Loaded Carries 

by Adam Vognild

Disclaimer: This article holds general fitness advice, you should check with a physician prior to partaking in strenuous activities to make sure you are healthy enough to perform these suggestions. 

As the lower foothills trails are open to hiking and running we are all getting out and thinking about those longer single and multi day trips in the mountains. Often times we will get a few hikes in locally and work to go progressively higher and a bit longer before that first overnight trip in the summer months. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that your body is ready to shoulder the pack and with confidence, when you leave the trailhead? Slowly adding distance to each progressive hike, run or ski is definitely a good formula to help get you there and back. Utilizing some strength training will help too. But a third and often neglected piece of people’s training are loaded carries, progressively hiking up a steep hill with weight in your backpack.

I’ve been using loaded carries, also known as “rucks” by the military set, the past five years in my training. This is something that has been used by mountaineers for a very long time. This style of training will definitely take your hiking preparation to the next level and the good news is, it can be done relatively easy here in our backyard.

I also have an ultra running friend who uses these workouts, to prep for both his long days and multi-day efforts. This past season I’ve added extra weight to my evening ski tours to get me ready for multi-day ski traverses, which is always done with a heavy pack.

So how do you do it? I’ll layout a simple plan here to get you started.

Fred taking in the views next to his owner’s pack along with 3 gallons of water for training weight.

Start with roughly 10% of your bodyweight in a pack. I like to use 1 gallon water jugs, each gallon of water weighs roughly eight pounds and each quart of water weighs two pounds.

Start by hiking 20 minutes up a very continuously steep trail or hillside (this is important). You can dump the water at the top, or choose to carry some or all of it (as you get more fit) back down. You should be able to hold a conversation or “nose breathe” while doing the uphill portion. However your leg muscles should be on the edge of your lactate threshold (where if you went any faster the “burning” in your legs would slow you down). This might take a few hikes to adjust the load in your pack accordingly, but as always, start “light” and then adjust the weight up from there. Try to keep your pace similar to your hiking pace, to appropriately mimic and get your body and mind ready for hiking.

Over a 10-12 week period once you’ve reached around 20% or more of your bodyweight and can go upwards of 45-60 minutes, this should be plenty of load and time to have you ready to hit the trails with confidence.

A few things to keep in mind:

· Take good notes on your times and loads. Always work to add a little more weight (five pounds) or time (five minutes) each week if it feels appropriate. Only increase one variable at a time. It’s okay to redo a workout/hike if you didn’t feel like you could “own” the load and time you did a week before.

· Walk or jog for 10 to 15 minutes to get your body warmed up for these workouts.

· Do this four to six times a month to help get you ready. However these can be sprinkled in to your workouts at any time of year.

· As you get stronger and adapt, you can also hike more weight back down hill. Record this as well in your notes. Hiking the weight downhill (eccentric load) is important and it’s also what will make your legs sore in the following days. Ease into carrying the load back down.

· Wear your hiking boots and backpack that you’ll use on your trips (at least some of the time). Using the equipment (trekking poles, boots and pack) that you would for your hikes prepares our bodies for this gear. You will adapt and form appropriate calluses as you accumulate these workouts. Boot and pack fit issues and break in periods can also be addressed on these training days versus on day two of five of the planned trip.

· The times that I speak of are only for the uphill portion.

· Places to consider for this locally. Saddle Rock, Tibbits, Swakane Canyon and Chopper Peak. Keep in mind, the south facing slopes of most of these routes make them great this time of the year, but be vigilant of rattlesnakes on them in as early as May. 

· These workouts are hard and can be tough for some to recover from. Plan them midweek, with a light training day planned for the next day.

· There are different ways to modify these workouts to make them longer for your specific goals but this is a good starting point. If you can only hike on Saddle Rock, it’s okay to hike up and down multiple times to get your needed “uphill time” goal for the week.

· These workouts are not a substitution for your progressively longer hikes. If you want to go long, you have to train long. Be sure to plan on increasing the distance on your normal “hiking and smiling” preparatory hikes as well.

Adam Vognild.

Adam Vognild is a previous Board Member of Wenatchee Outdoors and was a member and Treasurer of Chelan County Mountain Rescue Association. Adam studied Mechanical Engineering at UW and then co-owned and operated The Inner Circle Gym for over 10 years. He owned and operated Encompass Fitness where he personally trained and coached everyone from serious mountain athletes to grandmothers for a wide range of fitness, lifestyle and nutritional objectives. He can be reached at encompassfitnesscoach@gmail.com to answer any questions about this article or any other questions you might have. 

This post was originally published on 5/3/2021.

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