There is no feeling to match a successful summit, or the hard-earned blisters of a rewarding trekking or hiking adventure. If this is your first challenge or expedition, or if you are heading into new territory, you may have some questions on how best to prepare yourself.

My focus is on the medical and physical aspects of mountaineering and adventure activities – there are any factors that contribute to successful expeditions, but physical condition plays a significant role.

The first step is to ensure that your health is at an adequate level to sustain you through the trials and challenges that lie ahead – not just the expedition itself, but also the training and preparation that will be required – and the return to a safe environment. A good starting point, if you are in any doubt about your health status, is to pay your family doctor a visit – or better yet, complete an exhaustive pre-expedition medical with an appropriately-qualified sports physician. Also prepare yourself with any travel-based assessments and be familiar with the travel medications that you may need later (such as malaria medication, required vaccinations etc), as these may have an impact on your physical performance.

The second step – even before we get to the actual training! – is to evaluate your equipment needs. Consider the current state of your climbing/hiking equipment, and piece together a timeline for any repairs and replacement. A massive part of your preparation will involve you familiarizing yourself with your equipment. Certain items, such as your footwear and backpacks need to be worn in, and your body may need to fully adjust to them – so get them in early and start getting used to them.

Part three – start thinking about a plan of action. Put together a training plan – consider the amount of time you have available, and the training goals and objectives you will need to achieve before you are ready to go. This may result in you delaying your trip if you feel you may not be able to get to the required level in the time you have available – better safe than sorry!

You cannot complete all your training in the comfort of a gym, so be sure to schedule in time outdoors in environments similar to that of your destination – be sure to have your critical equipment in action training with you! Other aspects of your training can be conducted in more comfortable environments (such as your local gym, or with a suitably-qualified practitioner – make sure you “outsource” your hopes and aspirations to someone who has experience dealing with mountaineering and adventure activities). If you are in any doubt about the best way to formulate a training schedule, or if you are not confident in your ability to get the best work done, make sure to consult with an appropriately-qualified professional.

A key element of preparation is “simulation” – getting out into terrain similar to what you will be experiencing on your trip. The mental aspects of preparation are as critical as the physical ones, so make sure you research the environment well (by attending talks, investigating the region using print and online resources, and spending some time with tour operators and guides familiar with your destination). Many challenges are completed in your head, well before you even begin the physical journey!

Following these simple steps will hopefully set you up on the right path from the word go – ambitious adventures have the potential to come off the rails before you can even start, so plan carefully and methodically.

Article by Zac van Heerden M.Sc (Med) (Exercise Physiology)