How to train for a walking tour in Europe

Walking above Zermatt
Walking above Zermatt

How to train for a walking tour in Europe

The key to an active holiday in Europe is that the fitter you are, the more you are going to enjoy yourself.
This doesn't mean a training schedule needs to be a strict, tiresome, exercise regime (it's an active holiday, you're not running the London Marathon like Eliud Kipchoge!). Instead, there are simple measures to put in place in the lead up to your European vacation that will get you ready to explore backroads and trails.
These training tips are important for anyone undertaking a European multi-day walking trip.

Select an achievable active holiday

First things first - have you chosen a suitable active holiday? While we don't like to use the word 'impossible', it will be a lot easier to go from a Couch to Rambling in the Cotswolds scenario than a Couch to Hiking up the Dolomites scenario. Know your limits (and your walking partners too!).
For clarity on what our trip gradings mean take a look at our honest trip grading system. They've been compiled from years of feedback from travellers.
Walking between Aumont-Aubrac and Nasbinals |  <i>Rob Mills</i>

Start small, then build up

Set small, achievable goals. You'll be both surprised and impressed by how quickly your endurance will increase.
Ideally you would start training 3-4 months before your trip. Begin with a simple exercise plan of walking three to four days a week on level ground, up to 40 minutes at a time. Consider walking to the shops, short bushwalks or coastal walks during the week and on weekends.
When you're comfortable with this, start to include hills and stairs in your walking regime. Gradually cover further distances and walk for longer time frames. You'll feel your body strengthen and the need for rest days decrease.
Stroll down the wide, colourful streets in the former royal capital of Cetinje

Trade the car for your feet

Next time you need to duck to the shops for milk, leave the car at home and walk instead. Pro tip: if you're buying a few items, bring a small backpack to carry them in as this will be far easier than holding bags, plus it will mimic the light day pack you'll carry on the trail.

Don't skip the hills

A 10km walk on flat ground and a 10km walk on hills are not equal! Make sure you include some hill walks as the training from gradients will give you a great advantage. Even on the gentlest European tours there are still stairs and steep inclines to overcome (typically with a beautiful viewpoint as a reward!).
Naturally, if you are embarking on a hiking trip in the Alps you will want to do a lot more hill training. Even if you live in a flat area, find the closest thing to a hill and practice walking that section.
Don't skip this part of your training schedule as you'll only be cheating yourself.
Ascending to the hill top Tuscan town of Montalcino |  <i>Kate Baker</i>

Prepare for inclement weather

There's a better way to prepare for inclement weather than just crossing your fingers and wishing the trip will be all sunshine and rainbows. Invest in lightweight wet weather gear and make sure it fits comfortably into your day pack. This way if you do encounter rain you'll be the one happily singing in it.
Wet weather gear along the Way of St James in France |  <i>Allie Peden</i>

Walk on a mixture of terrains

It is a good idea to be walking on uneven grass or rocky paths to help you get used to uneven ground and surfaces. This terrain can be slightly more difficult than a concrete footpath, however will help you strengthen the muscles of your lower limbs. This will ensure you are as sturdy as a goat for some of the cobblestoned paths in Europe.

Wear in your shoes and test your equipment

Purchase all your gear and walking shoes well in advance of your trip, and make sure you become well acquainted with them. This will iron out any of the little annoyances in the comfort of your hometown rather than letting them become distractions from enjoying your holiday. So be sure to determine the right length of your trekking poles, find a water bottle that you can easily drink from, ensure your hiking shorts are loose in all the right places. 
This is particularly important with your shoes. Spend ample time wearing in your shoes to get your feet used to them, which will prevent blisters forming on the trip and ensure they are comfortable to walk in.
Views from above Courmayeur, Italy |  <i>Brian Eglinton</i>

Try some cross training

Even if you're an avid fan of walking, it's still a wise idea to mix up your training by going for a swim, jogging, cycling, or gym session. Cross training will utilise other muscles while resting the ones you'd normally train. Another benefit is that it will keep you interested in exercise if your normal walking route is getting cumbersome. 

Perform a dress rehearsal

Dedicate a weekend to go through the motions of your walking holiday. If the itinerary states you'll be walking 20km a day then pretend you're on tour and set off to do just that. Pack a light daypack filled with snacks and water, wear the appropriate clothing, grab the trekking poles - do all the things you expect to do on tour.
It's best to rehearse this over two days so your body is used to backing it up rather than just a one-off day of walking. We’ve found that the hardest part of a multi-day walk is not any individual day’s walk; but knowing that you have to wake up the next day and do it again, so it’s important to prepare yourself mentally for this in the lead up to your hike.
True, it may feel a bit funny walking around the streets of Melbourne dressed for the green valleys of Switzerland, but it'll be worth it!
Get rewarded with stunning views when walking on the Shynige Platte

Do you have any more training tips for a multi-day walking holiday in Europe? Let us know in the comment section below.
Training, Walking tour training, Active holiday training, Walking preparation

Comments (6)


Make sure to get used to wearing a knapsack so you learn to deal with carrying weight and how to handle your back sweating
Ideally add a little more weight as you get into better shape

2 years ago

Back sweat! Now that's an issue you don't think of until you've been out walking with your day pack. Always a good idea to avoid back sweat by getting a pack with some breathing room between your body and the bag.

And yes, it is wise to gradually increase the backpack weight and distance walked as you become more fit. Thankfully you won't need to carry too much with you, as our UTracks trips come with luggage transfers.

Thanks for the advice Steve.

2 years ago

If you live in a flat area, also try using a Stairmaster or an elliptical machine at the gym. Put some music or a podcast on and try to work up to an hour or more nonstop (for the more strenuous treks) if you'll have to do hundreds or over 1000 m of vertical altitude gain. Who cares if the other folks in the gym think you're crazy for doing it with a backpack on (with the things you need inside); they're not going to be there when you're cruising along, feeling strong in the hills.

2 years ago

This is excellent training advice, thanks a lot Mill. Getting over what other people think is also really helpful too!

We should also write an article on top podcasts for walking to...

2 years ago

Do some stretching, it makes your body move more easily and is a great way to get your body ready for the next day of a multi day walk. Do your stretches at the start and end of each day. Don't just do your legs, remember your shoulders too.

2 years ago

This is top advice - I always forget to stretch (or am too lazy!) but when I do the recovery is so much better. Thanks for reminding us.

2 years ago
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