How to work out your heart rate zones for hiking

heart rate training hiking

Runners and cyclists have been using heart rate monitors for years – but are they only useful for athletes? Or can heart rate training provide real fitness benefits for all of us?

The basic idea behind heart rate training is to measurably exercise at certain intensities. A usual training week for a long distance runner for example will include; one interval training session with short bursts near their maximum rate, mid-distance runs at a moderate rate and one very long run at a low rate. Training at different heart rates targets different fitness goals and is useful for everyone, not just those running marathons.  

Read 5 ways heart rate training will improve your hiking.

How to find out your hiking heart rate zones

If you want to start using a heart rate monitor to improve your hiking fitness, you’ll first need to discover your maximum hiking heart rate. Your maximum ‘hiking’ heart rate is lower than your maximum heart rate. This is because to hit your actual maximum heart rate you would have to break into a run. Running fitness does directly translate across to hiking fitness, however this article assumes that you aren’t a runner and so focuses on hiking training.

To find out your maximum hiking heart rate, warm up by hiking at a moderate intensity for twenty minutes to the start of a steep hill/long flight of stairs. Increase your speed gradually up the hill until you are at your fastest hiking pace without running. Keep this speed for two minutes. The highest number on your monitor during this time is your maximum hiking heart rate.

Low intensity hiking

60-70% of your maximum hiking heart rate: This is a comfortable hiking pace that you can easily talk at and walk at all day. This is the intensity your heart works at on descents and flat trails.

Moderate intensity hiking

70-80% of your maximum hiking heart rate: At this pace you can still hold a conversation but it’s more difficult. This is the intensity your heart works at on steep alpine ascents.

High intensity hiking

80-90% of your maximum hiking heart rate: At this pace you can only talk in broken sentences. This heart rate should be used only for training. You don’t want to hit this intensity on a multi-day hike as you will fatigue your body.

Jennifer Stretton

About Jennifer Stretton

Jen grew up about as far from the mountains and nature as you can get—in Birmingham, UK. When she first visited the Alps on a university climbing trip, she immediately fell in love with the place. After graduating with a degree in Geography, Jennifer spent the next few years travelling the world, volunteering with conservation charities and freelance marketing to fund her adventures. In 2015 she settled full time in the Chamonix Valley and began training to become an international mountain leader. An avid climber and environmentalist, Jen’s passion for the mountains and the natural world is contagious. When she’s not guiding, Jennifer spends her free time climbing, skiing, travelling and trying to keep up with her dog on trail runs. Sociable, caring and always smiling, Jen is the perfect guide to keep you laughing and motivated on your journey. She looks forward to meeting you next summer!

3 Replies to “How to work out your heart rate zones for hiking”

  1. AvatarMaliha says:

    I hiked table rock trail in South Carolina. My heart rate was 194 the whole time going up and about 170 going down. I moderately exercise and I was trying to figure out a way I could become less winded. Maybe even keep my heart rate from being so high. Are there any exercises anyone can recommend?

    • alpenwildalpenwild says:

      Hi Mahila–I first recommend a visit to the doctor to make sure you are exercising safely. One of the best ways to lower your resting heart rate is frequent exercise since it trains and strengthens your heart. But, the goal should be to push, not overstrain. I like to work on my heart rate by taking walks and incorporating sections of jogging that get a little bit longer each day.
      Good luck on your journey!
      Alpenwild

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