Conditioning hikes - Tips for clothing, food and navigation


You can get a lot more out of your next “conditioning hike” (typically more than 8 miles and 3,000 feet elevation gain) than just aerobic exercise.  Consider working on your clothing layers, food/water intake and navigation skills, in addition to getting a workout.


  • Make a point of going out on training hikes on some of the wettest days. If it’s really storming, stay closer to home.  Use these soggy trips as a way to test your clothing systems. Try different combinations of clothes, top and bottom.

  • Try starting out with less clothes than you think you need.  You may be happily surprised at how little you need to stay warm. Remember, it’s often okay to be a little damp next to your skin, provided you’re moving and are staying warm. You may find that you sweat too much in that 3 layer Gore-Tex jacket, shortie gaiters work just fine even in knee deep snow, or that a base layer and light windshell are all you need when hiking fast.


  • On conditioning hikes, try different types of food and see what keeps your motor running. This is especially useful if you’re experimenting with carb-type energy drink mixes or eating energy gels (Gu) for 8 hours straight.

  • Start your food experiment right when you get up. Eat the same meal you’d plan for a multi day climb, which might be a couple of granola bars at 4:00 am or some instant oatmeal. (Personally, I find that instant oatmeal does not give me much energy, but adding a couple of scoops of quick dissolving whey protein powder improves things a lot.)

  • Did you finish your hike with 1 pound or more of extra food?  You’ll want to bring less next time (an “extra” food ration of a 1 oz. Gu packet or two are all you really need).

  • Remember the yummy summit snack!

By making your food intake on a training hike day match what you’d really eat on a climb, you’ll have a much better idea what your body needs to operate well in the alpine world.


  • Even on hikes where you know the trail perfectly, bring a topo map, compass and a GPS app like Gaia GPS on your smartphone. Plan on taking some extra time to practice navigation; it’s not a race out there.

  • When you get to a viewpoint, orient your map to the terrain (for example, if you’re facing south, hold the map so the south edge is furthest away from you.)  Doing this aligns the map with the real world features you see in front of you. Identify terrain features like ridgeline and gullies and match them to your map.  This helps you develop the skill to see contour lines and visualize what they represent in the real world.

  • Practice estimating distances.  Pick out some real world features, guess how far away they are, locate them on your map, and use your map scale bar to determine the actual distance.

  • When at a known position on the map, use the map to determine your UTM coordinates.  To do this, you need a UTM grid printed on your map, and the knowledge of how to estimate your position using this grid. (Learn more about UTM coordinates from this video.) Then get a GPS waypoint and see how close the coordinates match (within 200 meters is pretty good.)

  • Then, try the opposite. Pretend you don’t know your position on the map, get a GPS waypoint from your phone, and then plot that on your map and see if it matches your current location. (You can print maps for free with a UTM grid at Learn how to use Caltopo from this video.)

  • As the saying goes, if you always know where you are, you can’t ever be lost.  Get into the habit of keeping the map handy, referring to it often, and keeping track of your position.  At any point on a hike or climb, you should be able to pretty much put a finger on your specific location on the map. Consider drawing your position / route on the map at every break, more often if traveling off trail in challenging terrain.  Use a colored pencil for visibility.