notch outdoor athlete then you are going to have to put in work and training, and a lot of it. Stick to you training and never forget why we do what we do. It is definitely possible to reach your goals, however understand what you are trying to accomplish so you aren’t discouraged when things get more difficult than expected.

Get your mind right, put your horns forward, and get to work!

Stay strong, #BakcountryStrong.

-Founder and CEO of Bakcountry F & N, Jack Cole.

P.S. Here is a video of me doing a short hike with my weighted vest for the first time in awhile. I explain in it the importance of staying disciplined and getting out the door to train. Even if it isn’t the hardest workout, it all adds up.



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