Monday, January 10, 2011

How to: 8 Tips for Hiking in the Mud

muddy trail
The deepest boot prints have been left in the "shiny" mud with the highest water content. The water flowing along the trail would make the best path of travel.

Winter in my favorite time to go hiking, the trails are quiet, unfortunately they also get pretty sloppy after rain sufficiently soaks the hills. Mud can be a serious deterrent for many potential hikers so I'll give you a few tricks to manage the muck and have a safe, enjoyable hike:

  • Carry Trekking Poles - Not only to trekking poles make you a stronger hiker by saving you energy they help you jump small mud puddles or help distribute your weight as you balance across them. If you slip you can use the trekking poles from preventing you from getting personal with a puddle.
  • Tie Your Shoes - Pretty obvious, right? Mud season is the time to be especially sure to tie em' nice and tight so they don't suction off in deep mud.
  • Go with the flow - If it's so wet that water is running on the trail it can be a good thing because the real sticky stuff will run with it leaving firm ground under the water. You'll also be doing a good thing for the environment by preventing erosion on the edge of the trail.
  • Avoid Shiny Mud - The sloppiest mud is going to have a slight shine to it from water molecules reflecting light. Shiny mud has the highest water content which will most likley make it the deepest and stickiest. Jump it or go around (be careful not to walk off trail, the environment is very fragile in mud season).
  • Slip, Don't Slide - Smaller strides will help you keep your balance and keep slips small. When you do slip, just try to relax and go with the slide and maintain balance to avoid a dirt bath. Overreacting will cause you to fall which is the fastest way to ruin your hike.

Perhaps the worst part about the mud isn't dealing with it on the trail but dealing with the aftermath. Here are some tips for the cleanup:

    muddy boot print
  • Clean your Boots - More than just messy, mud can actually damage a good pair of leather boots. When the muck dries it dries out the leather too causing it to crack and lose its weatherproofing in the season you need it most. Cruel right?
  • Convertible Pants - Many hiking pants are convertible, which means they have a zipper at the knee (or just below it) to convert them to shorts. I personally never wear them as shorts normally but mud is most likely just going to cover the pant leg and not the shorts. Simply unzip the muddy legs back at the trailhead and take off.
  • Paper or Plastic - It's not a bad idea to start keeping some plastic shopping bags in the car to store mucked up boots and pant legs. Lining the trunk with a plastic tarp is the more environmentally friendly alternative to plastic bags and really only needs to be cleaned once at the end of the mud season.

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