Training for Our Appalachian Trail (AT) Thru-Hike Flip Flop

Our Appalachian Trail Training Approach and Schedule

The physical demands of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail are no joke! The AT stretches almost 2,200 miles with about 465,000 feet of elevation gain (AT stats from REI). In order to handle the daily exertion and stress on our bones and joints for 5 months of the journey, we are thoughtfully training in preparation. We know that many say the first few weeks on the trail will be your training and while we do have a slow start planned to give our bodies time to adjust, we firmly believe that preparing our bodies ahead of time will give us the best possible chances of successfully completing this thru-hike. Along with this training, we take 1-2 rest days a week to make sure we don’t wear our bodies out before even getting on trail. 

Generally, we are both in pretty good shape. Our hike start date is June 18th, but through March we were hiking just about every weekend in the White Mountains and keeping up with physical activity through the week. We really just needed to maintain our levels of fitness and change up some of our routines to make our exercises more targeted to thru-hiking. For example, Kathy used to run more often, but found that it was a little bit tough on her joints and shin splints. So she decided to forgo running in favor of more long walks with packs. Below are the big categories of training activities we picked up starting three months before our start date and a sample schedule (it changed weekly, but you’ll get the gist).

Sample Schedule: 

  • Monday: Hike with weighted packs
  • Tuesday: Cross-train (cycle, run, yoga) 
  • Wednesday: Strength/resistance training 
  • Thursday: Stairs with packs 
  • Friday: rest 
  • Saturday: Longer hike with weighted packs
  • Sunday: Cross-train or Strength/resistance training

Training with Weight

Pack on training
Pack on training
Training in the Middlesex Fells
Training in the Middlesex Fells
Enjoying the view on a training hike
Enjoying the view on a training hike

Hikes With Weighted Packs:

This may seem obvious, but some of the best training for any thru-hike is actually hiking with our heavy packs. Ideally, we get out to hiking trails with some elevation gain, but even urban hiking along city streets can be valuable training.

2-3 months before our hike, we aimed for 2 pack-on hikes per week of 4 miles or more carrying our base weight or just a little over. We were usually able to get out for one long hike on a weekend day and one shorter hike or urban walk on a weekday. Sometimes, we even combined our long walks with errands like trips to the grocery store or urban hiking to REI to buy more gear!

1 month before our hike, we are now aiming for 3 pack-on hikes per week of 5 miles or more carrying our maximum expected trail weight. So we’re intentionally ramping up our training to really get our bodies ready for the trail. This is obviously taking more time out of our days and we’re trying to keep up our motivation on weekdays when we are tired after work.

As we know we’ll be out on the AT in any and all weather conditions, we’ve made sure not to only choose the nicest days for our hikes. OK, so maybe we usually choose the nicest days, but we make sure to go on a few rainy day slogs also. There’s no way to be truly ready for the experience of hiking through rain all day on trail, but we’re doing what we can. And we know to expect it, so we’re preparing mentally as well.

Local training
Training while running errands
Training while running errands
Rainy day training
Rainy day training
Keeping spirits high

Stairs With Weighted Packs:

Sometimes, we trade out a hiking day for climbing stairs with our heavy packs. If you have access to an old stadium like we do, the large steps up the sections make for a great workout. If not, find any set of stairs and get ready to go up and down over and over again. This is great for building leg strength and enables us to train closer to home in less time than long hikes. We usually complete 4 or 5 sets of the following:

  • 3 times of up and down (skipping steps on regular stairs)
  • 1 time side steps with the right leg
  • 1 time side steps with the left leg 
Climbing stadium stairs
Climbing stadium stairs
Side steps up stadium stairs
Side steps up stadium stairs
Happy on a gorgeous training day

Strength/Resistance Training

Each of us were already doing strength/resistance training at least once a week, so we just kept it up. Examples of things we do below: 

  • Resistance bands – side steps, monster steps, leg extensions, ankle strengthening, clamshell glute bridges, etc.
  • Slant board squats – Kevin started incorporating this into his exercise routine to help recover from and prevent knee pain just below the knee cap (possibly patellar tendinitis, but never diagnosed). Squats on the board facing a declining slope strengthens the patellar tendon and has been really helpful for him.
  • Planks (sometimes on a medicine ball – that adds some balancing which makes it more difficult)
  • Side plank dips (sometimes with a medicine ball for weight)
  • Plank shoulder taps
  • Other core exercises: seated twist with medicine ball, bicycle crunches, mountain climbers, jackknife pullover, reverse crunches, dumbbell crossover punches
  • Step ups with trunk rotation (sometimes with weighted packs)
  • Burpees
  • Squats
  • Lunges (sometimes including twists with a medicine ball)
  • Push ups with variations (e.g. push ups with rows)
  • Single leg dumbbell rows
Step ups
Step ups
Pack on planks
Pack on planks
Side planks
Side planks


Adding in other forms of exercise to balance out the weighted training is not just helpful, but enjoyable. We don’t just love hiking, but love a wide range of physical activities, especially ones that get us moving if we have been sitting at a desk all day.

  • Yoga: Kathy trained to be a yoga teacher and Kevin also has a strong yoga practice. We sprinkle in a day of yoga by either doing our own flow or listening to a class recorded by Kathy’s favorite studio in Brooklyn: Brooklyn Yoga Project
  • Cycling: We both have bikes and sometimes opt to cycle to and from work to fit in that exercise when days are really busy.
  • Running: Honestly, running is extremely convenient, but doesn’t make Kathy’s joints and shins feel great, so we include this rather sparingly. But, we expect many people would include more jogging and running than us.

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