So you’ve decided to trek the Laugavegur Trail. Congratulations! You are in for the adventure of a lifetime. Perhaps you’ve started creating your itinerary, putting together a packing list, and booking your accommodation, but have you thought about your physical preparation? Obviously, you’ve at least taken the first steps since you’ve found your way to this post, and for that your future self will thank you. That’s because being physically prepared for a tough trek like the Laugagevur is the single most impactful action you can take to ensure your trip will be as enjoyable as possible.
Training for the Laugagevur will make your experience exponentially more rewarding for a number of reasons, including…
- You’ll be able to focus on the beauty of your surroundings instead of the pain and fatigue in your body.
- You’ll eliminate the unnecessary stress of falling behind schedule due to spending longer-than-anticipated days on the trail.
- By taking the time to prepare in advance, you’ll enjoy the anticipation of your upcoming trip and completing your trek will be immensely rewarding.
- You’ll improve your fitness and health by working towards a goal that is exciting and meaningful.
Keeping reading to learn how to feel strong and prepared for your Laugagevur Trail adventure.
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- Detailed information on getting to/from the Laugavegur
- A 15-week training plan to ensure you’re prepared for your hike
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What’s in this post?
- How difficult is the Laugagevur Trail?
- I don’t have mountains in my backyard…can I still get fit enough?
- Basic Laugagevur Training Plan
- Adapting the trek for varying ability levels
How Difficult is the Laugagevur Trail?
As far as long-distance hiking trails go, the Laugavegur is very approachable in terms of difficulty. There are several factors that impact the challenge of this hike, including the distance covered in each day (see our itineraries for more on this), the weight of your backpack (it will be much larger if you choose to camp), the direction you hike in (there is significantly more uphill walking if you trek from south to north), and the weather and trail conditions.
Therefore, someone carrying camping gear and hiking northbound in two days will have a much different experience than someone staying in huts, heading southbound, and completing their trek in four days. Most reasonably fit hikers with some trekking experience will have no problem completing the Laugavegur in three days.
Beyond the physical challenges of the Laugagevur, there are a few other factors to keep in mind when understanding the difficulty of this trek.
River Crossings: You will encounter several river crossings along the Laugavegur Trail. These can very from ankle-deep to waist-deep depending on the time of year, recent rainfall, and weather conditions. We can’t stress enough that you need to check with the wardens at each hut about the current condition of the rivers, and always cross in the designated areas. Also, you’ll want to bring a pair of sturdy sandals or other water shoes to make these crossing. Flip-flops will be pulled right off your feet by the swift currents and walking across barefoot is a dangerous endeavor.
Weather: Icelandic weather should not be taken lightly. Weather conditions are a major factor that can greatly increase the difficulty of your trek. Whiteout snowstorms can occur any time of the year on the Laugavegur, as can gale-force winds and freezing temperatures. It is imperative that hikers check the weather conditions before setting out. The easiest way to stay up to date on the weather is to talk to the wardens at the huts. Weather updates are usually posted outside, but you can also ask the warden for more information. If they advise you not to hike in the conditions, be sure to listen to them! Additionally, the Icelandic Met Office’s website provides quality forecasts for wind, precipitation, and temperature in specific areas.
Fimmvörðuháls Trail Extension: Many hikers opt to extend their hike by taking the Fimmvörðuháls Trail, which connects Þórsmörk and Skogar via a very difficult 15-mile trek. The Fimmvörðuháls trail is quite a bit more technical and challenging than the Laugagevur. There are some very exposed and steep sections that require the use of cables, chains, and holds to navigate them. Depending on which direction you choose to hike, you’ll either start or end your trek with a very big day which will add to the overall difficulty of your experience.
The Laugavegur Trail in Numbers:
Laugavegur Trail Only
Total Distance: 55 kilometers (34 miles) Total Elevation Gain: 1450 meters (4758 feet)
Laugavegur Trail + Fimmvörðuháls Trail
Total Distance: 79 kilometres (49 miles) Total Distance: 2428 meters (7967 feet)
I don’t live near mountains…Will I be able to get fit enough?
Okay, so hopefully the first section of this post convinced you that yes, you CAN complete the Laugagevur, but also that you really, really should take our advice and train ahead of time. However, if you’re like a great many people who aspire to trek the Laugavegur Trail, you don’t have trails in your backyard on which to complete said training. If that’s your situation, don’t despair. We’ve known plenty of people who’ve become incredibly strong hikers without the benefit of mountain training. Here are some ideas for flatlanders:
- Use the stairclimber machine at your local gym. Go slow, as this
torture devicemachine definitely induces greater perceived exertion than most sections of the Laugagevur.
- Walk or run up and down the stairs at a nearby high school stadium or similar venue.
- Get on a treadmill and walk at a brisk pace. Play around with setting the incline to a variety of levels, ranging from 5-12%.
- Many bridges make excellent artificial hills. Make sure the one you choose has a safe pedestrian area and then walk back and forth across that sucker a bunch of times. Sure, it’s not the most exciting option, but consider it an opportunity to build both physical strength and mental fortitude.
As much as possible, complete the above activities while wearing a weighted pack similar to the one you plan on hiking with. Commit to one or more of these moves and you might be shocked at the high level of hiking fitness you can build without ever leaving sea level.
Basic Laugagevur Trail Training Plan
Six Months Before Your Trek: Build Your Endurance Base
Even if you’re taking four days to complete the Laugagevur, you can expect to spend long days on the trail. Most walkers complete their trek in 2-4 days, meaning they’ll need to average well over 15 kilometers (10 miles) per day. To prepare for extended periods of hiking, you should try to build a solid foundation of aerobic endurance. So what does that actually mean? Simply put, your body needs to be accustomed to sustaining low(ish)-intensity exercise for longer than an hour.
Like a lot of training, the best way to get your body used to moving for a long time is-you guessed it- to regularly move for extended periods of time. You can achieve this a lot of different ways, but the important factor is that you’re frequently and consistently doing cardio exercise. Aerobic activity (AKA “cardio”) includes things like jogging, cycling, walking, swimming, using the elliptical machine, or anything else that requires moderate, sustained exertion (your heart rate should be elevated, but you should be able to maintain a conversation and keep up the activity for at least 30 minutes).
Starting six months prior to your trek, aim to complete 30-60 minutes of aerobic activity 3-5 times per week. If your fitness regimen already includes this kind of thing, just keep on keeping on!
Three Months Before Your Trek: Build Your Strength
In order to feel great throughout your trip and avoid injury and burnout, you’ll need the endurance base you started building in the previous training phase, plus ample leg strength. Ideally, at this point in your training you should begin to increase the frequency and intensity of your hiking. Your main goal is to continue to build your aerobic endurance while also training your leg muscles for long-distance hiking. If you can’t hit the trails, you can achieve similar results by doing anything that involves incline; bike uphill, set a treadmill to high incline (4-12% grade), or spend some time on the step machine at your gym. Heck, you could even walk the stairs at the local high school stadium if you wanted to.
Additionally, now is the time to start incorporating a leg strengthening routine into your weekly training. Many hikers neglect strength training for any number of reasons; they don’t think they need it, they don’t know how, they don’t have time, or they just find it boring (this last one is the favorite excuse of yours truly!) However, strength training plays a huge role in giving you the power needed to tackle hard climbs, build stability, stay light on your feet, and prevent injury. You don’t need to spend a ton of time in the gym to get results, either. Even just a few minutes a week in the comfort of your home can make a world of difference.
Everyone’s fitness goals are different, but we generally recommend completing the following short workout 2-3 times per week to build Laugagevur-ready legs:
- 10 goblet squats (with medium weight)
- 10 lunges on each leg (add weight or jumps to increase the challenge)
- 10 step-ups on each leg (weights optional)
Complete three sets of each exercise.
Two Months Before Your Trip: Put on Your Pack
Remember all of that brand new gear sitting in your closet? Now is the time to break it in! In the eight weeks or so before your trip, try get in as many longer hikes (or walks) with your gear as possible. Think of it as a “dress rehearsal” for your trek. The benefits of breaking in your gear at this point are twofold. First, you’ll be able to test your boots, backpack, socks, and so on to ensure that they fit well during longer hikes. Second, you’ll begin training your body to hike while wearing a heavy backpack. If you’re new to backpacking, you’ll be surprised by how much more challenging it is to hike with the extra weight.
Even if you’ve been strength training, chances are you’ll be using new muscles when hiking with a backpack. The best way to condition your body? Hiking as much as possible with that heavy backpack! In the two months before your Laugagevur trek, try to complete at least one challenging hike at least once a week while wearing your pack. Your backpack should mirror the weight you intend to carry on your Laugagevur Trail hike, including food and water. Ideally, you should work up to hikes that are 15-18 kilometers (5-10 miles) long with 500 meters (1,500 feet) of elevation gain. If that’s not possible, try to complete a weekly long walk (5-10 miles) while wearing your pack and with as many hills as possible (see the previous section for more ideas on this). As an added bonus, these hikes/walks are a great opportunity to start breaking in new hiking boots and other gear.
Reminder: During this training phase, you should keep up your aerobic and strength training from the previous sections, simply replacing one of your weekly aerobic workouts with a long hike.
One Month Before Your Trip: Time for a Test Run (Hike)
This stage in your training is awesome because it requires you to take a vacation (you’re welcome). If at all possible, try to take a 1-2 night backpacking trip in your local woods. If you aren’t planning on camping along the Laugagevur, you don’t need to take an overnight trip, but you should still try to fit in two back-to-back days of long, hard hiking.
This important step allows you to try out different ways of packing your backpack for maximum fit and comfort, practice setting up camp, and get your body used to hiking consecutive days in a row. It will also give you the chance to see what items you packed that you don’t need, and what you may have forgotten.
Keep up your established aerobic and strength training until 10 days to one week before the hike. In the last week before your trip, continue doing some light cardio and strength, but take extra rest days and don’t do any big, challenging hikes so your body is fresh for your upcoming adventure. Finally, pat yourself on the back and take pride in showing up to your Laugagevur trek fit, prepared, and the best version of yourself!
Adapting the Hike for Varying Ability Levels
Unfortunately, the Laugagevur Trail is not the friendliest trek in terms of accessibility and adaptations. Detours and shortcuts are nearly impossible, as there are few road connections along the route. That being said, there are actions you can take to minimize the difficulty of your Laugagevur trek. If your training doesn’t go as planned due to injury, illness, or the realities of life that inevitably creep in from time to time, there are ways to reduce the level of challenge on the trek. Here are a few suggestions:
- Hike from north to south to minimize elevation gain and avoid the most strenuous climbs.
- Skip the Fimmvörðuháls Trail extension, as it is much more difficult than the Laugagevur Trail.
- Carry as light a pack as possible to reduce the strain on your body. You can store additional luggage in Reykjavik if needed. Check out our Laugagevegur Trail Logistics article for more details on luggage storage.
- If possible, allow yourself four days to complete the Laugagevur. With this itinerary, you’ll never have to walk more than ten miles in a single day. See our Itineraries article for details.
The Bottom Line
Move, preferably uphill and with weight on your back, as much as possible. Do this and you will be able to enjoy every moment of your incredible trip so much more. Plus, the time and effort you spend working towards your goal will make the real thing that much sweeter. I can’t stress enough how glad we were that we’d prepared for the challenge of a thru-hike like the Laugagevur Trail, and I hope these training tips can help you have your best possible trip.
Disclaimer: This training plan is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor is it a replacement for seeking medical treatment or professional nutrition advice. Do not start any nutrition or physical activity program without first consulting your physician.
Be sure to read our entire series on the Laugavegur Trail to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for your trip!
- The Laugavegur Trail: Maps, Routes, and Itineraries
- Guide to Camping on the Laugavegur Trail
- Laugavegur Trail Logistics: Don’t overlook the little details!
- Laugavegur Trail Photo Gallery: Get inspired!
- Laugavegur Trip Report- Know what to expect on the trail!
- How Much it Cost Us to Hike the Laugavegur Trail – Make it work for your budget!
- Laugavegur Trail Packing List – Be sure you’ve got everything you’ll need!