Loc: Pennsylvania, USA
Howdy folks. About 15 years ago I spent five months backpacking all over the four-corners area. Since that time, I've graduated from assorted institutions and managed to get settled into the sedentary lifestyle of corporate life. Needless to say, I've packed on the pounds and have lost all my training in that time.
I'd like to get back into backpacking, as I am now near the AT, and have found other places in the area that I can hike around. My goal is to do the top of the AT in Maine in a couple of years, so was wondering if I could get some feedback from people on some of my plans. I came across the Backcountry Forum, which seems to be populated with some good folks with good ideas.
My first question to the group is: I started training by just walking, should I be walking in boots to get my feet used to them again?
My second question is: How long should I train without weight before strapping on a pack again?
When out walking/training wear the shoes/boots you're going to hike in. A lot of people are using trail runners instead of boots now. If you have strong ankles you might look into it. I'm just getting back into backpacking myself. So I'm also an old experienced newbie myself. I'd like to hear about your first recent hike. GD
Loc: Portland, OR
I'm not sure there are many nailed-down "shoulds" about your training. Walking is a low impact activity and almost any way you do it will be fairly safe.
Most hiking boots these days require little or no breaking in, so that is not a big consideration. But, whatever you wear on your feet, it should fit! If your footwear is new, the only sure way to know is to walk in them.
Strap on the pack when you feel ready for it. The amount of weight you put in it is up to you. For the most fun, I suggest you take day hikes carrying a day-hiking load, and search out trails with a bit of elevation gain to them. That's my preferred way of ramping up my conditioning.
On normal weekdays, I walk to work and back, so that covers me for those days. Not everyone has that luxury, though.
From a conditioning standpoint, I think that milage is milage. Milage with weight has more resistance than just milage, so it "counts" for more as does milage on hills(you did more work).
To get more milage, think about combining it into things you HAVE to do anyway (you mentioned corporate life and putting on the pounds - I sympathize).
For instance, while I have rarely been able to live close enough to work to WALK (about 2 miles for a half an hour commute) I usually live within BIKING range (4-8 miles). I get the cardovascular benefits and am better able to climb hills when I bike than if I just walked on the flat terrain where I live. Further, I have to get back and forth to work anyway, so I get to actually do the workouts, and biking doesn't impose that much more of a time cost than driving a car.
There are downsides to this approach - for instance, I don't build calus in the right places on my feet. However, by combining my workout with what I need to do anyway, I get fitness benefits that allow me to get out on the trail.
Please note that I didn't directly answer any of your questions - but I am suggesting a general approach that, depending on how far away work is, could enable you to recover some of your lost fitness and make the trails accessible again.