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Training for a vacation hike like going on the Inca Trail

Posted by on September 25, 2011

Some of you might be wondering how I went through the Machu Picchu hike and still survived after puking a few times on the Inca Trail and it all boiled down to planning. I planned on succeeding. I drew up a plan where I would train myself requiring discipline and execution. I knew that I would be hiking in the mountains meaning I would be going up and down slopes with my gear such as sleeping bag, clothes, hygiene kit, etc. But I also did not want to give up my regular workout so the best way to emulate this was to incorporate hiking with 20-30 pounds of gear in my backpack up in the hills near my house 3 times a week at these hills for several months prior to going to Peru.

My workout schedule became like this:

Monday – Run 5 miles in the hills, hike 3 miles in the hills with 30 pounds of gear

Tuesday – Lift weights for 1 hour, do abdominal workouts for 20 minutes

Wednesday – Use elliptical machine for 1 hour, hike 4 miles in the hills with 25 pounds of gear

Thursday – Lift weights for 1 hour, do abdominal workouts for 20 minutes

Friday – Run 2 miles or use the stationary bike for 40 minutes, hike 5 miles in the hills with 20 pounds of gear

Saturday – light workout either playing basketball or cross-fit training

Sunday – Off/rest day


I would highly advise having an off day for resting so your body doesn’t become burnt out and completely tired out. Also, ensure that you eat properly so your body gets the proper minerals and nutrients to build itself again. That means you don’t go eat fast-food after every time you do a hike. You have to consume smart too. But remember training is mind and body, so make sure that you push your body on a gradual scale.

What do I mean by pushing the body? Well, as you can see that the weight of my pack and the mileage changed as the week went on so my body would not be used to the same thing over and over. I think it’s important to vary the workout so you don’t become too comfortable and run into a workout rut where everything becomes boring because it’s the same thing over and over again. You also need to do other types of workouts as well including lifting weights as muscle mass which will help your body become strengthened.

I also understand that a lot of people are busy and cannot do such a schedule. But you know what? If you are determined to do this, then you will find the time. I did workouts twice a day to make this work so I would not be relying on others to carry my pack or stuff on the Trail. If need be, I would go with an easier schedule but you probably have to start this workout regime earlier to do this.

Such a workout would be like this but refer to a professional trainer for better advice. Remember, eat healthy as well!

Monday – Hike 2 miles in the hills with 20 pounds of gear

Tuesday – Lift weights for 40 minutes, do abdominal workouts for 20 minutes

Wednesday – Hike 3 miles in the hills with 20 pounds of gear

Thursday – Lift weights for 40 minutes, do abdominal workouts for 20 minutes

Friday – Hike 6 miles with 20 pounds of gear

Saturday – light workout

Sunday – Off/rest day


It’s a toned-down version and I’ll let you configure how you see fit according to how you want to do it. Just make sure that you have a plan on doing any arduous hikes because I’ve seen a lot of people on the Incan Trail struggle on all 4 days of hiking including the easy hiking day. This shows that these people thought that they could come in and do the hike. Yes, it is possible but it will make things more difficult. So even if you are lazy or just hard-pressed for time, I would at least go hiking two to three times a week to get your body used to the physical rigors. I would use a workout schedule like this:

Monday – Hike 3-5 miles with 20 pounds of gear on flat ground


Wednesday – Hike 2-4 miles with 20 pounds of gear in the hills


Friday – brisk walk

And of course, as time goes on, increase the length of the hike and weight of the pack.


Another very important thing to do is to hike with gear (for weight) and the boots you plan on wearing to the trip. You want to train with the items you have so you become used to them and can easily make any changes on how it sits on your shoulders, back, or hips. The worst thing to do is to go on a trip with stuff you’ve never used and find out that it’s too small, too large, the pack feels weird when going downhill, or there’s something about it that doesn’t seem right. You want to correct these issues as early as possible so you’ll be spending most of your trip having a good time rather than thinking about your ineffective gear.

And yes, you can hire a porter to carry most of your gear and just carry a small backpack for your water and some snacks, but the trip won’t be as rewarding in the end in my opinion. You certainly won’t be able to say that you carried 20-30 pounds of gear on your back while on the Incan Trail. But at the very least, make a plan and stick with it. That way you’re planning to succeed and have a good time rather than trying to play “catch-up” on the hike itself and end up having a bad time. It’s your responsibility on how well prepared you come and not rely on someone else unless you’re paying for the service. But remember if you’re doing a strenuous hike to Machu Picchu, well, you know what it is going to take – lots of training. I highly recommend over-training so you’re not “holding back” but going all-out. You might actually find out that you like it!

Enjoy the hike!

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