How To Improve Uphill Hiking Speed
Maybe you're tired of the slow game and want to know how to improve uphill hiking speed.
Look, I get it: sometimes a faster hike brings a bigger sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. It's measurable and comparable & it's a sign of progress.
Improving your uphill hiking speed is a great way to get in a killer workout in a shorter period of time—a hike completed at double the speed, under half the distance of a normal hike is a great way to squeeze in great health benefits in a short period of time.
But before you start building muscle for hiking, first ask yourself why you want to increase your uphill hiking speed.
Why Do You Want To 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.
Most hikers simply love the outdoors and enjoy exploring everything nature has to offer.
Others like the challenge of a more intense hike. And some, like myself, love the fitness benefits of hiking and are always looking to improve their physical ability.
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.
Whatever your reason, knowing why you want to improve your hiking speed is important for proper training and progress.
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 overall endurance for longer, slower hikes
Keeping a normal pace for hiking in itself is a great way to improve your physical and mental health.
Though it's argued that a slower pace is better for overall health, increasing the intensity and speed of your hiking is also a fantastic way to get a great "burn" and strengthen your muscles, including your heart.
How To Improve Your Uphill Hiking Speed
Here are the best 10 ways to improve your uphill hiking speed:
- Have a Baseline
- Build Your Leg Strength
- Use The Right Hiking Posture
- Set Clear & Defined Hiking Speed Goals
- Do HIll Runs
- Stay Consistent
- Hike With More Weight
- Eat The Right Food
- Wear The Right Hiking Footwear
Simple enough, right? Well, if you're the knowledgable type who wants to know exactly how to improve your hiking performance, keep reading.
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 before I figured out how to improve uphill hiking speed, and these are the things that worked best for me.
As with anything, I suggest safely experimenting with different, customized approaches. What works for one person won't always work for everyone. Always 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 improvements with anything 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 and make it far more difficult to gauge progress.
I measure my baseline in 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", meaning you don't feel the extra exertion anymore.
This is common in runners. You're going to notice the increase right away when you've been running the same distance for a while and it doesn't feel as difficult anymore.
So for an actual example, let's say my average pace is 3.5mph uphill, for a 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 naturally increase the muscle endurance in your legs. However, there are exercises like squats, lunges, and calf raises, among others, that can speed up the strength-building needed in your legs and glutes 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 more effectively! It's an all-around win.
08. Use The Right Hiking Posture
Just like a normal-paced hike, always keep your spine in a neutral position and 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. Also, don't feel the urge to go from an average speed of 3 mph to 6 mph—this is going to actually slow down your progress 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
Using your baseline calculation, figure out what your goals are and adjust your hiking training accordingly.
A good way to meet goals is to set a number for the end of the week or month and slowly climb up (that's not a climbing joke) to that goal by the deadline.
This helps 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 properly.
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.
So, to break it down even more, if you want to get up to 4mph in 2 weeks, start at 2mph and increase in small increments 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
"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, as 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 utterly despised running).
05. Stay Consistent
I don't mean to constantly preach this but it's gotta be burned into your brain: consistency brings results. Plain and simple.
If you're looking to improve your uphill hiking speed, you must be consistent with your training and dedicated to progress. 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
Aside from building extra muscle in your leg, adding weight to your uphill hike can help improve your cardio, too.
Consider adding a couple of extra items to your pack (I used to add a gallon of water or a couple of light dumbells) to increase resistance.
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
There's nothing better than loading up on donuts and chocolate cake before a hike.
Don't worry, nobody has ever said this.
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
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 this.
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. However, if you're going to start pacing uphills quickly, consider a trail running or hiking shoe that is lower cut and has a little more flexibility and less weight.
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.
How 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 uphills and through hikes at a cheetah's pace overnight. Don't ignore small progress either.
Just lace up your shoes, put them to the trail, and get moving! Track your progress.
Give yourself a pat on the back when you succeed. Remember, this isn't a sprint: it's an uphill marathon.