How To Hike Uphill: Improve Your Uphill Hiking

10 min read

Whether you're short on time or want to improve your fitness levels, faster uphill hiking can be very rewarding.

Sometimes a faster hike brings a bigger sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. It's measurable and comparable. And, when it comes to measuring fitness levels, it's a tangible form of tracking your progress.

Improving your uphill hiking speed is a great workout in a shorter period of time. Taking a fast hike is a great way to reap several health benefits, such as building muscle. Additionally, faster hiking is great for cardiovascular health, too.

How to Get Better at Hiking Uphill

The best way to hike faster uphill is to get better at hiking uphill in general. It's comparable to any other fitness routine: start slow and focus on form, then improve from there.

You may want to know, "how do I get better at hiking uphill?". No worries - this will help you get started.

Here are the best 10 ways to improve your uphill hiking speed:

While this sounds simple enough, it's important to dissect exactly how each of these points helps you get better at hiking uphill.

Why You Should Improve Your Uphill Hiking Speed

Most of the time, the seasoned hiker won't worry too much about how fast they're completing their hike. Speed isn't always the point.

A lot of hikers simply love the outdoors and enjoy exploring everything nature has to offer.

Others like the challenge of a more intense hike. Some, like me, love the fitness benefits of hiking and are always looking to make progress.

There are several different reasons why you would want to hike faster. Knowing what you're going after is the most important thing here.

Are you looking to increase your uphill hiking speed to improve your health? Are you looking to finish a long hike in a shorter period of time? Maybe you want to train for that long dreamed about day hike you've been wanting to take.

Reasoning aside, there are several benefits of improving your uphill hiking speed.

Benefits Of Faster Uphill Hiking

There are several benefits to faster uphill hiking:

  • Complete longer hikes faster
  • Improve cardiovascular endurance
  • Improve leg endurance
  • Have a measurable goal for hiking fitness
  • Build endurance for longer, slower hikes

Keeping a normal pace for hiking in itself is a great way to improve your physical and mental health.

It's argued that a slower pace is better for overall health. Regardless, increasing the intensity and speed of your hiking is a fantastic way to get a "burn". This includes strengthening muscles and cardiovascular health.

Increase Hiking Speed: Step-By-Step Guide to Improve Your Uphill Hiking Speed

Luckily, I went through the headache of figuring this out on my own so you don't have to.

I've tried countless different approaches. These are the things that worked best for me and helped improve my uphill hiking speed.

As with anything, it's recommended that you experiment with different, customized approaches. What works for one person won't always work for everyone. Make adjustments where needed and don't overdo it because of your thirst for progress. Take it slow and smart.

10. Have a Baseline

When it comes to making progress, we first need a quantifiable baseline to compare with.

Your baseline is going to be your average hiking speed for a specified distance. Make sure you set a goal for distance and stick to it.

If you compare your speed to varying distances, it's going to screw your numbers up. This will make it far more difficult to gauge progress.

I measure my baseline at a short distance at a given pace. So, for example:

Average Speed + Distance = Baseline.

This is a simple way to get your hiking speed and performance baseline. If you want to increase speed, you need to improve your speed until your increased speed feels "normal".

This is common with runners. You will notice the increase right away when you've been running the same distance for a while. Once you've made improvements, it doesn't feel as difficult anymore.

So for an actual example, let's say my average pace is 3.5mph uphill, for half of a mile, the equation would look like this:

3.5 + 0.5 = 4

The number four (4) is my baseline. Yes, it's an arbitrary number, but it's a simple way to find out if I'm improving or not.

09. Build Your Leg Strength

Hiking uses several muscles in your legs and core. When speed is intensified—especially uphill—extra work is put on the muscles.

Increasing your speed over time will increase the muscle endurance in your legs. But, there are exercises — like squats, lunges, and calf raises — that speed up the process. These exercises help build the strength needed to improve your uphill hiking speed.

Spending extra time to build muscles in your leg is also a great way to tackle harder and longer hikes in the future.

And for those who want to drop weight, more muscle helps you burn fat. It's an all-around win.

08. Use The Right Hiking Posture

Like a normal-paced hike, always keep your spine in a neutral position. Also, be sure to maintain the proper footing.

This can be difficult to get used to at first, so don't get discouraged if it's not clicking with you right away. Resist the urge to go from an average speed of 3 mph to 6 mph. This will actually slow down your progress. That's because you will develop bad habits from not using the proper form.

Take it slow and increase your speed over time.

07. Set Clear & Defined Hiking Speed Goals

Use your baseline calculation and figure out what your goals are. Then, adjust your hiking training to meet your goals.

A good way to meet goals is to set a number for the end of the week or month. From there, climb up to that goal by the deadline.

This will help you stay on track and know what you're doing. It also helps you keep track of current progress so you're actually getting it done.

The way I calculate my hiking speed goals and progress are as follows:

  • Day 1: 0.5 miles @ 3mph
  • Day 2: 0.5 miles @ 3.2mph
  • Day 3: 0.5 miles @ 3.5mph
  • Day 4: 0.5 miles @ 3.8mph

Of course, this all depends on how frequently you hike and how fast you want to progress. Make the needed adjustments to fit your goals.

If you want to get up to 4mph in 2 weeks, start at 2mph and increase in small increments. Follow this pattern until you reach 4 mph by the end of the two weeks. Once you've reached that, keep at your new hiking speed until it's easy, and set a new goal for a few weeks later.

This approach helped me remove a lot of the mental cloudiness and anxiety from meeting goals. Always break them down into smaller tasks and knock them out, one-by-one.

06. Do Hill Runs

hill runs to improve uphill hiking speed

"Oh no," you say. "You didn't say we'd have to do running!"

Relax, eager hiker. This isn't a must-do, it's just a consideration.

Quite frankly, hill runs don't feel that hard when you're doing them. Sure, you're going to feel gassed out when you're done, but they're very satisfying when you're in the act.

Needless to say, you'll want some trail running shoes for this. Jetting up a hill in heavy hiking boots isn't the best idea.

For hill runs, set your distance lower. It doesn't need to be a half-mile. Heck, it doesn't even need to be a quarter-mile.

The point of hill runs is to get in fast spurts of running uphill to improve your muscle and cardio endurance. Trust me - they're awesome (and that's coming from someone who once despised running).

05. Stay Consistent

I don't mean to linger on this but it's a good habit to build: consistency brings results. Plain and simple.

To improve your uphill hiking speed, you must be consistent with your training. It's how your body adapts and improves.

In the event of a missed day or two, start over and get your uphill hiking speed down until you reach your weekly goal. Don't skip a couple of days and then increase your speed on the next hike—this isn't going to go well.

Always stick to your progress goals.

04. Hike With Resistance & Weight

Adding weight to your uphill hike helps build muscle. It also improves your cardio.
Consider adding a couple of extra items to your pack. I used to add a gallon of water or a couple of light dumbells. This increases resistance. Although it might not fee like a lot to begin with, it builds up over time.

This is best suited for those who reach their speed goals and don't want to increase the speed or distance of their current baseline. Adding weight is fantastic for taking the same distance at your original speed and increasing your progress from there.

Though, be warned: this can make it harder to track your overall speed progress.

03. Eat The Right Food

As tempting as it sounds, the last thing you want to do for before a hike is to load up on donuts and sweets. Picking the best snacks for hiking is vital in improving your performance.

Always make sure you're following the best macronutrient (protein/fat/carbs) ratios for energy.

You'll likely want to eat non-starchy carbs, some lean protein (or whey protein), and some healthy fats like that found in almonds.

Eating the right food is necessary for improving any type of fitness goal. Anything other is just negligent and will hinder your progress.

02. Wear The Right Hiking Footwear

trail running shoes for uphill running

Just because we want to improve our uphill hiking speed doesn't mean you can throw on some cross-trainers or sneakers.

Don't do that.

Instead, opt for trail running shoes. If you don't want to purchase a pair, you can always use regular running shoes, just make sure they have the proper support in the soles and ankle.

Likewise, hiking boots aren't ideal if you're looking to break a certain speed during an uphill hike. Using a pace that's closer to jogging should be done with trail running shoes and not hiking boots.

Hiking boots tend to be stiffer and heavier, which is fine for an average pace. But, if you're going to start pacing uphills, consider a trail running shoe that has more flexibility.

01. Get The Right Amount Of Rest

You should always get adequate rest not only after your hiking or hill-running sessions but during your sessions, too.

Just like any fitness routine, growth comes from rest.

Be sure to take frequent breaks and take a swig of water, especially if you're hiking on hot days. Always be sure you're bringing the right amount of water for a hike. Snack breaks are good, too, if you're running low on physical energy.

Best Way to Improve Your Uphill Hiking Speed? Just Start.

It can be easy to get bogged down in detail and have a sudden stroke of analysis paralysis. Don't sweat it.

If you feel beaten into oblivion by everything listed, here's how to get past it and make progress: just start.

Don't expect to be zooming up hills and through hikes at a cheetah's pace overnight. Don't ignore small progress either.

Just lace up your shoes, put them on the trail, and get moving! Track your progress, and take the small wins to start. Don't forget to give yourself a pat on the back when you succeed.

Remember: focus on form and better uphill hiking to start with, then slowly start increasing your speed thereafter.