Now that is one of the absolute truths in this pursuit! I have said the same thing for decades. In my 40 something years of packing, no other exercise actually got me really prepared. The closest thing I have ever found is to load up a pack with rocks or weights and climb up and down stairs in a stadium. Even then, muscles don't get worked at the same range of stride and foot angles as on a real trail. I have a hill behind my house and my routine on days I don't work is to take a 6 mile walk in the morning and climb my backyard hill for an hour or two with a pack full of weights just before sunset. It can be boring, so I try to meditate on being in the mountains. Each spring I start light and build up, and day hike with friends as often as possible.Wandering Daisy wrote:The best "conditioning" for backpacking is simply to backpack.
When I was a guide, I climbed stairs with 100 lb packs. My pack trail weight ranged from 50-90 lb. depending upon what kind of trip I was leading, and the most I ever carried when my participants were ill or injured was 120. I am almost 60 now and can't do anything close to that any more. For training on my hill, I start at 25 lb. in the early spring and work up to 65 in summer. I try to build up to a weight that is heavier than I actually intend to carry on the trail. In addition to the pack, I wear ankle weights when training; it's nice for my feet to feel light when actually getting onto real trail. I have tried to modernize my philosophy about pack weight and read a couple of book written around the turn of the millennium about ultralight packing. That has since been supplanted by super-ultralight packing: a base weight (everything except food weighs in at less than 5 lb.) I have a neighbor who lives less than a mile from me who is SUL and has a base weight of < 5 lb. Rather than books, the place to get information is on You-Tube. The philosophy is too radical for me; these people are basically day hikers who carry a minimal amount of bivouac equipment. I have learned a lot from them, however, and now have a 2.5 lb. pack, a 16 oz. moisture resistant down bag, a ground cloth that is under an ounce, a 6 oz cuben fiber rain fly, a 1/2 oz. titanium trowel, and so on. It really makes a difference on these old knees. I do splurge and take my Omnia oven sometimes though; I love a long afternoon of baking everything from pizza to brownies on the trail.
Daisy is right. Nothing prepares you for backpacking like backpacking. Start out with short days. Take a good book to read or do some afternoon hikes away from camp without the pack. Most of all, have fun and rediscover that joy you had with your father all those years ago!