HEALTH & FITNESS
Health benefits of
BY SARAH MCMICHAEL
BACKCOUNTRY CAMPING is known for being a
way to experience beautiful, serene landscapes. But
a backcountry trip also provides an opportunity to
challenge yourself physically and mentally.
The combination of paddling, portaging, and hiking
through the backcountry is a great all-over workout.
Plus, you will experience a ton of health benefits
simply by being outdoors.
Hit the backcountry for a killer total-body workout
this summer. Let’s do this!
Your backcountry workout starts with portaging.
Portaging can be very challenging physically, but just
as rewarding. Between canoes, backpacks, and food
barrels, you could easily be carrying over 45 kg of
gear on your own each time you portage.
Portaging will work your lower body as you
maneuver through rocky, potentially uneven trails
while carrying your gear to make it to your next
paddling spot. Balancing canoes and other heavy
items over rugged terrain will improve your balance
Your arms and shoulders will get a workout too,
as you lift heavy gear over your head and onto your
If you are someone who is not very active in the
winter, make sure you prepare for your first trip of
the year by doing some exercises before heading out.
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You can easily
out if you’re not
in proper shape.
Try going for
short jogs, lifting
and sit ups.
Because of the
long distances of
you end up paddling quite a bit. Luckily, paddling is
good for your body in a lot of ways.
Paddling is a full upper-body workout. You’ll
increase muscle strength in your back, arms,
shoulders, and chest from moving the paddle against
the natural resistance of the water. You’ll also
increase your core strength every time you paddle
forward, and use those muscles to stay steady in your
Paddling is a low-impact activity, which reduces
the risk of wear and tear on joints compared to many
other activities. Paddling is also a great exercise to
elevate the heart rate and improve cardiovascular
During your backcountry trip, you’ll also experience
a myriad of brain and body health benefits just by
simply being outdoors.
Camping in nature takes us away from common
daily stresses like traffic, work, and noise pollution.
Instead, we are exposed to relaxing landscapes and
stress-reducing sounds like waves, rushing rivers and
We’ve always known that fresh air is good for us,
and what better way to get your dose of fresh air
than on a backcountry trip?
Spending more time in nature means breathing in
more oxygen and less pollution. Your body functions
with less strain when there’s plenty of oxygen.
The extra oxygen also causes your body to release
serotonin, which is considered a contributor to
feelings of well-being and happiness.
Don’t forget to soak up the sun! Research has
shown that Vitamin D may help protect against
multiple diseases, is important for normal growth and
development of bones and teeth, and may even help
ward off some forms of cancer. Pair your under-the-
sun time with skin protection, like hats, sunglasses
Lastly, you can catch some major Zs while in the
backcountry. Sleeping away from artificial light
and waking up with natural sunlight can reset your
circadian rhythm, which will help you feel refreshed
after a better night’s sleep.
Backcountry camping is a challenging adventure,
but with this exciting experience comes a whole
range of important precautions to keep you safe and
healthy during your trip.
You’ll definitely work up an appetite from all of the
portaging and paddling. Pack enough food to keep
your energy levels up throughout your trip. You also
need to make sure you have enough water to keep
Make sure you are prepared for all of the possible
hazards and emergencies that can occur in the
backcountry. Pack maps, compass, PFDs, and a First
If you’re prepared for trip, you can better keep
yourself and your fellow campers safe in the
At the end of the day, nothing is more rewarding
than putting your body to the test to reach
unbelievably beautiful landscapes in the backcountry.
~ Sarah McMichael, Ontario Parks’ Healthy Parks
Healthy People Coordinator. See more blogs here:
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