How to Hike – Hiking Techniques

It may seem silly to talk about hiking techniques. After all, everyone already knows how to walk, don’t they? But hiking up and down hills with a heavy backpack on requires some additional care. In town, walking on sidewalks, it’s safe to make certain assumptionsˇŞthe walking surface is generally smooth, and the curb is always a certain height, thanks to building and construction codes. But in the backcountry, even on maintained trails, you never know exactly what to expect.

When first starting out along a new stretch of trail, watch the ground carefully. The trail may be slick from moss, mud or some other hazard that’s not immediately obvious. Take your time and get used to the feel of balancing an additional 25 to 40 or more pounds on your back. Watch where you put your feet and do not assume every rock or log is solid. Test things firstˇŞlearn how to balance your weight on one leg while checking the stability of a stepping stone or log bridge with the other.

hiking techniques How to Hike   Hiking Techniques

Some people like to carry along a hiking stick or an old ski pole for extra balance. These are also useful for gauging the depth of streams before wading in, holding low branches out of the way, leaning against while taking a rest, etc. Walking sticks and ski poles are both soldin outdoor stores, but buying an old ski pole at a swapmeet for $4-5 is probably a better bargain.

practice walking at an even, moderate pace that can be maintained comfortably for a few hours. Work at developing consistencyˇŞbeing able to cover long distances at a moderate, steady pace is the key to reaching your goal: a campsite several miles down the trail. As you hike across level ground, you should be able to breathe comfortably enough to carry on a conversation with your hiking partners. If you are consistently out of breathˇŞunless you are climbing a steep hill or hiking at high altitudesˇŞyou are hiking too quickly.

If you are traveling with others who hike much faster or slower than the rest of the group, do not worry about keeping everyone together all the time. Each person’s speed will vary, depending on their age, fitness level, amount of weight they’re carrying, etc. On average, people hike at about one mile per hour, but it’s rare to find many people who hike along at exactly the same pace. Still, don’t get too spread out along the trail. You may have an emergency situation where everyone needs to get together quickly.

If one person is much faster than the rest, designate her or him to be in charge of periodic rest breaks at certain times and specific agreed-to places along the trail. Consult your trail maps and find likely places that look level, have water nearby, etc. Or plan to stop once an hour to check in and make sure everyone is making progress, drinking enough water, not feeling overloaded or developing blisters, etc.

Uphill, slow your pace accordingly. Stop as needed and catch your breath. If you are not only hiking up a steep trail, but doing so at higher elevation than you are used to at home, you will need to allow your body time to adjust to working at increased altitude and decreased oxygen levels.

Practice using “rest steps” to conserve energy. As you step forward, rest your full weight on one leg, allowing the other a brief “rest period” between steps. The leg holding the weight should be completely extended (straightened) while the other leg prepares to swing forward. As that foot touches down, transfer the weight forward and straighten that leg, giving the back leg a rest, and so on. This is a very slow, measured step, but doing this from time to time will help avoid developing sore quadriceps (the muscles along the front of the thigh that extend the leg while jumping, climbing, bicycling etc.).


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