Unless you hunt on a very small plot of land, you likely have to hike quite a bit while hunting. If you hunt public land in the West, you absolutely have to hike quite a bit through very difficult terrain, often times with a pack and gear on your back. In addition to your pack, you are also carrying a rifle or bow, binoculars, food, water, and other essentials. All of this can easy add up to 30 lbs or more depending on the distance you are hiking and the gear you are carrying. This is not something to take lightly. You need to train your body to be able to handle the added weight.
Additionally, having this extra weight causes your body’s center of gravity to be off which will affect your balance. If you do not train your body to handle the weight and difficulty balancing, you will be at risk of injury. So here are some exercises to do to get your body into backpacking shape:
As said in a previous article, deadlift is the most important lift for any hunter, so it almost goes without saying that it would be on this list. Deadlift is specifically beneficial for carrying a pack because of the engagement of the posterior chain (the muscles around your spine and down the backs of your legs). These muscles carry the brunt of the load when carrying a heavy pack and the deadlift helps to strengthen these muscles. Make sure to use proper form as being careless will likely result in injury. For directions on how to properly perform this lift, read this.
This exercise not only strengthens your legs, it also strengthens the stabilizer muscles that keep you balanced while on uneven ground. Using either a barbell or dumbbells, step sideways and lunge to the side while keeping your chest out and your butt down until your torso is over your bent knee. Driving from your bent leg, return to a standing position. Repeat on the other side.
This exercise focuses on the quads and glutes, two muscles that are crucial to carrying extra weight while hiking. Using either a bench or plyometric box, hold dumbbells in your hands or a barbell across your shoulders. Step on the bench/box until you are in a standing position on top. Return to the bottom and repeat with the other leg.
This exercise will keep your core strong which will help you maintain balance; it will also reduce the risk of lower back injury. Get into a pushup position, but put your forearms on the ground instead of your hands. Your elbows should line up directly underneath your shoulders. Keeping your toes on the ground, squeeze your glutes and tighten your abdominals while keeping a straight line from your head to your feet. Don’t let your lower back sag; keep it straight! Hold for 30 seconds-1 minute.
Your shoulders will fatigue quickly when they are carrying a significant amount of weight. You need to train them the same way. Holding a dumbbell in each hand or a barbell in front of your body, stand straight up with your shoulders back and your chest out. Looking forward, try to touch your ears with your shoulders (you probably can’t, but raise your shoulders as high as you can). Hold for 2 seconds and return to the bottom of the motion and repeat for the allotted reps.
Wall Squats with Exercise Ball
This exercise will focus the weight of your body on your glutes, hamstrings, and calves which are all engaged while carrying a pack. With an exercise ball against the wall and behind your back, put your feet slightly in front of your body at shoulder width. Slowly lower down until your knees are bent past 90 degrees. Keep the ball between your back and the wall the entire time. Slowly return to a standing position and repeat for the allotted reps.
Standing Calf Raises
This will focus solely on your calf muscles to strengthen them, which is essential for endurance in the backcountry. Using a small step or weight plate (anything that is between 2-3 inches tall), place the front balls of your feet on the step while holding a barbell across your shoulders (there is also a machine specifically for this if you go to a gym). Stand up on your tip-toes and hold for 2 seconds, then return your heels to the ground. You want to use a step of some sort so that your feet are using an extended range of motion beyond the flat ground.
Incorporating these exercises into your routine will ensure that your body is well-trained and well-prepared for the demands of a long, difficult backpack hike into prime hunting land. Being able to hike longer, harder, and further will enable you to go where no else can and find the trophy that no one else will because you did the work that no one else did.