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Training the Wolf: Part 2 The Hike

Training the Wolf: Part 2 The Hike

Below is Part 2 of 3 from our series authored by Joseph Morrison, owner and operator of Joseph Morrison Services where he trains Special Ops candidates to prepare them mentally and physically for duty.  Be the Wolf!

The best training exercise for a mountain hunt is hiking up and down hills under load. What I am going to do in this section is give you some general tips on how to improve your hiking under load without over stressing the body and causing problems that impede progress.  Then, in Part 3,  I will lay out a very simple general strength and conditioning workout targeting muscles you will need for a mountain hunt and life in general.  


When it comes to distance, speed, time, weight lifted, and load carried on hikes or number of repetitions completed, I am giving you general parameters.  You are going to have to understand your strengths, weaknesses, natural tendencies, and goals; then start out and progress at a pace that is great enough to create adaptation in your body but not so great you overtrain and experience setbacks. Or said simply, you have to manage your load. 

If you have a heart rate monitor and understand your training zones, I want you to try to stay in your aerobic or moderate training zone when hiking.  This will strengthen your heart and lungs as well as the muscles and tendons. It will do many other things as well, but this is not the place to go into the science behind heart rate training zones.  Do not worry about your anaerobic zone, we are going to work it during your strength and conditioning/cardio days.

Before we get started, I want to make sure everyone knows what I mean by “hiking under load”.  This is simply hiking with additional weight other than your body weight.  You can accomplish this with a weighted vest or adding sandbags/weights to your backpack.


Photo from NWA Democrat Gazette

When it comes to the amount of load carried for training, a great rule of thumb is to use 30% of your body weight.  For example, a 150lb man would multiply his weight by 30% which equals 45lb.  The 150lb man’s maximum training weight is 45lb, but I would start with 35lb for a few hikes.  When the body adapts, go to 40lb for a few hikes and again when the body adapts go up to 45lb. The goal is to carry enough load/stress to create adaptation in the body’s legs, tendons, back, core, shoulders/traps, but not so much  load or stress that you cause injury to muscles or tendons.  

When you reach your maximum training weight of 45lb, continue to add stress by increasing your speed, distance, and more vertical climb when available. It is important that you learn to listen to your body.  Your body will tell you when it is time to progress or when it is time to back off or take a break.  If you are thinking, “on the mountain I could be required to carry much more weight and my body will not be able to handle it, I need to train with the weight I will carry on the mountain,” that is the wrong thought process and answer.. 

Trust me here, as a member of Force Recon/SOF troops for many years, we almost always had over 50% of our body weight on our backs for extended periods of time in the field during operations. We almost always did training hikes with 45lb and our bodies did not fail us because a training weight of around 30% of your body weight is enough to strengthen your muscles and tendons especially when combined with other training that builds core/back stability and develops muscular endurance.  The only thing that happened to us when we put 60, 70, or 80lb on our backs was it slowed down our rate of movement.   

I would approach distance in much the same way.  First, make an honest assessment of your physical ability, then identify your goal.  Are you trying to climb Mt Whitney at 14,505 ft or Mt Everest at 29,029 ft? There is a big difference in training requirements.  Keep in mind, the shorter the hike the more often you can hike and continue the adaptation process. Most can hike 3-4 miles, 2-3 times a week and progress gradually.  If you are hiking 5-10 miles, most can only handle 1 or 2 hikes a week.  Keep in mind you are going to have other training events in that week.

I think a realistic goal for most hunters would be 2 short hikes of 2-4 miles during the work week and a longer hike on the weekend, about 5-10 miles leading up to your mountain hunt. I would recommend 2 days of strength and conditioning/cardio workouts for a total of 5 training days a week.  

Start your short hikes at 2-3 miles and progress to 4 miles.  Start the long hike at 5 miles and progress to 10 miles.  Your total miles toward the end of your training could be two 4 mile hikes during the work week and a 10 miler on the weekend. A week with18 total miles with 30% load should be a realistic target for most.  



When you started training you might have been doing two, 2-mile hikes during the work week with a 5-mile hike on the weekend for a total of 9 miles in a week. Some will certainly have the time and physical ability to log more miles while others might have to log less miles depending on their age, health or physical ability.  The challenge for you is to apply the right amount of stress to create adaptation without over training yourself. 

If you carry a lighter load, you can increase the distance; if you insist on carrying a heavier load then consider shortening the distance.  I would much rather you show up to the hunt reasonably fit and 100% injury free than be fit but with nagging injuries.  Planters fasciitis, tendonitis, and muscle strains are the last thing you want when you arrive in camp. 

The “Off Day” is a very important recovery time and is paramount for load management. We need to use that off day efficiently. Some in the beginning may need a third day off in a week, so if you need it, take it. Listen to your body and manage your loads. Pretty soon, your body will not require a day off.

On off days, I will do some form of active recovery, such as walking with the wife with no load or only water,  riding a bike easy with no stress, stretching, and working on movement patterns. Try to do some form of NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) for around an hour.  What you are trying to do with NEAT is just move enough to increase blood flow and aid in recovery.  

If you are watching your heart rate when doing NEAT or active recovery I would like you to stay in the Low Zone or Fat Burning Zone and even then I would like you closer to the bottom of the zone, not the top.  Do not turn NEAT into a cardio workout, it is active recovery. The human body does not like being completely shut down for extended periods of time, so you do not want to do absolutely nothing for 24 hours. 

I would spend as much time as possible hiking on hills and/or at altitude.  I have an altitude trainer at home so it is easy for me.  I do NEAT, stationary bike work, and other things at 12,500 ft while watching college football in my garage.  I live at sea level but I also have a 6,142 ft mountain 30 minutes from my house, which is an awesome training area.  The ability to train at altitude is a game changer if you have access to it. 

For Part 3, Morrison will lay out a strength and conditioning workout to add to your regiment of hiking.