Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Five Tips for Becoming a Stronger Hiker

Beyond the obvious tips like drink water, and exercise there are small things anyone can do with a little bit of forethought to make hiking easier and more enjoyable. Most people are not interested in making the firm commitment of hiking every weekend, running after work or school, hitting the gym, and perfecting their diet for the sake of hiking. If hiking and backpacking is something you enjoy from time to time, and not a commitment you have made, this is the guide for you. These tips are designed as simple advice for the casual hiker to get more out of their experience. This guide may also be a useful refresher for the advanced hiker as well.

1. Always Carry Trail Mix

At home, in the classroom, or the office we typically feel good nutrition hinges on eating three square meals a day. Not so on the trail. Keeping our muscles supplied with vital nutrients as we work them ragged on a long hike is going to consistent upkeep. Carrying a lunch on the trail, no matter how nutritious is a good start, but not enough. Shoveling piles of protein, and carb rich trail-mix is going to keep you functioning at peak levels all day long.

2. Walk for short trips to the store/lunch

Most of our trips are 1 to 5 miles. Getting outside and walking once a day improves productivity at work and school, increases self-confidence, and makes you happier. If that does not convince you that taking at least a small walk every day is a good idea, it's also going to improve your endurance on the trail. Even if its just walking to your favorite lunch spot instead of driving, doing something every day or every other day has a cumulative, long term effect on your body. By doing a little something every day you're also increasing your metabolism, you'll thank yourself later. It's not a replacement for hard exercise, but it's something.

3. Don't hike in cotton, replace with wicking layers

When it comes to fancy outdoors fabric technology (things that end in -ex and -vent) most of it can be accurately described as branding which has no effect on quality. There have been a few important advances though that make trail conditions more pleasant. Wicking technology is one of them. Wicking basically means sweat is moved through the layer, and away from the body. Cotton is not a wicking fabric and absorbs that sweat. Think a wicking layer as your own personal non-stick coating. On cold hikes the technology keeps you warmer since that sweat never accumulates and chills you. On warm weather hikes, you don't turn into a sweaty, stinky mess. A comfortable hiker can hike longer, faster, and better.

4. Use the rest step on hills

The reason our thighs burn after marching up a long hill is because we use the large muscle groups to lift our weight up. Keep that up for long enough and lactic acid builds up, creating that burning sensation. The rest step is essentially a pause of motion most efficient when ascending steep slopes. As you transfer weight from one leg to the other, pause your stride briefly and let your weight fall on your skeletal structure. It gives your thighs a quick break. Instead of constantly carrying the weight of your entire body (and pack) those muscles will have a brief relaxation period. You're less likely to tire out, the lactic acid will build up more slowly and you can hike for longer. Just take it one (rest)step at a time.
It's difficult to explain, so check this video out from expertvillage.

5. Use Trekking Poles

Trekking Poles make hiking roughly 20% more efficient, that means for the energy involved in hiking 10 miles, you can now hike 12. I know they seem like the first step down a slippery slope to hiking dorkdom and the next thing you know you'll be wearing wide brimmed hats and fanny packs on every trail. If you can resist the lure of those big sun hats trekking poles make a big difference on the trail. In addition to taking stress off the legs, they improve balance making hiking safer, as well as allow you to cross streams much easier. You can hike longer, safer, with less pain the next day just by carrying these guys. Are you walking out the door to pick up a pair yet?

For more tips, information, and guides visit the how-to center.


  1. Sorry this blog ended up going up late!

  2. Great post! These little reminders and interesting tid-bits are why I keep you around, and continue to read your blog of course! ;)

    Although, way to burst my bubble and inform me that trekking poles are dorky! I'm pretty sure that is the one untrue fact in this post. The only dorky part is when you try and figure out how to use them. "Do I move them opposite my legs like this? Or do I move them with my legs like this?" (((Coffee Cups)))