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Barbell Using Ethan Reeve's Density Training as strength basis for hiking/camping

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Level 5 Valued Member
Hey folks, this is my first post.

So I am training towards doing more hiking/backpacking in the outdoors. So the basic movement patterns are things like carrying 30lb on my back while hiking 6 miles uphill. Or participating in lifting an 80lb canoe and helping carry it 200 feet.

I am a 42 year old male, 5' 7'', weighing 220lb, about 26.3% BMI. No major injuries and I work with a physical therapist at my gym who has helped me with things like anterior pelvic tilt and my flat feet, etc. I have been lifting for a few years now, can do about 330lb deadlift 1RM, 215lb squat 1RM. I do need to work on more shoulder stabilization, but I have been doing some turkish get-ups and other exercises to help with that. I have had the movement screens and no issues detected, other than what I mentioned.

My question was about my training program for the hiking/backpacking stuff that I do. So I basically need a good amount of strength work as well as strength conditioning/endurance. The challenge I face is that I usually end up tiring myself the heck out when trying to combine strength work with conditioning. Now I don't even trust myself to NOT overdo it, hence I was looking for outside opinions from more qualified folks.

In reading ENTER THE KETTLEBELL I saw that Pavel recommended Ethan Reeve's template for using the Ethan Reeves Density training as a way to mix kettlebell work with barbell work. So this seemed like a good way to combine the strength side--using density training--with some kettlebell snatch and clean & press work for conditioning.

My question is how to program these things together? Here is my stab at developing a program, but was hoping someone could just tell me where to adjust and where I might be overdoing it, etc.

I understand the basic Density training template, doing 12x2, 8x3, 4x6, etc., But question 1: how many strength exercises to include in one density training session? Like I imagine 2 exercises per session and perhaps 3-4 sessions per week? I could not find those details in descriptions of Density training.

Second, I understand that the goal of density training is to not exhaust yourself--so that you can do the rest of your sports specific training, etc., So I imagine doing the strength work in the morning and then some conditioning in the afternoon/evening. So should I do these kettlebell sessions one the same days as my strength work--perhaps in the format of Rite of Passage? Or is Rite of Passage going to be too much when combined with strength work--so I should go for something less intense?

Thanks for any suggestions and advice.


Level 6 Valued Member
Welcome to the forum!

Not an answer to your specific question about density training, but @offwidth knows his stuff about hiking, mountaineering and training for it.

What I can tell you though is that you shouldn't combine the RoP with additional strength training. Most of the time people tell you to just add some low volume squats to your variety days, but afterwards most of them report that they stopped doing them after a couple of weeks, because the RoP plus squats was too much to recover from.

If I were you I wouldn't spend my time benching, squatting, deadlifting etc.
Given your mentioned tasks I'd go for rucking and things like farmers, waiters and rack carries.
Improving your carries will have much more carryover (no pun intended) to e.g. the canoe carry than increasing your DL to 400lbs or your squat to 275lbs.
Of course that's just all my opinion and what I would do in the same situation.

Btw I don't want to be blunt, but losing fat will improve your performance. I don't exactly know what you mean by "26,3% BMI", but I guess you mean bodyfat, right?
If yes, getting below 20% will instantly improve your hiking performance simply because you have less overall weight to carry around. You'll notice the difference especially when going uphill.
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Level 7 Valued Member
If you are training to Double Carry over a rugged portage of a few kilometres, and long days of paddling I would do similar exercises.
- hiking with a heavier pack than you will be packing
- Barbell back Squats, lunges, reverse lunges, step ups, Carries and walking lunges if you have room, all higher reps
- Get Ups, swings
- various loaded Carries
- high rep pulling exercises and Dips, for paddleing

Think of the movements and muscles you will use.


Level 9 Valued Member
The advice from both @Kettlebelephant and @Geoff Chafe is solid.
There is a principle called S.A.I.D. Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands
For event specific training like you are describing I have always found it best to duplicate or mimic the event itself for the majority of your training, and to fill in around the edges with some ancillary stuff.

So to reiterate what's been said by Geoff and Kettlbelephant...
Rucking (especially uphill)
Loaded Carries of a wide variety
TGU's and Swings are good in almost any training plan


Level 5 Valued Member
@Kettlebelephant thanks for the tips. I see how your suggestions about just focusing on the strength work through loaded carries, rucking, etc., makes a lot more sense than just focusing on barbell work. I appreciate that. Yeah, I meant that my bodyfat percentage was 26.3%. I have been working on my master's thesis for the past 6 months, so just been sitting a lot and many late nights. But you are correct, I am working on bringing that down as I come towards the end of my thesis work.

@Geoff Chafe I think your tips for shoulder endurance are right on, especially for longer paddling sessions and canoe carries. My arms and back are generally good during long canoe trips, but I definitely need to work more on the rotational strength side. I will keep that in mind.

@offwidth I will work more rucking into my plan. I like being outside much better than hanging out in the gym anyway.

This is very helpful. I think my mind was wrapped around a barbell-centric notion of strength work with a kettlebell-centric notion of conditioning. So I see from everyone's comments that I can do a lot of the strength work outside of the barbell world--especially for sports specific training.

Deleted member 5559

A favorite of mine in preparation for a backpacking trip is TGUs with additional OH lunges at the top of the get-up using a lighter weight. Lots of structural integrity and strength endurance.


Level 9 Valued Member
Another point concerning rucking as training. Based on what you are training for I wouldn't recommend going with too heavy of a pack. Personally when I ruck train, I use event pack weight or slightly over. (In the example you gave of 30lbs, I would train with 35lbs, certainly no more than 40) I would however vary volume, frequency, terrain, and speed.
I have had to carry some ungodly heavy packs over the years...


Level 5 Valued Member
@BroMo Oh I like that combination. I will include that in my workouts. I like those stability type exercises since there are so many chances to get injured out in the wild--especially when dealing with balancing heavy packs over uneven terrain.


Level 5 Valued Member
@offwidth That is a good tip. I have been working on moving towards more ultralight backpacking, so I am generally able to get my pack weight to somewhere between 12-17lb, depending on whether I am backpacking in the winter or during the spring, summer, fall. I think 35lb sounds is a good practice weight because there are those times when gear gets wet or you need to pack a bunch of extra gear because you expect stuff will get wet :). Now if you have any tips on how to keep your boots from freezing overnight . . . .


Level 9 Valued Member
Light is right....
Even on overnight Alpine Climbing trips I can manage to get my pack weight down to under 25lbs, and that's including rope, hardware, helmet, etc. (but it's pretty spartan)
The only way to keep your boots from freezing overnight is to keep them in your sleeping bag.

Steve Freides

Elite Certified Instructor
Too many choices here, IMHO, and combined density training is, for my simple mind, complicated. My questions and observations to you:

If you want to lose fat, make that a priority, focusing on your diet, and doing Kettlebell Simple and Sininster. Try that for 3-6 months, and put the barbell away or just do some easy lifting with it a couple of times a week but keep things at 75-80% 1RM and no more, and keep the volume low.

If you additional training, walk. Walk easily for time and distance, and add some weight if you can still keep the effort no more than moderate.

Lose fat, do S&S, walk - that's my advice.

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